Holidays are Great but I Love My Job

We had the beach to ourselves

We had the beach to ourselves

We got back from a wonderful week in Italy yesterday, happy and exhausted (and a little sunburnt in my case after forgetting to get hubbie to put cream on my back.) I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours unpacking, washing, ironing, cooking and trying to survive the tantrums of four shattered people.

The weather was glorious for most of our week – unlike back in the UK where they suffered days of torrential rain. The dog came back from kennels a little rounder than she went, instead of the kilos lighter she usually is after a week of long walks and no table scraps. I’m guessing there weren’t many opportunities to walk dogs in that weather.

Not that we didn’t get any rain. Our second day on the beach saw us sheltered in the nearest cafe when the heavens opened for an hour. There is something rather cool about sipping a cappuccino in twenty degrees heat watching the soft sand getting pounded and water flooding across the patio because the drainpipes empty onto it. It left the sand with the texture of a wool carpet.

The downpour

The downpour

Our trips to Italy are family visits rather than holidays and we spent plenty of time with aunts and cousins. The children and I don’t speak Italian, so it’s always rather chaotic and overwhelming, although lovely and heartwarming. With our family spread all over the world it always means a lot to catch up with them and spend time together.

That said, we were glad to come home to our own beds. The children find it hard staying in an apartment, unable to go outside whenever they want and constantly being told to be quiet. I feel trapped, too, because I can’t drive the hire car and it terrifies me not being able to talk to the locals. Plus the apartment is in town and rather noisy! I haven’t slept properly for a week.

Mind you, coming back to a foot-high lawn and a messy house, I can now appreciate the beauty of living in a small flat and spending all the time at the beach!

Beach babies

Beach babies

The best part about being home for me is being able to get back to work. While hubbie and the kids are dragging their heels and not wanting the holiday to end, Monday morning can’t come soon enough for me. The only difficulty is choosing between working on Class Act or my kids’ book.

I’ve opted for the latter and have printed out the manuscript in readiness. I spent some of the holiday reading middle grade fiction (after re-reading Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, a fantastic book,) and I can see all the things that are so wrong with my Alfie book. Not that I think I can fix them – I’m still not sure Middle Grade is my genre – but I’m excited to try.

Me, excited about editing? How did that happen? I used to hate it. I still don’t feel I know what I’m doing. But already having sourced an editor has made a difference. I know what she thought was wrong with my sample and so I know what I’m looking for in my redraft. It’s like writing an essay for a university tutor, and that’s something I’ve had lots of experience doing. I used to love writing essays. (I know, I’m a freak!)

Of course I’ll probably end up sleeping instead of working tomorrow – the danger of working from home! Best work in the coffee shop. Talking of which, it’s definitely time for bed! Night night.

Wishing you a Contented Christmas: 2013 365 #359

Meeting the man

Meeting the man

This morning I  left the house to walk the dog just as the skies cleared, after days of stormy weather. It felt like a fresh start: like the feeling I get after I’ve been crying for hours feeling terrible and I stop, breathe, and give myself a break. When I look around and say it’s fine and, despite some puddles and other damage, the storm might never have been.

I spent last night having a long conversation with my hubbie and stepdad about parenting, depression, anxiety and life in general. It came after reading two interesting posts: The first was a viral one on WordPress about marriage not being for you but for others. It included these words:

[M]arriage isn’t for yourself,you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married

The second post, which I discovered via Annie Cardi’s blog, discussed forgiving Past You for not being as good as Present You. Two quotes stood out in the article:

Past You may not be as awesome as Present You, but Past You worked really hard to get to Present You, too.

And

The world does enough beating us up, […] We don’t need to do the beating up ourselves. Inside your head should be a safe space to make mistakes, to grow and change and learn, to find acceptance, forgiveness, and kindness.

As often happens, all these sources of inspirational thought combined in my mind to give me the ghost of a feeling. The feeling that’s been echoing around my head is one of grace; of being kind to yourself and looking out rather than in.

Christmas all wrapped up

Christmas all wrapped up

I’ve spent much of this year, and longer, beating myself up for all the people I’m not, for all the things I haven’t achieved, for not becoming a better parent, a better person, despite wanting to be. But you know what? The excuses become a thing in themselves.

If I feel bad then that’s okay because I’m taking responsibility for my own actions. But what if there’s a better way? What if you can forgive Past You for the things that didn’t happen because, quite frankly, Past You was doing her best under difficult circumstances.

What if taking responsibility is over rated and we just have to stop thinking about it at all so much? What if the past were erased and we had to start fresh from today, with the saviour’s birth?

I listened to Mary J Blige on the radio, on Sunday, discussing how her Faith saved her, and I envied her. What do you do without Faith or Belief? Who do you turn to to tell you there’s a grand plan, and you’re doing fine and, besides, all is forgiven in the end?

My husband is my rock, he says all those things, but I don’t always believe. What if I decided to have faith in him, in us? What if I got up every day knowing I was going to do my best, even if my best on that day involved a lot of shouting and some tears? But instead of failing as a parent, as a human being, I was just being one in the best way I knew how? What if I could learn to celebrate the successes, not dwell on the failures?

I feel a new blogging theme coming on. I may take January off from the internet, to recover and recoup. But from February I might try to make this blog a place for positivity. Not glossing over the bad stuff, because too many people do that. But if my best positive note for a day is “no one died”, well then at least it might make people smile, and that’s good too.

So a very contented Festive Season to you all, whatever this time of year means to you. I hope you enjoy your family day, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It will be what it will be and then it will be Boxing Day (in the UK at least). Let’s acknowledge the moments and move on. Christmas is about children so let’s learn to live like them. In the now, with much laughter.

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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 looked around the table at the eclectic group of people and couldn’t help smiling. Their good humoured banter and jibing was infectious as they discussed their first aid course. While they chatted she tried to work out who was who.

Timothy sat opposite her, at the head of the table; every inch the lord of the manor or the patriarchal leader. To his left sat Gemma, the chef. She looked like a school matron, as if her mission was to make sure the world was well fed and received plenty of hugs.

Next to her sat Louise, the site manager. They’d met before dinner and Claire found she liked her, although she was more used to working for men. Louise had explained that she lived off-site with her husband and two small children. Claire wondered how she managed to juggle it all.

Next to Louisa sat the only other older gentleman there; he was the gardener apparently and had been working in the grounds all day, rather than attending the first aid course. She thought his name was Giles or Geoff, but as he hadn’t said two words during the meal, she wasn’t entirely sure.

On the other side of the table sat the younger members of the staff. They were the entertainment during the meal, and Claire was fascinated, trying to fathom the different relations between them. The three in charge of activities – Jess, Eddie and Ryan – seemed to have some sort of love triangle going on, while the youngest member of staff sat wide-eyed and silent. Fresh out of school, it was her responsibility to keep the house clean and do the laundry. Claire thought she possibly had the hardest job of all.

As she assessed the people around the table, who were all tucking into the delicious lasagne and homemade cake, Claire wondered why she was paying them so much attention. Was she trying to imagine herself as part of the group? Could she?

I’m not really a team player – Carl told me that often enough.

But for all their jibing and barbed jokes, these people were not Polly, Molly and Sally. There didn’t seem to be any face: what you saw was what you got. Claire found it both refreshing and intriguing.

A hush fell over the table and she realised everyone was looking at her expectantly. “I’m sorry, I was miles away!” She felt the blood rushing into her cheeks.

Timothy laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’re a lot to take in, the first time you meet us.” He turned to Louise, who it seemed had asked her a question.

“I only wondered if you could imagine joining us here? We open next week, so we’re keen to have the staff finalised.” She seemed to realise how much she was putting Claire on the spot, and gave an apologetic smile. “But of course you need time to decide.”

Claire felt wrong-footed. Was the job just hers for the asking? With no interview or credentials. “But you don’t know anything about me,” she blurted out, and winced as everyone laughed.

“Ah but we do.” Timothy’s voice cut through the laughter and he frowned slightly at Eddie, who was still sniggering. “Maggie sent us a link to your blog. We’ve all read about your exploits, both here in the UK and in New Zealand. We are most impressed. Climbing mountains, white water rafting, surfing and sailing: you are more than qualified.”

“But I don’t know how to do any of those things.” Claire’s voice was more of a wail and she fought the urge to cry. Now everyone watched her as if she were a bomb about to explode. The young girl to her left gave her a sympathetic smile and Claire felt foolish. If a mere child fresh out of school could come and get stuck in, then what was holding her back?

“Don’t worry, lass, none of the kids will know how to do it either, so they’ll just be impressed you know more than them.”

Claire looked towards Eddie as he spoke and envied the confidence of youth. He had an edge about him, though, that suggested he’d seen as much of the world as she had, and possibly more.

Dinner continued without further incident. Claire sipped at her beer and enjoyed the sense of good will. During it all, something nagged at the back of her mind. An ache, a twinge, that tugged at her and wouldn’t let go. Conor. She tried to picture him here, amongst the motley staff, and knew he would be instantly at home.

That’s assuming he ever speaks to me again.

*

Claire looked out the window at the setting sun. The room Timothy had shown her to perched high in the attic. It wasn’t very big, but the view was enormous, stretching across the parkland to the sea. He’d explained that the staff rooms were all in the attic, with tiny en-suites. It was only a step away from hostelling, but it felt good to close the door and know the space was all hers.

She lay back on the bed, and her view diminished to a blue rectangle of sky visible through the skylight window. She imagined lying in the dark looking up at the stars. There would be no light pollution out here.

Slowly, as she absorbed the details of the room, Claire realised she was already viewing it as hers. Despite avoiding any kind of definite answer at dinner, she had gone as far as to say that her contract finished in a fortnight. A proper answer would need to be given before that, but she didn’t feel ready. Saying yes to Timothy felt like saying goodbye to Conor.

Reaching for her phone, Claire sat staring at the black screen that still refused to produce a message from him. She inhaled deeply.

“Sod it.”

Swiping the screen, she tapped out a message and hit send before she could change her mind. She looked at the words and wondered if they would be enough.

I miss you

***

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I Am Thankful: 2013 365 Challenge #333

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Since my sister moved to the States a few years ago, and I linked up with my husband’s American cousin on Facebook, I’ve become more aware of the American holidays. Mostly we don’t celebrate them over here. Hallowe’en is only starting to take off, and Valentine’s Day was only significant in high school. Thanksgiving doesn’t happen at all, except on social media. But Thanksgiving is probably my favourite. I love the idea of a day to be thankful.

Christmas is one of my favourite holidays, but it’s always slighly marred by commercialism and the fact that I’m not particularly religious. But you don’t have to believe in God to be thankful.

Like saying “I love you” to my husband every day, rather just on February 14th, I do try to be grateful every day for what I have, although it’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily minutae of tedium and routine. Taking time to look around and acknowledge what is good is essential.

So, I am thankful. I’m thankful for my gorgeous husband and beautiful, clever, loving children. I’m grateful for my lovely house and my crazy dog. I’m grateful for a wonderful family. I’m thankful that my husband found work and we have enough money to buy the things we need. I’m grateful that I can write every day, and for the followers of my blog and the people who download my novels who keep me motivated. I’m thankful for sun and rain and fog, and being able to spend time outdoors everyday. For supermarkets and fresh fruit, chocolate and coffee. For my ipad and books and my car that lets me take my children out and about without hassle. I’m grateful for so much I could write and write. But maybe a few pictures will tell a thousand words.

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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 gazed out across the ocean and sighed. She could feel the entire country stacked up behind her, looking over her shoulder. She felt like she’d come a long way since her beginning in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, at the top of England.

“Are you alright, Auntie Claire?” Jack walked over to where she stood and hooked his arm through hers, his eyes dark with concern. The expression made him look much older than his ten years.

Claire patted his hand, touched at his surprising empathy. Two weeks ago she barely knew the boy, but they had become friends during their time travelling together in Cornwall.

“I’m fine, Jack, thank you for asking. It’s been a good couple of weeks, don’t you think?”

“The best! I can’t believe father’s coming to get us tomorrow. The time’s gone really fast. We didn’t even get to do everything. Did you know there’s a surf school here? Maybe we should go for just one last blast?”

Claire looked over to where Alex stood, his gaze on the phone in his hands rather than the amazing view from the end of the land.

“I’m not sure Alex would appreciate that. At least he’s happy that you’re going home.”

“He’s only happy because he gets to see his girlfriend again.” Jack put the emphasis of a ten-year-old on the word; clearly disgusted at his brother’s betrayal of all things male.

“That’s understandable. Two weeks is a long time when you’re twelve.” Claire smiled fondly at the moody boy standing along the cliff. She couldn’t claim to have broken through his tough barriers, but she had come to care for her eldest nephew more than she could have imagined possible a fortnight before.

“What about you, Jack?” She added, after a moment’s silence. “Will you be glad to get home?”

Her nephew stood silent for a while, and Claire wondered if he didn’t want to hurt her feelings by admitting he was looking forward to leaving. She was about to tell him it was natural to prefer his home and family and friends to an Aunt he barely knew, when he turned to face her. His cheeks burned red, and his eyes glistened.

“I’d much rather stay here with you,” he blurted out. “I don’t want to go home. Mother’s been wrapped up in her own little bubble since Dad left. She leaves us with the Au Pair and goes shopping or to the spa with her friends. And Father, well, that’s a joke. He’s so busy with his new lady friend I think he’s forgotten we exist.”

Claire raised her eyebrows at the news that Jack knew all about Robert’s new relationship.

I don’t know why I’m surprised. They’re bright boys and he’s hardly been discreet.

She wrapped her arm around Jack’s shoulder and pulled him into a hug, unsure what to say. The prospect of having the boys stay longer wasn’t anywhere near as terrible as it would have been two weeks earlier, but there was no doubt in her mind she was looking forward to some time by herself. It wasn’t even that the boys were an onerous responsibility – certainly not on the scale of caring for Sky – and they were good company, when they weren’t fighting. But, still, being responsible for someone else’s happiness took its toll.

“How about school? Will you be glad to go back there, after the long vacation?”

Jack shrugged. “I guess.”

Claire’s heart twisted at the empty resignation in his voice.

“Well, you’re welcome to come and visit any time. I have no idea where I’ll be, but if there’s a bed or floor for you two to sleep on, then it’s yours.”

She was surprised to discover that she meant it.

***