What’s Your Normal?

Almost a year ago, I sat here on this very sofa, in much the same cross-legged position, and I wrote about how I needed to find balance in living with my husband and our children in my house. All together. All the time. I expressed the opinion that it often feels as if I operate better solo, and I vouchsafed that, in spite of this fact, I loved having us all together in a home of our own; I just needed to find a way to balance the seemingly endless company with the solitude that I desperately seem to need.

Now, this evening, I am sitting here and, while I still concur with the general findings of my musings at that time, I find I have something to add. An important something – for me at least – that deserves to be said; that needs to be acknowledged. It is a something that struck me last Friday when I was off work sick – which seems to the only time I ever have the house to myself – and, though the words took a while to fully come through, I eventually had a bit of a Eureka moment. (An Eureka moment? Dunno. Anyway.) It’s quite simple, and it’s probably quite obvious, but then things often are from a distance, aren’t they?

My realisation (and I mean my real, astonishingly clear, brain-freezingly important realisation) is that living with other people is not my normal way of life. The reason that I find it difficult is that I have done it so rarely in my life, and it really is something I need to be gentle with myself about. I blithely toddled into being a married woman  again just over two years ago, and totally ignored the fact that the last time that I shared my living space with another adult full time was when I lived at home with my mother – and that was at least fourteen years ago, and only for about four or five months. I shared a house with people in my final year in college in ’99 but I had my own huge room and I wasn’t part of their gang of friends; D and I shared the same house when we were living together/married before, but he always worked nights so for at least five nights a week, I had the place to myself. (I’m not including the children in this because, somehow, for this issue, they don’t count.) TRM never lived with me so that doesn’t count either.

I’m an only child, of only children. My mother and I are solitary sorts by nature. We like other people for a while, but we get exhausted by them very quickly – the more so as we age, I suspect. My father is Mr. Gregarious, but he is quite happy to live on his own if he can meet people of an evening for pints, or for dinner, and he no longer needs the constant company that he thrived on in his working days two decades and more ago. People find me odd because I have the hermit compulsion quite strongly within me; I am deliriously happy to lock myself away from everyone and everything for a weekend, and not talking to anyone at all from Friday at 5pm to Monday at 8.30am is my kind of heaven. There used to be time for me to do that, but that came to an end when we became a two-adult family again. I did really well for the first year or so, until Christmas rolled around when I descended into a fog of depression. All of a sudden, even though I had been looking forward to Christmas for the first time in possibly ever, I got sucked into a major gloom and couldn’t get out.  I have been in varying states of grey since then, and I wonder now if I am feeling stuck because, subconsciously, I have no room to manoeuvre. I also feel that there’s a very strong chance that my at-home only sleeping-verging-on-narcolepsy may well be another subconscious escape mechanism. Everywhere I turn there is another human being taking up my precious space and oxygen! I think I have also finally realised that I do not have to be immediately rational about this feeling, although it would nice to become so in time.

I am making my way through Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star and this is one of the things that has arisen for me. I think it was also the thrill of an illicit afternoon one day last week, spent entirely alone with my headphones and my book in Starbucks, that made me realise what I have been so very desperately missing. (The fact that I left work early on day because I was feeling horrendous – cold, sore throat, stuffed up head, etc. – and realised that I couldn’t go home without spending the rest of the afternoon running around after other people, never mind being able to just give into being sick and go to bed, made me pause for thought.) Settled at a table with my salted caramel mocha, Ms. Beck, and Rudimental, I realised that it was one of those occasions where I could feel the blood rushing through my veins with sheer exhilaration. If you had offered me a free round trip to anywhere else in the world at that moment in time, I wouldn’t’ve taken you up on it. Not even if it was my own bed which, two hours previously, I had almost been crying for! I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and it felt like a long time since that had been the case. (Which, upon reflection, isn’t very fair given that I spent a wonderful Saturday with my best friend in Glastonbury the weekend before that so, y’know, probably a bit spoilt overall but moving along….!) The secret to it all, I think, it the no other people bit. That is what so much of it hinges on, and maybe why I am so unhinged. Whatever the case may be, I have made myself a promise. It involves me, and a coffee shop (because, at the moment, this seems to be the sort of environment that I crave: homely yet anonymous, I suppose) and at least one hour a week of whatever feels best, consciously acknowledged as Me Time where no one else is invited, or wanted, or required. And perhaps, if I give myself this time, in this way, changing the components as desired, I will, in time, make it back into balance with my home life.

I thought, at first, it was all about missing my house which was so very much my space – and to some degree, that is the case – but I have come to realise that it might in fact be missing the room to breathe, unencumbered by anyone else. There is a strong possibility that Room To Breathe may be my next tattoo: it really is that important to me!

Honey – Two Years.

Two years ago today, my Honey-dog came home to live with us. Two other dogs have joined us in the intervening years, but she is still my baby and my best beloved. I waited thirty-four years to find her and she changed our lives completely.

My little truffle-hunting Moomin-pig

My little truffle-hunting Moomin-pig

She loves her daddy best of all.

She loves her daddy best of all.

Honey with Fudge and Ronnie, her adopted sister and brother. So many smiles!

Honey with Fudge and Ronnie, her adopted sister and brother. So many smiles!

A happy girl after her Adoption day pork pie and scotch egg this evening.

A happy girl after her Adoption Day pork pie and scotch egg this evening.

What I Learned On My Holidays.

Having come back just last Sunday from a ten day trip to Sweden, I can now sum up my Easily Exhaustible Knowledge Of Sweden as follows:

* The Swedes are all very good looking.

* I saw no overweight Swedish people on my trip. I saw some overweight people in Sweden but they were definitely not Swedish.

* Somehow, despite their slender physique, the Swedes have more sweet shops and serious Pick’n’Mix sections in supermarkets than anywhere else I have ever seen. Ever. Anywhere. It’s incredible. It’s also probably something to do with the sweet tooth that they all harbour but, man, these people know how to size ice-creams. Wow. Even my bottomless pit of a husband could only eat one at a time. Believe me when I say that this is quite an incredible feat.

* The Swedes do not DO double beds. They may have single beds pushed together but, from what I can see, double beds are generally not on the plan.

* The Swedes do not DO baths. They do, however, install good showers with, some cases, shower stalls big enough to hold a party in.

* Sweden is much, much, MUCH cleaner than Ireland. When we were waiting for a train in Malmö station, I watched a lady cleaning the escalator. Not just the steps either but the gutterings and the hand rails and the glass along the edge. When we landed back in Dublin airport and were waiting for our lift home from my mother-in-law, we found ourselves sitting at a table and chairs outside a cafe that was covered in pigeon shit and general mank. The ground was filthy and there was litter all over the place. It’s amazing what you don’t notice until you see the alternative, eh?

* Swedes love gadgetry. I’m sure there must be some Technophobes but we didn’t meet any of them. Everyone seemed to be positively bristling with iThings, tablets, GPS devices and various smart phones. They have apps for everything. It’s exhausting just watching them hop from gizmo to wotsit every couple of seconds. I know that, in reality, a lot of people in Ireland live this way too but we don’t. Dave and I have Samsung phones, I have an exceedingly knackered old laptop which I bought in 2007 which is now mainly used by the children, and Dave has a reasonably up to date PC. And we’re all good, you know. We don’t need anything more than that really because, ultimately, they all do much the same thing. So what need for the multitudinous variations?

* Sweden – or the bits of it that we saw which was mainly the southern part of the country – is really very beautiful. It’s very flat in the south so it’s quite different to where we live just south of Dublin in that regard. The sky goes on forever because there are no hills popping up every couple of metres to fill the horizon. I found it strangely calming. I am used to living close to mountains; when I didn’t live here or close to here, I lived in Bangor in the north of Wales just down the road from Snowdonia so mountains are sort of what I’m used to. The flat land gave my head space to think somehow.

* Despite the generally accepted wisdom that Sweden is ultra-expensive, we found it to be actually quite cheap in Malmö and the Österlen region. This falls down somewhat when you try to get a train to Stockholm and find a place to stay without breaking the bank, but then again we were warned that this might be the case and that May is quite an expensive month for accommodation in the capital. (Suppose it’s the start of the summer season so it makes sense.) In regard to our finding the rest of the country quite affordable, it may be worth bearing in mind that we live very close to Dublin which, despite *cough* the Current Economic Climate (I gather it deserves capitals) is still mind-blowingly expensive. In this, as in so much in life, perspective is everything.

* Swedes – and possibly the rest of Europe for all I know – understand light far better than we do here in the UK and Ireland. They are not afraid of big unblocked windows, uncluttered by curtains and stuff. They all seem to keep lots of plants in their windows which is lovely but, aside from that, they seem to have more space in their windows. Perhaps it’s because they don’t go in for tiny plates of glass like many houses here do. I’m not sure quite how they do it but the fact is that they do. I suppose it comes of having to try and let as much light in as possible given that they’re a bit further north and thus a bit darker in winter time. Whatever. It works and it made me very happy while I was there.

* In addition to light, Swedes pay attention to the small touches that just make life better. Whether it’s simple things like always making sure that there are clean, uncluttered baby changing areas in their public bathrooms – it’s a long time since I’ve required such things for my two savages but I remember just how cruddy they often were and how simple it seemed to rectify the problem – or by adding power sockets on their trains so people can charge their phones/use their laptops, or by making their public transport pet-friendly, it all makes a huge and, to my eyes, very noticeable difference to how smoothly and happily life runs. This is also apparent in their sense of aesthetics. Modern apartment complexes show signs of actually being well thought out and designed, rather than just flung up and left. There are lots of bins in places where you need bins; this is another example that struck me one day when we were out. None of us approve of littering, do we children? No. But equally, no one really wants to carry acres of rubbish around with them when they’re out and about in parks or the city centre. In Sweden, wherever you might need a bin, it seems like all you have to do is turn around and there one is. And they’re not overflowing and stinky either. They’re emptied on a regular basis. Like I say, it’s the little things.

* There are an awful lot of ducks in Sweden. Oodles of the feathery little buggers, in fact. I liked them and, let’s face it, ducks are always entertaining. Even when they ambush you in the park looking for bread because at this time of year, they bring their titchy little ducklings with them. Fluff City!

* It’s a really cool place and I like it a lot. I could live there very happily, I think, although Swedish is quite a tough language to learn. It’s sort of soft and slippery sounding and didn’t stick very well in either my head or Dave’s.Given that most people speak pretty good English, though, it’s all good right?

* The bridge between Denmark and Sweden too, by the way, is awesome. Google it if you haven’t seen it because it’s genius. Most of it is over the water and then it becomes a tunnel under the sea so that ships can pass over it. No lifting bits of the bridge and making life complicated, just over some and under some. Fab.

And as an aside, I very much want to go back to Tivoli in Copenhagen. In fact I’d like to see all of Copenhagen but particularly Tivoli at night. I think it would be ridiculously romantic with all the lights glimmering and the flowers blooming like they were when we were there. We picked a good time to go to that part of the world because everything was flowering and beautiful. Next time, though, I’d like to go and visit when it wasn’t planned around someone else’s happenings: in this case a wedding. Too much stress and not enough time where real relaxation was possible. Still, it’s a gorgeous country and I will go back and do it differently next time. Can’t wait!

Thoughts On Home.

Sooo. Today, my dearly beloved left the house at 4.30am to hop in a taxi to the airport on his way to Bristol where he was doing very grown-up training on a new system that his employer is implementing. “Ooh,” I said, all excited. “That means you can have a bit of a look around while you’re there, doesn’t it, and you can see if you think it’s a livable-in area.” Never one to give up completely on the dream of living in the same country as my best friend and the bits of my family that I’d actually want to see a bit more often than every five or six years, I have been holding out hope that perhaps D could get a transfer at some point in the next two years; his employers have offices in Bristol which would be – how convenient! – almost midway between the aforementioned personages. He sent me a text at lunch time to say that it’s definitely not a pretty city. “Perhaps a bit further out would be better?” I queried, knowing full well that I have travelled through Bristol several times but have no knowledge of it as a place. I do know, however, that extreme prettiness can be found on either side of it so I have not lost all hope yet.

Having the children and the house to myself today has reminded me of how happy I have been here in this place. I don’t know why but in many ways I function better on my own. I think my own natural laziness means that if I’m left to my own devices, I will get things done but if there’s someone else here who will do them for me, well, the chances are that I will jolly well let them. All the same, there’s a sort of peace in reclaiming my house for a few hours. The house is so very much ours these days that, on a day to day basis, it’s hard to remember a time when it was just mine. Tonight, I have lit candles in the fireplace and on the mantelpiece, the lights are down low and the dogs as snoring gently, flaked out on the floor. It is as it was before except now I’m sitting on one of the sofas that we chose together and that D bought last summer. It sounds, I know, as if I’m saying that I prefer it when it’s just me in my house sort of thing, but that’s not it. I think it’s more that this was the first place that I felt completely at home in since I was about five. When I moved in here first, I used to stand out in the back garden at night watching the stars with a mug of tea in my hand and I could almost feel roots growing from the soles of my feet into the ground where I stood. I felt like I was where I was supposed to be finally; that at the age of thirty-three, I had at long last found my place in the world. Since D moved in, that feeling has been lost a little bit. Perhaps it’s in part due to feeling like I have to compensate somehow for the fact that it’s my house, rather than our house – legally, I mean. Maybe it’s because I know he gave up a place here he was happy so he could move in with me and, subconsciously perhaps, I felt I had to give up something too. It could be either or none of those things. I haven’t spent enough time thinking about it to be sure. But I do know that the thought of an evening to myself when the children were in bed had me thinking about doing things I never do when he’s around: reading tarot cards, colouring pictures or drawing with markers, blogging, making things calm and tidy and peaceful. I know the issue is mine and not his. I don’t doubt that for a minute. The thing is, what am I going to do about it? How do I reclaim my life in a house I love without making my husband feel that he’s not welcome here, when the opposite is true? How do I find my own space again in a house that I share with three other people and two space-invading dogs? I suppose really, I have the best of both worlds because I love having the place to myself and I love having us all here together. It seems as if I just have to find the balance between the two so that I can live comfortably too.

Picture This.

On this Wednesday evening we find:

A daughter out rollerblading and picking blackberries with her friends; a son watching videos on YouTube on the laptop in the sitting room; a husband cooking dinner and watching a DVD, also in the sitting room; a wife sorting laundry into piles and lamenting its never-ending increase, cramming socks and pants and school t-shirts into the machine; two dogs lolling about, enjoying the fact that (most) of their family is home while they roll on their backs to ask for belly rubs.

Also, the determination of the wife that the trampoline be unearthed from behind the summer growth of the berry patch and relieved of its brambley visitors before being cleaned and put back into use. Preferably before the end of the week.

Also, proper autumnal golden sun gilding everything with gentle golden beams, glinting on the pale curls of the daughter, purple of mouth and sticky of finger, and on the rings on the hand of the wife hanging out washing, while a breeze sets the pillow slips fluttering on the line.

General Round-Up.

So, on Friday afternoon, I spent a very happy fifteen minutes sitting in the car outside Dave’s office paying bills over the phone. I paid the electricity bill, I paid my mobile bill and I paid about a quarter of my credit card bill. And a little bit of the weight on my shoulders lifted. Today, I wrote a letter to the bank asking them to give me three months’ grace in order to clear up the rest of the odds and ends that I need to sort out. I await their response with interest but, to be honest, not that much hope. Then again, given that I’m in a better position than most people in this situation – in other words, I owned half of the house from the get go – perhaps they will accept it.

On Sunday, I went shopping with the children and bought them some odds and ends that they needed for their holiday to France in July; they’re going with their dad to a family gathering/birthday party. After that, I bought myself three new tops/shirts, a new pair of trousers and a skirt so that I don’t actually have to pass out from the heat if it gets sunny in the office.

I still don’t know if I am or I’m not but my senses are veering me towards not, particularly as I’ve had no more nausea in the mornings for the past few days. I have been continually frustrated in my attempts to speak to someone about organising an ultrasound – which seems the only reliable way to tell at the moment – because, for some reason that I cannot fathom, no one replies to emails in private clinics. I’m exceedingly reluctant to go to a hospital as I’m not sure how easy it will be to extricate myself from their clutches if it turns out that I am, and, for obvious reasons, I’m not interested in reports and 3D photos and so on. I don’t know what to tell you other than it’s a colossal bore trying to get information from people when most of them only operate clinics during office hours. Anyway. We shall see, I’m sure, in due course, what becomes of it all.

And for now, that’s about it. Work is busy but brings a certain satisfaction in knowing that I’m already starting to be able to do the job reasonably well. Even the early mornings aren’t as bad as I feared they would be!

Small moments of joy recently:

  • A package arrived fro Amazon today, was waiting for me when I got home. It contained this and this. The former will lift my soul generally, and the latter, from recollection, is awesome!
  • The children having a water fight in the garden last night in the bright, warm evening sun.
  • The happiness that comes from getting to drive, particularly when it only happens once or twice a week at the moment.
  • My one geranium plant that hasn’t bloomed successfully since I got it is waving it’s pretty pink blooms up to the light. Did you know that geranium plants are supposedly symbolic of money? Fingers crossed!

Good Things.

❁ The boiler’s auger jammed on Saturday but today, thanks to Niels the Nice Dutch Boiler Man, we have heat again.  ❁ Dave’s mum is taking the children to the UK with her at the end of next week for a few days. ❁ Peanut butter on Polish bread rolls is really delicious. ❁ I have managed to give up drinking normal tea and have, for the past week or more, been drinking herb and fruit teas with honey thus helping (slightly) to cut down my sugar intake. I feel better for it. ❁ I am going for a pre-Starting Work meeting with my new employers tomorrow. Still excited at the prospect but slightly dreading the early mornings. ❁ I dropped in to the office where I used to work yesterday after meeting one of my ex colleagues for lunch. It was lovely to see everyone and even lovelier to walk back out the door again. ❁ Himself and I spent some time going through our finances the other evening. In spite of everything, it looks like we should be in a pretty good position if we can get through the next two to three months cheaply. ❁ The Swede got engaged about a month ago and so next year, probably at the end of April, we will be heading over to Sweden for the first time ever! (This is very exciting.) ❁ We have invested in some very bright lime-sh green paint so that we can add some colour to the kitchen with a plan to paint one wall of the eating area. (B&Q might just be my new favourite place.)

What good things are happening for you this week?

Grasshopper green for one kitchen wall. J also wants a wall of his room this colour. It's much more vivid in person.