Life Is Like A Pile of Laundry

A white polar bear is boring

A white polar bear is boring

I spent New Year’s Day conquering the worst of my feral laundry mountain. The five loads of muddy clothes and pyjamas and the three-foot high ironing basket. It wasn’t so bad. I watched the Cinderella DVD my gorgeous daughter asked Father Christmas to bring for me (unbeknownst to me). I had an excuse not to fall asleep on the sofa or play yet another board game or strain my thumbs mining for diamonds.

We had a mooching home-based Christmas this year, full of TV, Minecraft, and colouring. Trapped in by the endless rain, it’s been unexciting, but restful.

I jokingly put on Facebook today that I was starting the year as it would go on – fighting an endless losing battle with dirty clothes. A relative said, ‘oh no,’ I should be curled on the sofa with a Bailies and a mince pie.

There have been plenty of both this holiday – I’m quite proud of my mince-pie belly. I hosted Christmas Day and made a dozen mince pies, forgetting (or not) that I’m the only one who likes them. And we won’t even mention the giant Christmas Cake I’m eating single-handed, accompanied by endless slices of apple and cheese.

Christmas colouring

Christmas colouring

It occurred to me, as I contemplated my remaining one-foot high ironing basket and the two feet of folded clothes on the tumble-dryer this evening, that laundry is a good analogy for life. I live for the day I’ll reach the bottom of the washing hamper or the ironing basket, but the only way it would happen would be if I was alone. My perfect laundry-life can’t ever exist, unless we all live naked or not at all.

We spend so much time in life waiting for the perfect – perfect job, perfect house (or even vaguely tidy kitchen table), perfect car, husband, kids. The day the kids listen or put their shoes on at first time of asking. The book deal, best seller, movie rights (that might just be me!), the perfect night’s sleep or skinny body.

This January we’ll beat ourselves up with resolutions to become the perfect us. Because then, just maybe, we’ll find perfect happiness.

But it’s a con.

We’ll never find – and keep – the perfect, just as I’ll never ever finish the laundry. Because life isn’t static. Perfection is for a moment only. To aim for anything else is to invite a life of disappointment. If we strive for the thing to make us happy, we’ll miss happy in the striving.

Still in Christmas PJs

Still in Christmas PJs

It isn’t reaching the perfect empty laundry basket that made me happy today – I didn’t get close. What made me happy was the doing. Watching a lovely movie with my kids while bringing order to chaos. Achieving something. Working hard. Getting stuck in.

It’s a cliché that life is the journey not the destination, but clichés are born in truth. Running will make you happy; striving for the perfect body probably won’t. Writing and creating will bring satisfaction;, longing to be the next J K Rowling will not.

So this year my resolution, as I approach my Zero Fs Forties, is to remember happiness is there for me to grab every day, not to strive for in a futile quest for perfection.

And there will always be ironing, but that’s okay, because it means life is moving on.

Repost: A Gentleman’s Guide to Rape Culture

I came across this article by Zaron Burnett on Huffington Post today and it’s a must-read for everyone (in my opinion)

“If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. I know … that sounds rough. You’re not a rapist, necessarily. But you do perpetuate the attitudes and behaviors commonly referred to as rape culture.

You may be thinking, “Now, hold up, Zaron! You don’t know me, homey! I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let you say I’m some sorta fan of rape. That’s not me, man!”

I totally know how you feel. That was pretty much exactly my response when someone told me I was a part of rape culture. It sounds horrible. But just imagine moving through the world, always afraid you could be raped. That’s even worse! Rape culture sucks for everyone involved. But don’t get hung up on the terminology. Don’t concentrate on the words that offend you and ignore what they’re pointing to — the words “rape culture” aren’t the problem. The reality they describe is the problem.

Men are the primary agents and sustainers of rape culture.

….”

Read More Here

Gardening

Tidy front garden

Tidy front garden

I did some gardening today, for the first time in about two years. I realised it was open gardens in our village this weekend and I didn’t want to have the scruffiest house in the entire village, so I decided to tackle and tame the front garden.

Pre-kids I did a fair amount outside, although I’m not a massive fan of gardening (plus I have black rather than green fingers). Since becoming a parent? Not so much. I used to mow and weed the day before our annual family barbecue, followed by a trip to the garden centre to buy bedding plants that might live for several weeks after the family had left. The garden looked amazing for a month, tops.

We didn’t have a party last year, so it’s been a long time since the trowel and strimmer have crossed my path. Turns out there’s a good reason for that.

Things I’d forgotten about gardening:

  1. Blisters are painful
  2. Just how evil-prickly our hedge is (we don’t own a hedge trimmer)
  3. How hot and cross gardening makes me (especially when it’s 22C and sunny)
  4. Children are not good assistants and may try patience beyond endurance (see point 3)
  5. Making the garden tidy is addictive but impossible
  6. Plants are expensive and generally come to our house to die
  7. Discovering muscles I forgot I had and knowing it will hurt more tomorrow and the day after
  8. Maximum effort only achieves minimum visible results
  9. Only retired or unemployed people have time to garden how they want to
  10. I’d rather be writing

Write What You Know: This Is Where Stories Come From

Dear delivery driver

Dear delivery driver

Dear Delivery Driver

I’m sorry you had to see me in a teeny tiny towel as I ran to the door, dripping and confused, from the shower. I’m sorry you were confronted by a flabby 37 year old mother of two and a crazy barking dog, instead of a toned twenty-something beauty.

I’m also sorry you were so embarrassed you almost ran away without your pen and I had to call you back. Be glad you’d already fled, red-faced, to your van when I stooped to drag the heavy parcel in and almost lost my towel.

I hope your next delivery is easier

Writermummy

 

Because Life Needs a Playlist

I dare you not to bop along

I dare you not to bop along

When I was at university, I tried so hard to live within a budget, staying within the confines of my student loan, grant and what I could earn during weekends and holidays (yes, I was the last of the generation that got a small grant and didn’t have to pay fees. I was very fortunate). I would write down all my expenditure and knew what I had in my bank account to the penny. When I was running out of cash, I would live on plain pasta with black pepper. And then I would break, take £100 out of my savings account, and blow the lot on books, CDs and, more rarely, clothes.

This isn’t a post about money. I used up all my ability to budget during my university and travelling days. Now I probably don’t know to the nearest thousand what’s in the joint account without checking. We have an account that combines income and mortgage and our cash flow can be a bit random.

No, this is about music. When I was done with playing the martyr, doing what I thought I should do, denying myself pleasure to be “good”, and I cracked, my extravagance was usually music. (My habit of choosing the “cheap” option, to my own detriment, is a whole other post).

Just beautiful

Just beautiful

Music has been as important in my life as books – it’s another form if escapism. Oh to have had an ipod when travelling, instead of a battery-guzzling cd player and an ancient in-car tape deck. Mind you, even that brings stories. My tapes included U2 (donated by a Magic Bus driver) and Donovan (from a rather attractive hitch-hiker). My CDs included Pearl Jam (bought for the Kiwi I fell in love with), Jans Joplin (bought to impress said Kiwi!), and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bon Jovi – two CDs that will always be the soundtrack to our breakup.

I have always loved listening to a whole album over and over, learning the words and seeking for meanings, although I often made my own playlists on blank tapes and then discs, long before iTunes made it easy (although moving music from PC to iPad in any structured fashion seems to be beyond my capabilities!)

I’m not sure when that love of music stopped. I haven’t bought a CD for me in a decade. I don’t download music much either. I think the last track I bought was for hubbie’s birthday last year, not including CDs for the children to have in the car. Actually, it was having the children that saw the end of my music. Any attempt to play my choice is met with yells of protest and heaven forbid I try to sing along. Yet music still brings pleasure when I remember to play it. Mostly I listen to the radio. Even then there tend to be only a few tracks that really grab me and they’re played for two weeks by the radio station and then never again.

*Hangs head*

*Hangs head*

It’s crazy. Music makes me happy, uplifts me, takes me outside the quagmire of my own head, allows me to find shared feelings, to dance around the kitchen or sob into my tea in a shared cathartic moment. Music fills the spaces, sparks the words and helps my writing when I’m stuck. (Garth Brooks is the master of getting a whole story into a single song). Why deny myself all these opportunities to feel better?

So today I downloaded an eclectic mix of tracks that have made me smile recently – Young Blood by Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Happy by Pharrell Williams and (blush) Story of my Life by One Direction. Now I’m trying to remember other uplifting tracks, to download and play when the world gets black (hard to be sad clapping along to Pharrell’s catchy tune!) because everyone’s life needs a decent playlist.

The Incarceration of Avery Edison

Shocking reading, please share

The Belle Jar

Here in Canada, we tend to think of ourselves as claiming a sort of moral high ground when it comes to social justice issues. We think of ourselves as liberated, fair, and anti-oppression; we look down on other countries for their medieval legislature, patting ourselves on the back for being so good, so forward-thinking, so tolerant. And then, every once in a while, an event occurs that proves just how awful and backwards we really are.

On Monday morning, 25 year old British comedian Avery Edison tried to enter Canada through Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, hoping to visit her partner and pick up a few of the possessions she had left behind after moving home to England. Knowing that she had previously overstayed her student visa, she travelled on a non-refundable return ticket and brought with her a copy of her London lease – unfortunately, this was not good…

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A Rant and a Plea: Stop the Madness

Giraffe put down at Copenhagen Zoo

Giraffe put down at Copenhagen Zoo

More and more, as I hear stories on the news, read posts on social media or receive letters from the charities I support, I am disgusted to be part of the human race. It feels like the world has gone mad. Except it’s only that I hear more about it now. The awful thing is that it’s nothing new. But it has to stop. Here is just a selection of the horrific stories in my Facebook newsfeed today; the mere tip of the melting iceberg.

Copenhagen Zoo killing a young giraffe, skinning it and feeding it to the lions, in front of children, when another zoo had offered to rehome it, because it’s not genetically strong (one of 20-30 animals put down at Copenhagen zoo each year.)

Slaughtering families of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, even though evidence suggests they’re probably as intelligent as we are (more so, I reckon).

The so-called protectors of the Great Barrier Reef giving permission to dredge the sea bed and dump 3m cubic metres of dredged mud in its waters.

In its ruling on Friday, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, an environmental watchdog, said the approval was in line with its view that port development along the reef’s coastline should be limited to existing ports.

Hundreds of rangers killed trying to protect nature’s most endangered animals, as an average of three rhinos are killed a day.

  • Rhino poaching increased by over 7,500% between 2007-13, with an average of three killed a day.
  • There are more captive tigers in the US than there are left in the wild
  • Since 2004, Central Africa has lost two-thirds of its elephant population.
  • At least 1,000 park rangers have been killed in 35 different countries over the last decade alone as they work to protect wildlife.
Trying to make a difference

Trying to make a difference

No wonder my daughter woke up from a nightmare, in inconsolable tears, worrying about the bears, after learning about the destruction of the Giant Panda’s natural habitat at school. She’s five and already she cares more than most people I know. Over breakfast we sponsored a Giant Panda through WWF and it felt like a tiny spec of dust taking on a tsunami. But maybe her taking the certificate (and cuddly toy) into school for show and tell help spread the word a tiny bit.

We are parasites, The Matrix had it right. The more I watch Cbeebies programes with my children – Octonauts, Tinger Tinger Tales, 64 Zoo Lane – that celebrate the wondrous diversity of the world on land and in the oceans, the more I am sickened by the knowledge that we destroy the world around us in our arrogance, ignorance and greed.

In this time of social media we need to make a change for good. So, please, I beg you, sign the online petitions, spread the word. Save the future for your children, before seeing animals put down in zoos, or dolphins performing tricks at Sea World, or documentaries on their 40″ TVs, is the closest they’ll ever get to the wonder of the living world.

A Random Post of Random Thoughts

Feels like yesterday...

Feels like yesterday…

I’ve had several post ideas floating round my head today, as I rushed from place to place completing chores. Of course, now I’m curled up with my computer and the children are finally in bed, dinner cooked and eaten, dishes stacked, laundry done, dog walked, birthday tea party over and sick husband cared for, my mind is blank.

I should know, by now, to scribble the ideas down somewhere before they fly away. I seem to remember vaguely that one was about voice in writing, after listening to the fifteenth episode of Octonauts (a Cbeebies programme set under the sea) in the car, and loving all the different accents of the characters. Hmmm, don’t think I have the energy for that right now.

Another one was about the passing of time, as it’s my daughter’s fifth birthday today. This time five years ago, I was having an emergency c-section, after a 30-hour unproductive labour, delivering a baby three weeks before I planned to. Time is like the tardis: big and small at the same time. Every minute of every day of that five years felt looonnng, but whoosh, five years seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye.

I’ve also spent much of the day fighting terrible broodiness. Maybe that’s also part of having your first born turn five. You face the idea of them growing up and think another baby is a good idea. I skipped a period last month (not unusual when I’m stressed) and I was more hopeful than horrified. When I finally came on today I actually felt sad. Despite the postnatal depression, the exhaustion, the shouting, the lost of self, the wondering how I can cope with two, the terrible labours, the increasingly early arrivals of said babies, the close friendship between my kids I wouldn’t want to break, the increased risk of health issues as I approach 40. Despite all those things, I felt sad. Damn you, hormones.

And whoosh, she's all grown up!

And whoosh, she’s all grown up!

Another topic that sits at the back of my mind is the way I have changed since I got married, with regards to chores round the house. When I lived on my own, I was quite capable of changing light bulbs, in the house and in the car, putting up a shelf, grouting the bath or painting and decorating. I even took the carbouretor off my car once, took it home in a bag for a friend to fix, before putting it back on. Me!

Since I got married, though, the household chores have been divided on gender lines. Hubbie does DIY and car, I do cooking and cleaning. But today, with hubbie sick in bed, I decided to change half a dozen light bulbs that have been annoying me for ages. It was liberating. Definitely a topic to explore, when my head isn’t aching fit to burst.

The final random thought I had today was about music. Listening to “Tracks of our years” on Radio 2 (with Ian Rankin this week – what a lovely guy he is, so inspiring) I was trying to figure out what tracks I would choose. Ten pieces of pop music that really mean something to me. It was tough. I didn’t get very far. It made me realise that your taste in music is pretty much fixed by the time you hit your twenties. And I wondered if that was true for books and reading too.

So many ideas. And, low and behold, I seem to have captured them all, more or less. I need to write some of them up into proper discussions. If I do, I’ll have my blog posts sorted for a whole week! Anyway, it’s definitely time for bed. Sorry for the random ramble. Hopefully I’ll find some inspiration before tomorrow! 🙂

Sunday Ramble

Designing Party Invites

Designing Party Invites

It’s been a long, long weekend. Both my daughter’s teachers came out on Friday to say she’d been subdued during class (even though I told them when I dropped her off that she has a cold. They’re hot on attendance and so have to take the consequences!) and my son’s nursery key worker said he burst into tears fifteen minutes after I dropped him off (which isn’t like him).

We’ve all got this head cold that seems to have tiredness and grumpiness as by-products. I feel like I’ve done nothing but nag at the children and tell them off all weekend, which in turn leads to endless Mummy guilt and feelings of general despair that I’m scarring them for life with my constant snapping and snarling.

It certainly hasn’t been the weekend for trying to organise a child’s birthday party (I feel sorry for the other mum I’m planning the party with!) Still, I managed to get the invitations printed (although not written as I ran out of envelopes), the disco booked and we agreed on a village hall and booked it. Baby steps, little milestones. I have to say, I hate organising children’s parties. The child in question gets so hyped up and excited, “is it tomorrow, is it tomorrow?” and there are so many details to manage. Not to mention the idea of having 40 kids in a hall. That’s why the disco: trying to entertain eight children in our house last year showed us that we are not children’s entertainers! 🙂

My answer to everything this evening

My answer to everything this evening

I’m trying to think what else we did this weekend but it’s a bit of a blur. We went to see my father-in-law, who has just come back from a trip to New Zealand. He brought a newspaper back from the town I lived in while I was there – Dunedin – and it made me homesick. Even though I had the ups and downs of a turbulent romance during my months there, they still figure as some of the happiest moments of my life. There was a real sense of community amongst the ex-pats and I was happy to be included in it. I haven’t often felt part of a community, and it’s a lovely feeling.

Today was a bit about survival. It was too cold to contemplate going for our usual swim, and the kids ended up fending for themselves. Or fighting, mostly. The adults aren’t the only ones cranky with this cold. The children seemed to spend the day yelling, “It’s Mine!” and “I’m Telling!” until I wanted to run out into the street and scream. (The neighbours wouldn’t blink if I did – I quite often lock myself in the utility room and scream myself hoarse. Should I admit that?)

My daughter also keeps getting stabbing pains in her head, which we hope are just the headaches we’re also getting from the virus, but it does add to the general worry. I’m afraid I’m the kind of parent that will either ignore something completely or over-react and want to rush the child to A&E. Poor hubbie has to try and figure out the right response between the two.

All in all I’m glad it’s Sunday and we’re all back to school / work / nursery tomorrow. How do you survive a weekend with tired, ill, cranky kids? I’ve decided a large glass of wine is the answer…

What Sharknado Taught Me About Characters

Because of course a chainsaw is weapon of choice against a great white

Because of course a chainsaw is weapon of choice against a great white

Hubbie and I finally watched Sharknado the other night. I’d read about it on Kristen Lamb’s blog and it sounded  right up hubbie’s street: low budget B Movie with awful special effects that’s a bit tongue in cheek and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I don’t share in his enjoyment and fully intended to go to bed. But the movie was just so darn awful I couldn’t tear myself away. Not being as used to such movies I kept saying “but what about..?” and “that wouldn’t happen..” Then realised I was talking about a movie where sharks were sucked up into a tornado and didn’t suffocate, where sharks could swim through storm drains and jump twenty feet into the air.

However it was all about different levels of suspended disbelief. I could accept all the things to do with the sharks – it was a science fiction movie after all. I could just about accept that you could blow a hurricane apart with a MacGyver home-made bomb (although I’m sure there are plenty of people living in tornado paths that wish it was true.) The bit I struggled with most, however, was character motivation.

Safe on the stairs? I don't think so!

Safe on the stairs? I don’t think so!

People are people, whether there are sharks falling from the sky or spinning round in a waterspout or not.

So, if a mother was sat on the stairs with her daughter watching her husband being eaten alive by a giant shark, wouldn’t she at least climb a bit higher up the stairs away from the bloody water and body parts? And if a man drove halfway across town to rescue said daughter, would he stop in the path of sharks to rescue a stranger?

Aside from the dire acting and the awful script, the actions of the characters just weren’t believable. I could accept the sharks and the bombs and all that, but I didn’t give two hoots about the characters.

What I took away from the movie (apart from a vivid nightmare about genetically altered wolves which made me wish Horror was my genre of choice) was that you can get people to believe anything if you write it with conviction, but you have to get the character motivation right. With authentic characters, who have clear goals and believable motivation, you can sell anything. Even flying sharks.