Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Twinkle & Cheer

The tree is twinkling in the bay window. Pip assumed his rightful role as chief wingman last weekend and oohed, ahhed and marvelled as we took each decoration from the box. I controlled my urge as creative director not to have a hissy fit when items were placed in clusters.  "Why are all the bells together?" I asked, frowning at the carillon of bells clustered in the centre of the tree. "Because they're a family, Mummy. There's one here that's daddy, that's you *points*, and these two are me and EB. That's why they all have to be next to each other." It was such a sweet sentiment. I didn't have the heart to move them. Damn the aesthetics.

“Be careful with those ones” I said, as he took some vintage baubles out the box. “They’re very old, they belonged to my Grandma.”


He looked so crestfallen I simply could not let him see I was sad or cross. “ It doesn’t matter - the clasps on them were very old anyway, they probably would’ve fallen off even if we’d hung them on.”

“Yes Mummy, you’re right. It just fell off then when it was in my hand..I was hardly touching it."

In a milk tray man like moment, Husband appeared and placed a glass of champagne on the mantelpiece before disappearing.  I raised my glass to the heavens and closed my eyes. Cheers Grandma. 

Pre-children I would spend hours on our Christmas tree. Hours getting the lights right, then placing the baubles; large ones first, followed by medium then small.  Next I'd place the more ornamental pieces; painted blown eggs from Prague, glass candy canes from Sweden, Faberge Egg imitations from...(Pottery Barn if you must know) and of course, Grandma’s decorations. Each was hung with care and precision as it took me on a trip down memory lane. Finally, the tin fairy on top; Husband’s job, and the only part of the tree decorating he was allowed to participate in (apart from the regular refilling of the champagne glass).

My dominance over the Christmas tree decorating proceedings is not surprising. When I was a girl, my father always decorated the tree. It was always put up and decorated on Christmas eve.  We were not allowed to touch it or to help, maybe the odd bauble here or there, but for the most part, it was his creation.  To be fair, it was amazing. His parents had collected many wonderful decorations over the years, some of which, they'd passed to him.  Instead, we would sit in the darkened lounge, watching, three of us in a row, by the flickering light of the fire as he painstakingly took his time placing each and every bauble.  How I longed to get involved, my fingers itched to place decorations on the tree and create something spectacular. Yet it never was. Only when I finally left home and had my own tree, did I get to decorate one myself.

One of the joys of having your own family is that you get to make your own traditions. From the very start, I have tried to involve Pip in the decorating of the tree and he always helps Husband put the fairy on the top.  The final flourish.   At five and a half this year he has reached the sweet spot for Christmas.  His face is flushed with excitement, his eyes shine and he is full of belief. And I adore his total lack of want.  As long as Father Christmas brings a remote control dinosaur and a craft activity he will be happy. Today he is visiting Daddy’s work with homemade gingerbread trees to give to all the other people in the office. He is beside himself with joy.

As I looked at the tree last night, I saw the lights were out of sync, flashing on different settings and some Poundland skeletons left over from Halloween had been placed on the branches. Possibly a year or two ago I would have removed them, preened and rearranged. But I’ve let them stay. I don’t want to be remembered as the mother with an OCD about the Xmas tree. I want Pip to remember decorating the tree with me each year as one of the highlights of Christmas. I want him feel free to add his own embellishments.

From outside the house, I can see the fairy lights winking through the gauze privacy blinds. It looks magical, enticing. I’d like to live in that house I think. And then I remind myself - I do.  Our first Christmas in our ( new) house. I’ll just pinch myself. Getting here has felt like a marathon. This year has been tougher than I could have ever imagined, incredibly busy and frequently stressful. I am limping to the end.  I have managed barely more than a handful of blog posts since midsummer, not through lack of desire to write, but lack of time and energy.  

As I burnt the midnight oil this week finishing my photo calendar for 2015, picking my way through a year full of (often fuzzy) snaps, it struck me just how very much we have done this year - and - how many happy times we have had.  Looking at the boys smiling faces, as they've grown, developed and had fun over the year, really made me reflect - that despite feeling exhausted, I am incredibly lucky.

My hopes for 2015 are simple. To have more energy and more time to spend with my family, my friends and doing the things I love. As I sit here and watch one set of tree lights on disco and one on slow fade, I am determined to make that happen.  As Pip said to me last night at bedtime... “ Next year is a special year for you, Mummy - isn’t it?”

“Why’s that, darling?" 

“Because it’s your big birthday Mummy”  “You’re going to be Thirty -Ten”

Thirty Ten.  I love like the sound of that.  2015 is looking good already.

A very Happy Christmas to my loyal and lovely readers. See you in the New Year.  xxx

Saturday, 6 December 2014


Dear EB,

Last week you were two. Time seems to be flying by so very quickly.  I look back at photographs of you as a baby or at one year old, and it seems much longer ago than it really is. I wish time wasn’t passing quite so quickly, that memories weren’t fading from technicolour to grey amidst the humdrum chaos of everyday life. I want to remember the amazingness of you in every moment,  in glorious detail. 

In the past year your personality has really started to develop.  The cheeky twinkle in your eye shines brighter and your smile is wider.   You are a sweet, engaging boy and you win hearts easily.  For a child so young, you seem remarkably confident and self assured. When you started at nursery, you barely cried. “Bye bye Mummy” you said at the second session, and then marched off to investigate the stickle bricks without so much as a backwards glance.   The staff at the nursery all adore you - I know you are a favourite, with your cheeky smile and the way you wander up with your arms wide open and say; “cuddle” or "friend".  It makes me so happy to see that you are such a confident little boy.

You speak well now and can almost always make yourself understood.  Of late, you are demonstrating more finesse and 'peeassse' and ‘annk ooo' are now voluntarily included in your vocabulary.  Your stock catch phrase is ‘one more’. For everything...'one more' cuddle, kiss, programme on the TV, biscuit, swing...everything is ‘one more’  You love to ask me if I’d like a ‘cup of tea’ and to direct me in the various steps of making it, helping where it is safe to do so. You like me to have the ‘Baa baa sheep’ cup and would prefer it if I took sugar so you could spoon it from the bowl (sorry about that - but at least Daddy obliges on that score.).  

You are extremely ticklish and should you be tickled you will laugh incessantly whilst saying ‘funny mummy’, a phrase which is used remarkably often;  sometimes for things I can understand are funny - and others I don't think are - but nevertheless you find amusing.  You are such a happy chap.  My favourite thing is when you say ‘lucky mummy’;  whether I be eating a biscuit or you are simply giving me one of your wonderful koala cuddles.  When I hear those words, I always think the same thing; how true it is, and how very lucky I am to have you.

Your favourite song is “Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. What a modern child you are. You have made it your own - you request it all the time at home and I love to watch you dance to it.  It fits your personality perfectly - and my whole life I know it will always remind me of you.

You are an agile little chap. Naturally a fast runner and comfortable in the water at swimming.  You seem to pick things up easily. For your birthday we bought you a mini micro scooter and you can’t wait to get going.  I just need to persuade you to wear the helmet first.  And you will wear it... no matter how many times you tell me you won’t. Otherwise you and your ‘scoot scoot’ will be confined to the kitchen forever. 

Your favourite food is pizza from the wood fired oven in the garden. Boy, can you put it away; fellow table guests never fail to be amazed at your pizza eating abilities. You get most excited when it is being prepared and once the pizza board hits the table - you are silent. Pizza eating is serious business as far as you are concerned.

You are a great companion to have around, generally days with you pass quickly and easily. You absolutely love puzzles and will happily spend an hour simply completing puzzle after puzzle. We have more puzzles in our house than we know what to do with - but you never seem to tire of them, whether it’s at 7pm or when you get up at 5.30am.  Many a morning we have sat at the kitchen table and puzzled away while the sun has risen. (Yes, you still get up regularly at 5.30am...please can you stop that?).  You seem remarkably uninterested in TV with the exception of one programme. You love Sofia the First.   You, Pip and I often snuggle up on the sofa after tea and watch the latest episode - Pip pretends he is watching it with you in case you get ‘scared’, not that there is anything to be scared of, and despite his protestations that he doesn’t like princesses, you and I both know he loves them really. I love those moments when the three of us all snuggle up silently in the dim light together.

The bonds of brotherly love between the two of you continue to grow. For the most part, you get on well.  You are more strong willed and head strong than your brother;  when you have your “moments” and I have to be firm with you, Pip relishes in watching you get told off. You are by nature, a good boy though and the word sorry does not have to be wheedled out of you but is offered up readily when you know it’s needed. ‘Lolly Mamma’ you say, usually then offering outstretched arms and the word ‘hug’. You know a hug makes everything alright and I find it almost impossible to be cross with you for more than a few seconds. 

In the past six months we have been attending a messy art club together. Each Friday we make our way to the bottom of an artist’s garden to create clay sculptures or paint a giant witch, spider,castle or boat. You wear a full body suit and wellies - place your hands in the paint trays and prints and paint using just your hands,  a fly swat, a sponge, anything you can see to create a masterpiece.  Occasionally you will chase me round the garden with a menacing grin threatening to put wet paint hand prints on my trousers. I love how much you have enjoyed it, and how you’ve changed from a boy who didn’t like getting his hands mucky at first to one who now revels in it.  This one hour each Friday is one of the highlights of my week.

There is no question that right now, you are a Mummy’s boy.  Maybe that will change in time; perhaps it is because Pip and his father are so close, you gravitate towards me more. Let me tell you a secret... I love it. I love the bond we have.  You are a joy to be around.  Your father jokes that you have me wrapped around your little finger, and if I’m honest with myself, there is more than a grain of truth in that statement. So be it. 

You will be one of the oldest in your year and nearly five when you go to school, I know these pre-school years are going to rattle past quickly, and before I know it, you’ll be standing on the front step for that first day photo and ready to go. But right now, when I feel you growing so quickly, when I lament each passing phase, I console myself with the fact I still have you with me for another three years, and I think the very words you say to me all the time.  Lucky Mummy.  

Happy Birthday, my wonderful, darling boy.  xxx

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What I'm Writing

At the start of September, I declared that this would be the month I started writing my novel. I set myself a goal to reach a word count of 6000 words, based on using the hours I have when EB is at nursery to write.  To date I have written nothing.  My head is as empty as the page in front of me. I have been struck by self doubt and a crisis of confidence.

I started the week positively. On Sunday, I attended a workshop at our local book festival appropriately entitled, ‘How to write a novel’, the speaker, a published author and tutor on the MA course on creative writing at UEA was engaging and motivating.  She talked about her own ‘organic’ approach to novel writing, the fact that she doesn’t always have a fully fledged plan when she sits down to write, and this made me feel better about my own slightly haphazard approach. As luck would have it, she writes timeslip novels, which is what I am attempting to do. I really enjoyed listening to her speak and the insights she offered.

I left the session feeling buoyant and ready to write, I couldn’t wait to get to my laptop and get started. Yet my allotted slot on Monday was thwarted by the presence of various people (builders) banging around the house.  I decamped to the local coffee shop only to find the only available space was on the communal table and it impossible to write as an elderly gentleman, clearly in need of some human contact, continued in his attempts to make conversation until I gave in.  

Not that I needed much to distract me, because at the back of my mind there are niggling doubts.  I do not have a fully fledged plot or even, half a plot.  To date I have 4000 words, written some time ago.  I have a half chapter of the story set in 1860 and a couple of chapters set in modern day.  The link between them is still not fully formed in my mind and I’m struggling to work out how everything is going to come together.  I’m not sure I’m the next Kate Mosse  and I’m wondering, am I being too ambitious? What in it’s inception started off as a clear idea is now confused and muddled. I worry that I may be writing two separate stories and forcing them together. Whilst there is no doubt this would be a challenging writing exercise in itself, I have so few hours in which to write each week, I don’t want to waste time on something if I am forcing it to fit.

When I re-read what I have written so far, I am pleased with it. I feel the desire to craft the characters further even though they are barely established. Yet, I can’t seem to get past the road blocks in my head; the plot is just not coming together.  However many hours I lie awake at night, I can’t fathom it. Perhaps I need to just write the scenes of the story that I am clear on and see if this ignites other ideas that I can develop further.

My hope was that I would use September and October as strong planning months to put myself in a place where I could attempt NaNoWriMo in November.  Instead, I am prevaricating - largely because I can't see a way forward. I am minded to spend the next couple of weeks researching the historical background to the earlier part of the story more and writing out a few more scenes. If I am still struggling after this, then I am tempted to put this book to one side and revisit it at a later date,  following up on a new idea instead for NaNoWriMo. I all sounds terribly flittish - doesn’t it?

I am clinging to the words of Iris Murdoch as my shining beacon of hope.  ‘Every novel is the wreck of a perfect idea’.    I hope so.

Is what I’m experiencing just part of the writing process or is it a sign of more fundamental issues with the book idea?

Writing Bubble

NB: On a separate note  - I am doing better on my September goal of limiting wine consumption to 3 nights a week…and despite my creativity output being poor, I am feeling better for it.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Good Intentions for September

Yesterday, I marvelled at the sunflowers blooming in our garden. They’d taken their time to open up but, were worth waiting for; summer’s last hurrah. Later, walking through the park, I saw the first conkers on the ground; the irregular spheres of polished chestnut gleaming in the sunlight reminded me that Autumn, my favourite season, is now on it’s way.  The dichotomy wasn’t lost on me.  I feel life is at a gentle crossover point right now.  We are almost at the end of one phase and focusing on the beginning of the next; the return to school, the autumn season, the busyness and hustle and bustle of life in the run up to Christmas.

Today, the 1st September, I am full of good intentions, brimming with enthusiasm, looking forward to getting back into a routine after my carefree approach during the summer holidays. There is much I want to do; and much as I will miss Pip when he returns to school on Thursday, I can’t wait to get started on new projects and plans.  Experience has taught me that it is better to put my own projects to one side for the summer holidays;  I find I get frustrated when I can’t get on with things. Better to give myself up selflessly and wholeheartedly to the kids, instead letting my thoughts ferment and develop here and there.  I find, that by the end of the summer, usually ideas have developed to the point that I am itching to get started.

I am writing my goals down here in the hope that committing them to virtual paper increases my chances of successfully implementing them. (It must be said, I let myself off the hook far too easily.)

September goals

Limit the wine consumption

I have drunk far too much this summer. Not particularly in vast quantities, but just with increasing regularity - a glass of wine or two each night.  Most nights. Sometimes for weeks without a break.  I love nothing more than a glass of wine with my dinner at night, at the end of a long day it feels like a reward.  Yet, it makes me lethargic, it is the enemy of getting things done - and for me, the hours between 9 and 11pm ( I tend to eat at 8.30pm) are valuable time when I could be working on projects; or writing; a hobby I love but find little time for.

Goal: To drink wine no more than 3 nights per week.  (This is realistic as it allows me to enjoy the various parties and calendar commitments we have in the diary - but also gives me the opportunity 4 nights of the week to do more than crash on the sofa at 9pm.)

Start exercising

I feel sluggish, like something is clogging up inside me and needs to be blown away.  Since having my second child I have found it hard to find the time to exercise but with EB now attending nursery two mornings a week I have some time to do this.  I am all too aware that as I hover on the cusp of 40 that I can’t rely on the fast metabolism I’ve been blessed with to keep me slim forever.  We have recently bought a cross trainer and an exercise bike.  All I need to do now is remove my bottom from the sofa and start using them.

Goal: Use the home gym twice a week.

Start writing (more)

For as long as I can remember, it has been my dream to write a novel.  I have started a couple of novels previously, but 10,000 words in they have both been abandoned in a file on the desktop. Life gets busy, I end up prioritising other things...or I drink wine ( the enemy of my creativity - hence goal one.) A while ago I said to my mother, “ I’m going to have finished the first draft of my novel by the time I’m 40.”  That gives me 7 months.  It’s time to stop procrastinating and start writing.

Different approaches work for different people. I have been following the writing journey of Maddie at Writing Bubble, another busy mum with 3 small boys. It makes for inspiring reading. I like her idea of setting word goals for each week /month. I think this could work for me so this is going to be my approach for September.

Goal: Write 6000 words in September.  Attend the workshop on ‘Writing a Novel’ at the local book festival.

Tickling our taste buds

Years ago (pre-children) it was not uncommon for me to spend my whole day thinking about what I would cook for our evening meal.  I would think nothing of coming home from work and spending two hours preparing a gastronomic feast. Not so these days. We have fallen into a quick and easy recipe rut. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just our repertoire of meals has become rather limited and dare I say, boring. Responsibility for this lies firmly at my door as I’m the one that buys the ingredients.  Colourful, wholesome food is what I want us eating more of and as autumn approaches one pot dishes and root vegetables come into play it shouldn’t be that difficult.

Goal: Cook one new recipe per week. (Starting tonight with Spanish Chicken Casserole.)

It is tempting to set myself more goals for this month, there are so many other projects I’d like to attempt; sorting out the interiors for the front room and our bedroom, sorting out the front garden (currently a dust bowl), revamping and refreshing my blog. But this is enough for now - small steps.  The rest can ferment until October.

How are you feeling about September? Are you marching into Autumn with energy or sad to say goodbye to the summer?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Postcard from Puglia

I love Italy. I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a bit of it now. Puglia remains my favourite region; the place that has a tender spot in my heart. I love the rugged simplicity of it, the glistening white towns, the sparkling Adriatic coastline that seems visible from so many vantage points; it’s rocky, jagged coves, perfect for fishing nets and catching small crabs, the quaint trulli houses, the fields of hundred year old olive trees that stretch for miles sat on a carpet of hard red clay.  

The first time I visited, it was just Husband and I.  Two dots joined by a line.  The next time, a triangle; now with Pip in tow - 11 months old. We took him to our favourite place, a seafood shack on the coast; Alba Chiara in Savelleteri, with simple straw umbrellas and paper tablecloths flapping in the sea breeze. Fresh seafood is bought up directly from the boats that stop at the beach front and grilled on the BBQ there and then. I remember Pip eating mussels, squid, fried fish  - all manner of sea food from the table with gusto that amazed me from a nearly one year old.

Now we are a square.  EB our fourth and final point.  This summer we took him there. Again, we visited our favourite place, the seafood shack.  The boys played on the pebbly beach,  fished for crabs in the shallow rocky pools and peered into the makeshift kitchen tent to look at the as yet, uncooked fish, displayed in glass eyed stupor on crushed ice.  There is, I know, a danger in revisiting such places, that the reality does not live up to the rose tinted memory. But it didn’t happen. And as we drank the obligatory glass of lunchtime Rose and the paper tablecloths flapped in the breeze and I watched the sun shine on the sea, I said to Husband, “ This really sums up happy for me”.  People I love. Simple things. Good times.

Our trulli house was rustic.  Impressive from the outside, but ‘characterful’ enough to let in plenty of flies, mosquitoes and a brave baby lizard.  Pip didn’t mind.  Thank goodness for a bug loving son. “ I saw it go under my bed”  he squealed excitedly; "It’s sleeping in my room tonight, Mummy”.   I was thankful it wasn’t sleeping in mine.

Outside the kitchen door, creamy white butterflies, the tips of their wings fluted with grey and black, danced to the musical cacophony of the crickets in the surrounding trees and scrub. The potent scent of lavender - planted in abundance - it’s sun bleached purple fronds bouncing with the weight of pollinating bees.  And rosemary - pungent, it's scent never stronger than after rain. In stolen moments alone, I stood quietly outside, breathing the scent in whilst fantasising that I might get 5 minutes to read the book I’d bought with me (never going to happen with two daredevil boys and a swimming pool with a diving board outside the back door) .  On the land around us;  figs, quince, apricot and olive trees in varying degrees of ripeness framed the scenery of the boy’s pre-bathtime passigiata.  Enormous beetles and bugs sat dozing in the flora and fauna, sleepy from the intense heat.  Pip, with the eyes of the eagle, could spot them in scrub from a mile off.  He has no fear of these things,  a sting is no threat to him, not if it means he can pick them up, count their legs, or examine and lift their wings. Sometimes I wish he wasn’t quite so brave.

In the second week it was Husband's birthday. In the morning, I graciously allowed him a lie in; took the turn of rising at 5am with EB. (Some things holidays do not change.) In hushed tones, the children and I planned a treasure hunt around the trulli, hiding his presents. Pip, so sweet, could not contain himself long enough for Daddy to locate the next X on the map. Instead, charging over to each next spot shouting; “Over here, Dad, over here!’.  In the evening a local woman came to cook typical Puglian cuisine for us. As she (and her beer swilling partner) took charge of the cooking, we played musical statues via music from the iPad, in silent pauses the only sound the crickets chirping from the surrounding trees or EB shouting out in delight (It’s fair to say that at 21 months he didn’t quite get the gist of the game). The cooking was not great, it must be said.  Ever British, we politely bade her goodbye after hiding some of the fare behind the lavender so as not to offend.  

On day trips out we played Pip’s favourite new game. Naming all the colours one can possibly think of.  In fact, Pip did not want to stop playing it. I exhausted the depths of my memory trying to work through the song about Joseph and his technicolour dream coat.  And we clapped proudly when Pip thought of a new colour to our list - “Aubergine’ and chuckled when a little confused, he sometimes didn’t, because however many times you say it, there is simply not a colour that goes by the name of ‘globe’.

Colours came to life when we visited the (numerous) gelateria. Italian ice cream is, I think, the best in the world, not just in the taste, but even in the way they serve it, something special about the unfussy counters, simply laid out with metal tubs, featuring a rainbow of mouthwatering flavours. The best ice cream shop we found was in Ostuni, la chita blanca, Pip’s favourite was melon. Mine, raspberry - still with the pips in.  Absolute heaven.

Two weeks passed so very quickly. Home now.  As I write this, I am sat on the garden bench next to my (finally finished) wood fired oven and beside a pot of rosemary,  the sun is shining and EB sleeps. The holiday halo effect continues. Life feels good.

Next task...making our first pizza - Puglian style.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


This year your growth has seemed more obvious; day by day, inch by inch, I’ve noticed you getting taller and taller.  Watched the school trousers we bought at the start of reception, rise slowly to sit on and then above your ankles.  Swapped them, in the spring term, for shorts; the thinnest, longest legs, stick like, poking out the bottom.  I have observed you change through the seasons; vulnerable at the start of your first school year, like the bare branches on the trees in the park on our walk to school; exposed in stark relief. To blossoming in the spring; racing ahead and through the doors into the classroom with barely a backward glance. “This is good” the teaching assistant insisted, as she saw my forlorn face - on a morning that you barely said goodbye, so eager were you to get to the Lego table.  And it is. It’s wonderful to see.  School has been good for you. No more are you a shy boy.   You are still softly spoken, yet now you are a boy that brims with confidence and makes friends easily.

You are still piecing together the world around you, joining the dots. You ask about the genealogy of our family tree a lot, be that people, or pets. You know by heart, all of my family pets since childhood, their names and the order in which they died. You like to remind us that no-one is older than Great Grandma (who is 91) and it heartens me to see the respect you attribute to her old age.   

You struggle with understanding death, even though I have tried to lighten it’s prospect by telling you of the wonders of heaven. “ But I don’t think I want to go into space” you said.   You tell me that there are ways to live forever.   “If you eat through the concrete gravestone Mummy, you can come back to life.”  These are subjects I don’t like you to dwell on and thankfully they occupy your mind less now.  Of late, the concept of infinity is of far more interest, as is wondering when the tooth fairy might come.  “ I don’t want to brush my teeth Mummy. Then they’ll fall out quicker and I’ll get a golden coin.” I am almost impressed by your strategy to get rich quick. So I tell you that the tooth fairy uses teeth like bricks, to make her fairy palace. “But she only likes really white, clean good ones” I say.  

At your first parents evening, your teacher said how kind, well mannered and polite you are. I struggled to fight back the tears. I felt so proud of you. Barely four when you started school. You are good at remembering your P’s and Q’s, and sweet in the way you’ll often hang back in the cloakroom in the morning and wait to hold hands with a classmate to walk to the classroom door together.  

You are inquisitive when it comes to words. Specific and analytical.  You will always ask what a word means if you hear a word you haven’t heard before. Since starting school you’ll sometimes try and fathom out the logic behind things yourself.

“They’re nice sweets, Mummy”
“Yes, they’re Daddy’s favourites. They’re called wine gums”,
“Is that because if your gums are whining and you eat them, it will make them better?”

You were totally serious.

Drawings are now more legible, paintings clearer. Your picture was featured in the highlights of the school art exhibition brochure last week. You were so pleased. I was pleased for you, as pencil grip has been a challenge for you since starting school. You have proved yourself to be a trier. The other morning you wrote a sentence - looked down at it and smiled; “Look how lovely and small my letters are, Mummy”.  It’s been a challenge, but you are getting there with your writing now. I’m proud of you.

I think you will always be a home boy. You say often; “ I love my family”. You genuinely do seem to love hanging out with your Dad, EB and I.  You love your grandparents and your aunt and uncles too with a dedication that is heartwarming.   The thought of leaving Mummy and Daddy is not something that you like. “ I don’t want to go to University”, “ I don’t want to get married. I want to stay with you, Mummy.”  I reassure you, tell you not to worry, point out the people in our family that aren’t married, and didn’t go to university,  and tell you that you can live with Mummy and Daddy for as long as you want. “Even when I’m one hundred?” you ask. And I answer as diplomatically as I possibly can.

Quite often, you will appear to be in your own world, thinking about something to yourself. Then suddenly you will ask a question; completely unrelated to anything we have been discussing . Like at 7am this morning, randomly;  ‘How many fingers does a kangaroo have?' or  ‘What’s the biggest number before infinity? or ‘What’s the difference between a mountain and a hill?’.  I find the way your mind works fascinating.  I’m learning new things every day through researching the answers to your questions. Thank goodness for Google.

You are still a fussy eater.  They gave you a special star chart at school to try and encourage you to eat your lunch. You are a dough boy;  would eat only bread if you could. Sweet, soft brioche is your favourite.  You eat vegetables only under duress. You pretend you like them; “I do like carrots, Mummy", you’ll insist, eager to please, but then you eat only one or two - before dramatically pretending you feel sick.  Thankfully, you haven’t yet discovered the ‘hidden vegetable‘ tactic.  You don’t like ketchup or fizzy drinks, the only thing you drink is water. Mango is your favourite fruit, but only when it is not too ‘slimey’. It must be said, you have a very particular palette.

You like playing football and climbing trees. You like crafting; especially with Grandma and Grandpa; you’ll sit for hours with them at the kitchen table painting or making something. You love the beach and the woods in equal measure; outdoors is your favourite place to be.  You are a Lego fanatic; changing your preferences almost daily. At Christmas, you were infatuated with Lego trains, but right now, it’s all about Lego Chima. I like our conversations about the power of chi.

You wear your heart on your sleeve and when you are happy joy shines from your face.  Last week we took delivery of the new garden shed. Quickly, it became a shop, and you the shopkeeper.  In a twist on Mr Ben, the shop became something different each time I visited; a reptile shop in South America, a cafe in France - I was very impressed with your offer of a ‘cafe au lait’, and then the best sweetie shop in the world - that sold sweets as big as bananas.  Later as we sat on the garden bench, you reached up and hugged me. “This is the best day ever” you beamed, “I want to spend the rest of my life playing shop keepers with you”.  You do love imaginative games. Although it must be said, that nothing makes you happier than role playing whilst wearing a Lycra muscle suit. Spiderman, Batman, Hulk, Iron man, Captain America, Ninja Turtles - we have them all. 

You love being a brother.  You love EB to bits.  For the most part, you are kind and loving to him. It surprises me, but you like to wear the same clothes as him. You like to read him stories, clapping him when he spots the mouse hiding on each page of his book.  He revels in the moment, and the attention from you. Watching the way you interact with him, and the love in his eyes for you, is amazing. You are his hero. He says your name hundreds of times a day when you’re at school and can’t wait for 3pm when we come to collect you.

Your hero, however, is your father.  The two of you have an impenetrable bond.  He is the brightest star in your universe and loves you with a passion so strong it has surprised me. He takes you swimming to the pool with the big slides, has taught you patiently how to ride your bike without your stabilisers, how to climb trees in the park, plays fun, imaginary games with you, makes you pancakes for breakfast and tells you he loves you often.  On the nights when he isn’t home from work before your bedtime, you beg me; “Please send Daddy up when he gets home.”  Your bond is wonderful.

As testosterone starts it’s upward trajectory in your young body, there are times when I feel that you need me less now. When I have felt you pull against the invisible chord between us; stretching it further and further, as you become more independent.  After four years at home with you, watching you make your first ventures away from the mothership has not been easy, but you have proved yourself a strong, brave and sensible boy.  I cherish the times we spend together alone, reading your school book on the bench in the garden, the stories before bedtime, and snuggling down in your bunk. The way you whisper to me “Let’s do that sleepy thing. Will you sleep in my bed all night long?”.  The way you always say; "Love you", as I leave you for the night. 

Dear Pip.  I could not have wished for a more lovely son. I feel so blessed to have you.  Happy 5th Birthday.  xxx

Friday, 6 June 2014

Red Flags

I have had a heavy heart of late. Felt expressionless and bereft of words; just moved silently through life.  Have not been able to put my finger on the root cause. Not been able to pinpoint why I have felt like this.  A multitude of reasons; some big, some not so big, swelling like waves on the incoming tide. Some days I have struggled to keep a brave face on it. Painting by numbers each morning to get through it;  02 for the dark circles, 06 - mink, for the eyelids, a light 01 bronzer for the cheeks. A mask; to wear to the school gate or when taking EB out to the park. Keeping up the outward show.

Inside, I have struggled to fight back the tears and to make sense of why.  Why suddenly, everything felt just too much. This has not been me. How can it be? I’m a self-proclaimed optimist and a soldier on-er.  Yet, my mettle seems to have left me.

We went away at half term. For a holiday.  I hoped it would help.

I’d been before, to this land of ragged hill tops. The place my grandmother visited each year for her annual painting holiday.  ‘Yugoslavia’ sounded so grand when she regaled her stories of it.  Impossible to pass through the landscape now and not imagine war; shrapnel echoing through lush peaceful valleys, reverberating through to nearby idyllic seaside coves.  She died just after EB was born.  I didn’t go to the funeral.  I thought about her a lot, this holiday. Said hello, smiled at blue sky and said; "Look where I am", placed a kiss upon the wind and said goodbye.

Ancient olive trees and fragrant pine trees, plus others; unfamiliar. "It's like Greece" observed Pip, except it has these pointy trees". They were indeed, very pointy.  Pip said that the waves were turquoise. Not green or blue, the colours I might have expected a nearly 5 year old to choose, but turquoise.  I found myself cheered by listening to his observations of the new world around him, comparing and contrasting, to other places he had been. He is a good companion, my eldest son.  Watching him by the pool, making friends with ease, I felt proud, thinking about how much my boy has grown in confidence since starting school.

We last visited Dubrovnik nine years ago. This time we did not walk high around the high city walls;  did not venture and take a birds eye view- too many steps for a buggy. Instead we meandered through the streets of the old town, the stone beneath us gleaming in the high midday sun, polished almost slippery underneath - and as before, I wondered how many millions of footsteps had walked through those streets over the years, to leave a patina so polished that you can almost see your reflection in it in the midday sun.

We ate cherries and apricots from the market stalls, imperfect; with grazed black spots on their skin, yet they tasted wonderful, sweet enough but still slightly tart; the best apricots I have ever eaten. Cherries so ripe they fell apart in our mouths. Candied orange peel; the bitter taste of rind fighting through the sugar, reminding me of a grey school uniform and playground oranges. By the harbour we sat in strong sunshine whilst EB slept in the shade, ate bread and small fried fish doused in lemon. Pip ordered an old fashioned lemonade, so bitter that only four sachets of sugar made it drinkable. So bad...but yet so good.

And in odd snatched moments, when we weren’t trying to stop the boys from drowning in the pool or, EB disappearing under someone else’s table in a restaurant, I talked to Husband, tried my best to articulate how I felt. "I don’t want you to be sad. I want you to be happy" was all he said. He took the children for an hour, here or there, allowed me time and space alone, without interruption.  I am thankful for those broad strong shoulders, they are good to lean on.  For the first time, in a long time, I was able to catch my breath.  Felt the warmth of sun and warmth of love. The ache inside lessened.  The swell of anxiety ceased and I did not feel overwhelmed.

Poppies fluttered like flags on the hillside; a poignant reminder that I have so much to be grateful for.  I painted my toenails to match. They look bright and cheerful.  I’ve been back a week now -  feel better than I did before.  Keep looking at my happy feet - to spur me on.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Unfinished Symphony

After fourteen months, I expected perhaps a fanfare of trumpets or the clang of triumphant cymbals when we walked over the threshold of our newly renovated house. A feeling of euphoria.  But in the end, it wasn’t quite like that. 

The project had continued to overrun it’s ten month schedule. When we eventually reached thirteen months we delivered an ultimatum to the builder; even if the house wasn’t finished, we would be moving back on the 4th April.  In the end, it was still a stretch for him and his team. The painter worked a 24 hour shift, the house was overrun with tradespeople competing in the same space to finish their designated tasks and as a consequence, constantly tripping over one another.  Husband and I craved the opportunity pre-move to walk around in peace and quiet, to try and discuss where furniture or pictures might go, but it seemed there was always someone there; at 9.30pm the night before we moved and even at 9.30am on move day.

The removal men scuffed remarkably little of the new paintwork -  much to my relief, and coped admirably with the many stairs that our house presented them with.  And finally, when they were all finished, as we gave them the customary tip and closed the front door,  I was able to breathe.  To take it all in. For the first time, in fourteen months to take a walk through our home, with Husband and the boys, alone, to marvel at how much we’d achieved and how far we’d come.  As we walked from room to room, the continual palette of grey and white (or off white) worked harmoniously with the features of the house and there was the joyous sensation of everything coming together. Oh how I love the big glass doors that frame the garden like a massive picture frame; adore the restored stained glass with it’s individual panes that glisten like boiled sweets as the sun shines through the windows.  I love the light open aspect downstairs that we’ve created from what was once a dark, dingy space. And upstairs, the luxurious en suite created from an unloved spare bedroom.  Overall, I love, love, love my new house. Yet, there have been a few things that have jarred within the overall tune, like the nagging squeak of a violin in the wrong key.  Dismay at the utility room floor with cracked tiles - how did that happen?  Disappointment at the touch of crazy paving that crept into the traditional Victorian hall floor design. 

Snagging comes with the territory on a project like ours, I know that, yet, in the days following the move, as I forensically examined every inch of our renovate home, it was hard not to feel slightly deflated. To not feel despondent when armed with six pages of A4 documenting builders ‘snags’. Resuming conversations with the builder almost immediately was not something I had envisaged - all I wanted was to say goodbye - for a few months at least.

Then there was the outside, a builder’s junk yard.  At the front; a new step, front wall and fence that needed to be built.  The back garden; with no grass, a pile of bricks and bags of sand.  A week after we moved in, work on the garden started, endless cups of coffee and trays of biscuits proffered in the hope that happy workers will deliver a good job.  A pizza oven to build. Husband away. ‘How should we build the roof? they asked. ‘I don’t know’ I wailed. The Albanian bricklayers simply downed tools, ate more biscuits and stared at me awaiting further instruction. ‘A roof like a hat?'  they suggested after drinking the umpteenth cup of coffee that morning. ‘No, he won’t like that.' 'Can you wait till it’s morning in New York?'  ‘No’. Deep breaths.  More decisions required, the only problem being, I was (I am) decisioned out.

We’ve been back four weeks and slowly the realisation has dawned that this project has a far longer tail then I thought.  That actually, it will probably be another nine months, maybe even longer, before it feels properly like the home I envisaged. That I’ll be living with bare bulbs hanging from the pendants for a while whilst I try to find the ‘perfect’ light. That it’s still another three months before the carpet runner for the stairs will arrive, and heaven knows what sort of sofa configuration will sit best in our new open plan living area. It's a good job I'm so good at procrastinating.  I have faith though, that time is what it needs, that it can’t be rushed, that like all great symphonies - everything will come together eventually.

Without doubt, the most memorable part of the past few weeks has been seeing Pip and EB revel in discovering their new home. Pip absolutely loves it. I have noticed a change in my oldest son in just one month, he’ll now happily take himself to the toilet on his own ( no need for mummy to come and ‘talk’ now). There has also been the surprise announcement; ‘I’m not scared of the dark anymore’; EB has been gifted his old nightlight. High up in his new bunk bed, Pip is king of the world, and has the confidence of one too.  EB’s favourite thing is to dance on the glass floor in the kitchen, round and round in concentric circles, or lie face down, pressing his face up against the glass and looking into the basement below shouting Pip’s name.  It’s a joy to see.

Last week as I bade a tradesman goodbye, he turned to me at the front door and said; ‘You’re going to have such a happy life in this house’.  So kind, but silently I prayed hearing that wouldn't jinx us.  In many ways, it does feel like a dream to live here. I can barely remember now what a grime pit it was before we started this project.

Despite the snags, Faulty Towers it is no more.  Fortunate Towers; maybe. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity. I hope our new home brings us happy times, good health, good luck and good fortune.

(Good) Fortune Towers. I think it’s got rather a nice ring to it.  
*And for my regular readers who'd like to see some photos - they're coming. I'm just trying to retrieve the 'before' shots from an old hard drive first. Not proving as easy as I hoped...*

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Letting Go

Nearly at the end.   Fourteen months on, we have begun the process of repacking boxes. Time to move back to the other end of the street.

EB was two and a half months old when we moved out of Faulty Towers.  I allowed Husband to persuade me then that packing ourselves would be a good thing, an opportunity to declutter.  It was not one of his better ideas. A sleep deprived, hormonal zombie, I tried my best, but found myself unable to part with much. 

This time, I have the movers packing for me, the practicalities of trying to achieve it on my own with an inquisitive toddler as my right hand man just make a DIY effort impossible.  For the past month I have tried hard to streamline our possessions in preparation for our move. For every item I put into a box, EB has taken one out again, hidden it, broken it, sucked it, puked on it or tried to hump it. In his own way, he has contributed to the selection process.

The past year has been insightful.  Living with fewer possessions has made me realise that I don’t need so much ‘stuff’.  I will always be a sentimentalist, but I don’t need to hoard or hold on to quite so much.  That I value pictures and words, more than things or ornamental objects. That I want to try and lead a more minimalist lifestyle. (Clutter and paraphernalia that comes with children being the exception to this rule.)

I have challenged myself hard on the objects we should take back to F.T with us.   I have shed a few tears. Pip’s pram was sold on ebay; as I ran a cloth over the frame one last time and placed the carrycot on the chassis, I felt bereft. “I’m just going to pop off for a quick cry,’” I muttered to Husband. Some things have been harder to let go of than others.   Still, the Bugaboo’s new owners seemed very happy with it, joyfully pregnant with no 1, they looked in disbelief at my 4 year old lunatic bouncing around in a Spiderman costume as if unable to believe he had ever been small enough to fit inside it.

In the eaves of the loft, brand new in box, I found another pram. Miniature, with wooden wheels and frame, a wicker cradle and cream linen canopy. Bought from a toy store with a closing down sale - on impulse. Pip never showed any interest in it, so in it’s box it stayed. I held on to it,  in my heart, I hoped I might one day have a daughter. That one day, we might play with dolls and teddies, taking them for walks, putting them to bed, just like I did when I was a girl.  In the last year, there has been a gradual dawning, an acceptance. That there will be no more children. That I am the mother of two testosterone fuelled, wonderful boys, but I will never have a daughter. Never have the mother and daughter bond that I have with my own Mum and value so much.  I sent the little pram to the charity shop. They put it in the window. For two weeks, I walked past it every day, felt the twang of my heart strings, until one day it was gone.  To someone, I hope, that will love it very much.

In the study, sorting though the inadequate filing that has typified the past few years, I came across an envelope containing investigative findings from fertility clinics and early scan photos.  The lost ones.  Flashbacks. A confusing blur flooded with red. Time does heal; I think about them less now.  My hand hovered briefly over the dustbin bag. Yet, I could not let them go, those tiny diamonds of hope that had winked at me from a place of darkness.  Our journey together may have been short lived, but it still happened.  I chose to hold on to them; those grainy scan photos are the only proof they ever existed.

The Ikea kitchen table, bought pre-children and assembled by my Mum and I, along with chairs I sprayed in different colours, will shortly make it’s way to the council tip.  It’s chipped and bashed, it’s joints cemented together with the excess smearings of Pip’s porridge.  I remember the sunny day that Mum and I pieced it all together, our sense of satisfaction at completing our first flat packed adventure.  I remember, happy happy times, around that table. Candlelit meals, weaning adventures, crafting nightmares; paint dripping down the legs, makeshift Christmas dinners with the leaf extended and still barely enough room to fit all the plates on.  But it is time for something new.  Something bigger and more fitting to family life. It served us well though, that IKEA table.

This morning my bedroom chest of drawers sold on ebay. This afternoon, I will begin the process of sorting through it and removing all my clothes. This afternoon, I will confront The Pack of Big Pants, still lurking in the drawer.  What a difference a year makes. This time, I am ready.  It’s time to tell them, ‘Goodbye’.

On Saturday, the next chapter begins.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Cold Feet

Standing on the precipice, 39 in a few days time. Next stop. 40.  Life seems to be passing quickly, like the tube trains hurtling by my window. It barely seems moments since I left home at 18, yet now I’m surging head long towards mid life. 

Suddenly, I feel aware of it. What was once blurred and in the distance is now in sharp relief on the horizon.

Silver strands of hair gleam like morning frost in a thatch of honey brown; clues that that the autumn of life is approaching. Wearied from having children in my later years I am not as vigilant as I once was in disguising the evident signs of age.  My colouring is changing too, my skin a lighter shade of pale than it once was. Slowly, in the tiniest increments, I am changing, day by day. Creeping towards invisibility. 

My face, with skin once plump and smooth, now shows lines and creases that cannot be blamed on pillows.  Collagen infused face creams go some way to fill the gap, yet there is a limit to their problem solving abilities. The dark circles underneath my eyes show the strain of four and a half years of broken sleep.  I look at my reflection in the mirror and I find it hard to accept the attrition I see before me.  Mirrors have become a catalyst, drilling deeper than the surface of my skin. Frequently these days I find myself in a spiral of self doubt.  Where is the young, vibrant woman I once was? Who am I now?

In the past five years, life has changed completely.  Two small people are now dependent on me for their happiness and well being. Lie in’s are a distant memory, I can’t remember the last time I was up all night was to party; these days it’s merely to return my night visitors to their own beds.

Weekends are spent attending 5 year old birthday parties by day and 40th parties by night.  In some ways, they are not dissimilar. The common thread, I’ve noticed, that girls like to get very dressed up.  Princesses are not so different, at 5 or at 40. Most forty year old women with young children don’t get out much, a party, with canapes and champagne (paid for by someone else) is an excuse to don sparkles and heels, forget the mummy jeans with the elasticated waistband and to feel like the belle of the ball for an evening.  

At a few of the parties I have been to, there have been speeches; a few poignant words, reflecting on life’s journey to date.  Forty seems to be a time when people hold a mirror up to their life, reflect, evaluate. Measure milestones, achievements, career success, worth and wealth. 

For every celebratory smile that is genuine, there are others that mask sadness or disappointment. I look around and I see; single friends who never dreamt they would be on their own, friends whose marriages are struggling under the strain of money worries, stressful jobs, ill children, or just coping with the roller coaster journey that is life with small children. Friends struggling to conceive post 40; battling with the barren winter of infertility in later life, undergoing multiple rounds of IVF and the tsunami of emotions that come with it. Worst of all, the injustice of incurable disease; the hovering black cloud of impending loss. I am struck by the randomness of it all; that life is like the rolling of a die.

There’s no denying it. Sometime between 35 and 40, I became a proper grown up. Knuckled down to the serious business of life. Became responsible. Two young people to look after, bills to pay, a roof to (renovate), a mortgage, a marriage, all of which need care and consideration, the investment of time and energy. I am now a world away from the halcyon days of eighteen.  And sometimes I find, being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My friends and I slide along the timeline of life together, some of us faring better than others.  Facebook photos tell only half a story, the real picture is painted over wine (or tea and cake). Sharing other people’s pain isn’t easy. Sometimes I wish I could step into a time machine for just a day or two, take them with me, that we could suspend reality and return to the carefree days of our twenties.

‘Forty is not old’, I tell myself, not even ‘middle aged’ in this world of ever increasing nonagenarians. I still feel ‘young’. My hopes, my dreams are as alive as they ever were.  I’m like a clock; still keeping perfect time on the inside, but with a few scuff marks and the patina of wear on it’s outer.  And occasionally, the responsibility of keeping everything and everyone ticking over does feel like a weighty pendulum.

The most recent fortieth birthday celebrations took us to a central London venue. With a ringmaster, circus acts, cocktails, in a bijou cabaret setting. I dragged some vintage sequins from the wardrobe, some heels, rescued my only lipstick from the bottom of my bag, forced myself to make the effort. The place was full of beautiful, young people. At midnight, plates were cleared and the huge communal table at the front of the restaurant became an elevated dance floor.   I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to be cajoled up onto the table top, yet the wine helped me find my rhythm. I was tipping towards the upper end of the age scale, but I think I pulled it off. And I had a great time. Felt fantastic.  Dancing with friends I’ve known for years, people to treasure, who’ve been there through thick and thin and hopefully always will be.

We talked about it for the next week (or two); what fun we’d had. How good it was to forget the pressures of the day to day and live only in the moment - for that evening.  We concluded we all felt better for it.

Life might feel serious sometimes, but a little light relief can go a long way.  The best medicine for cold feet is dancing - especially if it’s on a table.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Porto - The Week That Was

“Lisbon?” Husband enquired, perusing the internet.
“Flight time?” I asked
“7.30 am”
“So, we’d be leaving for the airport at 5.30am? For a restful three day mini break? No thanks”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere we can fly to at a decent time that has a nice hotel.”

And so it was, that with these as our two key criteria for a mini break sans children, we found ourselves headed for Porto.

In the run up to our mini break, I did not worry, I did not feel guilty. I felt confident that Pip and EB would be happy in the company of their grandparents.  All I did was dream of sleep. Uninterrupted sleep, a full twelve hours, where neither of us were beckoned by the call of the wild one at 4am or found our bed invaded by the fidgety four year old.  Two mornings, when I could wake up naturally.  Two mornings when a lie in was not a pipe dream possibility but a cast iron certainty. Bliss.  Husband felt the same.  He even went as far as to suggest we didn’t drink too much (alcohol) on our nights away. ‘“We don’t want to be dehydrated, drinking water and going to the loo all night’. (He meant me.) 

Porto was covered in a thick cloak of fog the morning we landed. Rather like the state of my addled head.  In fact, each and every morning, the air was damp, a misty fog swirling around the old Ribeira. From our room overlooking the Douro river, I rather enjoyed watching it lift. A slow and metaphorical ‘coming to’, rather like myself; ungoverned - no rush, no routine, no racing to beat the school bell.

For a destination selected a random, we struck lucky. The Douro river estuary, flanked by many of the large port warehouses, is impressive. Crumbling old medieval townhouses sit aside restored buildings, their brightly tiled fascias with a patina of old world charm glistening in the sunshine.  A cable car runs alongside the river, a funicular railway up to the top of the cliff, where one can alight and wander along the higher plains to visit the cathedral and the Clerigos tower.  When the morning mists cleared, we rambled along the river, upwards, through hilly cobbled streets, taking the tram, enjoying long lunches with a glass of wine (or two) and eased ourselves into later afternoon with some cellar tours and port tasting. “But, it’s only 4pm” I lamented to my enthusiastic husband. "Yes, but there are a lot of Port houses to get round" was the response.  It’s fair to say, we did not follow our own advice, collapsing into bed each night after too much food and wine, but, thundering wild horses couldn’t have kept me from sleep. As 350 thread count sheets soothed me into slumber, I slept better than I have in the last five years.

Porto gave us a chance to rest, regroup and gather strength. It gave my parents a chance to spend precious quality time with their grandchildren, in a way that they never could were we also present. Time with my boys, only given to those I trust, a more precious gift than any other.  Equally, their gift to me, also one of time; to rest, to sleep, recuperate; for two days, my Mum, trooper that she is, bore the brunt of EB’s 4.30am rooster call.

There was something soothing about the crumbling imperfection of the place.  Something soothing about warm soft hands holding mine, and something soothing in the simplest sense, of being uninterrupted and able to finish a conversation.  We talked about our boys, but not incessantly. I missed them, but I was confident in the knowledge they were happy with their grandparents, as evidenced in the constant stream of photo texts.

In those few days I allowed my mind to wander beyond my children, beyond the house renovations. I took the opportunity to think about other projects and possibilities. I dusted down dreams and shared the thoughts germinating in the thick undergrowth of my mind that rarely get the oxygen to grow or develop. Those few days together alone reminded me of a life once lived. I don’t miss it, but like Cinderella with her glass slipper, I appreciated borrowing it for a couple of days.

And a couple of days was literally all it was; the pumpkin effect came approximately six hours after the plane landed.  EB, teething, was awake most of our first night back and was determined to start the day at 4am. The builder, aware we were back in Blighty, stopped worrying about his phone bill and started calling again. After operating at eighty miles per hour and dropping back to twenty for three days, Husband and I found it hard to rev back up to full throttle.  The kids put us through the masher for the next two days and suddenly back in a world of urgently required knobs, carpets and tile configurations the halo effect of Porto seemed years not days away.

Returning to London, I found myself in the odd situation of feeling more tired than before we went.  I felt like weeping with exhaustion. Husband looked equally browbeaten. Where had the Porto positivity gone? Had we mistakenly left it hanging in the fine Douro mist?

At the weekend we visited Faulty Towers as a family. In just one week significant progress had been made. The boys' rooms finished, they joyfully whooped their way round them in excited frenzy, opening every cupboard and door.  In the kitchen, they hid inside the box sized compartments of the unfinished sideboard, chuckling and playing peekaboo.  In the garden, a complete mud pit, they roared and raced around, finding all manner of sharp and unsafe objects in their wake.  Their enthusiasm was infectious and rejuvenating, and a stark reminder of why this year of hard work will all be worth it in the end.

We have handed in our notice on our rental property. We will soon cross the finish line. We may be limping to the end of our project, but by mid April, we will be home.  Porto was a reminder of life with head space, life with time to think. That’s what I’m holding on to. 

*PS. If you're ever headed to Porto, I highly recommend The Yeatman Hotel. Wonderful.