My Sunday Photo

This is one of a series of wooden carvings on a short sculpture trail not far from where we live in Greater London.

I walk the dogs here a couple of times a month so I hardly notice the sculptures anymore, but today I noticed something was different.

There were a couple of splashes of colour in two of the windows of this higgity piggity house that I’ve never seen before.

One blue…

blue prince in tower

And one red…

Princess in the tower
I have no idea who put them there, or why, but as I came back past the carving there was a bunch of small children around it, looking up at the wee figures and talking about elves and fairies.

Cute.

How Sick Do You Have To Be?

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I am part-time self-employed so I can work around my family, and it’s just as well.

In the last month I’ve had children off school sick, children home for teacher-only days,  children coming out of school for music exams,  a child needing an emergency orthodontist and the same child vising to Minor Injuries before she was taken to school. I’ve found my kids seem to get sick more in secondary school than they did in primary. I have no idea why this is but I don’t know how I would manage all that if I worked conventional hours full-time.

Because I’m at home most of the time I’m usually available to oversee homework, taxi children around and make sure warring siblings don’t damage each other seriously before and after school. While they are at school I’m writing, working, walking dogs or (notice this is listed last) doing something about the state of the house.

The down side to all this is how hard it is for me to have a day off. If I have CPD, or a conference that doesn’t neatly slot in between school pickups, then DH has to take a day off work or see if he can work from home instead.

He has to do the same if I am sick. So this means that even if I am feeling pretty unwell, as in poorly enough that I definitely would have taken the day off paid employment, I usually don’t take a sick day.

Right now I am suffering from a cold. I have a headache, feel hot/cold ( though no fever), my sinuses are killing me, my joints ache, my throat is sore and I feel like shit. Yesterday I really could have done with a day in bed but I had a patient that I couldn’t put off, and DH was off doing DD1’s Parent’s Evening, so I would have had to parent anyhow. I dosed up on Cold and Flu stuff and managed to stagger through the day. But as soon as DH got home with our eldest I went straight to bed, and stayed there for 10 hours.  I’m much better this morning, still not 100% but I’d say I was 80% functional.

Sometimes I have no choice. A few years ago I had an infected insect bite and developed blood poisoning. I spent 24 hours lying in bed vomiting and staggering to the toilet when necessary. I was completely unable to look after children so DH stayed home to wrangle the kids and other animals. But obviously it’s a big decision when a day ‘off sick’ means DH can’t work.

Thankfully it becomes less of an issue as the children get older and can feed themselves and make their own way to things. I’m not sure the squabbling is getting any better though.

How does it work in your house when the main childcare provider is ill?

sick mum

 

Happy Birthday To Me

Today I am 45.

In my head I still feel twenty-something and it’s hard  to believe that it’s very likely that I’ve already lived more than half my life already. How can this be? It’s all gone past so quickly and although I don’t regret a thing, I sometimes wish I’d been in less of a rush to get to the next stage of life. Of course now the crest of the hill is behind me, I find that I’m no longer in a hurry.

I don’t want to seem greedy when there are so many people out there who will not even make it to their 40s, but I don’t feel like I’m nearly done yet. I want as much time as I can get.

I still have places to visit , things to do and adventures that I intend to have. I want to work more, bring some more money into the house, grow old with my husband and see my children find a place in the world. I worry a lot about will happen to my kids as they grow up. All we can ever do as parents is our best but as your children grow , you start to realise how little control you have over them. Your best may be all you have, but what if it’s not enough?

Kids on the beach at sunset

I decided a long time ago that I would never apologise for my age or try and disguise it. Growing old is a privilege, never a burden, when you think about the alternative. I think our society has things around the wrong way sometimes.

But is 45 old? I suspect the answer to that depends on the age of the person answering the question.

So I’m going to sign off now and enjoy what’s left of the day. I’ve already cheated slightly as I was born in NZ, so got an extra few hours of Birthday Wishes on social media before midnight arrived on the UK, but when you get to my age you take your thrills where you find them.

Happy Birthday to anyone else celebrating today.

Yes, I Still Have An Accent

I’ve been living in the UK for 17 years now, and yes, I *still* have an accent. Apparently the accent you use when you reach puberty is the one you will have for life, and as I was 27 when I first got off the plane, it seems that I’m stuck with it.

It’s not all that unusual in Central London. But we live a bit further out in suburban London and although our neighbourhood is a bit of a melting pot, there aren’t that many Kiwis around. People usually ask if I’m from Orstraleah or from Sowf Efricka, then grimace when I tell them they have it wrong. I don’t mind.

Most of the time I forget I don’t sound like everyone else and the people I see every day are used to it. So it’s mainly when I  meet new people, like when we are on holiday, that it becomes an issue.

When we are abroad and get talking to people. someone always looks straight at me and asks ‘Where are you from?’ Reasonable question, isn’t it? I smile and reply ‘London’. They blink and you can see the cogs turning before they ask again , ‘No, before London!’ Then I realise what they are asking, and tell them New Zealand, and they ask where and apologise because they have never heard of Tauranga or Hamilton. There is usually no point in telling people where you come from in NZ unless it’s Auckland, Rotorua or the South Island. Then we have a conversation about their cousin or school friend who lives ‘somewhere in New Zealand’.

As I said, I don’t really mind. I’m used to a bit of curiosity and to people asking me what on earth I’m doing bringing up children in London, when I could be raising my family in New Zealand. That topic is a whole different blog post.

What really annoys me is when I have to ring a bank or insurance company that has call centre not located in the UK, or even worse, requires me to speak to a machine. Both situations raise my blood pressure by just thinking about it.

The poor call centre people are obviously trained using American and English accents. We often resort to spelling words as they can not understand what I’m saying at all. Luckily they seem to have been taught the phonetic alphabet, so we usually muddle through.

However, the machines make me cry. I had to ring M&S the other day as we have some insurance with them and they asked me to read out my policy number. I did so and it got 7 out of 12 numbers wrong. THEN the machine told me I could key in the numbers if I preferred. Of course I preferred, why on earth did they not give this as an option from the start?  Next we moved on to my birthdate, the machine got that wrong too then suggested I could use the keypad instead. FFS! Finally it put me through to a real person. Hurrah. They had a strong regional accent ( Mancunian perhaps?) but bless them, they understood every word I sad and they asked me questions I could answer. I was so relieved.

I wonder how many people have heart attacks dealing with these machines?

My children had mild Kiwi accents before they started school but now they sound like any other English kids. My accent may not have disappeared but I think I have toned it down quite a lot over the years. And when I speak to people from home, they tell me how English I sound and if they are fresh off the boat, their accents sound harsh to me. Apparently my accent gets stronger , the longer I talk to a fellow countryman.

And I still manage to flummox some of my old friends with a few words. One that causes great amusement is my pronunciation of ‘fair’; apparently I pronounce it  ‘fear’ which has led to some interesting conversations in the past.

I guess we should all be thankful that I haven’t started Vblogging!

Kiwi accent

Feel At Home in Spain With Three

Some people are good with languages and some are not. I have always believed that I fall into the latter category.

The basis of this belief is a mostly forgotten memory of the three years I spent in secondary school in NZ trying to learn German. I’m not sure who was most frustrated by this exercise, me or my poor teacher. Let’s just say nothing came naturally to me in that subject and I was relieved to give it up. Good riddance, I thought, and when am I ever going to use a foreign language?

Now, of course, I live in England and our holiday travel plans can depend on who speaks what. Luckily DH gets by with French, and so far I’ve managed to stumble my way through the German speaking countries. But this summer, we are probably heading down through France to Spain, which means that someone has to learn Spanish.

So when I was offered a chance to try out some ‘Learn To Speak  Spanish’ Apps, available on both iPhones and iPads, I decided to give it  a go. There were a lot of Apps to choose from, so I chose the first three that popped up. Mainly I concentrated on Duolingo as I have used it before. But I also used the Busuu Spanish Course, which is designed to help you learn the language while you are actually in the country. I can see this might be useful during our travels but in the meantime, I’ll keep on plodding along at home too. I’m not sure I’m making any progress but it’s only been 2 weeks since I started learning.

Something that will be very useful in our travels through Europe is Three’s Feel At Home offer, where you can use a Three network phone in Spain (and other countries) at no extra cost. This page gives you a list if the countries included and shows you how much money you can save by taking advantage of this offer.

I’m not that hopeful about being able to make myself understood while travelling around Spain any time soon but I have a secret weapon in DD1, who is luckily learning Spanish at school. She has found the Apps very useful in revising for her school exams so they won’t be wasted.

And with Three’s data roaming package, then at least I’ll be able to access a translation App on my phone without bankrupting myself.

Three sent us a ‘Learn Spanish Like A Boss’ pack  in return for this post, but all thoughts above are my own.

spain

On Grieving For A Dog

Grief is a bastard, isn’t it?

Ten days on from the unexpected loss of one of our family dogs, it’s still hiding in unexpected places and jumping out and slapping me around the face quite regularly.

Happy  Willow

First, let me reassure those of you who have lost humans that you care about, that I’m not complaining our loss is as big as say, the loss of a child or parent or friend. Our dogs are not child substitutes.

They are pets. But they are also family members. I feel like our family is now incomplete and will make no apologies for using the word ‘Grief’ when talking about what I am feeling at the moment. I am crying, I feel sad, it bloody hurts inside. This is what I am feeling and I will not downplay it by saying ‘She was only a dog.’

I have no doubt at all that I am grieving for our lost pet, just the same as I grieved when my father died 20-odd years ago.

For the first 24 hours I pretty much cried at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t stop, my eyes just kept leaking.

Then I teared up regularly for the next 48 hours. Mainly when talking about Willow. That was The Lurcher’s name- there is no point in not using it anymore, is there?

I keep thinking I hear  her or catch glimpses of her from the corner of my eye. I still expect her to be sleeping beside my bed when I get up in the morning.

Last Monday  was the worst. People at school knew she was having her surgery on Friday so I had people asking after her, and had to explain. Everyone was sympathetic but you could tell the dog/ pet owners. A couple of them were in tears too which I weirdly felt guilty about.

And then I took our other dog to agility where I managed not to completely fall to pieces, and everyone has dogs so they all ‘got it’.

Social media has been a great help in telling people what happened as I could tell a lot of people all at once, but just when I think I’ve finally told everyone, someone else  turns up. Today it was the gardeners, asking where ‘the grey dog’ was.

And our remaining dog breaks my heart, because you can’t explain to a dog that his friend has gone.

In the house he likes to sleep on her bed, and keeps rushing in the door each time he comes back from a walk, just in case she has come home. And on walks he is no longer running through the woods, exploring and chasing squirrels. Instead he sticks close to me and waits and watches for her to coming running over to him for a game.

waiting, watching

Every day I find myself thinking how long it’s been since I’ve seen her. Already ten days has passed, soon it will be two weeks, then a month. But life has to goes on, doesn’t it?

The Gallery: Me

Jacq 44andahalf
The latest craze on Facebook  at the moment seems to be re-posting your first ever profile picture. It’s a nice trend really but a little disconcerting.

Time appears to have run backwards for my FB friends over the last couple of days; Teenagers have become toddlers and  sometimes babies, School age children have become bumps and my friends are all at least 7 years younger. Seven years makes such a difference, doesn’t it?

I’ve never been one for photos of myself so my first Facebook profile is not of me. Instead it’s one of the three girls at Disneyland in 2007. DD3 was just about walking, so maybe 14 months old? DD’s1 and 2 were 5 and almost 4. DS was just beginning as a spark of life about the time the photo was taken, but I didn’t know that then.

The first time I appear in a profile picture is in 2009. It’s a selfie with DD1; I was ‘only’ 39 and I look so young.

I know there are those of you reading this who will think ‘What? 39 is Not Young!’ Sorry guys, but there will become a time when you too look back and think it is/was! 40 seems a milestone when you have not yet reached it, but life doesn’t stop there. It just keeps on ticking…

Things have changed a lot for us in the last 5-6 years. The kids are older and more independent now. They require less physical effort but the emotional investment required can be exhausting. I have spare time when they are at school but when they get home, the four of them are still a full time job. They have better social lives than DH and I do.

But recently I have felt myself emerging again, after years staring down the barrel of Motherhood. I am beginning to feel a bit like ME again, despite the fact that I often don’t recognise myself in the mirror.

I find myself thinking of new things I’d like to try, new places I want to go but of course I now have limits to what I can do. I am limited by my finances, my family and my body, but my challenge is to make the most of my life anyhow.

At 44 and 1/2 I’m a very different person to the girl I was, when I jumped on a plane to fly halfway around the world. At 28 I  felt like I was escaping without a care in the world. And now my world is here, in suburban Greater London with my very own family.

Now I’m older, fatter but I have no regrets. I decided years ago that I will not waste my time or effort trying to looking younger, getting slimmer. Who knows what the future holds?

For now, all I have is me, and I’m going to do the stuff I want to do just as I am.

Grey hairs, fat and wrinkles maybe unwelcome reminders of time ticking past, but they are better than the alternative, aren’t they?

‘ME’, is the first theme for The Gallery in 2015. To see what other bloggers have to say about themselves, check out this week’s Sticky Fingers.

wpid-the-gallery-e1372717730880.png

Goodbye 2014

Whoosh!

That’s the sound of another year flying past for me. I can hardly believe that we are less than 12 hours from 2015.

Finally, after years of hoaxes, we will actually be in the same year that Marty McFly travelled to in Back To The Future. By October the 21st this coming year, I expect to be able to buy a hoverboard!

bttf-arrival-time-prank-1

But of course, time moves at different speeds for different people doing different things. If things are boring or difficult, time drags. And if you are having fun, time flies. And as you get older, time seems to pick up the pace regardless.

From what I can tell, having children does seem to make time go faster still but of course I only have my own experience to go by.

2014 was an okay year for us really. We had a great holiday over the summer. We now have two at secondary school and two at primary, and DH and I have managed to keep our eldest safe long enough that she’s now a teenager. This is a definite milestone in any family and comes with its own special challenges!

I’m not sure what 2015 will bring. It’s a bit of a blank slate as we don’t even have a holiday booked yet. Maybe we might buy a new car? Life on the edge, eh?

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions anymore but I’d like to do more creative stuff in 2015. Aim low and you won’t be disappointed, that’s my theory !

Happy New Year to anyone reading this. I’m off to pack away some Christmas decorations and put them away somewhere I will  be able to find them again in 11 months time.

 

How To Make Housework ( Almost) Enjoyable

I’m not a fan of housework. With four kids, it’s like Groundhog Day; as soon as I’ve finished one job,  someone usually comes along, makes a new mess and I have to start all over again. And no one else seems to think that this is a problem.

I clean the kitchen daily, hang out and fold washing most days and force the kids to clean up the living room every evening by threatening them with loss of screen/phone time. The kids have their chores too; they put dirty washing in the basket and put their clean folded washing away. They feed and clean out their pets and empty and (badly) stack the dishwasher. I’m trying to train them to clean up the bathroom after themselves, and I rant at them about their rooms when I can no longer see the floor.  And DH is in charge of getting the washing into and out of the machine and he’s very good at it.  He also cooks for us every evening, once the kids are all in bed.

So it’s not like no one does anything except for me. But in this house, I’m the only one that really cares if the house is clean or tidy, and this makes me cross and resentful. I don’t want to to be nagging and chivying my family endlessly but I can’t/won’t live in a complete pigsty.

Also I’m the one at home all day right now, so I get to chose whether to spend my time in a messy or a tidy environment. It turns out that I’m not as much of a slob as I thought I was.

Anyhow, I’ve recently discovered something that makes housework almost enjoyable.  Audible.

Audible sells audiobooks that you can download onto your phone, iPod, computer or tablet and listen to while you are doing stuff you normally find monotonous. I listen to books while I’m sewing badges onto towels or jerseys, walking the dogs, driving in the car, folding washing, cleaning the kitchen, wrapping presents, doing stuff in the garden or knitting/ crocheting. Anytime that my body or hands are busy but my brain isn’t really required is the perfect time to listen to a bit more of my latest download.

I didn’t think I would like ‘being read to’ but mostly I love it. Some of the books I have listened too have been read by amazing narrators- they do all the different voices and accents, and I find myself truly absorbed by the story in a different way to when I am reading a book. I still read a lot but listening to Audible means I can double the number of books I get through.

Audible books aren’t cheap, especially when you are like me and rarely buy a kindle book for over  £2 , but these audible books last me much longer than when I read for myself, and I keep costs down by subscribing and buying a bunch of three credits now and again.

I’ve enjoyed Americanah and The Bone Clocks over the last month or two, and am now working my way through Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series. If you do already use Audible, please let me know when you listen to it, and also if you’ve listening to anything really brilliant recently.

If you have not used Audible before, you can take a free 30 day trial here. Try it and see if it makes housework/exercise/commuting less of a chore.

Audible