Following on from happy things, a funny thing happened to me today. And it was just unexpected serendipity, the kind of thing you least expect on a rainy grey London morning.
I was walking to work and I saw that there was a brand new M&S Food on the way in. Now, to non-Brits I have to tell you this: M&S is an institution. M&S is the great in Great Britain! What’s funny is that I walk past it every day and I hadn’t noticed it. It’s like it just sprung up overnight.
They are known for their soft p*rn type food ads where they show close ups of glistening, succulent, delicious looking food being constructed / deconstructed in slow motion whilst a breathless seductive voiceover exhorts the viewer to pop out and buy a ready meal / reasonably priced bottle of wine / some nice chocolates / a sinful looking dessert. Google them and you’ll see what I mean. They’re like the food retailer version of Nigella. (Google Nigella if you don’t know who she is. She basically replaced food with s*x and I’m not quite sure even she can tell the difference.)
*NB I am not overly prudish and in real life I’m an utter potty mouth, but I kinda don’t want to attract the wrong people to my blog only to disappoint them with the boring minutae of my life, hence the asterisks.
Anyway, I was naturally overjoyed to see that there was a new M&S Food there at the end of my street, because this means I can go and get delicious lunch stuff without leaving the comfort of my street.
I tried to have a look in and they were turning people away and giving them vouchers to come back tomorrow, but for some reason they let me in. (I like to think it was because of my smiley demeanour but more likely they just weren’t manning the door attentively enough.)
Once inside, there were lots of people milling around and someone taking pictures and stuff. They were all welcoming to me and explained it was the “soft launch, by invitation only” – to which I obviously didn’t have an invitation. I expected to be ejected but instead they steered me over to the food cabinet, telling me to pick my breakfast from an array of delicious looking options. (I picked the bacon roll because bacon, but there were also croque monsieur and so on.) I don’t know why they let me through without a pass, but it was possibly because I am M&S’ biggest fan, and made that rather clear.
It kind of went like this:
“Go ahead and take what you want – it’s all free.”
Err, sorry? What?!
“Today’s our soft launch so everything is free.”
“Go to the till and order a drink, too!”
I stumble to the till, barely believing my luck (to me bacon is like the best thing ever and the main reason I can’t be vegetarian / vegan) and the smilest guy in the world asks me what drink I want. Hot chocolate, natch!
His coworker insists I take a pastry. Well, it would be rude not to.
I tell the assembled PR people that this is amazing.
“Do you work in one of the offices round here?”
I tell them yes, I work just up the street, and all my coworkers would be thrilled to hear about M&S opening up. (To be honest, everyone knows who M&S are, and it seems faintly ludicrous that they’re trying to give away free stuff to get people interested, because it’s a bit like McDonalds trying to introduce themselves – we’re already old friends.)
“How many people work where you work?”
I tell them loads.
“Do they like food?”
Do they ever.
“Would you like to take one of our sandwich platters for them?”
Is the pope a Catholic?
“Actually, have two.”
I tell the PR people that this is possibly the best day of my life. They can quote me on that. (Bacon does that to me.)
I head on out of the door carrying a bag full of my breakfast, a hot chocolate and two big platters of sandwiches.
You really couldn’t make it up. I was an office legend for a day.
This week has been a bit of a slog. I like to keep profanity off this blog (for some reason I’m one of those people who worries about releasing swear words into cyberspace) but, really, thank €#%¥ it’s Friday!
Anyone else enjoyed their week as little as I have? In the spirit of trying to see the good in everything, I give you:
The rubbish bits
- My work is literally the most thankless task at times. (All times.) This week I’ve been yet again working on a project where they’re really rude. I’m basically doing them a favour but they treat me like the proverbial – and I’m one of the most senior people on the project. It reached a tipping point yesterday when the director told me that he wasn’t interested in my expert opinion (when they’d brought me onto the project to give my expert opinion) and “We’re going to break the business anyway” (when I said I couldn’t recommend a course of action they wanted me to recommend, as it would in my opinion be detrimental to the business). Not being able to act with integrity I find hugely depressing.
- Annoying woman at work is still annoying, and is still hugely pregnant, and I still want to smack her in the face. But I won’t, because that would be bad. It’s nice to think about it though.
- I don’t get to spend enough time with Dog, as I feel like I’m working long hours right now. Yesterday I did around a 12hr day even though I was working from home, so I feel guilty for not giving him enough attention.
- My favourite work friend who sits opposite me handed in her notice. She has a new job with a great payrise so I’m happy for her! But I’ll miss her.
- I have to work this weekend because I have to prep for Monday’s presentation (see below).
- I’m still infertile! Ha. (I just added that for effect. It hasn’t changed or gotten worse or anything.)
The good stuff
Because life isn’t that bad! I just feel all tired and end of the week-ish.
- We won the pub quiz! There’s this team who always win, but this week we won! We don’t go every week but it’s nice as there are a bunch of people from our block of flats and other friends who occasionally turn up. So that’s nice.
- I managed a new YTD low on weight loss. -4.8kg, yesterday. The fact that I cancelled it out by going out drinking last night is just minorly annoying. Hopefully I’ll be net down on last week! I measure myself every morning and compare it to this time last week. Today I was still down but not by as much! At least austerity is helping. (I tend to go up again at the weekend – boo!)
- I had one of my second interviews this week and it went pretty well. I don’t know if they’ll offer or not but it would be nice if they do as I would have some escape options. I have the other second interview Monday night. Am less looking forward to it as I have to give a presentation, which is one of the things I hate the most in the world!
- We had a nice night out as a trio (me, T and Dog) as we went out for a friend’s birthday. The friend lives the other side of London so we don’t see her very often, and she also has a dog and we get on really well. It was nice to see her and her boyfriend and dog, and reminded me that sometimes it’s good to make an effort to stay in touch. It’s easy to get caught up in the mundane day to day tedious stuff and not make enough time for fun!
- A friend of mine from school started a whatsapp group to share some old photos she found. They were really funny. I’m still in touch with everyone but they’re not in touch with each other, so we got them added to the group (I think five of us in total) and had a bit of a chat and a reminisce and a laugh about the old photos (turns out I’ve always had b*tchy resting face) and it was a nice little interlude in the week.
- We may have bought a house! Well, a flat. We saw one last weekend and really liked it. It’s teeny but has lots of character and is in our preferred area. We put in an offer this week and waited to hear. Then they said they’d accept if we offered the asking price as we were the favourite buyers. (They had 3 offers but I tried to build a rapport by email – I think it worked!) So now we have an offer accepted and just need to try and get all the legal stuff in place. I really hope it works out!
So that’s it really. Highs and lows of a very tiring week. Sometimes I’m just too tired to process anything until Saturday morning! I’m hunkering down for a night in with Doglet – after a couple of nights out this week I’m very tired, so obviously getting on a bit! T is out with the boys so I’m in with my boy-Dog and we are lying on the sofa reading (me) and snoring (Dog). It’s a gentle way to finish the week!
Plans for the weekend involve (annoyingly) prepping for the presentation. But some other nice things – planning to go to the flicks with a friend tomorrow night (T is off with one of his friends from overseas who’s in town) and we are meeting another couple of friends for brunch on Sunday. These two are quite hilarious in the way that they’re always exceedingly drunk! Unfortunately I won’t be able to drink if I want to be on my A game for the interview on Monday. Probably a good thing!
Happy weekend y’all! Tell me what you’re up to!
It’s been a tough week but I made it! It’s Friday! I locked my laptop in a drawer and I skipped (shuffled) out the office door. 20:10 and the weekend has begun.
This week has been a week of highs and lows. I really did not anticipate all the feels associated with my due date yesterday. I may well have had a gigantic pity party with one lonely guest: me.
Anyway, here’s some things I’ve been thinking this week:
- Grief is complex. I didn’t even think I was grieving. I kind of thought I was doing really well and being terribly British about it. (I probably was; it’s called repression.) The Weekend Of Babies last weekend didn’t help. (Note to self: Christenings, and dinner with friends who have babies on the date you were supposed to have yours are not a good idea.) I felt sangry all this week. The b**** at work was b****y to me and I almost cried. A lot of feelings kept bubbling away in the background. I found myself thinking about my own adoption a lot, for some reason. I constantly felt angry, and depressed, and sad and almost cried in Starbucks, and probably bored all my blog friends to death about it. And last night, I came home and I was still sangry and then I couldn’t find a charger and I went stomping round the house and T went to bed, and I eventually gave up and went to bed, and T asked me what was wrong and then I cried my eyes out. I never cry. And he held me and I cried some more, and Dog licked me and I cried a bit more and went to sleep. But you know what – it was probably a good thing to let it out.
- Blue doesn’t have to be sad. I decided I needed a new coat and I’ve been ordering loads over the last few weeks, and then sending them back because basically I’m a frustrated goth and I need to get something that isn’t boring and is me but also suitable for work rather than hanging out in dark caves. Finally I found it, and debuted it this week. And it was half price on sale from French Connection! Cobalt blue is my favourite colour after black (joint with bright red; I’m very primary) and I’ve had so many compliments on it, it’s crazy. (Although T says it looks like a Margaret Thatcher coat, he doesn’t get fashion, or that’s what I’m telling myself.)
- Bluetooth headphones. Sometimes I forget that I actually like music. I used to listen to it all the time when I had a car but now I don’t really listen to it because I don’t have a CD player any more and, y’know, tech has moved on. Plus I always lose headphones (actually I think T nicks them). So I managed to get them working this morning and they are awesome and mean I can have this world of music when I’m on the tube and right now I’m on the tube listening to Sia’s Elastic Heart which is one of the most beautiful songs. When I first saw the video it almost made me cry. Apparently people thought it was dodgy or something because it has a child and an adult dancing together… Crazy. Watch it. Listen to it and you’ll see what I mean.
- Austerity is kind of satisfying. T and I decided this week that the only way we will save enough for a house is to put ourselves on the household version of austerity measures. This came about because we found where we wanted to live and then it turned out that his parents giving us help with the deposit was conditional on them thinking it was a good investment. The place we were looking for was off plan which means a larger up front payment, and they felt it was too risky. But before then we did all the budgeting to figure out how we could save really heavily to build up our deposit, and T’s way more financially minded than I am so he drew it all out and now I know I ideally want to live on £10 a day (average spend on top of rent and bills and food, quite challenging when you can easily spend £8 on a takeaway lunch in the city, and my favourite Starbucks is £3.80!), with £100 discretionary spend per month (clothes, makeup, Dog treats! I easily spend several hundred a month on random things and presents, so it has made me check myself). It sounds weird but I find it really satisfying. I love being generous and buying lots of stuff for people, but I also enjoyed the challenge this week (one week!) of saying “Do I really need this?” and actually thinking, maybe I don’t. So much that the coffee guy at work was really chatty to see me only today (rather than every day for my daily hot chocolate with extra chocolate) and once I explained to him why I hadn’t come by every day as usual, he gave me my hot chocolate for the price of a cheaper latté! He said he wanted to be at my housewarming party when we finally managed to buy a house. Bless him! Also I finally found the ideal mid heel ankle boots that I’ve been looking for forever on Amazon for £17(!!!) and I’ve worn them every day. They’re great! Much better than the more expensive ones that killed my feet which I gave to my sister. T’s parents did us a favour by making us think more about building up our own deposit to reduce the risk.
- I’m maybe not as bad as I thought I was. I went for two interviews recently and I found out that both of them want me to go for second interviews! Which is really nuts. The first one, I didn’t even think the guy liked me and seemed to want something completely different from what I do. I was gobsmacked when he apparently thought I was great and through to the second round. And for the second, I really thought the guy was fantastic and hoped that he would like me, but thought it probably wouldn’t be exactly right as it was in a different sector from the one I work in. (I’m not madly looking for a new job but I’m always open to opportunities. Every job I’ve ever got was a kind of thing where an opportunity presented itself and I took it. So I’m interested to have the conversations.) Aside from that, I had a bit of stress at work and I thought it was going to be really difficult at a new client, because they’d completely underscored the work (it was in my area of expertise and they were trying to do something in 8 weeks / 5 people something I usually do in 12 weeks with 10 people… Umm). I thought I’d been dropped in it, but then the director mailed me to say he thought I made a good impression in the workshop (yeah, that one yesterday, on my due date) and that the boss obviously respected my opinion! Bloody hell. And this week a guy at work told me I had a good reputation in their area, which meant a lot as I kind of feel like nobody knows I’m working my backside off. And one guy left, and he gave me a massive hug and said he’d enjoyed working with me… All these sound like little silly things, but I often feel bad/unconfident/stressed about work and it seems like a tiny bit of validation somehow. And I needed it this week.
So… It’s been a difficult week but I found some nice bits in it, and now it’s the weekend, and my main plans involve sleep, dozing and cuddling. That might be a bit abstract, but I think it’s a good plan! It’s all go next week with Dr S and the fertility investigations, for which I’m pretty hopeful. But before that, I’m just going to chillax with my boys [one human, one canine].
Have a good weekend everyone!
I’ve sort of not had much news on our IVF journey since the miscarriage in July.
In summary: We had our first round of IVF on the NHS resulting in a positive pregnancy test! Unfortunately this ended in miscarriage in July. During the miscarriage they found that I had a fibroid, pretty much smack bang in the middle of my uterus. The doctor and nurses told me this might prevent pregnancy.
The way I dealt with this was mainly to realise that there wasn’t anything I could do to change the situation. (And as my dad always says, there’s no point worrying about things you can’t change!)
All we could do was wait. And finally this weekend I got a little bit of progress.
I’m insured with BUPA (health insurance) through work. In the uk, healthcare is “free” on the NHS (the National Health Service, paid for through contributions from everyone’s salaries). The NHS is fantastic – and I’m very grateful that we qualify for 3 cycles of NHS funded IVF. I also got treated at the NHS EGU (Emergency Gynaecology Unit) for my miscarriage, which is where they highlighted the fibroid. However the NHS waiting times can be very long. They found the fibroid in July and my NHS appointment is in October.
I finally after a bit of wrangling with Bupa managed to get a private consultant appointment with a gynaecologist this weekend. I went to see him yesterday (Saturday). Let’s just say their hospital was swankier than our local hospital!
He did a scan and found that there was a fibroid as was previously identified. And he said that it might be the cause of my infertility. (I expressed some surprise that I might have had one for 15 years or whatever, but who knows?) He agreed it needed to be treated before we had another round of IVF.
He could do it next week! But we are at a wedding so can’t do it then, so it looks like it might be in two weeks. This is really quick compared to the NHS target of 18 weeks to get treated. (I don’t blame the NHS at all for this – it’s why we pay for private health insurance, so we can get access to more expensive treatment when we need to.) So – subject to some confirmations, I may have this little spirit-sapping fibroid out of me in a couple of weeks. That’s good news!
I also finally got through to our IVF clinic and they said they will book us in for November – I don’t know if this will ever happen, but I’m hopeful. I kind of felt a bit unhopeful when we found out about the fibroid because I knew we wouldn’t be able to start IVF before the fibroid was sorted out. So at least there’s a possible timeline there. Another thing I’ve realised is that other countries seem to do a lot more testing during IVF, such as PGS, whereas we don’t, at least not in our clinic. I assume this is an NHS thing – for example they won’t investigate losses until you’ve had three, I suppose because of economics.
They must have done the maths and figured out, for the money, that IVF works more often than PGS prevents miscarriage… I really wish they did do it but I suppose it would be prohibitively expensive. T thinks we should do our three rounds of IVF on the NHS and then if it hasn’t worked we try a private one where they’d do more testing. Just the thought of another three cycles is kind of depressing… I just hope that the next cycle works.
Anyway, it’s a small sign of progress on our IVF journey when we haven’t had news for ages. I still have my NHS appointment booked for October so if the Bupa operation doesn’t happen then I’ll still go for that. Really I am a big fan of the NHS but going private means you can skip some of the waiting – the system is very overburdened. I still have to pay for private health but it is part of my flexible benefits at work so I don’t really notice it coming out of my salary every month. I was actually tempted to stop paying for it next year because they never seem to allow you to claim, so the fact they’ve taken about two months to let me see a gynaecologist is a little bit of progress.
All we can do now is be hopeful. And concentrate on maximising happiness in the meantime!
This week I’m making a wedding cake for my friend, before attending their wedding. So I’m going to focus on someone else’s happiness for the time being! She’s a lovely person who I only met a year ago. She’s been through a lot, being a cancer survivor, which I only found out when she mentioned it was her anniversary of remission. Pretty cool. She’s one of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. And this weekend she’s been having a bit of a crisis of confidence because she’s worried about not looking lovely enough in her wedding dress.
I told her she will look lovely because she will be happy. And I remembered this Roald Dahl / Quentin Blake quote that I read as a child, and have always believed…
And for us: I sometimes think I’m fatter than I want to be. And I often think that I’m not quite the person I want to be. I try to be nice and sometimes beat myself up a bit in retrospect when I think of things I could have said or done differently. But ultimately I’m bloody grateful that we have what we have: I count my lucky stars every day. (The stars are shaped like T and Dog and my family who are unconventional and lovely at the same time!) I figure those happy thoughts have to go some way to smoothing out the imperfections.
Here’s to happy thoughts this week.
Or: We all have our things.
We’ve all been there. Some of us more than others. And it strikes me yet again today that we have more in common with each other than we think.
Yesterday I did my usual logon to Amazon to send a new baby gift package to friends. This is something I’ve done so many times that I can do it in my sleep. I pretty much have a list of new baby presents that I send to people in varying quantities depending on how friendly we are.
(For info, my top gifts are: a funky babygro, Tomy’s Starlight Dreamshow – it projects lights onto the ceiling and plays a lullaby, and a Doudou et Compagnie “doudou” which is a little animal holding a comforter. Fun fact: I have one of the top rated lists on Amazon for what to buy your friends who have babies. I started this back in the early 2000s… Another fun fact: Amazon tells you the last time you bought something – I last bought the doudou at the end of August. FML.)
And I try and be positive, I really do. And most of the time I succeed in doing this stuff on autopilot and not really letting it hurt me. I just log on, click “buy” and send it whilst barely breaking a sweat. If you looked at my card statement you’d be forgiven for thinking I have a very pampered baby. (I always get fun rather than functional gifts because they can buy the nappy bin / bottle warmer / breast pump themselves! Plus I get credit as cool auntie/friend rather than chapped nipple facilitator.)
But sometimes I get to daydreaming about what I’d buy if it were my own baby I was expecting…
I know exactly what buggy I’d get. (Although this has recently been challenged by a new one I saw whilst walking around town.) I already know what my future baby’s favourite toy would be. (Although they do always make their own mind up and knowing T and me, would probably imprint on a stinky shoe or something.) I know what kind of clothes he or she’d wear. (Stripes and marine theme and animals if he’s a boy; smocked dresses and bloomers and animals if she’s a girl… None of this gender fluid stuff for our kid! Apart from animals!) I would carry him in a sling and I would buy her so many toys she wouldn’t know what to do with them. (I don’t care if they’re spoiled! Our baby would be the spoiltest child in the world!)
But… But… I may never have him or her. We are early on our infertility journey (one IVF that initially worked but ended in miscarriage at 9 weeks) and yet we are so far (I’m coming up for late 30s and I’d never prior to IVF ever gotten pregnant, despite ostensibly having many opportunities).
I scour the blogs and try and figure out if there’s anyone like me. There are so many of us out there who are going through one thing or another. We are a sisterhood of non-motherhood. I have sparks of recognition when I see someone in her late 30s who’s still doing this, and I have hope when I find someone whose IVF has worked second time after a first failure. And I feel a tiny bit of entirely selfish and unjustified despair when someone I “know” has their struggle ended by a successful cycle (or even “worse”, an unexpected spontaneous pregnancy).
And this is selfish of me. I want people’s struggle with infertility to end. I want to know that there is hope for all of us. I really do.
But a part of me says: When can it be my turn?
In years, it has been almost 20 since I first began being “active” (at a relatively late age… Later than all my friends!). I used protection in the beginning like everyone else did – but I was also quite laid back about the possibility of having a baby, or perhaps I secretly wanted one. A few years later when I was in long term relationships I pretty much dispensed with it. In my very long term relationship I had various fertility related problems so was told I’d likely have trouble conceiving, so even the times I could in theory have conceived – nothing ever happened. I never had a pregnancy scare. I never saw blue lines on a test. When I met T, I was mid 30s and we didn’t use anything – we tried straight away. So in total I had around 12 years of “not not trying” and 3 of actively trying. By any stats I should have had at least one pregnancy that “worked”. But before IVF, I never did.
And here’s the thing: I can go through life and I can do my sleepwalking-Amazon-buying and I can even get super excited for other people and throw them baby showers and talk about baby names and things. I can do all that because I’ve always been the person who didn’t have a baby. Who – according to many of my friends’ assumptions – didn’t want a baby.
And today… A Facebook acquaintance of mine (friend-of-a-friend) posted that she really hated her job. She cried in the toilets because it was so horrible. This is someone who gets to do super-glamorous stuff, meeting celebrities and living the high life – and she’s telling us, boring nerds who sit in offices, that she hates her glamorous life and wishes she didn’t have to go to this outwardly awesome job. It made me stop and think, because I often look at her life and think it must be really fantastic. It obviously isn’t, if she’s in the toilets crying. (I’ve had my times of crying about my job, but I tend to go home and do it!)
It reminded me of my post a while back where I realised that the grass isn’t always greener – that we all have our things, and even if other people’s lives look fantastic, we all have our struggles. Even people with these amazing looking lives have their own private sadnesses. That friend-of-a-friend said (when I said “But your life looks so amazing!”) that it looks good on social media but she cries in the toilets. There is a distinction between what we envy in others and the reality of their lives. For all those women who finally have their long-awaited baby: there’s sleep deprivation and the impact on their relationships, and the fear that there’s a tiny human for whom they now have a lifelong responsibility!
And I realised that we can’t be Pollyanna every day – it’s perfectly normal to feel a sense of malaise about life now and again, and we the infertile have to deal with being the “have nots” every day that we struggle with infertility and loss. It would be weird if we didn’t feel that loss now and again. So I’m not going to beat myself up when I feel those pangs of loss or if I can’t bring myself to visit the baby who’s just been born, at a time when I’d be almost 5 months pregnant if I hadn’t lost our baby. And maybe it will be even harder to see my new niece when she’s born in a few months. I don’t know. I’ve always had to deal with being the aunt and not the mum. Maybe I’ll just take it in my stride.
Sometimes I want to scream at the universe.
I’m not always sweetness and light. (I’m not even, if you met me IRL off here!) I am only human and sometimes I want to rail at the injustice of it all. I want to scream that it’s unfair that I could have been an unwanted baby and yet I struggle to get pregnant in the same way that my first mother struggled against it. I want to shout at people who always had it easy, who don’t know the meaning of white privilege or what it feels like to be Other, who have never struggled for acceptance or tried to make their way in a world where they’re always seen as not quite belonging. I see how some adoptees are angry about their circumstances and I think in many cases it’s justified, because there is something unjust about a world where there is such suffering and where people voluntarily end their babies’ lives before birth, or pass them to other lives where they have very different lives to the ones they might have had.
But that’s not the way I am. I think all of these things inside my head, for milliseconds at a time, and I push them back down and try as hard as I can never to let them take over, and not to let them rise to the surface and make me into a bitter person. I’ve had some crappy things happen to me in my life – some really brutal things – and for a while I was that bitter person who hated life. But with age comes acceptance and understanding (possibly! got a bit of a way to go!) and I decided a while ago that I didn’t want to live my life that way. In a life where many defining things are out of my control (my adoption as a baby, my infertility, my race being different to the norm where I live, my gender being one with less equality) I choose to focus on the things that I can control.
I can control the way I look at things – which controls my moods, up to a point. I can be kind to myself. I can understand that, yeah, you’ve been through some bad times in the past, but things are pretty good now. I can focus on the good things that I’m grateful for: health, love, Dog, a job that may not be full of fun but pays me enough to live – and enough to go and find the fun in the world.
I can see those feelings coming towards me like missiles:
She’s pregnant really easily and you can’t even get pregnant without IVF.
He progressed quickly up the ranks even though he’s not as good as you.
They have three children and they’re still not grateful.
…and I can bat them right back.
As my (ever wise) dad often says:
Life is unfair.
There’s no point worrying about things you can’t change.
Things can change in an instant.
To which I add my own personal favourite:
Everything will be okay in the end.
If it’s not okay… it’s not the end.
I kind of think that we have to accept that life ebbs and flows. Terrible things happen and we have to roll with the punches, and it can feel like the universe is against us – when really all it is, is terrible luck. I don’t believe that there’s some malevolent god punishing us for anything. And I don’t believe in karma, not in the mystical sense. I do believe that in a scientific sense, you get back largely what you put out. If you go around being a horrible person, someone’s going to be horrible right back to you the first chance they get. And if you try generally to be nice, people can recognise that, and people mostly appreciate that, and they’re more likely to help you if they can.
I don’t know what I’m saying today really. It’s just a stream of consciousness – and that stream is this: We are okay. We are good. It’s okay to be sad or angry some of the time, but I’m going to focus on happy because it’s much more enjoyable. 🙂
Or: Can we grab our own slice of the American Dream?
Those of you who are my regular readers will know that we are the biggest Americophiles known to (wo)man. I mean, we are spending our long holiday in the United States next month and we spent our two weeks winter holiday in NYC last February, so it’s safe to say we are pretty big fans of America and its way of life.
To me, the American Dream is a mindset that I grew up with: the idea that if you work hard enough and wish hard enough that you’ll have enough and be happy. I love the American idea of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Because if you have all those, what more do you need?
I don’t wish for riches. I’m really not that sort of person. I would like more money of course, but only so we can go on more holidays and live a life of leisure. We don’t really want or need a big house or fast cars or anything like that. But what we would like is a home to make our own. Home is where the heart is!
Which brings me back to this:
The white picket fence.
To me, the white picket fence is part of the American Dream. Of course, not every home has one – we love New York, and there really aren’t many white picket fences in NYC. Brownstones and skyscrapers and busy people with busy lives… We love it all. To me, a white picket fence does signify something though: You’re home. You’re happy.
T and I have been together a while now, and it feels like forever just because we are so comfortable with each other. A lot of the time people say that as if comfort is a bad thing, and it really isn’t like that for us at all. I love comfort! Who wants to be uncomfortable?! I met him when I was least expecting it. I wasn’t looking for a relationship – I had not long come out of a very long term relationship and was already embroiled in all sorts of not-especially-productive relationships with people who were definitely not right in the long term. When I least expected it – I met my forever guy.
Meeting T was like coming home (to a little cottage with a white picket fence!). After ten years of trying and never being quite there – of trying to be someone I wasn’t – I found someone who understands me. And it was entirely by accident. He wasn’t at all what I had imagined I wanted from a man. I’d always gone out with guys who were the polar opposite of me – and I married one who was so different that eventually we went down really different paths.
(There’s a lot to be said for marrying your opposite, I think – it’s not all bad. I am the kind of person who likes to be challenged and who is interested in meeting new people, and having different experiences. I think it’s good to have someone who can introduce you to different things – and we did have a great life together, and some really fantastic experiences. But we hurt each other pretty badly, and it wasn’t something we could continue.)
But meeting someone with whom you have so much in common, it’s like coming home. Meeting T it was really just like: Oh, hello, you. When we first met, we found out we had all sorts of things in common. For one: we were both adopted as babies. We both have a gay sibling. (Neither of those two are something you can really try to have in common! You just do. I’m definitely not advocating dating based on your birth provenance or sibling orientation!) We have had similar experiences of work and have worked in similar environments and even worked at the same company at one point – though not at the same time. We went out to the same places for socialising and we even took the same train into London in the mornings, just from different directions – it’s amazing that we’d never met before we met! We always say that we would have met eventually. It’s like the universe just kept putting us in the position to meet and we kept missing each other – but we found each other in the end.
We have all these things in common but it’s also in the things we like and the values we hold. We love the same things, and I think if you love the same things then it’s pretty easy to love each other. Here are some of our favourite things…
America – Having grown up overseas (ie not the UK and not the USA!) I had quite an “expat” type experience, and that meant that a lot of my early influences were American. Generally when you have that kind of expat lifestyle there are a lot of Americans and a lot of Brits. Apparently when I was younger, I sounded a bit American. I think I just love that ebullience and can-do attitude that embodies America. (I’m not entirely naive – I know that there are bad bits too, just like there are bad bits about Britain… I guess what I’m saying is that I like the good bits and I try and minimise the bad bits.) I like American food. I like the confidence. I like saying what you think and being optimistic. Often in the UK it’s like we pride ourselves on being sarcastic and pessimistic (and the rain! Jeez, the rain!) and so I like that whole “Have a nice day!” smiliness that you get in the USA. When I was with my ex, he hated America and the “fake” (in his opinion) optimism and that outgoing thing that Americans have. So we never went. When I met T, he whisked me off to NYC for our first Valentine’s day just a few months in – which is when I knew he was a keeper!
Disney – Needless to say, if you’ve read my blog lately you’ll realise we both love Disney. In my ex years I think I kind of subsumed that part of myself, but as a child I absolutely adored Disney, and the highlight of my young life was when we went to Disneyland in California. I can’t imagine a happier place. When I met T, our very first holiday (after about a month!) was my surprise trip to Disneyland Paris. We went on all the rides, and it rained, and we still had a great time. I was amazed that someone would do something so nice for me, to take me to that happy place. We’ve been back every year and post-IVF and miscarriage we made a decision to spend our long holiday this year in Orlando. It’s pretty much the dream. I can’t wait!
Christmas – We both love Christmas! Especially all the build up. I love everything about Christmas. It’s like a family festival… and I’m sure that Thanksgiving is even better. (In the absence of Thanksgiving in the UK, we have family get togethers and turkey at Christmas.) To me it represents a celebration of family (I’m not religious) and a look back over the year and some new beginnings… looking forward to the next year. It’s winter and cinnamon and nice food and giving gifts and making things for people. It’s fun and everyone’s happy. Of course this is Christmas in my head (and at Disney!) but it’s a good thing to look forward to. Last Christmas we had both sets of parents over and it was brilliant – we did our best in our tiny kitchen but it was just really nice to be able to do that for the parents. They had a great time! I think we’re now at the time of our lives where we want to be able to do nice things for our folks. I think it’s important to have that time celebrating family and giving.
Being happy – We’re both the kinds of people who want to be happy and who actively make choices to try and be happy. Now, I’m not saying it’s that easy, and of course bad things happen. We can’t go around with inane grins on our faces all the time – we’re British! We don’t do that sort of thing! But we have similar outlooks on life; neither of us want to spend our lives being sad or angry about things. We sometimes talk about adoption and how some people end up more sad or angry than happy, and without expressing judgement, that’s not our experience. We are both people who feel like we’ve been fortunate and made the best of things. I know when T is around, I can’t be unhappy for long – we even have arguments once in a while but we always make up. It’s difficult to be unhappy when you have a wonderful dog and a guy who tells terrible jokes and tells you he loves you every single day.
Taking a chance – As the ABBA song goes… Take a chance on me. We are those kind of people who do. Thing is: Nothing is irrevocable. I always try and live my life by the mantra that you can change stuff if you want to, and there’s no point worrying about the things you can’t. I am a take-a-chancer, and so is T. And that includes some biggies: wanting kids (being willing to say “Let’s do IVF” when he knew about my fertility issues); always being happy in a day (see above); getting a dog when neither of us had ever had one before, and moving in together and setting up home together when we’d only known each other for a short time. I think if you don’t try then you don’t get anywhere, but that’s just me. I never want to take things for granted either – I really try and be grateful every day for what I’ve got, not because I feel like I have to be “the grateful adoptee” or anything like that, but because I think all people should be grateful if they have enough. And if you’re open to having lots of new experiences then you get to experience some pretty great things.
Home – Wanting to build a home together. I think it’s important that you’re at least a bit aligned on this one. Having been with someone who wanted very different things, I realised it’s difficult if you aren’t home roughly the same amount – I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer but it’s good if you both want to be home in roughly the same proportions. (Since getting Dog, I think I may want to be home more than he does! But we are fairly balanced.) What’s nice about someone else who feels the same is that you can have a similar vision of what you want. Like we live in a place with double height ceilings so we have this gigantic Christmas tree that we put up in December – it makes the place really homely. We like doing little things that make the home nicer. And we like spending time at home, and having a life together.
And so it comes to this: We moved in pretty quickly after we met. From the start we kind of lived between both of our flats, but we rented our own place together within a few months, and we’ve been in our current rented place for over a year. And for a while now we’ve been talking about buying somewhere – a place we could raise our family (the family we still hope we’re having). We would have done this earlier and it was always complicated by things with my ex – we still have to sort out some financial stuff and it means I’m not entirely free to go and start again, because I still have financial commitments. But I’ve saved hard over the past year (“encouraged” or should we say goaded on by T) and paid down a load of debts and tried very hard to come up with some savings so we can try and get a deposit.
And we’ve looked at a few places – none of which were quite right.
Until this weekend: We went to a place we hadn’t been to before. It was somewhere I hadn’t really ever thought of looking, but we went there and loved it. When we saw the house, I thought “That’s somewhere I could live” and T did too. It’s not big; it’s a little cottage. And it had a white picket fence.
It’s like it was made for us! It’s a nice little place with a little garden that Dog could run around in and close to the places where we could take Dog for a walk. There’s a shopping area with some shops and restaurants. And some nice pubs nearby. For future things… It is in a good school catchment area so if we ever managed to have a child then the child could go to a good school! And it’s still possible to commute in to the City. We are thinking if we can get all the parts of our deposit scraped together then we might be able to put in an offer on it this week.
Thing is, I know we might never get that cottage. There are lots of ifs and buts and we might have to save up a bit longer to afford a place of our own. But we have taken the first step; we have a plan. We want the same things and we’re optimistic.
And here are the things I know… I already have my home and my white picket fence, even if the home is where the heart is rather than the mortgage, and the fence itself is still a figment of our imagination more than an actual physical fence.
And I have this… My partner in crime T, and kissing on the lips and saying “I love you” every single day. Dancing stupidly when the mood takes us. Sitting quietly when we feel like it and going out and having new experiences when we grab the opportunity. Loving Dog – that’s a lot of it. Loving life – that’s the most of it. And still… trying to make a new life if we possibly can… and if we can’t: having a great life anyway.
Home isn’t a physical place. It’s where the heart is. It’s where happiness is.
These are the things that matter.
This is a story about a girl and a cake. And a question: If you could never eat cake again, what would your last cake be?
Rewind: Last week I was asked to bake a last cake for E, a friend of mine who is going in for gastric sleeve surgery. Gastric sleeve surgery is similar to the better known gastric band, which restricts your stomach’s ability to hold much food – only this operation is irreversible and takes out 80% of your stomach. (For a comparison of different types of gastric surgery, there’s more info here.)
A gastric sleeve operation is pretty drastic. What it means for eating is that for two weeks before the op, you have to go on a liquid diet. Following the op, you stay in hospital for two days and when you go home, again you can’t have anything other than liquids for 8 weeks. For a whole year you can’t drink alcohol! And when you start reintroducing solids, you’re never going to be able to eat what we think of a full meal ever again. You’ll be able to eat a starter. You won’t be able to eat a whole cake, or even manage a whole piece.
So you see, making this cake was a pretty big deal.
My friend E is indomitable. When I first met her she was a friend of a friend and we just sort of went from there. She’s a big fan of Dog, and baking, so obviously we’re going to get on. T and I like meeting new people and it turned out we had more mutual friends. E is pretty out there. She’s not shy and she never gave the impression that she cared what people thought. Yes she’s a larger lady but she always seemed at peace with herself in a world of skinnies. This is someone who’s never knowingly underdressed, who introduced me to Hell Bunny (quirky 50s style dresses with a modern twist) and rocks a floral headband at any given occasion. Flamboyant and vocal and not about to be cowed by anyone’s ideas.
So her decision to go in for irreversible surgery was a big one. A drastic gastric! And I figured a lot of thought must have gone into it to make a decision like that. It soon became apparent that there had, when she blogged about it. As a friend I wanted to support that so it makes sense that I would express solidarity the main way I ever do: through baking. I feel like I know a bit about silent hurt – all of us in this community are all too familiar with private pain. And making life changes. A few years ago I uprooted my entire life and stepped into the unknown. I knew I would want to do something to help mark the occasion of E’s big change.
I was honoured to be asked to make someone’s last ever cake. But also a bit scared: What would happen if it wasn’t as great as a last cake should be? What if her memories were always of a mediocre final indulgence? I knew I’d have to make a serious effort!
E said to me that she wanted something white, because they were going to a huge event for a final blowout: Diner en Blanc. That’s dinner in white to you and me. Everything is white themed so the cake had to fit in with that theme. She also said that she wanted something sparkly and fabulous. And I knew she liked raspberry jam. I had an idea…
I started with a sponge base. I used my trusty Madeira recipe – it scales up or down pretty well and is a bit denser than normal sponge to take icing well. The night before, I baked the cake and let it cool. Cuddled Dog. I think it’s important to bake with love!
Then came the icing. (Frosting to my American friends!) I layered three slabs of cake with vanilla buttercream and raspberry jam. I got the posh raspberry jam rather than the cheap one – it had to be the best for a last cake! And then I iced it all over with ruffley petals, apart from a central sprinkling of bronze sugared honeycomb pieces. When it was complete, I added a sprinkling of fairy dust so the cake would shimmer in the light.
When I was done, this is how it looked… All ready for a last supper, a dinner in white.
E said she loved the cake. (Hopefully if it was a bit shabby they’d already have had an excellent meal and some wine to help them along!) More importantly, she’s getting ready for one of the biggest changes in her life. A whole year of not drinking, 10 weeks of only taking in liquids and a lifetime of changing the way she eats, permanently.
It’s a huge decision and it’s nobody else’s but hers. I have the utmost respect for anyone who makes these difficult decisions to change their lives, as I know how hard it can be. When I moved to London a few years ago, I left behind a really comfortable life. I wasn’t mistreated and I had security, a house, a husband, and a life I’d built up over a decade – pretty much my entire adult life.
I left behind a lot of happinesses and some pretty big sadnesses. And I went into a year of screwing up and trying to rebuild myself with no guarantee of happiness. It was pretty scary. A lot of people judged me. I lost friends and I lost my partner and the worst thing is, it was my decision. And what I learned is that everyone has their reasons for doing things and judging them doesn’t help. For E, it’s not about the rights or wrongs of being larger or smaller – it’s about taking control of her health and wanting to live a long and happy life. I mean, who doesn’t want that?
And you know what? I’ve been fatter and thinner. At one point in the bad year I was 20 kg lighter than I am now. So either I’m pretty huge now or I was a stick insect then. I would love to lose weight but I also know that my weight has very little correlation with happiness. I’ve been sad and skinny and I’ve been happy and chubby, and vice versa. For me, the key to contentedness (an ability to accept the happy and sad and net out on the happy side) really does come down to that old cliché: acceptance. But not just acceptance: also putting yourself in the right place to accept stuff. Grabbing opportunities when they arise and actively seeking out the positives.
For E, this means getting herself to a place where her health is better and she’s less likely to have serious health problems in the future. Because she has a lot to live for and a lot to contribute to others.
For me, it’s about being okay with who I am: trying my best to be a good person; accepting that I may never have children – but I’ll do my best to take any opportunity I can – and I’ll try to maximise happiness in my daily life.
As my friend Stealing Nectar puts it: squeezing sweetness out of whatever the day brings.
And me? My last cake will be a big chocolate one.
I’ve written a bunch about my mad, bad family and I hope if I’ve got anything across it’s the idea that they are not exactly “normal” but I’m really rather fond of them. For example, I don’t believe in the Grateful Adoptee trope (for who are we apart from… y’know, individual humans?) but I do also feel a fair amount of gratitude in just being part of my crazy mad lovely family.
Anyway as you know, last week I decided to throw myself a bit of a boo hoo pity party. Usually I give short shrift to these, I mean, they really are a bit self indulgent – but if you can’t be self indulgent on your own blog, where can you? (Answer: stop being so self indulgent and do something nice for someone else… You’re even boring yourself!) So this week, buoyed by all your good wishes, I started as I mean to go on: with a bit of Happy.
I had arranged a while back to take my mum out for her birthday. It was a trip to spend a day together – she doesn’t live in London but now she’s an OAP (hilarious!) she gets cheap train fares so I said I’d take her out for a day in London. She wanted to wait until the schools were back and it was a bit quieter, and also she’s had a couple of ops to recover from. So I took Monday off and we arranged a little day just for her.
Here are some pics from the day.
Buckingham Palace. Once a year it’s open for a couple of months for the public to visit. They do a different exhibition each year and this year it is the state rooms where they hold banquets. You can’t take pictures inside but it really is amazing. If you look online it doesn’t really show the scale of the whole thing. This year we got to see the banqueting hall all laid out for a state banquet. There were gold plates, engraved crystal and huge candelabra. We also got to find out how they set it all up – days in advance! They even have measuring rules to see where to place things! It is a fun way to spend a couple of hours. There is an audio tour where you can listen to the info on headphones, which led to some funny moments when my mum did that speaking very loudly thing… Oh well! If you are ever in London at the right time over summer then you can reserve tickets here. I highly recommend it!
Claridge’s. After the tour of BP we headed off to Claridge’s. For those of you not in the UK, Claridge’s is an institution. It is a very posh hotel. I’m a bit of an afternoon tea fan so I thought I’d have to take my mum for afternoon tea. Unfortunately she couldn’t walk far as has recently had an operation on her foot so we didn’t get to wander round the shops as I had planned… Which meant we went straight there and arrived two hours early! We asked if they had an earlier table and they said they’d let us know if we waited in the bar. So we decamped to the bar for two of the most expensive drinks I’ve ever bought! Total cost for these: £35! And there were even drinks at £80 a glass! We did get free snacks… The cheese straws and nuts were nice (though possibly not worth the money!). We decided we’d stick to one drink rather than bankrupting ourselves but fortunately we managed to get an earlier table for afternoon tea… My wallet was saved! 🙂
We went through to the dining room. This picture doesn’t really do it justice as it’s very nice. There were huge floral arrangements everywhere. Pink hydrangea in huge bunches and smaller bunches of roses. There was also a pianist playing accompanied by a double bass. The lady on the double bass looked topless from where we were sitting as she was obscured by a piano and wearing a strapless dress! (I assume – perhaps she really was naked!) It all felt very decadent. Which is what you want for afternoon tea!
We ordered our tea. I had fresh peppermint tea as I don’t like tea. (Obviously not a true Brit. Maybe it’s the adoption thing…) Then our savouries arrived. Lots of yummy sandwiches, quiche and free refills! I’ve noticed a lot of places do this now. It means you feel duty bound to make the most of it! The quiche was cheese and onion – very dainty and tasty. And the sandwiches were from L-R: Smoked salmon (yuck!), free range egg (v traditional), chicken with a ceps mayonnaise (v tasty), cucumber and cream cheese (also v traditional) and ham and celeriac remoulade. They were all very nice apart from the salmon which I switched with my mum as she doesn’t like the cucumber ones!
Then we had scones. These are a bit like what Americans call biscuits as far as I can tell, but we have them with jam and cream. (And what we call biscuits is what you guys call cookies! Can you imagine the shock when Brits find out you serve scones for breakfast with gravy!) Anyway there’s a whole debate over whether you add the cream Devon style or Cornish (from Cornwall) style. Clotted cream tastes like cream but it’s the consistency of butter. I can’t remember which style I use but I add the cream first, in place of butter, and then the jam on top. They usually serve scones with strawberry jam in England but this jam was something made from tea. Considering I don’t like tea, it was really delicious! We had fruit scones and plain scones. I could only eat one as I was so full already! They were quite small as scones go but quite frankly I couldn’t even manage both of them, so it really wasn’t a problem!
With afternoon tea you also get a selection of cakes – the main event. All the posh places now compete to do the fanciest ones. These were rather fancy but quite traditional (no theme, like some do themes like the Pret a Portea at the Berkeley – where they do cakes inspired by this season’s fashion collections! Or the Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea at the Sanderson, which is my favourite). I really was stuffed by this point. I had the hazelnut choux bun on the far right and the chocolate raspberry one. They were both delicious!
Then as I had asked in advance if they could do something for my mum’s birthday, they brought out a birthday plate! This was complimentary and she was really chuffed. It definitely got me Child of the Year award! 🙂
Finally – just in case you’re not stuffed enough, you get little boxes with fresh chocolate truffles. They really give you a very spoiled experience.
As we couldn’t eat everything, they boxed it up to take home. My mum insisted I take it all as she has my dad on a strict diet! He was always quite skinny when we were younger but now he’s older his metabolism has slowed down but his appetite hasn’t! He’s not really fat or anything but he has a very sweet tooth. I got into trouble for smuggling him some contraband sweeties last time we met (and I sent him a small care package of my favourite cheese and a small fruit cake for his birthday – last year I sent him a giant personalised pork pie!). So I took home the extras to T. He was very pleased! Dog tried to get in on the action but was sadly denied!
Overall we had a really nice day. I think if you’re one of four especially then it’s nice to spend some 1:1 time with your parents. Of course we haven’t always seen eye to eye so don’t get the impression we are the kind of mother daughter who make you want to vomit with their “best friends” schtick. 🙂 My mum is definitely my mum and my dad is my dad! But I think now I’m in my late 30s we can relate on a more adult level and I am a bit less selfish and self absorbed than I was in my 20s! Plus they’ve probably calmed down their expectations a bit as the options of becoming a doctor / lawyer / President of the United States are all no longer open to me!
One thing we did actually get to discuss was the whole forum and adoption thing. We didn’t discuss in any depth but we did touch on my latest experiences (of adopted people who had a bad time of things and now feel upset about having been adopted), not in the context of anyone being right or wrong but more in the way of saying how I don’t feel that way. We discussed how we were always treated as “their children” and the adopted ones weren’t treated differently – I am glad that we were and never felt we might get taken back or anything. I even told my mum about this blog in the knowledge that she’s only just managed to master SMS and Skype and is unlikely to go looking!
Interestingly my mum said that she did feel they had been a bit naive and hadn’t expected there to be such a big deal about race – we were brought up largely in this kind of “colourblind” mentality to which I think there have been pros and cons. Like I truly didn’t grow up thinking there was anything inherently differentiating in personality or needs based on the colour of people’s skins. I didn’t think I was inferior because I had non white skin, but then again, I did learn that people would treat me differently because of it. I know now that the tide has turned on people’s feelings re race and I’ve learned from the forum that in America at least, skin colo
ur is a very big deal. I think the colourblind thing gave us benefits in one sense but also left us quite ill prepared to face racism in the big wide world… but then I guess it depends whether you blame adoption, parents, upbringing etc for that or you blame the world. Personally I blame the world for being racist rather than my parents for being white, but that’s just me!
It’s funny though, my mum even said she didn’t think people of my ethnicity got much trouble in the UK (to which I put her straight! She does know of previous incidents but she forgets!) and also we just talked about how people deal with stuff. Like I’m definitely one of those people who doesn’t really dwell on things – I even said about dad’s saying (“There’s no point worrying about things you can’t change”) and we had a little giggle about it. (We were drinking an early G&T at this point!) We talked about sibling #2 and how happy we are that the earlier problems seem to have gone away (#2 was also adopted and had quite a few issues growing up but is super happy and settled now, engaged to be married, all good!). Plus we talked about how the world is hopefully changing – in the context of my gay sibling and how we don’t expect there to be the level of homophobia in the past. I guess we all have our things. (Apart from #3/RFB who is just the archetypal white hetero one!) What is fundamental to happiness, I think, is our ability to process the unfairnesses and injustices and grievances and make the most of our lives.
For me that means not focusing on the bad stuff. For sure I do have to deal with any number of small irritants and a few big ones, but I find that it’s unproductive for my life to focus on them. I’m just too lazy to go around feeling bad all the time… It takes effort! I think that may be down to my personality or it may be down to my upbringing, or it may be a bit of both.
Today I went to my follow up occupational health appointment. The doctor had said last time that she thought I should come back and see her in a month’s time as she was a bit worried about me. But it’s now a month and a bit on from the last time (took a while to get the appointment at a mutually convenient time) and we really seemed to have moved on hugely since then. She asked if I still felt sad about PB and I said yes, but not debilitatingly so. I think my first pregnancy and miscarriage after IVF will always be a big experience in my life, but I am not the kind of person who’s going to be doubled up in grief for the rest of my life… I will always carry that sadness with me, but I’ll be okay. Because I really feel like I will. I feel a lot better, and maybe I’m in denial or something or maybe I’m just pretty quick at moving on. I’d like to think it’s a coping mechanism that I’ve got honed to a fine art!
I think for me it helps to focus on the stuff in the future. Like, I know I can’t see anyone about my fibroid until October, so there’s no point in spending a lot of time thinking about it before then. We can’t restart IVF until that’s sorted out, so I won’t try and get in touch or schedule anything before then. We’re off to the Magic Kingdom / USA next month so that’s what we’re focusing on and looking forward to… booking restaurant reservations, organising fun surprises for T and our schedule for the parks! (Squeal!) And buying cheap Disney clothes! I have a haul of them and I reckon I can get through the entire week with only wearing Disney clothes. 🙂
And before then, this month, I have a large wedding cake commission for a friend’s wedding so that’s exciting too. And after our trip to the US (our favourite place even disregarding WDW!) we will be looking forward to Christmas. I really love autumn (fall!)/winter when everything gets a bit chillier and cosier and we can have hot chocolate and cinnamon and wear awesome winter coats and everyone’s getting excited about Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year. I mean, I do enjoy the sun but autumn’s the best because it’s all about getting ready for Christmas!
And more immediately: We’ve been looking at houses. It’s all very exciting even though we probably won’t do anything about it for months and months but it’s nice to dream.
And I guess that’s the thing: I’ll never stop dreaming, or enjoying the happy stuff. Life’s too short to feel miserable for long. We all have a little wallow once in a while but I don’t want that to define my life. My task is just to keep adding fun things into the schedule to look forward to, and to enjoy the happy things when they happen. Which, when you have a T and a Dog, is pretty much all the time.
I know that a lot of you have been recipients of some pretty crappy news lately and I want to say: I’m thinking of you. I know that discovering this community was a lifeline to me – almost a lifetime ago! back in April I think it was – and I want you to know that I appreciate each and every one of you. You are all making a difference to people’s lives, people like me who felt completely alone and logged on one day and wrote a little something and put it out there, and got all this love and care back. And when we were going through the dark days you were all there for me (and us) and sharing your own experiences and making me feel like there was someone out there who cared. Some of you have even become my “IRL” friends (okay, we haven’t yet met in real life but we’re a part of each other’s virtual lives and I feel like I know you!). I mean, that’s pretty awesome. If I was going to be Pollyanna about it (I’m not) I’d say that you are making the world a better place, one friend at a time! And that’s pretty awesome, don’t you think?
Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. And sometimes, life gives you lemons. Now, I figure I’ll leave the lemonade to the pros, because for me, it’s all about chocolate.
I have found over time that there’s one recipe that’s guaranteed to cheer people up. It cheers me up to make something for others, and it cheers them up to receive. (As a wise person once said, it’s better to give than receive, and I generally believe that! I love giving!)
The funny thing is, it’s super easy and uses cheap ingredients, and somehow magically turns into something luxurious and decadent.
So here it is: My top secret brownie recipe.
Step 1: Melt 1 pack butter (in the UK this is 250g; you’ll need more in the US). You can use 300g but our butter comes in 250g packs so I find it works fine with that amount. Also melt 300g plain (dark) chocolate at the same time. I use the super cheap chocolate from the supermarket. You can use expensive stuff if you want, but it’s really not necessary! You can do this in the microwave if you have one (I don’t so I do it in a pan. You can use a Bain Marie too, but ain’t nobody got time for that!) Remove from the heat.
Step 2: Break 5 free range eggs into a large bowl. I only use free range eggs because I want happy brownies!
Step 4: Add a generous splash of vanilla essence and mix it all together.
Step 6: Add in 200g plain flour. Stir it together.
Step 7: Add in your extras. I like to add 100g chopped white chocolate and a handful of cocoa nibs. You can add anything you want!
Step 8: Pour into your tin and bake in a preheated oven at around gas mark 5-6 and 160 C. My oven is pretty bad so it needs to be this heat. In a modern oven you can probably drop it to be cooler. Keep checking the brownies after 45min. You may need to cook them up to an hour or even more depending on your oven. When you take them out they should be done on top but still have a slight wobble.
When they’ve cooled, cut them into pieces and give them to people you like! I also like to brush them with gold dust to give them a little extra happiness.
And there you have it… How to spread a bit of chocolate happiness in 8 easy steps.
So this weekend I thought I’d tackle the very exciting task of sorting out my home office (aka the junkyard that is my desk area). This was partly because we had nothing better to do and partly because I was under the impression that someone was coming to visit. (It turns out the visitor is next week, so I have a whole ‘nother weekend to get cracking on tidying the place!) Anyway, when I posted this picture elsewhere people were surprised that it was my desk, as apparently it doesn’t look like the type of desk/office they’d envisioned for me… and it got me to thinking about what my office area says about me.
I grew up in a household that was almost maniacally tidy. We joke that my mum has OCD but I think she actually does. On the plus side this means that it’s always a very calming thing to visit Home-home (as I call it, as opposed to home, where I live) as it’s always almost medically clean and tidy. Like I’m pretty sure that you could perform an operation right on my mother’s kitchen floor and come away healthier than in a hospital. (There’s a thought: IVF treatment in my mum’s kitchen!)
Anyway, let’s just say I didn’t inherit the Clean & Tidy gene. Perhaps it’s because I was adopted or something but I just don’t have it in me, despite my mum’s best efforts. I have a sort of untidy all-over-the-place mind and my physical environment reflects that. Organised chaos, I’d call it. Like, I know where stuff is, but a stranger looking at it might think that it was a hoarding situation.
If you’re in the UK you may recall an ad for Yellow Pages (like google before google, haha) where a guy has a girl round and she’s like “OMG you’ve been burgled” because his place is so messy. He then uses the Yellow Pages to look up cleaners. Well, that’s what my environment sometimes looks like. Tbh I can’t really ever see myself living in a sterile super-organised environment because I’m just not like that, but I do get a certain satisfaction now and again from doing a one-off spring clean clearout. Weirdly I’m also not very attached to possessions or material things. I think I just don’t often get around to sorting through stuff.
So, for your viewing pleasure, here’s my desk-office area, post clearout. That’s right, post clearout. There’s still a bunch of stuff there! Can you imagine what it looked like before?! I thought you’d like to see it anyway, as it sort of gives an insight into stuff I like and do in my spare time. For the record, it’s nothing like my desk at work. My desk at work is still pushing the boundaries of the “clear desk policy” and has a bunch of publications and bits of paper and things on it, but it’s nowhere near as cluttered as this one. You can see it as a sort of Where’s Wally (Waldo in US!) situation where I’ll talk you through the history and significance of things that aren’t very historical or significant, except for to me. 🙂
Top Dog sign – This is a joke sign as I’m pretending that I work for my dog, and it’s his office. I sign off things with the signature “From the office of [MyDog]”. It’s a bit silly but I find it funny. Also there is a part of a dog fence in front of the desk, which is to stop Dog from crawling through and jumping on the chair and from there creating havoc in my space. He still does, but it puts him off a tiny bit.
The desk – You can’t really see it under all the
rubbish interesting items but it’s a cream coloured desk in a “shabby chic” style (ie paint wearing off!). It has a green leather(ish?) inlay and the whole thing is obviously someone’s craft project. The other side with all the drawers has sort of vintagey metal handles on it. It probably wouldn’t really be my taste but I got it free when someone was doing a studio clearout. It’s also quite convenient as the top bit rests on the two sides which are like mini chests of drawers so it was easy to carry upstairs to our apartment. Also worth noting that our place is entirely open plan so that’s why I sort of have to colonise a corner of it. Anyway, I like furniture that isn’t pristine and tells a story. (Not sure what story this is just yet!)
In tray – I like to think I’m sort of organised when I’m really not. I just dump things in there and then forget about them. There’s a whole filing cabinet that’s now taken up residence under T’s desk, which probably needs sorting through. I have another version of this tray in one of the drawers and it has all the medical and IVF stuff in there (and the Moleskine pregnancy diary I sadly never got to use… Hopefully one day). At the moment it has a load of bills, a magazine (Marie Claire, which I rarely read but had an article on internet dating I wanted to give to a few friends who want to try it) and on top of the pile is a sketch book of postcards which I’ve drawn one picture in. I used to be really into art as a kid and then stopped, and I have been trying (cautiously) again. The picture I did was of Dog, obviously! And there are some drawing pens there too. I don’t like pencils much; I’m not sure why.
The chair – The chair which you can’t really see is a standard IKEA cheapy, mainly because I don’t like spending money on furniture. Almost all of our furniture is really cheap and/or second hand. It goes with the place! Very industrial/vintage. Anyway I have a bad back and so I have this chair massager which I occasionally remember to use. It’s really good. I got it cheap on sale at a horribly named shop (MenKind or something like that which apparently only has stuff for men but it gave me a sense of satisfaction to buy something, not being a bloke). It is a shiatsu type massager and it even warms up if you want it to. I like a hard massage so this is the next best thing. Makes a bit of a racket though!
Picture framed quote – The picture framed quote we got from Chelsea market in NYC a couple of years ago. We love NYC and the USA in general and it was a great trip. It’s my favourite quote possibly: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay… It’s not the end.” Also, Dog took a bite out of the corner of the frame. I think this makes it look comical. As I mentioned… I’m not that bothered about material things and so have managed to stop myself being really upset when things get broken. I think it adds to the charm, plus I think I would forgive Dog almost anything. (The one thing I know I’d have difficulty with is if he ate one of my stuffed toys from my childhood… So they are up out of the way on a very high shelf in the wardrobe.)
Calligraphy book, pen and ink and practice sheets – I have these random ideas to try new things and semi-creative endeavours. I’ve always wanted (or not always, often) to learn how to do modern calligraphy – the type you get on wedding invitations nowadays. I could do the old fashioned type when I was younger. I went on a course a few weeks ago and learned how to do it – I’m currently terrible at it but practising hard! And I have a book to give me ideas. I tend just to look at reference books and then do my own thing! In modern calligraphy you have to let go and not have everything really neat and uniform, which I find hard as in old style you had to make every instance of each letter the same. I’m improving hopefully.
Wall of stuff – This is my “office wall” even though it’s in an open plan space. I’ve stuck up a load of things for decoration, photos of stuff, baby announcements (agh) and baby thank you cards (agh) and random things I like, or cards from people, or reminders of places to shop or eat at. It is a bit of a mishmash really but I like it. It reminds me of nice things, like birthdays or people or shops I like. One is a meringue shop in France which we’ve been to each year on the way back from our annual Christmas Disney trip. It has queues outside and you can see them making the treats, which are called merveilleux. If you ever get to go to Lille, you should go there: Aux Merveilleux de Fred.
Giant pug of love and pug tea towel and knitted pug and pug hat, etc… – Let’s just say I like pugs. This giant pug we got on our second valentine’s day and he just sort of sits there and gets silly head dresses put on him. The pug tea towel was a gift but I tend not to use all tea towels I receive, either because I like them too much to use them or because we have a lot of tea towels. I might eventually use that one. It says Pugs not Drugs. Also the London picture on the wall is a tea towel with all of the London landmark buildings on – I really liked it (also a gift) so stuck it on the wall. The knitted pug was in response to a Facebook request for someone to knit me a pug. I got the pattern but I can’t knit, so my friend’s mum knitted it. How cool is that?! I love knitted things. And pugs.
Pregnacare vitamins – Enough said. We haven’t actually started taking them yet but will do soon… Possibly for the next cycle. Although what with the fibroid I’m sort of thinking I probably shouldn’t even bother trying to get pregnant. Anyway, I thought they can’t do any harm.
Glass award – I was given this as I was involved in organising a voluntary event which I do every year for my company. We promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to students from diverse backgrounds. It’s a really fun event and when you aren’t used to kids being around, slightly crazy.
Clocks that don’t work – I have this thing where I get clocks that don’t work. The one you can see is quite a posh one that was on sale in a decent furniture shop – it changes colour according to the angle you look at it. We had it in our old place but then it kept stopping working. Behind the bear is a really terrible Jesus clock. I love things with Jesus on for some reason. My mother thinks it’s terrible as she’s religious, but I find them funny. (Apologies to any religious people but they’re probably the target market for these, anyway!) NB I do really like most religions and would like to be religious, but I just don’t believe in it… Please don’t try to convert me as I’ve tried everything over the years! I respect everyone’s right to believe in what they want to!
Star Wars paraphernalia – There is quite a lot of it. I didn’t have it out in my old place but then my parents wanted to clear out Home-home and I had to take it otherwise they’d throw it out. There are a lot of things here. X wing fighter, Tie fighter, Darth Vader, light saber… I probably should find a kid to give them to. I went off Star Wars when they brought out Episode I.
Cat money box – It was a gift. It has a reasonable amount of change in it. I hardly ever empty it and use it but have raided it before when I was hard up. I probably should use it more often for the Domino’s guy as T always insists that he needs a tip!
Polaroid camera – An original Polaroid camera I used to use – it’s on one of the shelves. I’m not sure you can get film for it any more, and anyway it was soooo expensive (£1 per picture), but it’s really fun. I also have an old (ish) portable printer for phones where you could print phone pictures onto developing film by Polaroid – however once iPhones came out, I got one and you couldn’t connect it, which was really annoying. I’ve not tried to find out if it works with the new iPhone. Maybe I should.
Shelf full of cook books – I have a lot of these. When I moved out, I left most of my old books and have tried not to buy many reading books as it’s easier just to read them on the Kindle, and they don’t take up much space. Cook books are the exception. They’re more tactile and photo-filled and enjoyable to leaf through. Although I tend to buy them, read through them and then not really use them (or just use one recipe, so one double page in a book). The one I use the most is either Hummingbird Bakery or Peggy Porschen – both cakes. I have been through phases of flirting with veganism so I have a few vegan cook books, but I never really seem to get there (and the meaty pizza habit doesn’t help). I might do again if I can get round to it!
Metal number 8 – I was given this as a gift. It’s my thing, the number 8 – it’s my favourite number, and it’s also like infinity on its side. (I didn’t purposely put it on its side – it won’t fit in the shelf standing up.) The guy that gave it to me was a bit of a —- but I like the 8. And as I said, I’m not good at throwing things away.
Boxes of things – There are a few different boxes here. Some have jewellery in, and some have other random things in (an oil burner by my recollection). We have another large bookshelf which has “joint” stuff on like books and models and things, but this smaller bookshelf has my stuff on here, which means it collects a lot of random stuff. I really have quite a lot of jewellery but generally not expensive stuff, and I find it difficult to throw it away, hence the large boxes stuffed full of it.
Box files – There are two of these on the desk and they have “current” stuff in like my calligraphy book (when it’s not out on the desk) and a cake decorating book. Plus some other work stuff. It’s not very interesting but an easier way to have access to stuff rather than in the in tray which you then have to rifle through.
Craft box – You’ll have to hunt for this! Transparent small box with a current craft project in. It’s another patchwork dog I’m sewing, like this one. I gave one to my BFF and she apparently liked it. I have another friend (my Other Friend) who loves dachshunds and this is a sausage dog so I’m making it for her. It’s not exactly the same as the one I made for my BFF but it will be just as good I hope!
Kilner jars – I think we got these as a give away. If you live in blocks of flats in London, people randomly give stuff away by putting it in communal areas. I co-opted these for my desk (rather than cooking, for some reason). One has a collection of toy Ferraris in. One has ribbons in – I like fabric ribbons as I think wrapping up stuff nicely pretty much extends the enjoyment of the gift. There is nothing more disappointing (okay there is, but bear with me) than receiving a crappily wrapped gift / something in a plastic bag. I like to wrap things up in nice tissue paper or wrapping paper with a nice fabric ribbon on, or if it’s for someone who won’t appreciate a fabric ribbon (a bloke or a kid!) then I have long spools of party ribbon, which also doubles up for balloons. We often get helium for parties so I ended up with a lot of balloon ribbon too. Basically I’ll never run out of wrapping supplies. Another jar has pens and things in. And the last one has sweeties in.
Orchid – This is the only orchid I haven’t killed. People get me orchids all the time, despite me being terrible at plant care or any type of gardening, and orchids being notoriously difficult to keep alive. I do like them but despite my best endeavours they’ve all died. They seem to be housewarming presents – people always bring them. I have a load of ceramic pots that I’ve received orchids in which subsequently died. Anyway, my ex got me this one. It’s bittersweet I guess, but I always liked it as it looks very realistic. (It has moss on the bottom and he actually thought it was real when he gave it to me!) Ideally I’d have a live plant but I don’t think I could keep it alive. (I actually cleared out a birthday orchid at the weekend when I tidied my desk… It’s now a twig in a pot.)
Panda hat – I have a lot of animal hats. Actually I have a lot of animal clothing. Basically I dress like a grown up (sort of) in work and then I dress like a teenager outside work. I like wearing hats with ear flaps. The panda hat was from T… I don’t wear it much as the snout looks a bit suspect, but I am fond of pandas. I also have two cat hats, another panda, and a demented fox. I used to get away with wearing them at my last place of work, but I don’t really wear them much any more. So they’re more for holidays.
Bear – In case you didn’t get this, I love stuffed toys. I think I just like cuddly things. Again it’s a bit bittersweet but he’s seen a lot of action and history since – I got Bear on one of my hen do (US: bachelorette) parties. He was won by a member of the group and as it was my party, she gave him to me. I love him as he’s gigantic and I have a thing for stuffed animals of all sizes but especially large ones (cf:Giant Pug of Love). He’s the largest stuffed toy I’ve ever had. I really am the kind of person who’d love it if someone bought me a giant lifesize bear. I don’t know why. I just like them. Anyway, Bear came with me when we separated and he’s seen a lot of house parties since. He’s the kind of Bear who’s always invited to dance. Right now he’s wearing a wig from one of our fancy dress parties but for a long time he had an afro wig on. He likes to get his groove on. Women love him; men want to be him. Although he has to sit out of the way otherwise Dog would try to eat him.
Wooden heart – I forgot to include this in the first post so am adding it now! It’s hiding up on the wall because that’s where a nail was to hang it on. (When you live in a rental you have to make do with the hooks and nails that are already there. Which leads to some odd situations.) I love this heart. For our first Christmas, T got me a whole special Santa sack specially made with lots of little presents in, and it was tied at the top with this little heart which has my name printed on. We had only been together a couple of months and it was really thoughtful and sweet. In our old place where we had two big bathrooms, I put this on the largest bathroom door to show that it was mine! Now it’s overlooking my office.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this insight into my messy life. What does it say about me? I’m not sure. I think it says that I’m someone with a lot of memories and memorabilia. I think it says I’m quite bad at throwing things away. I like having little knick knacks around that I can look at and remember random things. And I have a lot of half started – unfinished projects that I’m sort of in the middle of but don’t always get to the end of!
I found it really therapeutic to clear up my desk. (This was the sequel to clearing out the bathroom… Oh what an exciting life I lead! My bathroom probably doesn’t tell a very interesting story though!) I threw out a load of stuff including some old mail I hadn’t opened since 2013… oops. I’m bad like that. Also realised that my credit card company seems to send me a lot of junk mail. Anyway I managed to get the whole place a lot more habitable as if you’d seen it before, you’d have struggled to see the desk underneath! It was just a giant pile of stuff and I just kept piling more stuff on top. It probably looks very “busy” still now but at least it’s usable and I know where stuff is!
A final thought for the day: My new neighbour moved in a few months ago and is really friendly. It’s quite unusual in London where people aren’t exactly unfriendly, but they don’t go out of their way to meet other people. This guy tries to get everyone in the neighbourhood talking to each other, and he’s super happy all the time (which I can’t ever imagine being, but he kind of gets away with it as he’s little and cute and foreign). He sort of stops people and gets them chatting and then introduces them to other people in the neighbourhood. It makes me think he’s a little crazy not to have been beaten down by cynical London life, but I like it and it brightens my day to have a random smiley interaction with him. He also has taken to writing inspirational quotes about the place. Here’s his latest…
Have a great day! 🙂