It’s all about the little things.

lushnessblog

Image courtesy of Bob Ewing Image courtesy of Bob Ewing

(From September 2012 – a reblog)

My husband has been home from the hospital for 48 hours. Two whole days. Therefore it must be true, and I can begin to believe it. I hope. And boy, have we learnt a thing or two about hope in the last few weeks.

Since his return, which was accompanied by tablets and appointments with various departments and specialists (not to mention emotional trauma and a true testing of nerves), we have managed a 15 minute sit on the beach, and a 20 minute walk to the local shop and back. Both of these pursuits exhausted my poor man, and the beach expedition resulted in a 3 hour session of deepest shut-eye just to recover from the exertion.

It was also, however, utter bliss. We lay on the stones, listening to the sea echo around us on a near…

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New Year: Trying to Press Pause on Time and Savour the Moments.

Image courtesy of chriszelig.net

Image courtesy of chriszelig.net

Another new year is about to dawn. Am I the only one who still feels like it was yesterday when they were lighting their candle before midnight on 31st December 1999? When I think that this year will be 2015, it simply astounds me, and I don’t say that lightly. 20-15. How?

To me, even the Spice Girls seem like a relatively recent band, and when I realised that the GCSE students I am teaching were not yet born when Princess Diana died, I nearly fell off of my chair.

The passage of time seems to speed up tenfold once you have children yourself. You spend so much time wishing it away when you are a whippersnapper, and then so much more trying to wrestle it into slowing down once you are an adult.

Each time New Year reappears on the winter horizon, I look at my babies, who are babies no longer, and wish that I could just press pause, to stop once in a while, and look at them. Stare at my little girls and simply drink them in, during any given moment. Instead, we seem to spend all of our time rushing around, from one place to the next, never really taking time to pause.

Therefore, my resolution for 2015, is to just take time. Be it during a busy day, or perhaps last thing at night, I want to simply stop and look at my daughters and my family. Whether it is whilst Amelie runs from her classroom door to throw herself into my arms at the end of the school day, or whilst India lies sleeping, her smooth cheek flushed with dreams against her pillow, I will take time.

If I do not do this as much as possible, then I fear that life will pass me by, even whilst I am living it to a full and hectic capacity. I want to take the time to make memories – real memories – like flash bulbs bursting in my head during both the special moments and the seemingly mundane.

As I sit writing at the moment, my little family is next to me, the three of them snuggled under a blanket watching Christmas movies on the TV and cocooned in the safety of the moment. It will not always be this way, and I intend to commit the happiness to memory for as long as nature allows.

How much of your life do you step back from? How often during the working day or the rushing weekend, do you stop, pause, think, and commit life to memory? If you are at all like me, then probably not nearly enough.

This New Year, I hope that you manage to truly savour all that you have, and I shall endeavor to do the same.

A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Ache of Fifty Winters

Image courtesy of The X-Files, How The Ghosts Stole Christmas

Image courtesy of The X-Files, How The Ghosts Stole Christmas

There is a tradition of ghost stories at Christmas. The season of goodwill, for all its tinsel and light, seems tinged with the hollow melancholy and ache of mid-winter.

I have never believed in ghosts. All those sad tales of hauntings and the infinity of the human soul. Febrile imaginings and the manifestations of a maddening grief; sanity perched upon tenebrous wings. Stories bred of desperation and a base human instinct to survive. I have enjoyed the thrill of a spooky tale as much as the next person, but I have never believed a single one. Not until Nate, that is.

Nate and I met in the first early frosts of autumn, and somehow, even in our happiest moments, that promise of the chill of a winter yet to come would seep across us like a stain.

We succumbed to the fairytale of love, and I immersed myself beneath its milky waves. Through late autumn evenings I would rush home to see him, driving through the gathering twilight, a harvest moon suspended overhead as a red sun disappeared to greet the other side of the world, the acrid smell of bonfires filling the air. His arms on my waist as he stood behind me, watching fireworks pop and crackle in an electric night, laughing like children, as we ‘Oohed’ and ‘Aahed’.

But always, there was the chill of foreboding picking at our edges, lifting us like a scab. It is woven through what remains of my memories: that thread of disconcertion.

Weekdays working, weekends shopping for a first Christmas together, and car journeys on dark wet evenings, the glow of headlights reflecting on wet roads as we traversed with caution, anxious to avoid the drivers who have indulged in too much festive merriment before their journey home.

Sometimes we would walk, marching out into the night on a whim, relishing the salty tang of sea air and the high winds that shrieked like a woman through our senses. Hair whipping around my head and rain pouring down on us in torrents, the water seeping into my ears as it ran from Nate’s face, as he whispered sweet nothings to me and we laughed, laughed like children, safe in our coupledom, untouchable in our youth, resilient in our love.

Yet, as we strung the lights and decked the hall, I knew. I knew that I could not hold him forever.

And my, how quickly life can change. How quickly the blanket of routine and safe prediction can be drawn from under us, leaving us toppling and quaking, uncertain in its wake. Death: the unfathomable, hardest, most finite of them all. And it is coming for us; make no mistake. If you are happy, if you are sad, if you are in a relationship for the long term – whether romantic or platonic or parental or hateful – it is coming for you. And when it does, when Death steps out from behind the shadow of her sister, Life, then you’d better be ready, you’d better brace yourself: batten down the hatches.

For death is not the end.

I hear him sometimes. Speaking to me. Trying to break through, trying to make some tenuous contact with the life that we had made. He talks in cold whispers that grate and catch in his throat. He sounds no more human to me than the bark of a dog or the echo of foghorns from the port in the mist of a Christmas morning.

It’s as though I have lost my grip on reality. The fragility of life, and how it can flip you from its axis in the blink of an eye, or the slit of a wrist… or perhaps the slip of the brake on a wet, wet road in the dark, dark night. With the sweet, alcoholic tang of Christmas indulgence still on your breath, and the reflection of headlights sparkling in the firmament of your unseeing eyes. Death can explode into life, with all its thoughtless and technicolour morbidity.

I exist only in blue twilight. It sucks me down in lonesome currents, and I’ve not the strength to fight against it, as I drown beneath the swell. Never had I dreamt that such a loneliness could exist. There is the ache of fifty winters in my soul; my bones splinter with it.

I can’t seem to get warm anymore. Life rages on outside my windows and I find myself reaching for him. Sometimes I believe I touch him, my fingers stretching until I feel as though the tender webbed skin between them might tear apart, like over-ripened fruit on the vine, splitting down the middle with yearning.

But of course, I cannot touch him. I cannot feel him… although once, he seemed to sense me. I held my face close to his, peering at him as he slept, a window to the living. I longed to feel the warmth of his rising chest beneath my head. But he turned away, a shudder passing through his body, almost indiscernible in its quivering transience, yet unmistakable all the same: it was the shiver of revulsion. I am all that he is not.

And so, you see, I can vouch for the true love story. And I can vouch for eternity. I can even vouch for the ghost story, hand upon my broken heart that smashed against my ribcage as the bells rang out, loud and clear for Midnight Mass. The hopes and fears of all my years, ended in the scream of rubber on tarmac. How still they see me lie.

But mine is not a deep and dreamless sleep, because death is not the end, it is simply another lonely beginning.

For I am the story: I am the ghost. We are the haunted.

I originally wrote a draft of this some years ago, but returned to the drawing board & reworked it for Christmas. If you like it, then please do share it. 
This is my final post before Christmas, lovely readers, and I wish a merry & peaceful Yuletide for you and yours. Have a healthy, happy & wonderful Christmas. Thank you, as ever, for reading x

Real versus Fake (Trees, not boobs…)

We're going on a tree hunt, we're going to find a big one...

We’re going on a tree hunt, we’re going to find a big one…

Taa-daaah...

Taa-daaah…

My family and I always get a real Christmas tree. This term is always confusing, because it suggests that others are imaginary, but you know what I mean.

The reason we get a real tree is because I was brought up in a household that always had one. I still remember the untouchable excitement of Christmas as a child, and many of those memories are interwoven with the smells, sights and feel of those trees.

There is something about bringing a piece of the outdoors in that I love. The Pagan rituals of embracing nature in order to celebrate, and sprinkling our houses with lights to chase away the shadows of mid-winter, are so simple. They hark back to centuries past, and traditions that have been bound up with the ribbons of time.

Christmas always brings with it a pervading sweetness of melancholy. The haunting tune of carols and the echo of twilight churches, perhaps the loss of someone we love during the year, and the coming together of our communities in mutual celebration of the season. These are a heady mix.

The smell of a real tree, the memories that we attach to each decoration, and the guileless joy of children, combine to make Christmas a time like no other. Whether you are a Christian or not, you can’t deny that a ritual that brings together people who barely make eye contact the rest of the year, must be a positive one.

This year, my family and I have done something that I have wanted to do since I was a child – we found a Christmas tree plantation, and travelled there to choose our own tree, growing in the field.

We drove to Fordingbridge on a Sunday morning and gathered with other families who were doing likewise. The thrill of wandering in amongst so many trees, and knowing that we could pick the one we wanted, to take home and string our memories upon, was so special. I hope to make this an annual tradition. One that our girls will recall when they are old, and we are gone.

The spangle of twinkling lights, the redness of the berry against the forest holly green, and an angel high upon the top most branch. Smiles from strangers on the street, wishes for peace on earth, meals enjoyed with our nearest and our dearest, and the all-encompassing love of our parents and families. This, for me, is Christmas.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 16th December 2014.

How I Imagined Trimming The Tree Would Be Before I Had Children versus The Reality Now That I Do

Image courtesy of x-entertainment.com

Image courtesy of x-entertainment.com

How I imagined the trimming of the tree before I had children:

Husband would carry said tree into the house, children joyful and humming festive tunes behind him. We would be sporting Christmas jumpers, smiling beatifically at one another across the branches, congratulating ourselves on a splendid choice of festive foliage.

We would pop the tree in a bucket, dear little children scampering around our ankles, passing us their tasteful, homemade decorations, whilst we exclaimed over their obvious talents for design and engineering.

Once the tree was finished, we would stand back in admiration, arms around each other, perhaps crooning a verse or two of White Christmas, swaying gently. We would settle down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, assorted pets at our ankles, and bowls of homemade, organic popcorn on our knees.

Reality:

Husband wrestles beast of tree through house, needles flying, whilst barking military-style orders at self and children, ‘GET OUT OF THE WAY, GET OUT OF THE WAY’, on a loop.

Tree is hoisted into its stand and, after being inspected for rogue wildlife (The Year of the Spider’s Nest has not been forgotten), I hold the trunk whilst husband secures it in place. He instructs me to let go. I do. Tree falls over. Repeat.

Husband plus self are now red in the face, sweating, and fairy lights are in knots the likes of which a scout leader would be proud. The girls begin flinging their glittered-bog-roll-on-a-string efforts at the branches, and the dog prances past, tail high in the air, taking out as many decorations in one sweep as possible.

Once decorations are in place, and I have surreptitiously moved each of the children’s to the back of the tree, the sheer girth of the beast becomes apparent. Husband wields kitchen scissors with a flourish and hacks the branches, thereby removing the necessity to punch our way past them each time we enter the room.

Staggering back, we collapse onto the sofa, throwing all manner of processed snacks in the direction of the girls. We settle down to grit our teeth through the Cbeebies’ Panto, whilst trying hard to ignore the cats (half way up the tree), the dog (cocking a leg on it), and the steady sound of needles falling, signalling a tree that will be but a glorified stick festooned with lights by Christmas Day.

This is my favourite column and apparently one of my readers’ too – so it’s back by popular demand for the festive period!

Gettin’ My Yule On… Or, why the first cards written are the best.

Dear-Santa-Im-Writing-Youu-To-Let-You-Know-That-Ive-Been-Naughty_o_108894

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 9th December 2014

It is that time year again. The time of year when, according to Delia Smith, I have missed Christmas already.

Apparently, if I were to have any hope of being prepared, I should have been feeding brandy to mounds of dried fruit bound in muslin months ago.

Unfortunately, back on Planet Lush, various things, such as life, have placed themselves in the way of my festive preparations. However, now that December is upon us, I am Christmassing-galore.

It is both a blessing (my opinion) and a curse (my husband’s) that I am obsessively organized. I cannot bear to leave things to chance, and I like to be ready well in advance. I also love Christmas, so once December strikes, I feel justified in getting my yuletide on. (That’s not a costume; it’s my attempt at sounding down with the kids.)

It is, given my organised nature, a jolly good thing that I am in charge of Christmas in the Lush household. If it were left up to my husband, then I’d be willing to stake a sizeable sum on the wager that we’d be partaking of a chicken breast from the garage and a Petit Filous for dessert on the 25th.

The Christmas card writing is also my domain. This is one of those activities that you remember (falsely) as being festively fun. In the memories that nostalgia built, I am sat, sporting my Christmas jumper, writing messages of joy and goodwill to our nearest, dearest, and far away good friends.

In reality, I am clad in my pjs, cursing the lost address book, and swigging red wine, squinting in the dim lights of the Christmas tree, and muttering about the cost of stamps.

The first cards written will generally list each member of the family to whom they are being sent. There will be a personal message regarding the year that has passed, and wishes of peace for the one that is coming. It will also feature all of our monikers, possibly even the name of a pet or two ‘for jokes’ (see, down with the kids), and maybe a doodle of a paw print.

The final cards that are written will be lucky to get more than an address on the front of the envelope, a stamp that’s stuck on straight, and ‘The Lushes’ scrawled at the bottom. Which is unfortunate, given the alcoholic connotations of the surname when you put it like that.

If You Have Little Girls, How Do You Raise Them To Ensure That They Don’t Become Little B*tches?

Image courtesy of jokeallyoucanblogspot.com

Image courtesy of jokeallyoucanblogspot.com

First published (in an edited format!) in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 2nd December 2014

It is probably a common parental worry, but, as a mum, I do think about the kind of women my little daughters will one day become.

My girls bicker and moan and take sly swipes when a parent’s back is turned, but just as much as they growl at one another, so they coo at each other too.

When Amelie recently lost her first tooth, my husband and I crept up outside India’s bedroom door. Amelie had gone straight to her sister when she awoke to find money in place of her tiny tooth, and she crawled in bed with her so that they could sweetly revel in the innocence of this moment together.

However, women can be notoriously vile to one another. How do you stop your little girl from turning into one of those that begin sporting two faces whilst they are still traversing the playground – and continue to sport them once they are in adulthood?

We all have our moments of sniping about other people, but there’s a huge difference between simply having a moan (you’d implode if you didn’t) and actually being disloyal, or cruel for nothing more than personal entertainment. It’s one thing if someone is behaving in an immoral manner and you say that you disagree with them, but another entirely if you’re the kind of person who simply seems to enjoy stirring trouble, or lighting the bitch fuse and then standing back whilst it sparks around you.

I loathe the thought of my daughters growing up to fall foul of the kind of ‘friends’ who have no loyalty, and who, sadly, are in the category of females that seem happy to smile to one’s face and then snipe as soon as a back is turned.

Some women seem to thrive off of betraying the trust of others, or by obsessing over other women’s lives, without ever bothering to try and enrich their own.

I really hope my girls grow up instead with a handful of true and fiercely loyal friends, and that they are wise enough to tell the difference. But I also try to instill values in them, so that they too possess qualities of friendship.

I suspect that if I had sons, then I would be attempting to demonstrate that women are equals, and of course I do this with my girls too. Daddy works, mummy works; we share responsibilities, commiserate in times of stress, and celebrate the small and the big things in life.

But, even if my husband and I do succeed in preparing them for the world, then what is to say that a curve ball, whether in the form of an unhealthy relationship or something more insidious, will not knock them off their vulnerable feet?

Honestly, the sheer responsibility that comes with parenting – and the nurturing of two little lives – is both the most wonderful thing, and the most terrifying. Love and fear: they are one and the same.

“I lay it down as a fact that if all men (sic) knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends in the world.” Blaise Pascal