Tag Archives: holidays

The latest from limbo-land

Well, things are pretty crazy here which is partly why there have been so few blogs. I was planning to post this a week ago and then last week happened. (Enough said on that front). It turns out that everything people say about moving house is true. Is it any easier when you’re not pregnant? I will spare you a post full of moaning and limit myself to a paragraph. I feel like we’re stuck in endless limbo with occasional stressful peaks (and did I mention how much I hate limbo?). Living on a building site for three months is not much fun either (they’re re-roofing our whole estate at the moment). The phrase ‘Chinese torture’ was used by a recent visitor to describe the experience. Jesse miraculously naps through everything, despite the fact that builders stand on the roof of his bedroom and hit huge slates with hammers every lunchtime. Meanwhile my nerves are torn to shreds.

A happy moment this past week - a trip to the Summer Pavillion in Hyde Park with some friends.

A happy moment this past week – a trip to the Summer Pavilion in Hyde Park with some friends.

There have been happier moments. We recently got back from a week of holiday up in Cambridge, which brought some welcome relief. I’m still readjusting my holiday-related expectations in light of having a toddler (it turns out all the things I used to do in Cambridge aren’t massively toddler-friendly). We had a ball though. We swam, we played, we dodged bikes. We accidentally crashed freshers’ fair and scooped up a bunch of freebies, including pizza, ice-cream, cookies, pasta sauce and a ‘big ass burrito’ (which was won by my husband’s fine darts-playing skills). In my day all I got was a pineapple which I absent-mindedly left in my wardrobe for the rest of the term until the musty smell drove me to investigate… But it was so good to see so many companies pulling together to encourage positive nutritional choices for today’s students.

We scored a babysitter one night when we were away and made it out for a mini-birthday celebration – burgers, fries and milkshakes at Five Guys (continuing our health trip) and then an outing to the movies to see Macbeth, which I thought was brilliant in loads of ways bit which didn’t have the emotional punch I was expecting. We were also staying in the house of some friends with the most extensive film collection I have ever encountered, so we caught up on a few recent releases – Mr Turner, Suite Française, Captain Phillips…and Andy probably took in a few more after I crashed out each evening. (And did I mention the life-saving joy of lie-ins every other day?!).

On our last evening I managed a solo outing to evensong at Kings College (along with a few hundred others) and had a magical time. Autumn is my favourite season and Cambridge is full of happy memories so I savoured every moment of my stroll through the city.

And otherwise we have been in the usual routines with housing related adventures on the side, and occasional moments of grace in the form of friends and outings. I’m just starting my final trimester, and while the baby still feels like a distant reality, everything is ramping up with pregnancy. I’m really feeling all those stairs. I glug indigestion relief like juice. I find, too, that I have fewer emotional resources with which to face the various domestic challenges which seem to come hurtling my way. I’m trying to be kind to myself, and Andy is trying even harder to be kind to me and look after us all. So we’re ok. I’d just really really like to move house before too much longer.

 

 

 

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Going on holiday with other people (and their children)

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We’re just back from two weeks of holiday (that’s the excuse for the latest radio silence) and I have two blogs for you about our adventures. The second one will cover our second week when it was just team Flan, and our reflections on holidaying in the UK as a young family. But we’re starting with group holidaying.

For the first time ever (since having a kiddo) we went on holiday with other people who weren’t related to us. Which was something of an experiment, and so I thought I’d tell you how it went, what was brilliant and whether we’re now converts to a new way of holidaying.

Since we got married we’ve really only holidayed on our own. Regular life tends to be relentlessly sociable and busy and so we have always tried to protect our downtime together and keep it quiet, But then once we had Jesse we realised that parental solidarity and sharing the load (especially around 5.45am) were hugely appealing, plus who doesn’t want playmates on hand to entertain your child? (I had visions of one brave dad entertaining all the kids simultaneously while the rest of us supped wine on the veranda).

There were 11 of us, all in, and we stayed in one big beautiful house in Port Isaac, on the north coast of Cornwall. Mercifully we were able to go outside of school holiday season (how does anyone afford holidays at peak time?), and sharing a house rental (and food bill) across three families made the whole thing way more affordable.

Here we all are. Except Matt who took the photo,

 

Our highlights of the week included sitting on the shore on Friday night listening to the Fishermen’s Friends sing sea shanties (they’re pretty famous).

We had a pretty good view

We had a pretty good view

Long afternoons on Polzeath beach watching the kiddos dart in and out of rock pools.

(and stop for crackers)

(and stop for crackers)

The ferry from Rock to Padstow, where Jesse joyfully demolished Andy’s ice-cream (bought at Rick Stein’s deli – the boy has classy tastes).

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And for what it’s worth, here are the lessons learnt from the great adventure:

1.Choose your companions well. I had a definite head-start here in that the whole thing was basically orchestrated by my two best buddies and myself, and we knew we liked each other. Two of us had lived together pre-marriage, and we’d certainly holidayed together before in our single days. It’s definitely easier to be with your favourite people rather than your partner’s favourite people, although I’m pretty sure the boys all like each other too…Or if not, they did brave faces well. So I guess really really making sure that you’re both down with the plan is pretty crucial before committing.

2. Don’t do everything together. Every family had different routines or habits. Our little man was up around 6am, and one of the other families wasn’t usually ready to hit the road much before noon (they did have triple the number of children). So we devised our own adventures, sometime meeting up on the beach later in the day, sometimes just for dinner. Getting a large group of people to agree a shared plan each day is way too much effort. A mixture of family time and group time worked great for us.

3. Snacks are really important. For all ages.

4. Pick a great location. We came up trumps here, and not just because we accidentally ended up in fictional Port Wenn where Doc Marten is set (if that means nothing to you, join the club. We were completely ignorant on arrival). We scored a beautiful big house (through friends of friends), where we had enough space not to need to kill each other, with incredible views, but which was also right on the doorstep of a beautiful village. Children of any age could set out on foot (with responsible adults…) and adventure down to the harbour or the cliff top or just the winding village streets. Beautiful sandy beaches were only a brief drive away, and there were loads of gorgeous pubs and restaurants for meals out.

5. Make the most of people power. Each couple had a great date night out, and we happily babysat for one another. Andy and I had an amazing seafood dinner, despite the fact that that he doesn’t really like seafood.

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It was a brilliant week and has got me thinking that I’d love to do more shared holidays. (Share the cooking! Share the cost! Share the wine! Eat other people’s snacks!) I have so many happy memories of family holidays growing up, but we never really went with other families, and I think it’s such a great thing for kids. Saying that, I can imagine scenarios where it might be a nightmare. If we went on holiday with people who liked to be really tidy we would probably drive them bananas. Or if our kids were all really different ages and weren’t interested in hanging out or doing the same kinds of things. Or if you just didn’t like the people so much. Parenting is a pretty intense thing to be doing around people who wind you up, whereas genuine parental solidarity – I can’t get enough of it.

Do any of you have good or bad experiences of group holidays?

 

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Chasing happiness

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We’re just back from ten days of holiday down in the west country, land of scones and clotted cream and the English Riviera (how I laughed at the very thought, but do you know, bits were actually quite convincing).  The weather was decidedly damp and grey, but in between sessions of umbrella twirling on the beach, this created plentiful opportunities for one of my favourite pastimes: sleeping.

It was also my birthday when we were away (and would you believe it, the sun finally made an appearance!).  One of the things Andy bought me was a book called A Private History of Happiness, which is a compilation of ‘moments of joy’ from the past couple of thousand years – recorded fragments from writers across the years from different corners of the world.

I went to bed at two o’clock, after having walked home through the deserted silent streets of the Luxembourg quarter, admiring the blue sky, the effects of moonlight and mist on the Luxembourg, the Pantheon, Saint Sulpice, the Val de Grace, the Observatory, and the boulevards, drowned in torrents of thought.   (Honore de Balzac, 1833)

It’s a beautiful collection to read, despite the verging-on-intrusive commentary offered after each extract spelling out the precise context of the joyful occasion, in case you’d missed any of the textual clues.  It’s a vicarious journey into other people’s precious memories.  I have yet to read a contemporary piece, and so all of the recorded pleasures are free from references to tvs and phones and movies and the like.  They are about friendship, or the weather, walking through cities and in the countryside, good food, literature and love.

It has made me think about what makes me happy; and how most often it is the things that creep up unexpectedly and surprise me with their goodness. When I stop and think, ‘am I happy right this moment?’ I feel much less sure and worry that I should be trying harder.

Thinking in this way reminds me of a class I once took in American literature, in which we talked about the USA’s Declaration of Independence and how it enshrines as an “unalienable” human right, “the pursuit of Happiness”.  The latest World Happiness Report puts the USA at number 17 in its country rankings, which suggests that the American dream hasn’t quite managed to delineate the pathway; but still, the fact that most of the top twenty ranking countries are from the West is more than a little distressing given that our apparently happiness-inducing lifestyles are entirely unsustainable when it comes to the earth’s resources.  If everyone in the world were to pursue ‘happiness’ along these models, we would need several planets to facilitate the project and it turns out we only have one.  But that’s not my main beef today.

I just don’t believe that the Western world has the pursuit of happiness nailed.  We’re more stressed and dissatisfied than ever.  I don’t think I’m alone in believing that having more money and ‘stuff’ (and debt) than ever has not made us any happier.

It brought me back to mulling over some wise words from mystic Thomas Merton:

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythms and harmony.  Let us, therefore, learn to pass from one imperfect activity to another without worrying too much about what we are missing.

And from Cardinal Newman:

God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not.  There is no rule about what is happy and good, what suits one would not suit another…Thus God leads us by strange ways, we know he wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way.  We are blind, left to ourselves we should take the wrong way, we must leave it to Him.

I don’t find it hard to believe that I might not know quite how to be happy, left to my own devices (apart from the obvious answer of my brand new Anne of Green Gables DVD box set).  And so instead I am choosing to be grateful for all the gentle ways happiness has sought me out in this past week:  In precious time with friends, walks with small people, sunny coves, cream teas, homemade birthday cards, weepy films, long lie-ins, rainbows, cuddles, outdoor swimming and time outside of the city.

Do you know how to be happy?

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Switching Off

As you read this, faithful followers, I will be far away from the internet in a remote French village.  Ah, the magic of blog scheduling.

I'll be somewhere that looks like this.

I’ll be somewhere that looks like this.

I’ve always been a big fan of holidays.  There were a few years when they didn’t really happen because I became overly-committed to “moving ahead with my life” and there were too many other important things to do (read “plays to be in”).  But that phase passed and they are one of the first things to get planned in a year.  Maybe not extravagant overseas holidays but times when we will stop working and thinking about work, and regroup. (In fact we usually just end up borrowing someone else’s house).

And then this year holidays have taken on a new hue with the need to make the most out of time away for just the two of us before our family size expands. (Here’s hoping it doesn’t translate into “We HAVE to enjoy ourselves; are we enjoying ourselves yet? Try harder!”).

As I look at my year, I can easily feel smug about my well-balanced diarising, and pre-planned breaks.  But then when I look at the smaller scale, it tells a more dismal story.

Too often I reach breaking point, or mini-meltdown point (I hide it well) where I’ve taken on too much and I just don’t know how to stop.  Like just a few days ago.  I was in the supermarket looking at meat to buy for dinner and almost burst into tears because I couldn’t decide.  I feel compelled by my commitments to see all kinds of things through which are too much, and the next holiday is too far away and how did I get in this state again?  I am crying out for a better rhythm in the day and in the week, not just the year.

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I was inspired a while ago by a link a friend sent to to a movement called Sabbath Manifesto.  It was started by a group of Jewish artists in search of a modern way to observe a weekly day of rest. (Their website states that “the group are all members of Reboot, a non-profit group designed to “reboot” the cultures, traditions and rituals of Jewish life.”)

I think I might have mentioned them before. I was intimidated by some of their principles – not least because there isn’t so much routine in my life a lot of the time, and Sunday might one week be a day off and the next two weeks might be full of rehearsals or speaking somewhere or travelling.  Hard, inflexible rules seemed impractical.

But then Andy and I were struck by one of their principles – their first commitment is to “avoid technology”.  It sounded strange but deeply appealing.  I have become more and more aware, especially in the last few months, how constantly I check email or twitter or facebook or bloglovin or Google+ – and I’m growing to hate it.  (It has got worse since being preggers and the excellent Lulastic has suggested it is related to my neocortex). So we decided a few months ago not to use the internet at all on Sundays.  Or to try. In fact I have been attempting not to use my computer. And it has been a beautiful and wonderful (if faltering) journey.

It slows me down.  It makes me take notice of my environment more, and appreciate real human interaction.  I read more, and take walks.  I’ve been on spontaneous picnics (I’m more of a planner by nature). I am becoming more aware of my limits and making peace with them.

I feel like it’s doing me, and doing us, some good.  It’s not the whole answer, but it’s a big help.

And now, a whole week without technology feels like a wonderful gift!

Do you have rhythms in your week that help you stay balanced and unstressed?

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