Advent Calendar of Happiness

I have just come up with an ambitious project. Ambitious for me anyway. I’m not climbing Everest or doing a triathlon or anything like that. And as I am a firm believer in committing yourself to paper as a way of actually making something happen, that’s what I’m doing. Well, not actually paper, but you get the idea.

Since my last blog post about looking on the bright side, I have been thinking a lot about positive mental attitude. There is so much awful stuff happening in the world right now. Terrorism, war and refugee crises on the international stage, and cuts to welfare, the NHS, social services and education at home. It can be hard not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of need and sorrow and violence in the world. This project is my solution to not letting the dark side of life overwhelm me. Easy, relatively speaking, for me to say, because I am lucky enough to enjoy familial and financial security. I am aware that I am lucky, and often that consciousness in itself depresses me. What right do I have to a happy marriage, healthy and delightful children, a comfortable home, when I have done nothing to deserve it?

advent-calendar-006The answer of course, is no right to these blessings at all. All I can do is appreciate what I have, and try to pass on some of my happiness to others whenever I can. My project is inspired by the tradition my American cousin-by-marriage shared with us of going round the table at Thanksgiving, or Christmas in our case, and talking about one thing for which we are thankful. It’s quite unBritish to be so open and unreserved, but my husband and I both love the idea, and plan to make it one of our family Christmas traditions. My extension of it for this year is to celebrate the countdown to Christmas by writing each day about one of the things which make me happy. I don’t want to be smug about it, but I do look forward to having a tangible record I can look at when the state of the world depresses me, and to reminding myself of how much I have to be thankful for. Tonight I will be filling  Anna’s beautiful Advent Calendar, handmade for her a few years ago by my super-talented sister-in-law and then, starting tomorrow I will be making my  own Advent Calendar. Twenty-four blogs in twenty-four days about the things that make me happy.

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Looking on the bright side

Often as I’m pottering I mentally start writing a blog post. Sometimes just the theme, at other times phrases, sentences, structure all come flooding into my mind and I am desperate to get to a computer and commit my thoughts to cyber-space. This morning was one of those times. Today didn’t look like being a very good day. It is grey and cold and wet. Sophia has an ear infection and so isn’t her usual sunny little self and I feel miserable worrying that she’s in pain. Husband has a work dinner tonight and so won’t be home until late. We all have slight colds, so everyone feels a bit tired and below par and 83% of my life consists of answering the question “where are the tissues?” or picking up discarded tissues off the floor, or wiping the nose of a baby who is determined she does not want her nose wiped.

Then, having decided that Sophia was well enough to go to her Monkey Music class and that we’d both benefit from a change of scene, the bus still hadn’t turned up after thirty-five minutes of waiting, at which point I gave up because we’d missed class by that time anyway. After we’d been home a while I went out into the hall, and noticed a little red ‘failed delivery’ slip from Royal Mail. I was a bit puzzled, because I hadn’t noticed it when I came in, but I picked it up and discovered that it was for a delivery which had been attempted at 11.30am. Funny thing was, it was only 11.10am at that point. I phoned Royal Mail in a huff, and they promised me they would arrange immediate redelivery – but of course, nothing has yet happened. Grr. Throughout all this I was planning a grumpily witty blog post, groaning about the minor tribulations of life. And, to be honest, that is what a large part of me still wants to write. Especially as when I’ve logged into my WordPress account I’ve discovered they’ve changed the formatting and there’s an intensely iritating little preview box which I can’t get rid of and which blocks the left third of the screen, and will probably mean this post is full of typos!

 

However, I am going to try and rise above my glum mood. I am hurtling towards thirty-five at the speed of light, and there is a part of me that worries that if my grumpy-old-woman characteristics are left unchecked at this age, my poor children are going to gave an absolute nightmare with me in the decades to come.

Looking on the bright side – and not just the big picture I’m alive and well and so are my husband and kids and I have somewhere warm and safe to live and plenty to eat bright side, but the more detailed bright side as well, there are a lot of positives.

Cold dreary November weather is actually pretty enjoyable because it means we get to wrap up warm in lots of layers, and not have to worry about exposing more than a few inches of flesh beneath hat and above scarf until next March, thus cutting down on body maintenance. And the weather also justifies plenty of hot chocolate, comforting traditional puddings and things on toast for lunch instead of salads. I know that might make the body maintenance come March that bit trickier, but hey, March is a looonng time away. And it never actually gets warm until May anyway come to think of it.

I live in a city with great public transport, meaning I don’t need to drive, and although this morning was a failure, that actually happens relatively rarely, so I can generally get where I’m going easily and fairly cheaply.

Sophia was oblivious to the dreary wait for the bus because she, snuggled in four layers of clothing, a hat with ear-flaps, mittens and a pram fleece, was fast asleep and looking heart-wrenchingly angelic.

Husband is out for dinner tonight, which is disappointing because I enjoy his company, but Anna is also out for tea at a friend’s, and Sophia isn’t eating anyway because she’s unwell, but I have leftovers from yesterday I can heat up for her to throw on the floor, so this is an evening when I don’t need to cook! I will be totally satisfied with a bag of tortilla chips and a tub of salsa, followed by an early night snuggled in bed with my book. Things aren’t so bad after all. But if any WordPressers can tell me how to get rid of this stupid box, and where the tag boxes have gone, and how you now do links to previous posts, I’d be very grateful!

 

A toe in the water

Regular readers will know that I have recently been contemplating adding a political string to my blogging bow. I’ve given a great deal of thought as to how best to do it, and have decided to use my guest blogging for Huffington Post to do the political thing, and keep normal service here – time and children permitting of course.

I will post links to my HuffPo articles here, and then those of you who are interested can click through to them, and  those who aren’t can ignore them at leisure. As always I’d love to hear your comments and feedback, whether on here or on the Huffington Post site.

But for now, here it is. My first toe in the water of political blogging as I have a rant about why politics is Not Just a Game.

Changed Priorities Ahead

‘Changed Priorities Ahead’ has always been my favourite road sign. I dimly remember from my driving theory test that it has something to do with traffic lights, but since the first time I noticed it – getting a lift from my dad to my then-boyfriend’s house – it has always seemed far more significantly symbolic than that. 2430675363_f48e263e08_b

It happens to all of us. Maybe you’re chugging along quite happily through life, when suddenly, WHAM. A dramatic, life-changing event. You fall in love, get pregnant, get made redundant, get sick, receive an unexpected job offer, have an accident, someone dies. Your priorities all change radically, unfortunately without the benefit of a road sign warning you that this was coming. At other times you may be struggling with a problem, unsure which direction to take, and then, imperceptibly, you realise your priorities have changed. What you thought of as the problem has vanished, perhaps leaving a whole other set of challenges in its place, or you might be lucky enough to acquire a sense of calm certainty instead.

To an extent I have experienced the second of those scenarios recently. Since Sophia was born, in fact since before she was born, one level of my mind has been preoccupied with the issue of how I could carry on writing once I had a baby to look after. I’ve considered various options – a childcare swap with a friend with a similarly aged baby, a nanny or childminder for a couple of days a week, a pay-as-you-go creche. None of them seemed quite right. For a start, writing novels, certainly when you are still trying to get started and make a name for yourself, is far from being a lucrative profession, so whichever option I chose had to be a frugal one. For another thing I have had a guilty prickle in my conscience at using childcare for Sophia while she is still a baby when I didn’t do so for her sister, and when I don’t need to financially. With Sophia’s first birthday – the deadline I had given myself for returning to work – fast approaching I hadn’t taken any serious steps towards making any of these options happen.

Last week I realised why. I am not by nature a procrastinator. If there’s something needs doing my instinct is usually to do it and get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Except sometimes. Sometimes I find myself not doing the thing I should be doing, the thing I have decided needs to be done, and when I stop and analyse why the answer is invariably the same – I don’t actually think it is the right thing to do after all. I had this a couple of years ago when we planned to re-do our kitchen. I’d done some on-line research, allocated a budget, talked my husband into it, but I kept on failing to actually call companies to get a quote. When I made myself consider why I realised it was because I actually didn’t want to have a generic fitted kitchen. I didn’t want to spend that much money when our existing kitchen was functional, albeit shabby and dated, and the environmentalist in me was horrified at the idea of throwing out our existing units just because we didn’t like the colour of the wood. IMG_3874Once I’d realised the problem it took me only a few weeks and a couple of hundred pounds to get the cupboards sanded and painted pale duck egg blue, the walls a sunshiny yellow, a broken cupboard door replaced with a 1950s style curtain in pretty Cath Kidston fabric and a few choice accessories to transform it from shabby and gloomy to what I at least consider to be a cheerfully retro-chic space.

My eureka moment regarding writing and childcare came last week in Monkey Music class with Sophia. She was giggling away as she tried to make friends with two slightly older toddlers, and I was reflecting on how confident and sociable she is. It suddenly struck me that I have been framing my internal debate in terms of how I was as a first time mum and what Anna’s character and needs were at a similar age to Sophia. Because we didn’t feel Anna was ready for pre-school until she was three, I have been making the same assumption about Sophia, whereas actually I think nothing could be further from the truth. She is going to be desperate to get out into the world as early as she can. So I’ve put her name down to start pre-school when she turns two, and in the meantime I am going to enjoy the next precious year with her. Writing isn’t a time-limited career. My keyboard and my imagination will (hopefully) still be here this time next year, but my littlest girl will only be this little once. My priorities have changed without me really realising it.

I will carry on blogging when I can, in little windows like this when my MIL is happy to take both girls for an hour or two, or when that rarest of situations occurs – dinner is prepared, the house is clean and Sophia is still napping! I can continue to develop the characters and plot for my next novel in odd quiet moments, but I will not stress about resuming my writing career until Sophia is happily ensconced in pre-school a few mornings a week and I have the time and space to write properly, having had another year of space and time with my baby in the meantime.

I am also going to explore ways of changing, or extending, my blog slightly. Regular readers will know of my ongoing consternation with the Government’s austerity agenda, and while I would hate to lose sight of the original purpose of my blog – a record of the joys and anxieties and absurdities of everyday life – I am going to be doing some serious thinking about how I can also use it to make my small contribution to fighting a political agenda I absolutely abhor. Watch this space – changed priorities ahead!