Thursday, 28 January 2016

I'm an expert procrastinator

I'm still taking on the world in the spirit of 'what do the experts know anyway - I can be an expert if I want to be'. My good friend Tailorbird came around today and taught me how to use my sewing machine. (She's a star.) I've had the machine for years, but I've been too scared to get started. I thought I might break it, or mess up what I was doing, you know how it goes. And it turns out it's fine. Sewing - also: not rocket science. I'm sure that good and neat sewing is hard and takes training, but the quick and dirty way? Just fine. I took in two dresses and a shirt. In a couple of hours. It was fantastic.

This dress I stopped wearing because it only looked good with a belt. I put a new waist in. Hurray! I cut off that thread you can see dangling, don't worry.

This dress was big enough to house a couple of my children at the same time. They have been evicted.

This is my favourite flannel shirt from when I was a lot younger:

I'm pretty sure I got it in the eighties, from my mother, when I was in secondary school. That much younger. It had a very eighties baggy shape. I made the sleeves smaller, tightened the waist up and put in two lines in the back. Can you see the right one? Can you see it? Can you? I'm very excited about this. I wore it out to singing tonight, I'm so excited about it.

Then I had to cook and in my excited state with my orange shirt on, I bought a pitiful amount of Indian marinated chicken at the butchers. I was thinking more about the bread I still had to go and buy, and the new pin box I needed to find, and then home and homework and guitar practice and singing and cooking - I simply didn't think it through. A few hundred grams of meat - sure, that will feed five. Then I got home and put it on the surface and realised there was nothing there. And then the non-expert came out and I added raisins, pineapple, beer


and then an apple yoghurt

yes, really

And then, because it still wasn't very much, a whole box of couscous. It was gorgeous.

I felt all happy and competent and whatnot, and then on my way back from singing I realised that what I've been doing is 'procrastinating: the expert level'. For weeks now, I've been walking around with fragments of my next novel (says the unpublished novelist) and ideas floating around, but I've been too chicken to sit down and write seriously. My go-to zen guru even tried to remind me earlier. Tomorrow, I need to sit down for five minutes and just write. I can write crap, I can hate it, I can stop after five minutes and not come back, but I have to find a notebook and a pen, go somewhere quiet (I have two children at home tomorrow), and write something down. Anything.

(Yes, I can see the irony of spending half an hour writing this instead of getting started right now.)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Secrets at forty

I think I've worked out what's going on with all this tidying zeal. I'm trying to get my metaphorical house in order before I turn 40. (My actual house being a part of my metaphorical house.) I'm only turning 39 this year, but I felt the same when I turned 29. Got quite down and depressed about it. By the time I turned 30, I was over it. Hardly blinked. The big tram 4, as they say around these parts, is looming eerily in the distance. I'm not depressed. Not really truly. Which is a good start. But I am scrambling to get my house tidy, my children doing better at school, my weight down, my blotchy face less blotchy, and - what would be the cherry on top of the cake of all my improvements - my book published.

I'm sure Marie Kondo has something to do with it. All this joy-checking. You know what? It can be a bit tiring. For example, my hair only sparks joy when I wear it down. Tied in a ponytail or up in a bun - no joy. But if I want to wear it down, I have to wet it each morning and put two different products in it because otherwise my curls are too frizzy, and all this takes effort and time and yet I can see it's worth it, because really it's only five minutes extra and what else would I be doing with that time anyway, so it's a good investment of my time. But added up, all the joyous things make me zonk out rather at night. Which is a good thing, because I'm sleeping better.

What was I complaining about? Oh yes, turning 40. I feel like I can't go into my forties the same as I was in my thirties. Like I need to be fitter, prettier, more productive - mainly more interesting. I no longer want to see people's eyes glaze over when they talk to me at parties. Actually, I want to be invited to more parties in the first place. I also want to be a more organised mother. One who doesn't have to convince the children that banana loaf is a fruit when she runs out of apples. One who doesn't forget to check the children's diaries for weeks on end. One who can't be talked into letting a child stay home from school because he has a sniffle. One who is understanding yet firm and on top of things.

Yesterday, I watched a Dutch interview with a writer called Paul Frissen about secrets. It has made me think. In this age of transparency, in which I throw my doubts and fears and sock drawer onto the internet for all to see, he defended our right to have secrets. To be unknown. To decide not to share certain things. To not have the state interfere if you want to eat the wrong things, drink too much, or think objectionable thoughts. By the time I'm 40, I would like if my failings weren't so obvious for all to see any more. So I can share them with my friends - and I will, because it's important to talk about the difficult stuff - but the idiots can't look at me and dismiss me after one glance.

Which is why I've colour sorted my table cloths.

A 40 year old needs to have rainbow tableware. I'm good.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Marie Kondo is a genius; come look in my drawers

Allow me to show you my bedsheet drawer:

It pleases me.
(Actually, I've just noticed the fact that the blue stripes go left to right and the red one top to bottom. I have remedied this problem now. All top to bottom.)

I am obsessed with storing things vertically. I have nearly finished my own things. Contrary to Marie Kondo's advice, I have already started on my family's things. I can't help it. Every time I put a piece of clothing away or take something up to the bathroom, I'm distracted for half an hour while I empty a cupboard, throw away half its contents, and put the rest back vertically.

Let me show you my baby's underwear and socks:

Yes, those are shoeboxes. Aren't they glorious?

I also did my tablecloths:

I agree that they could sit slightly straighter. And I should group the reds together and the blues. From dark to light. I may need to do something about that later. I definitely will do something about that later.

Bathroom shelf for makeup and hair:

Have you ever seen such a neat display? I am very proud of that one. It used to all sit in plastic bags and cardboard boxes and a washbag. I even took the bar codes off the tubes and pencils.
(But dammit, wouldn't you know it, looking at that photo I see I've missed one. Maybe I should take photos of all my household endeavours from now on. They make me take a closer look at things I've botched.)

Right. Before I leave you to go and take off that bar code, alphabetise my tablecloths, and then organise another category (I really need to tackle the medicines now - they are staring at me, with their out of datedness and their dust and their higgledipigglediness), I will give you my daughter's hair implement drawer:

That looks messier on a photo than it is in reality. I cut up a tea box, a rice box and a Playmobil box to get those compartments. They fit all snug and cozy.

I find the whole process cleansing and calming. I voluntarily ironed and put clothes away this week. Because I knew where everything went. Because there were gaps in the pattern. I'm living in a brave new world.

Friday, 22 January 2016


I was at my singing lesson yesterday. I hadn't had the best of days and would have quite happily not gone, but I didn't go last week because I was at the theatre. I love that class and want no bad feelings between me and the teacher, so I had to go. It was obvious that I was not on top form. Notes I could easily sing every other week wouldn't come out, my breathing was out, my attention wavered. She made me sing a note lower than everyone else. (I didn't mind. She was being kind. Better next time.)

I'm glad I went to my lesson. In the middle of it, she was teaching us to stand firmly, connected to the earth, with heavy legs, and she said to me that she didn't need to teach me that part, because I'm already firmly rooted when I want to be. Which is true. Feeling lethargic and heavy probably helped, but I also learned it several years ago in my mindfulness course. To feel my weight leaning on the earth, on my chair, on my bed, on the floor. To be thankful for the support. To know that it is always there. To lean on it. To use it. To be happy for it. To feel gravity keeping me in place. It's a constant comfort to me.

Today, I'm thinking of the other things that root me, that are always there, and I don't mean the people I love. I mean the objects that keep me happy to be in the world, that keep me stable and happy. Immediately I think of my cup of tea, of warm water, of heat.

Warm jumpers, hot showers, more tea. I am grateful every day that these things exist. I think of books, of films, of newspapers. Without them, there really wouldn't be much point to it all, would there? I think of sturdy shoes, of solid trousers, and of fitting T-shirts. They hug me and walk with me all day. I think of tables that bring my food closer and carry my things. I think of bags, of drawers, of cupboards. I think of stairs that carry me up and back down again. I think of streets and houses and buildings.

It's a warm and fuzzy way to go through the world. Being grateful for all that sustains me and supports me. You should try it. Feel your body resting on your chair, on your shoes, on the ground. It makes a day feel more solid and secure. Do add a comment if I've forgotten a happy object. I'd love to add things to my list.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Getting my hair done

I'm at the hairdressers to get my 'landing strip' (Jack's term) eliminated. Before I came out, I camouflaged the red marks on my face with makeup. When I don't feel too happy, all my physical shortcomings appear to me more like moral failings. 

The day after I go to the hairdressers - when I don't have white hair showing any more, when I have hidden my 'true nature' again - I always feel better. It's a case of correlation rather than causation, though, I reckon. When I pluck up the energy to go outside and to get my hair sorted, it means I'm on the upward curve out of the pit of TV and white bread.

The avocados I bought pre-slump have gone bad. Now I'd put them in my lunch, but I'll have to get new ones first. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016


Yesterday we had our last New Year's party. An, my darling sister, may she be appreciated to the full by all who meet her, gave me the most perfect present I have ever received. I saw it and instantly began to cry. Hard. I am not a crier. I was as surprised as everyone else.

Her present is a postcard with a picture of erasers (I love erasers - their feel, their smell, their look) and on each of the erasers she has sewn a word, a phrase, something I ardently love. There are my favourite composers, my favourite pastimes, my favourite images even. There are the names of Babes and the children, there is HER - my sister, my soulmate. It says 'I know you.' It says 'I love you.' It says 'I know you love me as much.' It's not hesitant, it's not careful. It's full on, generous, honest. It's daring. It says 'I know you and it makes me love you.' It says 'I know you and what I see is worthy.' All the things we all need to hear and need to feel. All the things I need to hear and feel. All the things I feel towards her.

It's the best present I have ever had. I have framed it an hung it up in the living room underneath my favourite picture of her and me, so I can look at it every day. I'm going to photograph it and keep it in my phone, to look at when I'm not at home and I need to be reminded how lucky I am generally, and how lucky I am to have my sister.

Thursday, 14 January 2016


I'm sitting in air that is about 60% vomit. Babes assured me that the carpet would dry eventually, as it always has done in the past, and then he skipped off to work. Leaving me with a slightly queasy five year old (so going out seems a bad plan) and this air, which I think you could spoon bits out of.

Can you find the queasy boy?

Last night reminded me again how ridiculous life gets when you have babies around. Some kind of trauma flashback. Dealing with the torrent of vomit that came out of that boy left me emotionally so tired that I was in bed before nine (again). To be honest, this was not normal puking. First on the carpet and then in the kitchen, it came out the way it did in that Little Britain sketch - straight forward, in forceful jets. Not exaggerating, the puddle I had to clean up was two by three metres. Really. That's six by nine feet for all you dinosaurs out there. Completely crazy. But when you have little babies, that is such a big part of every day. I still don't understand how they manage to poo UP the way, and then down their sleeves again. But they do. Several times a week. And you get to a stage where cleaning sick off car seats is routine.

I hope the carpet dries quickly and that it will indeed not smell any more either. I can't decide if I should trust Babes's cleaning job on it and leave it alone so it dries ASAP or give it a good clean myself to eliminate whatever is still assaulting my nostrils, thereby risking making the carpet wetter and prolonging my agony.

I'm trying to get through the day by transforming the smell into a joyful thing. Because it reminds me that I no longer have to spend my whole day cleaning up behind a baby. It's just the odd day now. And even today I will have time to crochet and write and organise some more drawers.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Purging the mess and my mind all at the same time

I'm still obsessed with tidying. I received the new Marie Kondo in the post yesterday and set to reading it. What I have found most interesting so far, was her exhortation not to get rid of too much, not to discard for the sake of discarding. To make sure we keep what we love. It's okay to get rid of everything that doesn't spark joy, but if we don't keep the items that do bring us pleasure, then our lives will lose their shine. So far, so good.

Then this morning, I was reading Zen Habits, another favourite, and he is right there with me, his mind on tidying and reducing clutter. Only he, in his rules on tidying, gives this as his fifteenth rule:
15. Limit how many things you have. Consider limiting yourself to 30 pieces of clothing, or 30 books, or something like that. Get rid of everything else, don’t allow yourself to go beyond the limit. The individual limit you set is up to you, whatever feels slightly uncomfortable is good.
The last part struck me hard: whatever feels slightly uncomfortable is good. I can feel what he means. Unless it feels uncomfortable, you're not touching your soul, truly changing, truly decluttering your life.

And now I have a problem. Or not, really. I think I know the solution to this one: I'm more about joy than enforced minimalism. That's the problem with buddhism and asceticism and all the related -isms: sometimes it feels like enforced indifference. If you get truly unattached, surely there's less joy as well as less sadness. I'm feeling it keenly today. If I want to keep all the shoes I love, I will have to put up my depressed times as well.

Does that make sense to you? It feels like an obvious equation to me this morning. Keep the shoes, keep the bad days. As long as I hold on to true joy, true love, true pleasure - I must also hold on to the reverse.

Monday, 11 January 2016


I knitted a jumper for Charlie's doll a few weeks ago.

Before that, my knitting was restricted to scarves, blankets and cushion covers. But I wanted to use different stitches, have it go in and out around the bottom, have pooffy sleeves, have pretty joins. And I sat down and designed it, worked out the number of stitches I needed for each row, and set to work. And it was fine. It's not 100% perfect, but it does what I wanted it to do, and it looks like I wanted it to look. Charlie loved it.

The lesson? Everyone is making it up as they go along. Experts are people who have thought for slightly longer and practised a little more, but in the end they are just like you and me. Most things can be learned, worked out, done - you just need to dare to start. I've always looked up to the 'experts' too much. I'm the same with writing: I'm convinced that 'real' writers know all the secrets, have an easy time of it when they sit down at their desks, never come out with a cliché or a wrongly used phrase. Real writers don't have trouble getting published or feeling confident. Runners as well - 'real runners' wouldn't have injuries like I do. They wouldn't have trouble building up their training schedules. Real singers wouldn't pull the funny faces I pull. Real teachers wouldn't make as many mistakes.

I'm nearly finished knitting a cardigan for Babes. It's fine. It will be a little wide in the waist perhaps, but it will keep him warm. Afterwards, I'm going to knit a colourful dress for Marie. Then perhaps a jumper for myself. A black one. Unless my knitting craze has worn off by then. I do go off hobbies sometimes.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The life-changing magic of tidying

I'm completely obsessed with Marie Kondo's Magic of Tidying.

It has literally changed my life. I go around the house and my life asking myself for each item/idea/activity/person: 'Does this spark joy?' I'm living through a revolution.

Marie Kondo, the author, reckons it takes about six months to get your life straightened out her way. I am going strong so far. I am filing everything vertically (a revolution, I tell you) - except the children's jigsaws, which I tried to file vertically but then I found out that there is a limit to the method.

Here's what my sock drawer looks like now:

And here are my T-shirts and vests, also in a drawer, filed vertically, folded in six:

I'm reorganising the children's things as well. I finally have the courage to get rid of all the things I was saving for 'one day' (KonMari (the author's nickname) says: 'Someday means never'), all the things I was keeping for 'normal' (every day can be special and pretty - bye bye washed out T-shirts and trousers that are meh), and all the things I'd been given but didn't like. Also, all the things I was keeping because they were useful in the past, or represented memories but weren't out on display, or other people would think I needed to keep them, and so on and so on. I'm freeeeee!

Also, the Christmas tree has finally gone so my computer table is back in the living room. I'm hoping that I will post more that way. (And visit blogs more reliably - I'm on my way, I promise.) My laptop had been sitting under a pile of mess-to-be-tidied in the bedroom. (The mess is almost tidy. Give me another day.) I need to do some editing, badly, but have been procrastinating for days. Now I've tricked myself - the idea being 'come for the blogs, stay for the editing'.

And I will edit, after a couple more things. First, I need to change my screen photo, which is still a Japanese cherry blossom I've had there since Spring and that is long enough now. I can't decide if I will go for the photo of my socks or the one of my T-shirts. I think the socks, but rotated so they go left to right. Secondly, I need to order a book off Amazon because oh happy day, this book is out today:

It's the illustrated guide to my obsession. I have been eagerly awaiting this day. Seriously. People are going to think I'm being sponsored for this or something. No. I have just been counting the days until I could get that book. (Get it yourself! At least the first one. It's brilliant!)