The cards.

Perhaps part of my stationery fascination (girls of 1970s may ‘get’ this) I love Christmas cards.  I am not sure why – maybe it is something I perceive as part of being grown up – to send and receive such cards.  i normally think about the ones I select and mail out.

Here is is the norm to find a good photo of your kids or whole family and use this shot together with a ‘happy holidays’ type sentiment and have them mass printed and then just put into an envelope and mail out.

There are a few things about this i find;

  1. Perhaps it is a British thing (?) but there seems something a bit showy offy about sending the perfect photo out of your kids this way.
  2. If you see these kids/families every day at school , why do you need another photo of them all carefully posed?
  3. It is a little non personal.  Sure you are seeing little Lucy and Bart hamming it up for the cameras but the printed caption of who it is from and what it is wishing you has no personal message – not even writing the name of the receiver……
  4. At some stage it will be put in the trash and i hate the idea of someone putting a photo of my kids in the bin!

But I know there are some folk who would like to see how my kids are – how they have grown and what hairstyles they are presently rocking. So sometimes I put in a photo.  And I still feel a bit braggy and still hate the idea of the photos going in the bin.

But it also feels a bit of a poor man’s brag to put a photo in like this.  Especially compared to the carefully photoshopped/designed cards.  Even though my cards always have a written note in and not a round robin type letter.

I send out maybe 50 cards.  And we usually receive about the same back.  Today was probably my last day for mailing cards out – you know – the ones I have forgotten to send and yet have received.  By this time in the ‘holiday season’ I really can’t be arsed with it – my sentiment is running low.  And as in previous years I wonder what is the point of these sodding cards.  As we are going away this year I am not even really putting them out.

I wonder how long before the card tradition really dies out?  Bad for the environment/laziness etc? Love it or loathe it?

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You’ve got mail.

You know what I miss which is really totally lame?  I miss letter boxes.  The ones on the front door where the postman drops the mail through – normally sometime during the morning.

Over here in the different houses we have had a varying type of mail delivery.  Only once did we have a letter box with a flap and that was in a GARAGE door….. so everything fell onto the floor of the garage.

Usually here there is a mail box on a post near the road and you collect the mail from there. Since living here we have had mail stolen from said box and thieves can take cheques and use a special chemical to wash ink of your cheques and put their names on them and thus cash cheques made out to you.

Despite your paying to have the mail box installed – and you picking which ever type of container you want, the Post Office here ‘owns’ the mail box.  Makes no sense.  If the mail box becomes inaccessible the post office does not have to deliver your letters etc.  Warped system in my mind but hey ho.

The one thing I like about the system here is that if you are going out of town you can fill in an official form and have the post office ‘hold’ all your incoming post until you return. I filled one of these forms out for our forthcoming trip – starting 21st of this month….

Last Saturday we received no mail.  Monday we received no mail  Hmm.  I called up and they informed me I had put the mail on hold.  I asked them to look at the dates on said form they had received and they read out that it was to start on 21st.  I pointed out it was not yet that date.  They agreed – said they would deliver the mail the next day.  And they did.

However the next day I was in and out of the house in the car – passing the mailbox at the end of my driveway.  It was also the day to get the trash cans picked up (bin day).  When I returned form shopping the trash cans had been emptied but the mail box had been smashed – still upright but almost taken off the concrete post.  I asked Hubby if he knew anything about it as he has been home.  He had heard and seen nothing but thought it was too much  of a coincidence that the big trash truck had been by and the mail box was damaged….I spoke to the company and they said they would investigate.  I wondered if the damage would be an excuse for the Post office to refuse delivery…. Hmm.

I drove out again and on my return saw a large car near the mail box.  A car I did not recognize.  I parked and went over to it – it was by my smashed mail box.  A blond woman got out and introduced herself as someone who had just bought a house a few doors away – and who claimed she had been driving her partner’s truck and had backed into my mailbox – had not had any paper to leave a note so had come back in her own car to leave her details and offer to pay for the damage.

I asked her if she was okay herself (she is expecting) and she said she was.  She was embarrassed more than apologetic. I would have been mortified had I done that in a new neighborhood where I was about to move to.  I now have to get it fixed and right before the holidays that is going to be hard…..

So since then we have had mail – but who knows if they will remember to hold it when we do leave town.  I am not too confident about any of it – the post office, the repair I need, the post remaining upright or the new neighbour actually coughing up the dosh.  Hey ho.

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Missing.

I volunteer at a senior home here and inevitably some of the folk there die.  Sometimes they grieve alone and other times they appreciate all the other people around them.  One lady lost her husband of 60+ years.  He had an illness that whilst not terminal, wasn’t going to improve and in a way she was already grieving for him before he passed away.  She seems quite stoic overall but today she shared that Christmas was hard as there were a lot of people who still obviously didn’t know of his death and so she was finding it upsetting receiving cards addressed to them both.  She felt in no mood to send Christmas cards of her own – nor write letters to these people explaining that she was now a widow.

This time last year I was going to England as my gran was very ill in hospital.  Despite the decorations on the ward it was a non event there.  I stayed for a week and visited twice a day and it was strange wailing onto the floor as it was as though Christmas had been cancelled there.  I could not stay for the event but I asked the nurses if I should leave presents and they told me she would not really understand at all so I had best not.  I did take her Christmas cards the kids had made and collected the mail from her house which included a surprising number of Christmas cards from her friends.  She looked quite blank as I put them near her bed.

It was strange going through my old fashioned paper address book this year (I like old school).  To see her physical address in there and know the house is empty and up for sale – the telephone disconnected. I actually got a new address book and transposed many addresses – hers not being one.  There were not other people who have died  – but some that I really don;t keep in touch with – not even a card at Christmas.  Others that have moved and not maintained contact.  So is life.

I recall getting a round robin letter included in a card many years ago.  In this letter, old school friend explained in the first paragraph that she and her husband had split up.  Many paragraphs later but in the same Christmas newsy was – her new fellow was introduced before she signed off!  Almost as memorable as the one from a family who shared that their dog had recently passed away but they were still considering whether or not to sue the vet!

I know the season is hard on those who have lost family members.  It also is a horrible time I imagine for those with sick relatives where they know this may indeed be their last Christmas together.   You can only try and cherish your time together and hope for memories to last….

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You remember the worst ones.

I was listening to something on the radio today about Christmas Day.  The way that it often falls to the mother in the family to get things going – the planning ,the present buying, the food shopping, the cooking.  It is a great deal of organization and planning and sometimes we set ourselves ridiculously high standards and the stress levels mount and to be honest, we enjoy very little of the whole event.

There were a couple of points that really struck me – that everyones’ attitudes add to the ambience of the day.  You get one sulking and it can cause havoc to the mood.  Someone mentioned that their mother would feign sickness when she did not feel appreciated enough….bringing guilt and a downer to the whole event.

Another mentioned the times the food had gone wrong and especially with guests visiting, this causing shame and embarrassment but was the time that has stuck out in everyones’ memories since.  The implication that the times it DOES go right – when everything goes well, those are the years which you forget down the line and don’t stay with you.

I don’t have specific memories of Christmas as a child.  Having a birthday near Christmas I was often given ‘one present for birthday and Christmas.’  I remember a few presents from family friends and that this seemed over generous as presents didn’t come my way often.

I do remember a time that a school friend – new to the area, popped in with her parents before Christmas and GAVE ME A PRESENT.  This was not the norm – a friend giving a gift…. and no doubt expecting one in return.  I can’t remember what was given to her a few days later – it would have been quite a chore I think – my gran having to buy something specific.  I DO remember that a family member came over and STOLE MY WRAPPED PRESENT that the friend had just given me – from under the tree.  This led to a lot of anguish.  First there was the disbelief that my ‘cousin’ had actually stolen it.  Then there was the whole ‘how do you thank someone for a present when you have no idea what it was?’  And then there was the huge accusation where the theft was acknowledged but played down.  Jerem.y Ky.le has nothing on my family then.

A few years later I recall my gran getting in a huge strop on Christmas Day.  I am not sure we even had a tree up that year.  We had a hand me down plastic tree from a friend of a friend.  But that year, my gran was in one of her ignoring me phases where she would literally not speak to me or cook or anything.  I think I was maybe 12.  She started decorating (as in step ladder and paint) the living room on Christmas Day. As you do.  Protesting.  There were many years where she had alienated all family and that must have been one of those times.

As soon as I got a job (aged 13) I worked on Christmas Day.  Not only was it time and a half in wages  but it was a far better atmosphere than anything I had going on at home.

Because Christmas was so awful growing up I try and make it a happy time with my lot now.  I over indulge them in my Hubby’s eyes but I know compared to many families we really don’t.  No gifts of TVs or phones.  No big games consoles.  No crazy expensive trainers.  Hubby grew up in a happy family where gifts weren’t what it was all about.  And I get that – but we differ somewhat.  He is paranoid about us spoiling the kids where as I want them to have a good day.  I know a shrink would have a field day with my ‘still making it up’ years later.

One of my most miserable married Christmases here was when pregnant with my last child… I was suffering and not sleeping and the in laws were over here staying.  They did nothing to help so it was cooking for 7 people whilst 36 weeks pregnant and going to the ER on Christmas Day night as I knew things weren’t right.  Perhaps it was my father in law’s Christmas spirit questioning the kids (they were then 7, 5 and 3) on what presents they had got that morning and when they couldn’t remember everything, declaring that he was right that they were spoilt rotten and didn’t deserve any of it.

This year I have not decorated the house apart from a small (18 inches) table top tree as we are going away.  It looks sparse but it hasn’t changed any of the sentiment inside.  We have very non-Christmas weather though – it should be winter here!  People come out here to ski!  It was high 60s and shorts and flip flop weather today!

It is how you feel on the inside that counts…. two weeks and it’ll all be over!

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What to say

Despite the statistics of 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage I was extremely lucky and defied the odds.  Our first pregnancy we did not tell anyone until the ‘safe’ 12 weeks had passed.  Second time around I did not want to keep quiet as I felt if anything did go wrong I would want to be able to talk about it and share my grief.

A lot of friends though were not so lucky.

This week one of my kids came home from school with the news that a teacher had been affected by even worse news.  The pregnancy – which had been shared and given congratulations all around was way past the 12 week mark – past the half way mark in fact but latest tests show there will not be a healthy baby.  Birth in some form will still have to take place.  A cruel pain on top of unimaginable circumstances.

My child was very emotional – a disbelief at the facts and also not knowing how to accommodate their own grief at the news.  An anger, albeit much removed from the situation and an unfathomable comprehension that said teacher’s life will never quite be the same again.  A different form of education but one lesson I feel will forever mark their souls,

‘Rest in peace’ does not seem adequate.  The grieving of said family will be an everlasting burden.  Words seem meaningless.  Pain and anger will suffice right now.

The world just isn’t always fair.

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At our age….

Most of our friends here and in UK are in their 40s or 50s (those older ones are mainly Hubby’s friends)……  but we seem to know a TON of people who are dealing with issues to do with elderly parents.

There are the ones who had not expected a dad to still be alive having been given a grim prognosis a couple of years ago. He is failing rapidly but still here and enjoying the time he has left.

There is the one who has had medical issues for years but has had a serious incident whilst overseas.  Medical insurance was in place but tests were administered differently and getting him back to his home country proved difficult.

There is the one whose father just died this year and the mother is getting a new lease of life which is far better than her being inconsolable but not at all what anyone expected.

We too have the ongoing issues with trying to help family who refuse to be helped and being dismissed as ‘doing nothing’ because we live 1000s of miles away.

But as well as the elders’ issues we also have a lot of friends who are divorcing/separating at present.  Hubby seems to hear more of this which is ironic as I don’t consider him to have a great deal of friends who ‘confide’ in him – although the latest couple – the bloke had indeed shared his woes a few years ago.  He had not expected us ever to meet his wife so perhaps he embellished his description of things.  He looked almost sheepish when we did meet said wife (soon to be ex-wife) as a lot of things he had implied just didn’t seem to be true.  Their decision to split was more of a surprise to me as they have a few kids.  The financial divide will be major as there are some big business assets.  I think he had worried more about that than the split’s ramifications for his kids’ perhaps.  I think his wife was ok with the status quo truth be told.

Another has shared that his wife’s no longer as exciting as she once was.  Jeez – maybe that is because she is in the midst of raising 4 kids under the age of 6 whilst you have changed professions and continue to try and ‘find yourself’ – forgive my lack of sympathy.

Who amongst us can look at ourselves and say we are the exact same person as when we said  ‘I do’ at the alter?  Not just in looks or excitement but perhaps also on the score of views and life experience.  You can only hope to stay on the same page as your friends and partners and we all know we have had those ‘best friends’ who you no longer see and just send a Christmas card to each year rather than the living in each others’ pockets as you may once have done.

I am not sure that those who have split and remarried would say their grieving was the same as having lost a parent – perhaps they would say it was a different sort of pain.  But the memories are still there as part of your life cycle I guess. After parents have gone.  After loves have been lost.  Moving on, together or not.

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This week…

…I fell asleep at Heathrow airport when my flight was delayed and I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

…I watched a sniffer dog find illegal plants in someone’s luggage.

… I met someone who claimed you have to pay rent on burial plots in a certain European country so the bodies are not removed to a non marked plot….

… I didn’t get to see one of my kid’s dates as apparently I am TOO EMBARRASSING.

… I sat at a concert primarily for grandparents and worried that people may think I am already a grandparent myself.

…. I nearly lost it with a driver who was taking me from point A to point B and was loudly chewing gum in such a confined space – one of my pet peeves.

…I already started panicking about buying Christmas dinner supplies seeing as we land in Scotland only on December 23rd….

…. I watched my eldest son come down armed with a baseball bat when our burglar alarm went off by accident in the middle of the night.

….I decided I am pleased to be home in America.  Despite everything.

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Jetlag….

…. is a bitch.  But I am so so glad to be back in the ‘homeland.’

As always the first day is full of mixed emotions…. managing the luggage situation – the excitement of traveling alone- hearing British accents once again and it taking a while to realize these are the norm here as I am back in Britain!  Having said all that the thing I LOVE LOVE LOVE about London is hearing all the accents…. the French, Italian, Spanish (usually Spanish Spanish not Mexican), Russian.  I LOVE the international flavour here and it makes me realize that where we live, despite our having the accents and being ‘foreign’ – it really isn’t an international place… even up in the ski resorts.

It is interesting looking up in London and seeing the architecture and even the graffiti on some buildings… seeing the tell tale signs of the replacement plaster where windows have been changed… the oddness of a door on an upper floor with no balcony….. do the people in that flat open the door to throw trash down or something?  Stepping outside there would just be a suicide leap.  Going past on the trains and the tube (which I love to get the snap shot of society) and seeing the window panes – some frosted, some clear and trying to guess what the use is… the cleaning bottles – probably a kitchen or a bathroom – with flats one every level then you often get the snap shot of the apartment within from the view from outside…..

I love being back here.  It worries me sometimes how much – or is it just the grass always being greener?

 

 

 

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In and out.

I volunteer once a week with the local library and we go to different senior stops or ‘old peoples’ homes’ where most of the time the ‘clients’ live independently in their own apartments and then mingle for food/activities etc.  We take a variety of products from books with normal print to the larger print versions, audio books and movies.  I have done this for over six years now and just like anything you have your favorite people there and you learn a little about them.  Some you know will want to talk politics.  Others are very matter of fact and tell you that they are ready to die….. as they check out their books and ask if they can have them for two or four weeks….

As well as seeing limitations creep in….. when they can no longer manage regular sized print, to going to larger print, to only being able to listen to books, then so too do their circumstances change.  One lady just lost her husband of SIXTY years.  She is actually doing quite well – he had been ill for a good year or so and she knew he would never really bounce back from this so in a way his final departure was a release.  She is not the only spouse to have handled a death this way.

This week one of the sprightly ladies who was 102, died.  She had read a lot – regular print, not even reading glasses needed.  She was always chatty and took a pride in her appearance.  Apparently she had decided last week that she had had enough.  She was ready to go.  She had taken to her bed (she had been walking unaided the previous week – seemed physically very fit) and basically didn’t do much.  She saw her friends (it was a friend of hers who shared this with me) and explained her reasoning.  She knew her own mind.  She had her 70+ son by her side and she slipped away on her terms.

I admire her in so many ways.

One goes out and…. my friend (younger) just had her second baby.  Her firstborn came into the world in quite a dramatic way so she explained that this delivery whilst planned out was much easier.  He is adorable.  I was sharing with her that the first night in hospital – whether it is baby number 1 or 4 or 6 (I imagine) – there is something just so damn precious about the mom and the baby (and nurses popping in and out) – and those first getting to know you hours stay with you forever (providing you weren’t too high as a kite on drugs).

So an interesting week.  Just all makes you observe, evaluate and ponder. A goodbye MJS, you did it on your terms and good on you!  And welcome to the world little man.

Onwards.

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So where are we now?

Last week I just happened to be on twitter (rare) and I saw a link to someone whose blog I read way back when and had actually forgotten about.  Probably because they posted so infrequently.

In her ‘last post’ she described how blogging has changed for her in the last 5 years or so and how before, she would have written quite happily about her kids and feelings and various takes on life but now, the t’internet is such a different place… with accusations and venom flying somewhat…and how her kids’ privacy is part of the issue she doesn’t ‘over share’ too much.

I read it and totally got her reasons for stopping.  I will miss her updates.  She mentioned her kids in passing and even in doing so I realized how far they had come… the home schooling posts turned into kids off to uni and it sort of hit me that she really hadn’t shared a lot for absolutely ages.  Life goes on and before we know it, the kids move on and spread their wings and it sort of all works out or rather a whole lot of other worries about the kids come about.

I never write really for advice, nor do I write for financial gain.  I have nothing to plug.  My views are quirky but rarely radical enough to cause offense (I hope) but also I just write for me.  I don’t really need replies.  That is not why I choose to write.  And whilst I appreciate circumstances change and some blogs go from almost daily to hit and miss, I am not sure when and why I will continue to write.  But it is my choice to continue or stop.

I’ve ‘done’ the baby years, the pre-school worries and now I am worrying about university and college applications for the 2nd kid.  I am a seasoned ex-pat and still don’t feel at home totally here or there.  I have survived the massive building projects we have had going on and the various strains of a husband with a high pressure job.  I have some kids who have different learning styles and we have all range of schools in our lives.  It is no picnic.  It is not anything you can necessarily learn from.  I am very blessed in many ways.  I am also very damaged on other fronts.  Some things are blog worthy and others never will be.  But the content is all mine.  And as long as it makes sense to me then I will be here.

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