Saturday, September 1, 2012

Trash to treasure

These are the before and after shots of the chair I rescued from the sidewalk the other day.  With the help of the blog, little green notebook, I managed to reupholster the piece in the space of a week. I have to admit, it was pretty satisfying.  I spent about $70 on fabric and cord (to make the piping/welting) and I used paint I had already purchased. The main challenge was keeping the staple gun away from the kids. It now looks like one of the smartest pieces of furniture we own!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Done with summer

The summer holidays come to a close.   The time has been divided into a happy half spent in Cornwall, catching glimpses of sunshine, seeing people who are important to us, clambering down to inaccessible beaches and sloshing through puddles.  But these past few weeks have been dominated by a friend's accident.  One of those important people. Though I am thousands of miles away, in my mind I have walked the hospital ward. I know the parking lot, full of hot cars, ticking in the sunshine. I see the blue signs directing patients and visitors. I see the nurses. One is especially tall with a brown bob, her eyes the colour of her overalls.  I know the waiting room, the curved plastic chairs, the frosted glass along one wall, the magazines that have come loose from their staples. I know the ICU. I see my friend there, sitting by her husband's side, as he sleeps, among the tubes and the IV bags and the machinery that is helping him survive.  I see the line of staples across the right side of his shaven head. I have seen his children brought into his room, the nurse explaining the tubes and letting them play with the stethoscope and even sit in the swing chair. She lets them trace the shape of their father's hand to take away with them.  I see the doctors looking serious and urgent but benign. This used to be his ward. What are the chances? The intensive care consultant, now consulted upon. There is a picture of him in the bathroom, smiling with his palms out, reminding you to wash your hands.  A bike accident. A split second that has twisted time and lives and futures.  It has been hard to think of anything else.
We went for a walk the other day with the promise of pancakes and sausages at a mountain lodge 2 miles up the hill.  It was so hot, even at ten in the morning, and by the time we were walking back there wasn't even a thin sliver of shade from the trees on the trail.  Last week we picked blackberries and made our first ever pot of sweet pippy jam.  I have kept myself busy making a 'keyhole garden' and reupholstering a chair that we found flung out on the street.  Planning playdates for the kids, getting ready for school. But they are all distractions. My heart is in the Intensive Care Unit at Dereford Hospital, willing a friend to heal.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer wishlist

Here are a few things on our summer wishlist....
  1. Make cool sandcastles
  2. Learn how to surf
  3. Visit an island
  4. Write a story
What's on your list?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Graphic expression

Oli has always been into drawing. Which is good. Much of the year at his preschool they have focused on 'graphic expression' in the early years (which really translates as 'interpreting the scribbles'). But in the past few months his enthusiasm has really taken off. He's recently been channeling it into colouring photocopied pages of busytown from Max's Best Ever Rainy Day Book. Then he discovered tracing paper and returned to his well-loved copy of the Lego catalogue (so, so well-loved since Christmas and taped and stapled to keep it whole) and he began tracing Lego men and castles and horses.  Then last night I went into his bedroom to find this...
Your eyes might need to adjust to the light but I tell you, the pencil lines are all but faint when you see them on the wall. My jaw dropped. I was so shocked. Drawing on the walls? Isn't that the tipping point when supernanny is called in? Down the other end of the corridor Dom gave a yell.  Jack (increasingly verbal and rarely quiet) had climbed back into the bath, fully clothed in his zip-up pyjamas. His crying was not from falling in, no, he was having a fine time splashing with his brother, the tears came from being hauled out, dripping wet and several pounds heavier, in soggy clothes and a swollen double layer of cotton nappies.
Honestly if, a few years ago, you had told me my three year old would graffiti his bedroom while my one year old climbed into the bath with his clothes on I would have said you had the wrong house - no, no, no. There will be worse to come I'm sure (parents of teenagers - teenage boys - will be chuckling) but this is where I am - the summer holidays, just days away, stretch in front of me like the Marathon Des Sables.
At first Oli insisted that the artwork was 'an accident' (spot the signature tag on the right? ) then he fell into a despairing mantra of 'I did it on purpose, I'm bad.' The truth is, he's actually quite good. He's certainly good with a pencil. I love how he starts at the bottom, perhaps thinking, I'll just add some legs to this old circle here (the metal thing in the wall) and then maybe give this person some friends (the group of little circles with legs). Then he sees his own hand, leaning on the wall to steady himself and thinks, I'll trace round that. Then he has this great idea of drawing a person and adding his own hands to it. I love to think the top two images, the climax of it all, represent a genie coming out of a bottle to grant him any, any wish...even maybe hinting to him that he might really want to wish the pencil markings would fade before mummy comes into his bedroom...He actually says it's a house with two lights on the side and he's inside the house (well, I had to ask). I'll have to wash it off, I know, but looking at it does make me smile...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

One for Mum

I promised my mum I would post something today. Actually I have been waiting for my head to clear in order to say something coherent. In truth, I'm not sure I'm there yet.  The past few months have seen me pitching and rolling like a boat in high seas.  It is nothing very serious that has had me lurching around like this.  Nothing that threatens the immediate survival of loved ones.  So really, why all the anxiety?  I think it's because everything has felt so tangled, as worries do.  One concern is so mixed up with the next. From the future of the planet to finding our own future on the planet.
To counter my apocalyptic thoughts back in March, I started reading. Books. 'Your book has 294 pages!' Max was astonished. It's true, my normal reading material is either the internet or my 60 page subscription to a Finnish sewing magazine (that's just how I roll).  In my desire to make sense of it all, I found The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding, to be just what I needed. While it doesn't shy away from the fact that our finite planet is under pressure that is unsustainable, it does at least try and look beyond the forthcoming 'disruption' to a possibly better place (if you can get over the pain ensued by actually getting there).
Then I went to hear Richard Louv speak. He's the author of The Last Child in the Woods, the book that introduced the term 'nature deficit disorder' to the public consciousness. I admit I never finished the book, I found it too depressing. But, like Gilding, his latest offering, The Nature Principle attempts to imagine a better world rather than send us headlong into the blade-runner futures we are familiar with. The ever present cynic in me sees the similarity - both books are pushing optimism, undeniably a more attractive sell than the pessimism of prior publications. But optimism is working better for my mental health.
Something else that has been taking up space in my cluttered mind has been the task of finding the right school for Max and the worry that, when we switch, we may realize we had it in the other one all along. Decisions about the future seem to have been so very grueling as we plan to head 'home' to the UK to see grandparents and friends. Where is home, then, if we travel 5000 miles once a year to get there? I know this is partly slippery language playing tricks on me because, of course, home is here in the US where our toothbrushes live, but that question never seems to go away. And it's not that I haven't loved our time here, it's just that the path doesn't seem to open up in front of me. We are forever hacking at the tangled ivy, cutting at the thick vines.  Don't the song lyrics say you only get the view when you look back at the path you've cut, not by looking forward where there is no path? I don't care, I'm still hungry for what's in front, but I desperately want to know what it looks like.
Today I cut my hair to a 'boy's cut' and can no longer be exclusively blamed for blocking the shower drain.  Max really did not want me to cut my hair and it crossed my mind that I should keep it long just for the sake of consistency (and the fact that it's taken me this long to grow my hair back from that hormone horror hair-loss after my last pregnancy). But I wanted to cut it off - the time had come. In lots of ways I also want the boys to embrace change in a way that I have never found easy, and that fact, in some strange way, urged me on.  This afternoon there was a grin on Max's face when he saw me. It's true, I do look a bit funny.  And it reminded me that nothing is set in stone. Change is often good. Hair grows back. Decisions can be changed.  Things only look a certain way for a while. 

Friday, April 13, 2012


Inspired by a recent trip to LACMA in Los Angeles, and more specifically a room-sized racecar exhibit called Metropolis II, we have been filling idle moments this Easter break by trying to create our own high rise car track.  Was it just a little over ambitious to reassure the boys that it was possible? Avoiding the rain earlier this week, we scoured the local home improvement store for just the right material. There were grand plans about twists and turns and impressive loops plus an escalator to raise the cars to their starting position (as in the genuine article). Our interpretation doesn't quite have the complexity of Chris Burden's installation, nor the evocation of 'the stress of living in an dynamic, active and bustling 21st century city' but still, it's fun to see what can be done with a length of garage door weatherizing strip (draught excluder if we are being bilingual about it!)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Another Day

It's been weeks since I last posted.  We went skiing for a few days last month, which gave me a healthy break from the chores at home and actually some time away from myself and my own cluttered mind and my need to write.  At some point on holiday I looked down from a chairlift and traced the path of animal prints in the diamond-flecked snow and just soaked up the beauty of it.  That is what has stayed with me.
Home again, and we got back into the rhythm of school and after-school and everything else that entails. There were those evenings when the children wanted the easle, then they wanted paint, not crayons, oh and paper, not that kind.  Someone was missing a paintbrush, someone was hungry.  Jack, has an amazing ability to find pencils and he was no doubt trotting around with them tight in his fist.  I often tell his brothers to ask if they want something from Jack, not to grab, but to use their words - 'Look!' I say as I hold out my hand, 'he can be very obliging'.  That night I'm sure I pulled the pencils from his grasp, one after another.  Tonight, boys are circling me with demands and requests without, I'm afraid, a hint of manners.  I am trying to finish a chicken pie and the task is rolling out the pastry.  I have visions of this happening in my farmhouse-style kitchen, fresh flowers on the table, shafts of sunshine picking out the mist of flour as I endeavor to cook wholesome food for my family. In fact, it is raining, the defrosted pastry is too hard and the kitchen floor is a hazard of toys. I bang the pastry hard with my rolling pin. Exercising my frustration can at least have some practical purpose here.  Everyone stops in their tracks.
'Enough demands, I am trying to cook supper' I say.
Max disappears next door and I hear him picking out notes on the keyboard. I know I will not respond well if the volume is turned up and dark, loud chords are thrashed out of the instrument.  Luckily it remains quiet, even soothing, one key at a time. The pastry gets rolled. Max returns.
'Did you like the piano?'
I nod.
'I was trying to give you something relaxing.'
My parents came to visit the other week which was wonderful.  As their taxi pulled away at the end of the week, both Max and Oli burst into tears. 'It's sometimes sad to say goodbye' I told them and Oli now reminds me of that regularly, even when no-one is going anywhere.
What happened after that was that Dom left for a trip to Japan and Taiwan and with evenings to myself, I began watching documentaries that I knew I wouldn't have persuaded Dom to watch if he'd been there. First it was one on the US food industry. That got me a little wary and mildly depressed. Then I found a website where you can watch documentaries for free and I feasted on all versions of the apocalypse, exclusively related to climate change. Now I am properly terrified....but I want to keep you, my dear, only, reader, so I will try to veer away from these dark tendencies and put my energy into practical solutions.  Yesterday we planted a vegetable patch of peas surrounded by concentric circles of carrots, broccoli and basil.  It sits proudly where the fountain used to be. I say 'fountain' but it was really just a large circular tray where mosquitos bred in the muddy water left over from the rains.  Thanks to my Dad for getting that concrete beast out! And so here I am, back in the blogging saddle, a little rested, a little weary, a little terrified, a little cheery and hoping to see green shoots in the garden very shortly.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

A package of sticky dots and some index cards to wish you a happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


February is rattling past and I have been focusing my writing elsewhere (getting the nicest possible rejection!) and reading lots.  I've been trying to keep up my new year's resolution of exercising three times a week; running twice and making a trip to the hot yoga studio.  The evidence of three children is still written over my body but I'm beginning to feel better.
I had a minor epiphany during yoga this week. The temperature was above 100 and I was somewhere between Dandayamana-Dhanurasana and Tuladandasana.  The teacher was reeling off the benefits of what we were doing and reassuring us, 'It's meant to hurt like hell'. It struck me that my yoga session is a lot like life and mothering and writing. I turn up for class, I am there of my own volition (mostly), arms out to the side like airplane wings, the small of my back aching as I bring eyes up, chin up, whole body up.  Certainly, there are some easy bits, some bits where I cruise for a while, but that's usually when my mind wanders and I realize I'm not really concentrating, not in the sacred 'moment'.  Then there are bits when it really does hurt and I think I might throw up and I want to shout obscenities.  I know that's when my body will actually change but I'm sure the postures are going to break me.  I stay in the room and count to ten and try to breathe. Then there are bits where I switch off and cheat and my ankles don't really lift off the floor, my knee isn't locked and I keep my eyes down.  It doesn't make me feel good about myself, the cheating, but sometimes I need the break. I see the newcomers, the ones who have had to raise their hands and say it's their first class, and I remember when that was me.  They need help identifying their left hand from their right and are told to watch others before they join in.  But before I get cocky, there's always the people in the front row, immaculate in lycra, to remind me that I'm not a veteran either, and even though I've been doing this on and off for years, my postures still suck.  Sometimes the teacher opens the window and the cool evening air brushes me with it's magic and I can't think of anything better, and I remember how much I love this class and how great I feel when I'm flexible and strong and how it's going to keep me healthy as I get older, and I'm dripping with hope, remembering there's always the possibility that I might actually be able to get my legs off the floor in Salabhasana. Then I hear the window closing and I realize that, no, it's just hot, stifling and painful. By the end of the class, I've almost drained my water bottle, the last sip is luke warm and carries a hint of metal.  Then we end up in Savasana and the teacher switches off the lights.  I lie there for a few seconds in the clammy putrid dark, letting relief wash over me. And I keep coming back.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Words

Mrs Clutterbuck's class: sometime in the early 'eighties.  The door opens onto rows of single desks, side on, and there's a window seat across the room. The school used to be a grand home but the furniture's changed and there are dry-erase white boards in place of artwork. There's an impressive entry with a marble slab stairwell clinging to the walls, taking it's time to meander past large stone windows, down to the iron studded double oak doors. Beyond Mrs Clutterbuck's class is the stairwell. We never use it, of course. We come in through the cloakroom at the back. Past the dining rooms, eyes on the black and red floor tiles, and up the back stairs. Homework is to find out what our first words were.
'Cow', I discover, and write it proudly on my piece of paper.  Cow. I learn that my brother said 'Clower' and I imagine my mum pushing him in the purple Silver Cross pram and pointing out the primroses and snowdrops as they emerged from the hedgerows. Or maybe it was later, May perhaps, and the lane was full of cow parsley and campions. By the time I arrived, my brother would have just been toddling at my mum's side. You didn't have to walk very far before reaching the crooked iron gates and seeing the cows. Damp pink noses pushing through the bars, whiskers as tough as fishing line.  The farmer left giant bricks of salt by the water troughs which they'd lick like eroded sandstone, before pushing their vast sandpaper tongues up a nostril.  My brother's gaze, by now, had shifted from flowers to cows and I was the beneficiary.  'Cow' would be my entry into language, my stepping stone.  How often did we walk up the lane? Twice daily, with the dog? A single track, muddied tarmac, with gravel smoothed in two neat grooves from the wear of car tyres.  I can only imagine those walks but they are sealed forever in a part of me with the knowledge of my first word.  I remember the later walks, using my doll's bonnet to stash wild strawberries only to find out that I had stained the soft blond flannel with a gash of red that looked forever like a head injury.  I was not a 'girly girl'; I had called the doll 'floppy legs', but it still shocked me. And later again, home from boarding school, walking with my camera, taking pictures of those noses, or of black and white hide pulled tight over angular haunches.  Then the walking became running the loop; up the lane in one direction, zig-zaging to the end, a left and right, up the hill, past Treswallen and Creed Lane, hugging the hedge on the way down the other side, over the bridge and back home.

What is a first word?  Must it be accompanied by a pointed finger? 'Look, a cow!' Or is it a mother's memory; 'You loved the cows, we walked the lane so often to look at them.' Our youngest has, in the past few weeks, put his first word on the slate of his emerging history.  Though he mimiced 'apple' beautifully several times he hasn't quite aligned the softly spoken syllables to the fruit in the bowl. What he does say frequently and what is all too clearly understood is 'Nee new', copied from his brothers' 'I need you!'  He must have worked out that 'Nee new', in this house, is the equivalent of dialing a first responder.  What picture will this third child draw for himself when he is asked by his teacher to find out his first word?  Mine, after all, could have come from a picture book.

Monday, January 9, 2012


I'm at a disco! We went on a muddy walk with the kids yesterday around a lake; backpacks, jogging strollers, picnic, the works. When we got back I remembered I was running out of time to join a virtual blog party at Pinterest. To the uninitiated this involved taking a picture of myself (looking appropriately discotastic), posting it to Flikr and tweeting the organizer, who then pined it. The idea (I think) being that lots of friendly bloggers get to meet each other. Until yesterday, I was the uninitiated, and that meant joining Flikr and Twitter.  In between mashing the potatoes and cooking the carrots I think I managed the upload and tweet. Despite wearing an apron and still being in hiking boots, I was able to sit down to supper and announce to my family that my cyber ego was actually jiving under a disco ball! This could be fun.


The party organizer is Holly Becker. When we started flirting with the idea of doing our house up I found her very cool blog, decor8. I love her style and she has a great book, Decorate which has plenty of ideas and fab looks. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A reminder

Happy New Year! I seem to remember grabbing on to 2011 as if it were a life raft in rough sea. 2010 had seen me so laden with anxieties - in so many forms - that by the end of the year I was ready to jump ship.  This New Year, Dom and I sat for a while in the dark, on our doorstep, to say goodbye to 2011. We listened to the whisper of Abba coming from a party in a fifth floor apartment down the street, and tried to work out what stars we were looking at. It wasn't a raucous welcome to 2012, but it was perfect.


Jack hadn't settled well. He didn't have a fever, didn't have cold. I sat in his room, in the dark, holding him, on the oversized rocking chair that we bought for just this kind of thing a few years ago. His head was on my shoulder, his hair still rabbit soft and fine as silk threads, his face turned slightly towards me. In the grainy grey of a late December night his face looked almost hyper-real, like a Pixar character - a grey blush on his full cheeks, long eyelashes like dark feathers, he closed his eyes ever so slowly only to reopen them abruptly to the sound of his own breath.  Wrapped in his fleecy sleeping bag, I took time to notice the weight of his body on me, his legs tucked up to his tummy. I stroked his cheek and he smiled with effort.  Knowing my hand was near, he reached out for it and we rocked together in a cozy cocoon of exchanged warmth and breath.  In his waking hours Jack does not have this snuggling ease. Getting him dressed is like putting clothes on a cat; he crawls off, scampering away, with one wry glance back, to find his brothers or simply be out of my reach. Although it's never ideal to have a child refusing sleep it gave me a moment to think about the changes in him this year.  I wonder now if this little boy was just reminding me that he won't be this small for long.