Metamorphosis

The last week or so has been like travelling through a dream. I am walking past the various homes we have imagined in the last year, long grass snagging my feet to which I pay little attention. I look backwards through a field. Clouds are grey, wind is pushing at my left temple, hair blows across my face. I turn my head into the wind once more but the wind has turned into a soft, warm breeze. The scene has changed. The field is gone. Instead there is a cottage. Roses climb over the front door, sunlight falls in shafts through the trees across the garden.

We waited and waited on the land. It looks like we have exhausted all the possibilities. It has all come down to the overage. This is a covenant with several beneficiaries, many of whom are charitable organisations. It states in very ambiguous language that if more than one dwelling, or perhaps if one dwelling with a larger footprint than the current house is built, then we would have 60 days to pay 30% of the increase in the value of the land. We could possibly get a figure on what that would be; almost certainly within the tens of thousands. But no one except the beneficiaries can tell us if our plans would trigger it. The ones we’ve never actually heard from at all, despite having asked several things of them. We tried surveyors; we tried solicitors. These types of case are really unpredictable if they go to court. And there’s no way we want to go to court. So we kept on waiting. Maybe they would respond.

And then we saw Rose Cottage. It’s not far from the land; a more sheltered spot with weeping willow and birch in the garden and roses around the door (not so much in February actually, but a front garden full of snowdrops). It has the kitchen/dining/living space we hoped for. And some really horrible carpets. Surely this can’t be ours? Seems like maybe it can.

On one hand, I don’t want to let the dream of the land and a self-build go. On the other, I know things change. Maybe when the kids are grown we’ll build a little hut in a field. Or maybe we will keep living this dream; it’s a good one. It’s not something we need to know. We have found contentment living in a little rented house. Now we need to take that with us into the next steps of this adventure.

Comparison

Today I did some painting. I’ve only just started to learn about how to use watercolours and I’m not rolling in natural talent. That’s ok, it’s not the point. Until it didn’t feel OK.

A curious thing happened a week or so ago. I’ve been doing online tutorials for about a fortnight and one evening we thought it would be fun for three of us to do one together. The other two people were two of my favourite people. Laid back, not at all competative. It was just a nice thing to do whilst hanging out in an evening. Except that then for me it wasn’t. No one said it, but at least to me my picture was obviously the worst. It was a picture of a goldfish and we were all doing the same thing. On mine the eye was too small. The shape wasn’t quite right. It was not good to look at it. It didn’t feel good to have painted it. Instead of being a fun, relaxing thing, it felt like a sad thing. I didn’t paint again until today.

That was pretty silly. My paintings are never going to be good enough to go on display, I’m not aspiring to be a great artist. I am realistic. I was just enjoying splashing paint around and watching the colours blend and swirl. And the comparison was entirely in my own head. On the actual evening, the comments went as far as “it was fun how he did the tail”, and “I like how the colours have mixed on his tummy”. Still I thought mine was awful. Maybe objectively it was. I certainly took the least amount of time to do it which is probably relevant to the outcome. I wonder why we ruin things by comparison. Which is to say, I wonder why I took all the fun away for myself by comparing my picture with the others. Those feelings were mostly internal and came entirely from me and three fish pictures. I also wonder if I could manage to not look at all three and think mine was the worst. I’m not totally sure I have control over that, which is a real shame as I would like to consciously decide not to mind. I suppose I’ve got over it and gone back to the paint pot and carried on. Maybe sometimes life just hurts a little and we need time to heal. I think I’m missing something.

A good thing that has come from the experience is that I’ve realised that I most enjoy quick painting, sploshes of colour and quick brush strokes. I’m just not a slowly and carefully sort of person. I never have been. It would be good to develop more of that; I have been trying and I think I’ve made some progress, but when it comes to things for fun that might not be my focus. That’s lead to the discovery of Steven Cronin’s watercolour tutorials on YouTube. They are really fun. He’s a great slosher of paint and I like how a lot of his pictures look. And I quite like how some of my paint-along pictures look too. Something I noticed quite quickly is that my pictures never look the same as his. I don’t think this is only because of his talent and experience. I think it’s also because we are different people so we make different things. I wonder if that’s why it hurts when I compare my pictures with others. Inside there is a connection between my picture and me. If my picture is a worse picture, perhaps I am a worse human. If that’s the connection I’m making no wonder it hurts. What an odd connection to make. There are some violent criminals who are excellent painters, and some extraordinarily altruistic individuals who don’t paint at all. And even that is a false dichotomy, trying to make good people and bad people, let alone tying that to a random skill like the wielding of a paint brush.

Instead of concluding that I am a poor painter and a bad person I should conclude that I’m just a person who enjoys playing with paint and that that has nothing to do with some unhelpful assessment of my value as a person. Maybe I can also realise that comparison is generally unhelpful and unnecessary but that it is hard to avoid. In which case, time to heal is no bad thing and can come with a little more understanding. It’s all about growth, after all.

Obviously the picture I’ve used is the one I think is the best that I’ve done. In the hope that people say “oh, that’s a nice picture”. Alas, growth takes time…

A little more to life

It’s been a while. A while since we had any news, and since I wrote here. The exciting thing has been that I’ve been writing elsewhere. From that point of view it’s been an exciting few weeks, in amongst the early winter vomiting bugs that so often stalk school playgrounds at this time of year. We were not spared. On the plus side, I was not the parent carrying the child who was carrying a sick bag out of school this week. Neither was Ben; we had had our turn. That kid was not going to get it all in the bag.

A few weeks ago I was feeling like my horizons had narrowed. I was seeing a lot of the same four walls. I really enjoy writing, messing around with words on a page. But you need a lot of self motivation to do that by yourself and with only four walls I was lacking motivation and inspiration. Then I had an idea.

I am a big fan of dungarees. Dungarees are what I feel best in if pyjamas aren’t an option. I have enough pride to recognise that there are a lot of situations in which pyjamas are not an option. Then I discovered Lucy and Yak. And now I just wear dungarees. As well as the dungarees, the ethos of this company really resonates with me. They set up the best way they could, with the view that they wanted to make choices that were for good rather than profit, although they still have to make a profit. They did the best they could and now they are making it better, bit by bit. This fits with how I feel about life. A little better, bit by bit. Not perfect, knowing that sometimes there are better choices but trying to move towards them even if I’m not quite there right now.

My idea was that I could write their blog: find out about the fabrics they use, issues in the fashion industry, look for feel good news, maybe some short stories. Broaden my horizons, find out about stuff I might not research otherwise. And they said yes! So if you check out their blog, that’s me! 🙃

We are still waiting on the land. Waiting for the trustees to agree to a survey and valuation which will provide an independent view on whether our plans would trigger the overage clause (and if so a big bill – hopefully it will tell us how big..). Then we hope we will know if this plan can move forward. Can’t help wondering if they are playing a game with us.

In the meantime, there’s more to life.

Clouds lifting

Today the cloud lifted. I’d been trying not to look at the cloud but it hung heavy and closed the doors for a while. I don’t know why, or quite how long it stayed or why this morning it felt better. I am glad it feels better. It was odd though. Suddenly I could run faster. I’m just finishing the Couch to 5k programme. It worked, now I can run for a good while and keep going. Yesterday I didn’t go for a run. The cloud was crouching too low, my legs were too heavy, doing anything was hard. Today I could run, and faster than last week, much faster than yesterday. Strange, the physical impact of something that I assume is primarily in my head.

At the weekend we were away camping with friends. It was nice, the place was pretty, the food was good. It was really hard. Somehow the doors were closed and only the dark colours could get through. A bit like when in Harry Potter the Death Eaters put a charm on the stairs so only those with the Dark Mark can get through. Eventually the jinx is broken but it’s pretty gloomy in the meantime.

It would be useful to understand why the cloud descended, and what made it blow away. I’m not certain there’s an answer. Perhaps there are factors. I found it very emotional moving out of my parent’s house and wanted to surpress that as much I could, for everyone’s sake. It was busy moving house, and everything takes a bit more effort, finding the things in the house, finding my way out of it. I’m really good at getting lost. Or maybe for a while my brain didn’t make enough of what it needs to make me feel happy and then one day it did again.

I think this is something a lot of people go through. It’s not the first, or the worst time for me. I’m really glad it’s past. At least for now.

Not in public

There are lots of things I like. One of them is watching tennis. Not such a good player but I reckon I could commentate. Except that it would be quite exposed. Not as much as the players obviously. We don’t always get to see them at their best.

Serena Williams was playing at the US Open finals on Saturday. She totally lost it when she felt she was being accused of cheating. I guess you’re so pumped up, so competitive and combative on court you’re already quite close to losing it one way or another. It wasn’t a good look.

Most days I can feel myself drawing towards the line over which I will lose it. I suspect one of the best things for me about having children is the opportunities it affords for developing patience. I didn’t think I had a particularly fiery temper, wasn’t aware of my threshold for patience until I had children. Now I see myself a little more clearly and can see where work is needed.

What I’m really glad of is that so far I’ve managed to not totally lose it in public. It must feel terrible to have lost it in front of millions, even if many concede that she had a point. And each day I’ll keep trying not to lose it. Sometimes I’ll succeed. Those are the best days.

Days pass

Funny the difference from one week to another. Last week, packing and managing some big emotions, this week unpacking and managing different big emotions. No wonder I feel tired.

We wanted to move to this area and I’m glad it has worked out, one way or another. But it was really hard moving out of my parent’s house. We treated our stay a bit like a holiday, at least when we were both there which was less often than you might expect. I really like my parents. It was fun to share this part of our life with them. Of course, we will still share our lives but it is different when you live together. There is good and bad. Mostly there was good, taken with a glass of wine.

It’s interesting to see how, because we are on the move more often, I may be noticing the passing of time more. A few months there, three months here and half a year has gone by. Having a baby makes you notice that too – so much changes for them in the first year. Today I’m glad of that. Birch has said “uh uh uh” meaning “make it all better” for a lot of hours today. It felt like a long one. But now the sun is setting through the bathroom window and the scented candle is bringing the tranquility it advertises and the day is past.

Enjoy the pie

So the summer ends. It was lovely. We did a lot of camping and went to Kent which is just about one of my favourite places to go and was as beautiful as I remember. Then we moved house and the children started at their new school and all of a sudden summer is over and a new style of life has begun.

We’ve taken a rental house as near to the new school as possible. It’s nice. The neighbours brought us a freshly made pie the day we moved in. The house is as close as is possible to exactly the same as the house we sold, complete with hatch (we knocked that wall down which made the hatch rather larger). That’s quite strange. It wasn’t like we thought that was the best ever house but it has worked out that we are in a replica. At least the furniture fits.

Children are amazing. They were nervous but it didn’t much show as they walked into their new school and began to find their way. Red said he didn’t have a snack on his first day as he wasn’t sure how that worked, but the second day he did. Good strategy: observe and then act. Myrtle went straight for the pancake; Isobel said that’s what you’re meant to do. Good strategy: check with a friend. They’ve both done so well. I am so relieved. Now I think maybe they can handle anything. I think maybe they think that now too.

The wait on the land seems a bit interminable. Still waiting for the mysterious trustees to meet and confirm that we won’t get a bill for tens of thousands as soon as we get planning permission. Can’t go ahead and buy before we know that so on we wait. And wait.

In the meantime, we will enjoy the pie.

Transition

Birch is wondering whether it would be fun to walk by himself. The big children walked quietly into their new classes for a taster morning at their new school, and we walked round a rather dingy three bed semi for rent, a bit like our old one but not so nice. We are in transition. We are always in transition, just sometimes it’s more obvious than others. This time last year we were making the change from a family of four plus cat to a family of five. The cat is currently on holiday but we hope he’ll come back and be our “plus cat” again. We miss him.

Maybe that’s the trickiest thing about times of transition. You don’t quite know what you’ll miss when the change comes, you also know you’ll never get there, which is to say that you never get to a place of no change, at least not this side of the Big Box.

It did feel like a lot was changing today. Myrtle was pleased to be in purple rather than green. She still seems so small but she set her chin purposefully and in she went. What a fantastic thing, to watch your children face a challenge and have what they need to take it on and come out the other side, smiling. They both had a good morning at their new school. Myrtle found a girl who shares her birthday so obviously they will be friends. I think it was harder for Red; he’s going into year five where the friendships are firmer and the new children will always feel new. He is one of three new starters in his class which may help, and the teachers didn’t put the new kids together which is a good sign. They felt welcome, and Red’s class had a discussion about a book we have at home (The Giving Tree) so he was well prepared.

I am so relieved and very thankful. They are going to be OK. It’ll get harder, but won’t ever seem quite so scary again. And they turned out to be resilient and courageous. It wasn’t too much. It won’t be for me either.

Still waiting on the land.

Monotony and Contentment

Someone once said (to me) that they crave monotony and so they would hate to do what we are doing. This has played on my mind a bit, and led me on to thinking about contentment.

On the spectrum of monotony vs novelty (I spent some time wondering what the opposite of monotony was. This is my best guess so far.) I reckon I fall on the side of novelty, but not near the extreme end. Change can be good, it can be fun to try new things. But if life is in a comfortable place it can be a change for the worse. Hard to know until the change happens. I would say, I like my novelty in bite sizes portions. When we discovered we were having Birch we both thought of all the changes this would bring, including moving house. It was much more manageable in terms of brain power to decide to manage one change at a time. Turns out we were right about all the changes that would follow, but one at a time is enough.

It is probably a good thing that Ben loves novelty and change. When I told him about the monotony conversation he was pretty much aghast. Crave stability, certainty, consistency, but not monotony! Another word for boring. Music without tune or harmony. Not really music at all.

I think what change brings, and what not changing protects against, is not knowing how you’re going to get through the day. One of the biggest challenges when I had Red as a new baby was not knowing when he would sleep (not really ever), when it would be possible to both boil a kettle and drink a cup of tea. There was nothing predictable in our day so it was really hard to pace myself, navigate a route from beginning to end. Before a big change, it’s a bit the same, you don’t know the shape of your day so it’s hard to envisage getting safely through it. However, since having Red we have moved house four times so far. What you learn is that there is no escaping monotony. There’s no running away from it. Whatever place you’re in, there will be the same jobs to do, the same routine. It takes a few weeks of heavy sat nav use to find your way around and then the roads are familiar, the coffee tastes the same.

There is importance in noticing these things. If we were doing this to escape monotony we will fail to escape. If we think this path in and of itself leads to contentment we will find we are wrong. This is excellent news. Contentment is a decision which can be taken at any point. We don’t need to finish in order to get there. If we wait until then, it will elude us. If we can achieve it now, it will travel the road with us.

For contentment to travel at our side we need to accept the monotonous and provide the harmony for ourselves. This is something Ben is really great at. It is something to strive for and to enjoy as a choice.