Plodding On: 2013 365 Challenge #349

Kids' Discos - not for the faint of heart

Kids’ Discos – not for the faint of heart

This festive season feels like an endurance trial, ticking off waypoints as we pass them. Today we struck off two that have been in the calendar for weeks and it felt great.

Even when there is nothing that needs to be done (aside from buying and wrapping gifts in this case), stuff on the calendar always takes up mental space. So, hair cuts for everyone (except Mummy, who has off-set the £30 saved by not getting her hair cut against excessive Christmas spending at least twice!) and then two birthday parties in the afternoon. Job done.

It was actually the perfect time to go to a party disco for five year olds (Hubbie got the shorter straw and went to the three-year-old’s village hall romp!) I got to catch up with mummy friends, watch my daughter dance, and sit quietly in the dark by myself (which is pretty much what I used to do at school discos when I was younger!) I adopted a young girl whose parents had dropped her off, who was standing alone, and was rewarded by seeing her join in a bit later on. And I only had a little stress about organising my own daughter’s do for after Christmas. (We’re doubling up with a school friend whose mummy is far more chilled than me, so could be an interesting experience for both of us. if she’s reading this, I’d like to apologise now for being a stressball worrywart!)

My glamorous dancing witch

My glamorous dancing witch

The afternoon was the hardest. Hubbie and I were both suffering from our 3am insomnia (if only the cricket was more worth listening to, I wouldn’t mind my newly discovered inability to sleep) and the children had to put up with a certain amount of grump.

I managed to make everyone dinner, do all the ironing and facilitate a play doh session, but crawled into bed at 8pm, unable to even stay awake for Strictly Come Dancing. I woke up at midnight, remembering I hadn’t written my post or even outlined my Claire installment. (And it seems I’m coming down with a cold which might explain a lot!) The knock-on of a spaced out Friday continues!

I have just read a very funny post on Elf on the Shelf for under achievers which made me chuckle, and also made me wonder why we opt for any extra stress at this manic time of year. My physio friend is happy though – she says the insomnia isn’t confined to hubbie and I, and she’s getting lots of extra work with people needing massages to relax. It’s an ill wind, and all that.

There’s certainly a strong, bitter, wind whistling round our house tonight. Brrr. I say, roll on Spring!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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An arm snaked across the bed and pulled Claire into a warm embrace. She snuggled into Conor, finding the spot to lay her head on his chest that already felt like the most natural place in the world. They lay entwined in the dimly lit room, not speaking.

Slowly Claire opened her eyes, half expecting to see Conor’s apartment. The chill steel of the hostel furniture greeted her gaze and she was instantly awake. Events from the previous evening crashed into her like a runaway car.

As if sensing the tension in her body, Conor stroked her hair. “Are you okay?”

Claire gave a short laugh. “Depends. Was last night as awful as I remember?”

She felt Conor’s throaty laugh resonate through his body, and it sent sensations trickling across her skin. “I’ve had less hostile meals out. Restaurant was nice though; adequate food, amazing view, and–” he kissed her on the top of her head, “one rather gorgeous woman who agreed to come home with me. That counts as a result in my book.”

“I’m sorry about Kim, I don’t know what’s got into her.”

“You mean she doesn’t treat all of your…” he hesitated, searching for a word, “male friends to a sarcastic, caustic grilling? Don’t worry, I can handle it. I’ve had worse.”

Claire’s thoughts skittered between memories of Kim’s vicious attempts at humour at dinner, and Conor’s hesitation over the word boyfriend. Why did such definitions get harder as you got older? You happily called a boy you never spoke to your boyfriend at school, but somewhere along the line it became loaded with significance.

After a few moments’ silence, Conor shifted so he could look at her face. “What’s wrong? Are you really upset? Kim’s just jealous, that’s all. Not of us, of her sister. Didn’t you say she ended up in hospital because she lost her baby? Having a glamorous sister turn up with a bump is going to hurt. She’ll be fine once she’s caught up.”

“She can’t.”

“What?”

“If by catch up you mean get pregnant again, she can’t. Doctors told her she couldn’t have any more children.”

“Oh.”

Conor fell silent and they lay wrapped in their own thoughts, with the thrum of their hearts beating loudly in their ears. Eventually they heard the unmistakeable sounds of life in the room next door, where Kim and Helena had spent the night.

Claire sighed. “Time to get up and think of a way to survive the day.”

“I say we go to the beach. The girls can gripe together, and you can show me how you surf.”

“You’re on!”

*

“Wow, loving the outfit.”

Conor’s lascivious grin made Claire blush. She looked down at the short wetsuit and shrugged. “It doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.”

Conor came over and ran his hands down it, making her shiver. “I know.” His eyes gleamed in appreciation.

“Down, boy!” Claire glanced over towards Kim. She thought of all the times Kim and Jeff had made her feel jealous, with their overt displays of affection. Even so, she felt self-conscious receiving Conor’s flattery in front of her and her sister.

The hostilities seemed to have abated since breakfast. Kim looked drawn and tired, and Claire had to remind herself how hard this all was on her friend. It occurred to her that they should have invited Jeff, and she wondered why he wasn’t looking after his wife more. The awful idea that he had found someone else to comfort him germinated in her brain. It was difficult to imagine, but then he had lost a child and his wife, to a certain extent. Not that that made it right.

She gave her head a shake, trying to dislodge the uncomfortable thoughts. Turning her attention to Helena, she said, “There are toilets up there, and I’ve hired you both deckchairs.”

Helena smiled and Claire wondered what she made of it all. She had remained mostly silent and aloof since her arrival and Claire found it difficult to read her flawless, expressionless, face.

With a quick glance at Conor, whose face seemed to say, let’s skedaddle, Claire waved farewell to Kim and Helena and strode up the beach to where the surf came rolling in towards the sand.

With two quick strides, Conor caught up and walked alongside her. “They’ll be fine. Even Kim isn’t going to murder her sister in front of hundreds of witnesses.”

Claire gave him a grateful smile, but said nothing. She was still thinking about Jeff. “Do you think Kim’s husband might be having an affair?” she said suddenly. “Don’t you think it’s strange that he hasn’t been down to visit her, the whole time she’s been at her mum’s? He keeps saying he’s busy, but…”

Conor looked as if he’d rather not pass comment. Claire was about to change the subject when he said quietly, “Who knows? It’s a difficult situation. From what you’ve said, Kim has changed a lot since the miscarriage. Do you know him well enough to give him a call?”

They had reached the surf school, where they had agreed to hire boards and have Claire teach Conor the rudiments. She had told him a proper lesson might be advisable, but he’d just grinned.

“I guess.” Claire shrugged. It felt like it wasn’t her business, but she hated to see Kim so altered. Poor Conor, this wasn’t exactly the romantic weekend he might have hoped for. Determined to put in some effort, she reached over and gave him a lingering kiss.

Just as he was getting overly amorous, she pulled away. “Last one in the water’s a rotten egg.” She pecked him on the cheek and ran towards the surf school to get her board.

***

Self-Sabotage: 2013 365 Challenge #348

Origami Trees became giant snowflakes

Origami Trees became giant snowflakes

Why are Humans prone to self-sabotage? Or is it just me (and my husband!)? You know what I mean: picking at that dry skin on the edge of your nail, even though it’s going to hurt like anything and you KNOW it’s going to hurt.

Or being unable to sleep the night before an important meeting or exam, and staring at the ceiling stressing. Or (as was me this morning) waking up at 3.45am with a head buzzing with stuff and just not being able to get back to sleep. Even though both kids slept past 6am for the first time in weeks.

It always happens when I get anxious or overwhelmed and my brain is running at a hundred miles an hour in ten different directions. Christmas, Claire and now my car (which appears to be suffering from a terminal illness) are all taking up headspace. Little things like decorating a Christmas jumper for my daughter, or writing Christmas cards before the last posting date, run round in my head like escaped guinea pigs: irritating and hard to catch and cage.

So, on a day when I really needed to be productive, to write tomorrow’s post (we have hair cuts and birthday parties to fill our Saturday) I was utterly spaced, having finally crept downstairs at half five (desperately trying not to wake my daughter because I’d never live that down!) I tried to clear other irritants – messy house, buying final gifts – and hope that there would be time in the morning to get back to Claire and Conor, Kim and Helena.

My origami tree

My origami tree

But, again this morning, I was awake at 3.30am. Husband too. He went down to sleep on the sofa (although he didn’t sleep) and I lay in bed, with my brain like a toddler in a toy shop, running this way and that. Instead of trying to think through my next Claire post, my brain did this:

“I’d like some different lights in the garden this year. But I don’t want coloured lights as they won’t really go with our current white lights. A polar bear on the lawn would be fantastic. But they’re so expensive and I’ve already blown the budget this year. Oh yes, my step-dad’s brother made one out of willow. I could make one. I wonder where I could get some willow from.”

And before you know it, instead of writing posts or wrapping presents, I’m trying to work out how to make a bloomin’ polar bear. It happened with the Elf on the Shelf (after scouring the shops for two hours, instead of writing, and not finding an elf I thankfully gave up on that idea.)

And again, with my daughter’s Christmas party this week. I had agreed to print out some colouring sheets to keep the kids occupied. So, being the master of overkill, I had the bright idea of taking a craft activity for the older ones as well. A quick search of Pinterest revealed origami trees and before you could say “self-sabotage queen” I found myself spending an hour making trees, while my son watched TV, instead of doing something useful like cleaning. When we got to the party the trees were too hard to do, and they all became giant green snowflakes.

Production line making twelve trees

Production line making twelve trees

I’m like this all the time, particularly with writing projects. Signing up for a Children’s Book writing course, starting yet another NaNoWriMo novel, illustrating a book for my son, wanting to enter the Mslexia Chidlren’s Novel competition.

The daily blog has thankfully made most of these other ideas unworkable, but I dread to think what I’ll be like next year without it. There are just so many creative things I want to do, and tedious boring humdrum life gets in the way. To compensate, my brain seems to list all the possibilities and tell me they’re all doable. Now.

But, just like the toddler in the toy shop, more toys doesn’t mean more fun. There’s exponentially more pleasure to be had with one favourite toy, loved and cherished, than a room full of tat. (Which also puts pressure on my beleaguered brain to make sure my children get the perfect toys at Christmas, but that’s a whole other level of self-sabotage!) Just as there is exponentially more satisfaction (and use) in one finished project rather than fifty half done.

I don’t know what the answer is. If I had a boss it would be simple: I’d make them prioritise my to-do list and try to be good. Being my own boss? It comes down to a discipline I don’t have. And wanting to make polar bears. Sigh. Is it time for bed, yet?

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire chewed her thumbnail and tried to concentrate on the screen in front of her. Attempting to write was proving futile, and she shut the laptop with a snap. Outside, the sun beamed down on the terrace and she let it lure her from the lounge. She felt fidgety and restless and longed to go down to the beach for a run.

After a blissful few days alone, wandering around the north coast of Devon, the weekend had finally arrived, bringing with it the anticipated arrival of her guests. Conor had texted to say he’d be there early evening. She hadn’t heard from Kim and her sister, but assumed they were due around the same time.

This is going to be a train wreck. What was I thinking? I should have gone to Kim’s house; at least I could have chatted with her mother or hidden in the garden. As their guest, I could do what I liked. Now they’re coming to see me, I’ll have to entertain them.

She leaned on the railing and looked out over Kipling Tor, shimmering blue in the hazy distance. If she left now, she could be walking up there in twenty minutes, enjoying the view of Lundy Island and the Bristol Channel. She’d done it at least once a day during her stay, and her feet could probably get there without her guidance.

Conor might just forgive me for not being here when he arrives, but somehow I doubt Kim will. She doesn’t seem to be in a forgiving mood these days.

Wishing she had a cool glass of gin and tonic in her hand, Claire perched on a seat and thought about her friendship with Kim. It wasn’t something she’d dwelt on before. It was a given, like having Ruth and Robert for siblings, or working at AJC. In the past few months all those things had shifted. Ruth and Robert weren’t the people she thought they were: her relationship with Ruth was much closer than it had been in years, while she wasn’t sure she’d cross the road to give Robert the time of day.

Where did that leave Kim? What did it mean to be friends, anyway, when you had known someone so long? Were they friends out of habit or to keep alive memories of childhood that only they shared. Until this year, they hadn’t been that close: catching up when Claire was in town, swapping stories of men and jobs while drinking a few bevvies.

Then Kim had got pregnant and everything had changed. Claire wondered if it was the first time Kim realised she didn’t have any close friends: only Jeff, and her fellow thespians.

A bit like me, really, discovering my work colleagues were more enemies than mates, and that Michael wanted some romanticised version of me.

She thought about the people she’d met during her travels: Josh, Maggie, Bethan. People she had little in common with, except the urge to be on the move. In her heart they felt more like friends than Kim did. The realisation hit her like a cold wave, and she gasped for air.

Her mouth felt dry as she realised she didn’t really want to be friends with Kim anymore. It felt like all give and no get. Kim needed her, she understood that. She’d had the most awful year; the ruckus at the wedding that Claire had inadvertently caused, losing the baby, depression and attempted suicide. Claire couldn’t leave her now but she didn’t know how to be the kind of friend Kim needed.

And what about me? I can’t talk about Conor; Kim sees it as some office fling. Maybe it is, but what if it isn’t. We’re not eighteen anymore. Claire rested her head against the railing and closed her eyes.

She started awake as something brushed her face. With hammering heart she opened her eyes, and saw Conor crouched next to her chair.

“Hello, sleepy head.” The smile he gave her made her catch her breath. She grinned back.

“Sorry, I must have nodded off. Have you been there long?”

He looked guilty. “A few minutes. You look adorable asleep, snuffling like a kitten.”

Blood rushed to Claire’s face and she covered her cheeks with her hands. “I was snoring? Really? God, I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay. I already know you snore.” He grinned and she took a playful swipe at his arm.

“I do not snore. Not like you do.”

They fell still, suddenly, and Conor leant forwards to kiss her. She let herself sink into the embrace and, for a moment, the hurried voices in her head fell mute.

“Aw, look at the lovers. Why don’t you guys get a room?” Kim’s voice cut through their embrace. Claire pulled away and Conor rose languidly to his feet.

“Hello, Kim, nice to see you again. You’re looking well.” Conor was at his urbane best, holding his hand out for Kim to shake. Claire was looking at Kim’s face and caught a flicker of a frown cross her features before she flashed her teeth and shook the outstretched hand.

“You’ve been busy since I met you last,” she said archly. Claire winced at the confrontational tone, wondering what Kim’s problem was. With a sick feeling in her stomach, she wondered if it was too late to run away.

“I don’t think you’ve met my sister, Helena,” Kim was saying. She turned and gestured for her sister to come forward.

Claire hadn’t seen Kim’s older sister in a long time, but she hadn’t changed. She was still tall and willowy, with long straight golden hair. The only difference was the round stomach stretching her designer top. With a demure smile and glowing skin, she looked like a model in a maternity magazine.

Poor Kim.

Claire’s irritation vanished as she realised how hard it must be for her friend. She’d always competed with her sister, who was the more financially successful and, some argued, the more attractive of the two. Now she was also the one who could carry a child, when Kim couldn’t.

While Conor chatted to Helena about Hong Kong and the journey down from her parents’ house, Claire sidled up to Kim and put her arm around her.

“How are you holding up?” she whispered.

“I haven’t murdered her in her sleep, if that’s what you mean.” Kim’s voice was somewhere between angry and rueful. Claire caught a glimmer of her old friend, the one she used to have fun with, before life became complicated.

“Look at it this way: she’ll have saggy boobs and stretch marks, and will look fifty by the time she’s thirty five.”

Kim giggled and put her arm around Claire, pulling her close. “Thanks, I needed that.”

***

Zoning Out: 2013 365 Challenge #337

My angel tree-topper

My angel tree-topper

A couple of hours ago I wrote on Twitter, “Ah. That time of day when I search my brain for a blog topic, when I just want to pour a glass of wine and watch crap TV. Ideas for a post?”

My friend Pat replied, “That! Sometimes all you need is wine and crap tv… even authors need to zone out!” So, that’s the basis of today’s post: me zoning out and having a ramble!

It’s been a hectic week, what with the impromptu Christmas fair preparation (pringle pots, tombola, badge making), family lunch and month end book completion. The children were fairly nonplussed with the pringle pots, but the tombola was a hit.

I’ve had a spiking headache for two days, and only now realised it’s not just stress but also caffeine withdrawal (I don’t get as much time to drink tea at the weekend, especially in someone else’s house). I’m on my third cup of the evening and am starting to feel better!

At 6am this morning I moaned to hubbie that I needed to split myself into six clones to vaguely get through my to-do list in the five hours between child drop off and pick up. Shopping, cleaning, ironing, writing, Christmas shopping and dog walking. Instead I did an hour on each thing, and managed to get through most of it, although it has resulted in me feeling as if Jekyll and Hyde have invited around a few buddies and they’re all having a party in my brain.

Daughter's amazing craft

Daughter’s amazing craft

I am notorious for making life more complicated for myself, though. An hour of my precious day was spent trying to find the perfect angel for the top of the tree, and an Elf for the shelf.

All the angels in the shops are overly stylized realistic pretty ones in ceramic and gauze. I wanted something closer to a cardboard cone skirt with a ping-pong ball face, like we had when I was younger. So, while the kids did craft after tea, I made one out of exactly that: a little rag doll of my daughter’s, some craft foam, gold card and pipe cleaners.

The Elf on the Shelf thing is typical me: I first heard about it on Facebook yesterday, from an American cousin, instantly thought my kids would love it, but couldn’t afford to buy the compete ‘kit’ so thought I’d just find something vaguely elf-like in the shops and use that. Big mistake, big, huge. Six shops later I gave the idea up and decided next year will be fine to introduce it!

My husband’s chosen way to zone out this evening is to watch his new guilty pleasure, Made in Chelsea. He’s just said loudly, “She’s so two-faced!” Haha. Not my cup of tea, but watching him watching the show is quite entertaining. Unfortunately it’s strangely compelling viewing, so I’m struggling to put together coherent sentences. I think this is probably the lot for tonight. Crap TV is sorted, now to find the wine…

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“I heard you were back.” Ruth said with a smile, as she opened the door. She looked past Claire, as if expecting to see someone behind her. “Where are my gorgeous nephews?”

Claire laughed. “Mum’s been on the phone then? I had to leave Jack and Alex with her. I’ve got to get back to Cornwall this evening.”

“You’re insane. What’s that, twelve hours of driving in one day? Why don’t you stop here the night and leave first thing? There’s no point trying to find a hostel in the dark.”

Claire followed her sister down the corridor into the kitchen, marvelling at the change in her since she’d last visited. Even the house felt different: brighter, somehow, and with a positive vibe Claire couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“No Sky?” She said, rather than answer her sister’s question. It was tempting to stay the night, but she needed to think about it. For some reason she was keen to put as many miles between her and her family as possible.

“No, it’s the last day of term today, and Chris has taken her on holiday for a week.”

“Blimey, how do you feel about that?”

“It’s fine. I know Chris and Bryony will look after her, and she really does love spending time with her baby sister. Besides, I’m going away myself this weekend.” She saw Claire’s raised eyebrow, and flushed. “With the church! We’re going to Oxford to see the Baptist Missionary Society library collection at the university.”

Claire’s eyes opened wide, but she didn’t comment. What did she know about what religious people did for kicks? It sounded worse than a four-hour lecture on contracts, but then Ruth might feel the same about surfing or walking the coastal path. It took all sorts.

“I’m going to service tonight, why don’t you come?” Ruth threw a sly glance over her shoulder at her sister, as she reached into the cupboard for the sugar. “You can make sure I haven’t got mixed up in some cult.”

“I don’t think that!” Claire heard the high squeak in her voice and winced. Gratefully accepting the tea from Ruth, she sought for a change of subject. “What did Mum say on the phone? She must have called you before I’d driven down the street.”

“Before you’d left the house, pretty much. She’s not happy with you. What did you say to her? She wittered on about ungrateful children and being shocked at how rude you’ve become. It was quite a rant, actually.” For a moment it was the old Ruth, and Claire smiled warmly at her. Then her sister pursed her lips. “You probably shouldn’t fight with Mum, though. It’s not very dutiful.”

Claire wanted to defend herself, but she didn’t know how to talk to this new moralistic Ruth. She gave a noncommittal grunt, and said instead, “Jack can’t wait to meet Sky. Oh, damn, how long did you say she was away with Chris for? He’ll be gutted to miss her.”

“They’re back next week. Thursday, I think. I can check. Can’t the boys stay with Mum and Dad for a bit longer?”

“You spoke to Mum, what do you think?”

Ruth frowned. “Hmmm, yes, you might be right. Never mind, I’m sure we’ll work something out.” She drained her tea and looked at the clock. “I have to go, are you coming?”

Claire thought about the long drive back south, and shrugged. The morning would be soon enough. “Sure, why not?”

*

Claire looked around the room. It wasn’t a church, it was a school hall. She’d sat in one just like it, not that long ago, to do her final exams. And before that, for school assembly, lunch times, end of term reviews. It had a herringbone wood floor and long wooden benches around the walls.

The hard plastic of the grey stackable chair dug into her legs, as she looked up at the stage, where a white screen held a welcome message for the congregation. In the corner a group of adults were setting up a band, with guitars and microphones. She guessed it would be a different sort of music to the stuff they played at the sixth form concerts.

Next to her, Ruth waved in greeting to people she knew. Every now and then someone would stop and talk, holding their hands out to Claire in welcome and gushing with enthusiasm at her presence. She felt like a fraud.

Fidgeting on her seat, Claire began to think that the drive to Cornwall might have been preferable. She hadn’t been in Church in years, discounting the odd wedding or christening and, even though this building wasn’t made of stone and stained glass, the feeling of righteousness was just as strong.

A hush fell, as a man walked into the centre of the room towards the vacant lectern. He held his hands up in salutation and proceeded to greet his flock with gusto. He turned towards her when he hailed, “visitors new and old,” and she felt her cheeks catch fire. Overhead the strip lighting shone down, and she found she missed the dark corners of a traditional church.

Then the singing started. Claire looked in surprise at Ruth, standing with eyes closed and arms aloft, fervently hurling her words at the ceiling. As Claire read the lyrics on the screen and tried to sing along without being heard, she noticed more people waving their arms while belting out their praise

She felt embarrassed for them, in all their effusive sincerity. It might not be a cult, but it wasn’t for her. Peace radiated from her sister, though, and she decided that was good enough.

When the service was finally over, Claire sat waiting for Ruth to finish her goodbyes. She was watching her sister’s face as a shy-looking man in his thirties walked towards them. Ruth’s cheeks held a faint blush and she caught her lip between her teeth. It lasted only a moment before her expression reflected only friendly pleasure.

“Mark, I didn’t see you earlier. I’d like to introduce you to my sister. Claire, this is Mark: he’s organising the trip to Oxford this weekend.”

I’ll bet he is, Claire thought, as she shook the hand held tentatively towards her. So that’s the way the wind blows? She looked from Mark to Ruth and back again. I wonder if they know it yet.

***