Posts in family
Traditions

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I am a sucker for traditions...be they from my childhood or new ones that we make up as we go. There is comfort and certainty in them, from small things like Friday night pizza or big things like the yearly Easter Egg Hunt.

Our traditions are simple, not one for planning at the best of times, I can not pull off elaborate craft activities or making much other than my orders and other work at the minute.  But that's OK. Its the simple constants that mean the most: Friends, Greek Easter Bread (I half this recipe), Lamb Osso Bucco (I sort of use this recipe, but cook the lamb in 2x tins of chopped tomatos/ 1 cup of wine and 1lr of beef stock for 2 hours before adding the veg)  Egg Hunt and Chocolate.

Simple. Perfect. 

 

Glimpses

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This is the view from my washing line.  I liked hanging out washing at the old house.  I actually think I might love it here. The only problem is that its quite a posh neighbourhood, so I feel like I need to be dressed to hang out my washing...flip flops and jammies doen't seem to cut it.

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I swear I cleaned this room mere moments before this photo was taken. Kevin thinks I just make up the cleaning so it seems like I do something all day.  I think its lucky he's still alive after 10 years. 

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Theo sleeps in a baby hammock. All day.  He loves it.  Except between the hours of 4pm and 3am, when he doesn't.

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We eat a lot of eggs.  A lot.  Well, I don't really eat that many.  Its because when I lived in Calcutta there was a flood and I was stuck in my accomodation and all they served us was eggs for two weeks.  Deep fat fried, curried eggs was my breaking point.  Of course I get a child that loves to eat eggs above all else.

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Georgia loves Theo. As in Hugo the Abominable Snowman "I will love him pat him and squeeze him and call him George" sort of way.  

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Ellis loves him to, but I am less worried about Theo being literally smothered with love. 

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My life is filled with Lego.  We've graduated to itty bitty lego.  Is it wrong to hate it? It'd suck it up with the vacuum, but then I'd have to listen to how all the pieces are missing. 

 

 

Someone Else's Groove
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Step into my house at 10am, and you will see a picture of domestic bliss.  The house will be reasonably tidy.  My children will be laughing and playing.  I will be the world's best mother.  There might even be a baked good for your consumption.

Step into the same scene at 4 in the afternoon and the view would be vastly different.  Toys strewn everywhere. Dishes piled in the sink. Someone will be crying and its a one in three chance that someone could be me.

I am not good at being of service all day, every day.  Stumbling down the stairs in the morning to cries of "I'm hungry", then to be followed by endless cycles of nappy changes, feedings, meal and snack preparation, play, laundry, groceries, errands...I find it very tiring, very long and exceedingly dull.

In my family, rightly or wrongly, I am the one that provides the flexibility.  I slot into all of the jobs and situations that no one else wants to or can do. I am the fluid one, who helps fill the cracks of everyone else. Not to say, I don't get taken care of in other ways, but my job at the minute is to be of service in the variety of ways my family needs.

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Kevin comes home and a baby is thrust in his arms.  I may not be good at the relentlessness of caring for small children, but I am GREAT at sulking.  I stomp upstairs, throw myself down on my bed and glower at no one in particular.  

And here is the thing...I can see it coming. It happens most days - be it at home, at work, with my family. I am an introvert.  I need time to be quiet and do as I wish.  As my friend, Rebecca, wrote so eloquently, "I'm just someone who needs time and space in my house and in my brain, quiet and freedom to move as I wish,...depending on the day." I can fit into someone else's groove for only so long, before I must bust out.

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After my small toddler-like tantrum, I can hear giggles wafting up the stairs.  A cup of tea is thrust forward as a peace offering by a 3 year old messenger.  He is scooped up into bed with me and we laugh and talk and I am back in my role and happy.

Sometimes, its just a moment I need to recharge...sometimes its more.  Ideally, I wouldn't get hit those low levels in the first place and of course, some days I don't. One of the thoughts that I come back to time and again, is that women being left alone with small children all day is a recent phenomenon.  We used to have family or other women around to share the enormous responsibility. 

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I wish I could make it all look effortless...No, I actually wish it could be effortless.  But its not.  We are a wildly happy, chaotic, crazy and sometimes ever so slightly destructive family with a wildly happy, chaotic, crazy, sometimes ever so slightly destructive mother. 

So probably perfectly normal then.  

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I wrote this post and then say that Day 5's prompt for Creativity Boot Camp is Fluid.  How very very apt.

Beached

With the day stretching in front of us and motorised transport at our disposal, we did what we always do...head to the sea.

And like most days in Scotland, the rain threatened our excursion. But like most people who choose to live in these wet climes, we persevered (with a cake stop to wait out a particularly torrential downpour). We then headed to Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve at the suggestion of a friend. 

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There is something about the water, sand, unstructured time and toddlers. Ellis spent ages climbing and jumping and drawing and splashing. Getting as filthy as only small children can, whilst Kevin took pictures and I knit with a little girl snuggled on my chest (hard work, I tell you).

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The blight on our lovely day was the rather sad theft of Ellis' kite. It was from his Grammy and we'd been saving it to use on a nice windy day. The beach was perfect and Ellis was so very excited. On the way from the car to the beach, I dropped it. After realising what had happened, Kev went on a mission. Some other beach-goers told him they'd seen it and put it up on a post for us to find on the way back. When Kev went back to get it, the packaging was there, the kite was missing and it appeared to be in the hands of some teenage boys who would not give it back. Rather than start a scene, Kevin walked away.

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There is nothing like the heartbreak and helplessness of a parent when their child has been done an injustice that can not be repaired. I had experienced it once before, but this was Kevin's first time going through this particular agonising aspect of parenthood. 

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But while we smarted from the injustice, Ellis just played and told us that we'd just have to find another dragon kite someday and that was that.

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Small boys have all the good ideas.

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Expat Living :: Why Doesn't It Get Easier?

With almost everything else in my life, I become more adept with time and practice.  The more I knit, the better I get.  The more I cook, the richer, deeper, faster and more flavourful my meals become.  The more I write, the easier the words fly off my fingers.  The longer I work in my job, the better a resource I am for my organisation.  With each month of parenting, each milestone covered, I am a better mother.

Why then, does being an expat seem to get harder with each year?  I have lived outside of the US for all of my adult life.  I have been in the UK for 10 years.  I have gone for years without seeing my brothers, sisters and parents. I have a wonderful network of friends here who are like family.  I can count on one hand the things I truly miss from my American world.

But every time I have to say goodbye to my mother, when either of us get on a plane to go home, I find the whole experience gut-wrenching.  Each time I speak to or Skype with my dad, or connect in any way to my American family, I am reminded of what I am missing.

Of course, I understand that the time we do spend together is not a real picture of what day to day life would be like if we lived on the same continent.  International travel isn't something any of us take lightly and visits are rare and precious so we make more effort to really be together, to clear the decks and spend quality time being a family. 

However, while the quality over quantity argument goes a long way, in the lives of small children, quantity counts for a lot. They grow so very quickly and their memories are short. Popping round for a cup of tea, shared holidays, 'just happened to be in the neighbourhood' visits mean a lot in the transient world of childhood. Simply being present may not be everything, but it's importance can't be underestimated.

Over 10 years, I have said a lot of goodbyes. Some have been quiet and sad, some have been close to spectacle, complete with sobs and running back to give that one last hug. But with however much practice I have, it doesn't make any of it any easier or make me cry less when the time comes.

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I miss you already, Mama.

Some Visitors and Some Favourites

Yesterday, a number of visitors arrived here on South Street. And so the next few days are going to be spent in the company of one Grandpa from London and 3 lovely ladies visiting for a makeover from Pembrokeshire before they go back to their rightful owners.

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So whilst I knit away and Ellis chats away endlessly to his grandfather, here is a bit of a Blog-iversary review of my favourite posts over the last year to keep you entertained.

On Motherhood

At Least I Can Spell Equanimity On my struggle to remain cool, calm and collected in the face of toddlerdom and motherhood.

The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day One of my favourite posts about a truly awful day, in rhyme.

If I Run On the overwhelming desire to run away from responsibility


On Creativity

Internal Wisdom Probably my favourite post of all time and something I need to come back to time and again.

A Room of Our Own On the struggle to create as a mother of small children.

Quick This one really sums up so much of why I make anything...just to feel like I have something to show for a day.

Craft Therapy Ooh, my whip up post...goodness was I excited when Kath posted this!


On Expat Living

Things You Lose That You Can't Get Back

Take Me Out To The Ball Game Becoming more American than I ever was in America.


On Gardening

Small Miracles by Default Ah yes, gardening...which I love so much but am SOOOOO lazy!

Enjoy!! I'll be back on Saturday with the winner of the giveaway. I have absolutely loved reading everything you are grateful for and I am truly humbled by all of your lovely comments about the blog!! If you haven't entered there is still time.

Finished

Today I finish work for 13.5 months of maternity leave.  I am excited/terrified/tired/anxious/ready/unprepared/worried/relieved

Its a day of finishing (for a year at least):

::The last day of wrestling Ellis into clothes whilst he sobs he doesn't want to go to nursery

::The last extortionate taxi ride  I will take to said nursery because I can no longer cycle there

::The last time I will blast Nina Simone as I waddle up the hill to my office

::I have finished talking about Full Cost Recovery, Social Return on Investment and iPerformance for at least a year (hopefully longer)

::My last cup of hot coffee, drunk without interruption, every time I drink a cup of coffee from 9am to 4pm

::Very possibly the last time I am able to go pee on my own, every time I pee from 9am to 4pm (god, I will miss that)

::We won't be getting dressed every morning because we have to BE somewhere

::And I won't be able to use work as an excuse for not cleaning the house

:: Its the beginning of the end of a small part of my own economic independence for awhile at least

:: The last time I will have to cram friends/crafting/cooking around a full work week, just TWO children and a husband with a busy work schedule.

:: The last work paid for trip to the highlands or West Coast of Scotland.. (sigh, its a fantastic thing to work to protect beautiful places...not least because a trip to see my boss means a train journey through the mountains to the coast)

:: The last time I HAVE to be somewhere and be social or at least polite.  From here in, getting out of the house will have to be on my own steam and I am no longer paid to be nice and helpful.

::I won't have to wear uncomfortable work trousers and could theoretically wear completely elasticated ones for over a year.  

::Spending my days with adults will be giving away to my days spent mostly in the company of small children...and a history of loneliness and depression.

::I won't feel like I am letting work down or worry that I have damaged my career every time a child is sick and I have to leave work.

Good, bad and scary. Positives definitely outweigh the negatives as above anything I have the opportunity to spend time with my children while they are little, with some financial help from work and no fear that doing so will cost me my job.  For that I am deeply, deeply grateful. But still worried about what it means to be a stay at home mother with 2 children, 2 cats and a goldfish. But today, for a year at least, my working life is finished.

Incidentally, I have also finished the Milo Vest and am seriously in love with the pattern and the way it turned out (with just over a skein of Mirasol Tupa for you fellow nerds...its the green one and much more green than the photo is picking up)

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So I guess I will just have to make a new beginning

new beginnings

...on many levels

A Room of Our Own
Togetherness

I suppose it was inevitable, which is why I wasn't that shocked when I suddenly started sobbing at my sewing machine this afternoon. It had been building for a few weeks, or even months.

I'd just wanted to make a small bag to hold the range of plastic carriers that seem to procreate the minute one crosses our threshold.  Simple.  Pattern found, fabric decided upon.  Easy. 

But sitting down and just getting on with it wasn't on the cards.  First, I had to clear away the basket of laundry, the pile of books, cars and tucks and the bag of roving piled high on my desk.  Then, I had to pick fabric paint off the the work surface as well as the 2 log cabin squares I'd finished for Ellis' quilt.  I then realised my good skein of white thread had wandered.  In such a small house, the wide expanse of my desk becomes so many things to each of us: a play ground, a dumping ground, a viewing point for a small boy. Ellis loves to climb up and go through my sewing supplies.  And they go everywhere.  Unorganised at the best of times, devastation is what usually greets me when I sit down to create these days.

And so I haven't been.  I have ignored my sewing machine for weeks and haven't bothered to crochet or knit anything recently.  I could blame the fact that if I even attempt to make anything, I can't find the hook/yarn/needle I need, because it has wandered away on short, 2-year-old sized legs. I finally start something and small hands come and 'help' the minute I sit down.  I can barely write any more, as the moment my fingers hit the keypad, other hands itch with a burning desire to "push buttons".

Its not his fault, I know.  Of course he wants to help his mama.  We cook together.  He helps clean.  We do laundry together.  Why shouldn't he be a part of this too?

I have tried to include him.  But it ends up requiring so much of my mama energy, I am left without  the creative energy to finish anything.  And energy is on short supply these days, as I struggle through the worst period of insomnia I have ever experienced and a rather uncomfortable and, quite frankly draining pregnancy.

After my tears subsided this afternoon, I spoke to a good friend about it all.  She said, quite matter of frankly, "You know what you need to do, Kat.  You have to move to a bigger house where you can have your own room to close the door to other things".  Essentially, I need a 'Room of One's Own'.

We all know the argument, don't we?  As women, as mothers we need a space to close off to the outside world to just be and create. We can only reach our full potential if we have the time, the space and the financial resources to do it.  Small hands have no place in the realm of art.

I do admit I dream of such a place.  It has white walls, with huge windows that overlook the sea.  There is a cappuccino machine and all the caramel digestives I can eat.  Hell, while I'm dreaming, it has a Chihuly chandelier as well.  I sit on the overstuffed corduroy sofa and dream and sketch away.

Its a beautiful dream, something I see in the very real lives of many of the creative women I admire. But a studio, or even a third bedroom doesn't really solve the problem, does it?  I think of this problem like a tree.  A landscape architect once told me that trees only grow their full potential of branches and height when they are planted alone in a park or other isolated position.  Only then do they look like the pictures in tree identification books.

I bet you can see where I am going with this.  They are beautiful and tall and spread as wide as their genes take them, but they lack the system that gives them sustainability.  The other trees to breed with.  The ecosystem that all works together to ensure a different kind of potential.  One that fits beautifully together, piece by piece.  

For some, maybe the isolation is necessary to create, but I see examples again and again of women who create with their family, in amongst their children, in snatches of moments, with few financial resources. It is not in spite of these things they create, but because of them.  Knee deep in life, they find their drive.

Of course, its not all or nothing. Closing off a bit of my space to make it inaccessible to a curious toddler is needed and a 'studio' clear out is in order.  But, fundamentally, I want him to be a part of my creativity, because he is so much of my inspiration and my drive.  I want him to participate in it.  I want him to learn to sew a button on and darn a sock.  I want him to see the things that fuel his parents passions and that possessions don't just appear out of nowhere.

And so, we have to learn together. To grow as an ecosystem where all of our needs are met and we are allowed to flourish. We have to learn to recognise our inherent differences, which includes realigning my understanding of what I can expect of a 2 and a half year old.  Forests take a long time to grow, but its worth it in the end.  

Quick!

Quick.  quick.  Make something.  Anything.  You have 5 moments before you are needed. 
Yes, there is a pile of washing to fold and put away. 
Dinner to make.
Floors to sweep. 
Stairs to Vacuum.
A Bathroom to clean.
Cats that are dying of starvation.
Trains to collect from all over the floor, under the couch and in the washing basket.
Bills to pay.
Shelves to dust.
Garbage to take out.
Recycling to sort.
A shed to clean.
Potatoes needing planted.
Seeds needing watered.
A fishtank to clean.
A father to phone.
Emails to answer.
Pot holders to make.
A sock to finish.
Binding strips to cut.
Yarn to sort.
Diapers to stuff.
Endless other unfinished projects.

Butyou must make something now.  From start to finish.  You only have 2 moments left before you are discovered. And in the midst of a day that has lots of beginnings and middles repeating over and over and over, you need something to see on the full life cycle - birth to completion. Something to show that you did something today.

It doesn't have to be useful.  It doesn't have to be on your "list".  It doesn't even have to be pretty.  It just has to be done. 

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OK.  Now you can go back to the unfinished and unfinishable.
And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Coming up on this week's Slugs on the Refrigerator...

- Kat finds out on Monday if the civil service survived in her absence.

- Kevin works ungodly hours preparing for the Helen Keller International Awards.  Will Kat and Ellis recognise him come Friday?

-Ellis is separated from Mama for the first time in two weeks. 

-Kat tries out some lovely recipes, courtesy of blogger and real-life friend E.  Will the chocolate and tofu combination hit or miss?

-Kat braves the twists and heel turns of knitting her first pair of socks. Can her mother get her the pattern that was forgotton in America in time? 

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- What do Sir Mixalot and Nutella have in common?  Find out on Wednesday's installment of "Simple Pleasures".

- Kat digs deeper into In Defence of Food.  Can Michael Pollan live up to the standard set in The Omnivore's Dilemma ?

Slugs on the Refrigerator is brought to you by...

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Team Goldin...Don't leave home without them.

Transformation
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A number of things have recently transformed my life:

1. Circular Needles and the Norwegian purl...

I no longer want to impale myself on my knitting needles. After devouring some of C's delicious blog, catching up on some Soulemama and seeing this scarf, I decided I wanted to re-learn to knit.  So I did. On Wednesday.  I am almost done with a vest for my neighbour's baby and have cast on another for Ellis out of my gorgeous hand spun wool.

Obsessed, moi?

Yarn stash and pregnant friends, be warned. Still haven't made those pot holders though.

2. Spotify.  If you don't have it.  Download it.  Now*.

*and immediately go and listen to the Allison Kraus/ Robert Plant album, Raising Sand. 

3. Agave Nectar.  It tastes great and is better for you than sugar.  I am still waiting for the catch.

4. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals .  I can confidently say that I knew pretty much everything in the book.  I have read and studied it all before, but it never changed my behaviour.  But that book at this time in my life struck a chord and I have been meat-free since the new year except for a wild venison stew and some chorizo on Friday night pizza. The chorizo may go as well, but I do think that over-populated land mammals with no natural predators(except us) who are responsible for much of the deforestation of Scotland will probably always be welcome at my table.

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Thanks everyone for your kind words yesterday.  While my thoughts and heart have been in Iowa for weeks, it seems soon my body will be there soon as well. M and C and families, we love you and are thinking of you.