Ten things I’ve learnt from my daughter

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1. Be present.

It’s really boring watching someone play on a smart phone when you want to engage with them. I was trying to be careful not to use my phone around her too much. At meal times phones are banned for everyone but it’s too easy to pick it up for a quick check of messages, flick through twitter, instragram updates etc. and I’ve got increasingly worse at this recently. Or I did until I was sat next to my daughter in her playpen she reached up and grabbed my phone and then spent 20 minutes playing with it. I tried to engage her in activities we could both do but it was too late she was lost to the machine. Well played, baby, well played.

2. Ability to adjust to new sleep patterns

Lack of sleep was one of the things I feared before my daughter was born. I focused on this because there were other things I feared that I couldn’t possibly know how they would work out, I did, however, already know that I can be a bit of a grouch when I’m tired. It’s certainly not been a piece of cake adapting and I do have a new found love of caffeine, but it’s also not been so terrible. Now we are at a point when the little one (mostly) sleeps through the night and I’m grateful for that, all the more so when the blooming cats don’t decide I should wake up at 5am and feed them!

I’m starting to miss those before child (BC) lie-ins less and less, I quite like being up and about, having already done a trip to the park or market or whatever, and ready for lunch before I’d even have gotten up in my child-free days.

3. Enjoy the gifts you are given

Mostly playing with my daughter is an exercise in she wants everything at once, so if I pick up a toy she wants it, if I pick up another one she wants that too until before I know it she is resembling Smaug sitting a top a hoard of treasure that no-one else can touch. Recently though there has become an element of shared interaction in her play, so it may be that I will shake the egg shaker, she will take it to shake and then will give it back to me.

With food we are fortunate that so far our baby is a pretty enthusiastic eater, she happily and readily eats most stuff we give her. In the last few weeks she has decided that it is quite entertaining to occasionally try to feed us and it is genuinely delightful to eat half-chewed up apricot because my daughter wants to share it with me even if she sometimes changes her mind and then tries to pluck said apricot from my mouth.

4. You can always be wiped down and change later

The only way to eat watermelon is to squish it in your hands, let the juice run down your elbows and mush it into your face, you can always be wiped down and, if needs be, changed later. Sometimes life just needs to be grabbed in both hands with big squidgy fistfuls and crammed in to maximize enjoyment. Sure you might get a bit messy along the way but don’t let a bit of potential stickiness put you off from really just giving into the good stuff from time-to-time.

5. Take time to stop and stare

Seeing my child stare in wonder at the everyday things I used to take for granted has caused me to take time to stop and stare too.

Wriggling your fingers is fascinating. How do they work? What makes them do that? How is it I think to move them and they move?

Recently I was showing the teeny one rain during a storm, telling her how it comes down from the sky and why it is important to make the plants grow. We were in the dry from our covered balcony area and I stretched out my hand to try and catch a rain drop, then my little girl unfurled her hand and as she felt a drop of water looked at me in surprise. There is a lot to be amazed at in the every day and her wonderment is contagious.

6. Holidays can be a time to relax

BC I saw holidays as an opportunity to cram in as much stuff as humanly possible to make the most of visiting a place I assumed I’d never return to because when there is so much world to see why waste time returning to places you’ve been before? When I got preggers we did a couple of trips when I had to start to slow down because rushing about just wasn’t possible. We’ve travelled quite a lot with the little one and, although a lot of that entails somewhat manic dashes around the UK trying to absorb as much time with friends and family as possible, we have also managed a couple of actual holidays too.

My approach to these has changed racially, now I think that managing to do a couple of things that I couldn’t do at home and spending the rest of time relaxing in nice surroundings is pretty great. A gently foray here and there is more than enough and returning to places in the future doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea. Consequently holidays are now much more relaxing and rejuvenating.

7. Sources of amusement are all around

Mummy jumping is entertaining. Daddy moving you in and out of view of your reflection in the mirror is worth a throaty chuckle. Cats standing up to take treats are hilarious. Life doesn’t need to be taken seriously all the time and there’s a lot to laugh about.

8. Communication is more than words

I sat eating some toast and the little one came up to me at the edge of her playpen, pointed at my toast and then at her mouth. No need for words there, the message was pretty clear. I didn’t share with her my toast but did give her some watermelon so we could snack together.

There are so many ways to communicate without language but not being able to rely on words really brings this home. Most importantly I can communicate that I love my girl without her needing a grasp of words to understand this.

9. If at first you don’t succeed…

My daughter’s patience and willingness to try to learn and master new things like trying to form words, eat without help and stand up and walk is really inspiring. Even though she gets tongue tied, covered in gloop and falls down over and over again, and sometimes there may be a bopped head and tears involved, she doesn’t allow her failures to put her off. Her patience and willingness to keep practicing is really inspiring so I’m trying not to use my frustrations with language to prevent my from practicing and improving my French, if she can do it so can I.

10. My capacity to love is limitless

For a long time before my daughter arrived, long before she was even a remote possibility, I had worried I may be too selfish to be a mother, to really be able to put someone else’s needs before my own on a constant and consistent basis. I’m not a selfish monster, I’m quite capable of putting others first from time to time but the idea of putting my needs as secondary to someone else’s on a systematic basis just sounded implausible. Sure I could quite happily sit several hours longer than planned to if my cat sat on my lap and didn’t want to be moved, but I could also shoot that same cat in the face with a water pistol when they decide to bang on my wardrobe doors for the umpteenth time in the early hours of the morning.

When my child was born those fears disappeared and I learnt that love doesn’t come in limited quantities that you have to balance against competing needs and priorities. I can still love myself, my husband, cats, friends and family and love my baby without any of those losing out in the equation. And my capacity to love grows every days as I love my child more and more deeply the more time I spend with her and better I get to know her.

 

 

 

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Ten reasons to be thankful

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Last week I celebrated my first ever thanksgiving dinner, where a very good American friend, bought me and a whole bunch of other great people together to share the traditional thanksgiving feast. As a Brit I don’t necessarily understand thanksgiving but it felt great to be embraced by the tradition and taking a bit of time out to pause and relfect on things I’m thankful for didn’t seem a bad idea.


 

1. The milka chocolate advent calendar Tom bought for me for next week and the sparkly picture one that arrived in the post today from mum and dad. I was wondering if I had outgrown advent calendars (at 30 years of age, now is the time to ask myself that question) but clearly Tom and my parents know me better. Although I have never really been convinced by chocolate advent calendars (having once bought one of the really cheap ones) I like milka chocolate so am pretty excited about this one. Only question is can I actually just eat one chocolate a day or will I slice open the back, slide out all the advents in one go and then feign disappointment at every opened door where the ‘manufacturers have failed to put the chocolate in’?

2. Just how good the latest book I’m reading by David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks) is. I’m a big fan of the author and didn’t want to buy this book until I knew he had another coming out (so as not to run out of future works to read and feel the sadness of knowing there are no more works out there I can enjoy…), I would have been massively disappointed if it wasn’t as enjoyable as it currently is. However at some 600= pages it is running the risk of being one of those books I can’t put down and forget to clean, sleep or go to work until I’ve finished it.

3. The accidental discovery that Netflix UK is accessible on my laptop, which has a whole new world of time-wasting possibilities to enjoy (and is bound to come in handy when Christmas comes around and I actually have some time).

4. Slipper socks. These keep my feet cosy and warm on a much longer term basis than mere slippers alone. I live in a household that is very geared up to the felicity of it’s two primary residents: Jasper and Buttons, who happen to be cats. Us poor humans are forced to put up with constantly opening and closing the living room door and all the cold draftiness that entails just so that the hairy gods we are allowed to live with can come and go as they please. Slippers are good, but if you are a wriggly squirmy, feet up on chairs, feet down again-kind of person slippers that aren’t moulded to your leg have an irritating habit of getting lost under the sofa, migrating to different rooms and generally conspiring to keep my tootsies cold.

5. Life could always be worse. It could be that one day I wake up and just from one hour to the next a series of horrible, terrifying and complicated events start to emerge over the next 24 hours, where it turns out your friends are conspiring to kill you, your enemies are suddenly on your side and you are trying to navigate complicated relationships with family members. In an alternate universe I could be Jack Bauer so every day I wake up and don’t find myself thinking that this is going to be one of those days is something to be thankful for.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 13.23.506. Reusable rubber duckie drink coolers that work like ice cubes, without diliting all that wonderful alcohol, to cool down my lovely white wine I forgot to put in the fridge.

7. Every day I manage to exist in this world without adding some sort of bruise, scratch, paper-cut, scrape, twisted limb, etc to my constantly evolving collection. Not feeling like the Queen of Clutzes or having to explain to colleagues that I really did walk into the door frame or slam the cupboard door into my forehead all of my own accord, without their suspecting I am a battered woman, usually amounts to a good day.

8. Tea. Enough said.

9. Sticky paper fly strips, electric fly swats, citronella candles, copious amounts of garlic, ninja cats and anything else that prevents annoying flying buggy things from getting in my face or trying to feast on my flesh.

10. The satisfaction on a Sunday evening/Monday morning at 12.37am when I finally finish a work project I’ve spent the last two weeks sacrificing sleep and sanity to work on.

 

 

Ten reasons British people don’t make sense

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1. We will rarely tell you an outright no or explain we don’t want to do something. To do so would be considered impolite, so instead we might say ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’ or ‘we’ll see’. These are all British ways of saying ‘no’.

2. We will apologise for everything, even things that aren’t our fault like someone stepping on our foot. We will say ‘sorry’ but actually mean ‘die in hell you foot-stomping fiend!’

3. We have a deep-rooted superiority complex but it can be hard to tell because we spend so much time apologising for being British. We may be fiercely nationalistic but would never admit it, and if anyone does admit it the rest of us will assume that person is probably racist!

4. We get really upset by the idea that foreigners think British food is so terrible. We have great restaurants and culinary offerings in the UK. We introduced the world to sandwiches, pies, fish and chips and make awesome roast dinners. Not to mention deep-fried mars bars, actually we probably shouldn’t mention deep fried mars bars, I don’t think they help our image. Aside from these traditional offerings we have also some great culinary interpretations and fusions of other nations’ national dishes, the UK has some truly amazing restaurants. I will accept criticism from Italians (whose inventions make up about 80% of my regular diet) and the French (because they are so precious about food that although its hard to think of amazing French dishes off the top of your head, it’s probably not worth arguing about). I will not accept criticism from Americans (hamburgers, tasty but unvaried), Swiss (all national dishes are combinations of cheese and potatoes, again tasty but hardly inspiring) or any other European nation.

5. British people don’t like ‘z’s’ very much. I’d like to apologise to my American spellcheck for thinking I am misspelling ‘apologise’ by not using a ‘z’ but I won’t use a ‘z’ because my spellcheck is wrong and I’m right.

6. We pretend to be interested in things we aren’t. We may give the impression we are fascinated in your experiences at your model road sign club (no offence model road-signers) or on your latest pirate-spotting cruise off the coasts of Somalia. Our false enthusiasm my in fact be so convincing you could be forgiven for thinking we actually mean it and are not only interested but want to join the model road sign club or book our own pirate cruise. If we are genuine we will ask you point blank ‘can I join your road sign club?’ If we say, things like ‘wow, that sounds really interesting, how would I go about joining a model road-sign club?’, we don’t mean it. This is just politeness/a ruse to keep you talking so that we can zone out and think about more interesting things like the best way to create your own zombie make-up out of some toilet tissue and PVA glue.

7. We pretend to be interested in people we aren’t. For example we may meet someone briefly at a partner’s work event and they invite us to be their friend on Facebook, which we politely accept. They may send us the occasional message, we will politely respond to and this may provoke further conversation. They may suggest meeting for a coffee and we will reply ‘maybe’, meaning ‘no’. Mostly we are thinking, why is this person still talking to me? If I’d known they meant to establish a genuine connection I’d have pretended to have a seizure when they first asked me to pass the twiglets.

8. We aren’t great at expressing ourselves. The standard response to the question ‘how are you?’ will invariably be ‘I’m fine’. It will be the same reply if we happen to be on fire whilst fighting off a zombie hoard and suffering from a cold, which may or may not be the first symptom of something turning us into a flesh-eating virus. Similarly you’d get the same response if we have just opened the door to discover the entire apartment is filled with free chocolate and cash.

9. We aren’t great at small talk and have a tendency to talk about the weather far more than can ever be necessary. We say banal things like ‘it’s a bit grey outside’, which anyone with eyes has probably already noticed. It’s about as interesting and as easy to initiate a conversation as saying ‘I have a nose attached to my face’.

10. We are still rather attached to the archaic idea of our Monarchy, even if we are a bit embarrassed about this and can’t provide any logical reasons whatsoever as to why we should still have, and continue to encourage former colonies to have, a Queen. She does have a lovely sparkly crown though. Shiny.

 

Ten reasons to give up and go back to bed

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1. Your cat decided that she would prefer to do her business in the shower than in the cat litter box and consequently you are forced to clean cat poop out of the bath before you have even properly woken up.

2. You drop the razor in the recently cleaned shower and although it doesn’t actually do you any damage it scares the bejebus out of you and shakes you up for the rest of the day wondering how long it would be before your cat discovered you naked in the shower and bleeding from inexplicable razor wounds to the knees and ankles. You would hope your cat would not have returned to do her business once again.

3. You tried to get dressed for work opting for the nice skirt suit you had laid out the night before but, after putting on not one, not two but three pairs of tights that either already had holes or quickly gained some, you concede defeat and wear trousers.

4. Cycling to work, one of your comfortable shoes, that you specifically chose for being easy to ride in, falls off in the middle of the road and your pedal then viciously attacks the back of your ankle and makes it bleed.

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5. On arriving at work you remember that the document you have been furiously working on and took home to work on the previous night, remains lodged in the memory stick… at the back of the laptop…on your desk… at home.

6. You go to make a cup of tea at work and are upset that of the ten boxes of tea in the cupboard, these all turn out to be various herbal offerings including fennel and chamomile but all you want is just a normal cup of tea. You are forced to settle for an unsatisfactory green tea.

7. You manage to knock your unsatisfactory cup of green tea and it spills all over your phone, you are forced to spend some ten minutes frantically drying the device on your scarf as the nearest thing to hand and praying to the gods of technology that the essential device will survive the experience.

8. Your scarf, which was white, is now covered in unsatisfactory green tea and it’s cold in the office and you want to wear it rather than leaving it to soak in the work bathroom’s sink.

9. You realise you absolutely do not have time to attend the interesting work-related but not wholly essential meeting taking place that afternoon that you have been looking forward to for a week.

10. You heat up your homemade leftover-for-a-while soup at lunch to discover that contrary to previously held beliefs, yes, vegetable soup can go off after a week and taste very very bad. You try to eat it anyway.

Ten reasons to live in Switzerland

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1. Chocolate. Yes there is rivalry between Belgium and Switzerland when it comes to the world’s best chocolate and personally I think Belgian truffles tip the scales slightly, although Genevan Pave’s (little chocolate truffley square thingies) are delicious and Switzerland gets credit for inventing the chocolate bar, which is easier to have kicking around your handbag than a box of truffles.

2. There is no need to constantly descale your kettle or endlessly clean your shower head. Water here is just so clean and simply isn’t full of all the crap that clogs your watery appliances in the UK.

3. It’s so expensive to live her. This might not sounds like a good thing when you are forced to spend most of the year living as a vegetarian not for commendable moral reasons but because meat is just too darn expensive. However, whenever you go anywhere else (not including Scandinavia) everything  is so much cheaper. Even London is cheap to me now. £5 a pint you say? So much more reasonable than Geneva.

4. Clean air. A colleague in my office told me that she thought Geneva was a dirty city and I laughed at her. When I came to Geneva from London the difference in air quality was palpably noticeable. Whilst I live here I don’t always remember to appreciate this but every now and then I am still impressed at just how good it feels to fill my lungs with air here.

5. Cheese. It is no exaggeration to unequivocally state that the Swiss like cheese. I have so far discovered three traditional Swiss dishes, which are all variations of cheese and potatoes: Fondue, melted cheese you dip potatoes into; raclette, you melt cheese under a grill and pour it over potatoes; and tartiflette, potatoes and cheese sort of baked together.

6. The hills really are alive with the sound of music. Cows here, do in fact, wear cowbells. These aren’t purely novelty items for sale in souvenir shops and at the airport. Everytime I’m out for a walk and hear a cowbell or two it fills me with a Swiss induced glee.

7. Yodelling is the Swiss equivalent of Morris Dancers. Your everyday Swiss person can’t just summon these vocal vibrating skills as a party trick for any occasion. I imagine most Swiss people would be a bit embarrassed to be associated with yodeling, but the thought of this specialized cultural practice dying out would fill them with sadness.

8. You don’t really need language skills to assimilate. Swiss have three (or perhaps even four?) official languages and whilst some people know them all most people tend to speak just one of French, German or Italian (and then probably English as a second language). You could go to any part of Switzerland and master a couple of sentences in one of the non spoken official languages and still pretend to be Swiss. For example you could pretend to be a Swiss French speaker living in the Swiss Italian part. Your shame at not being able to speak other languages may never be found out.

9. Their flag is a big plus (badum tsss!). If you are from a country with a pretty distinctive flag it’s great to be able to easily pick out your adopted country’s flag in a line up without having to remember which order the colours go. (Tip: If it looks like a sign for a hospital then you need to switch the red and the white around).

10. There is something about Switzerland that is inherently cool in a “let’s not talk about it” kind of way. If I was to have any European(ish) passport in addition to my UK one, I’d want a Swiss passport. Maybe it’s their neutrality, maybe its that owning a Swiss bank account makes you feel like a villain in a bond movie, maybe its the fact you know the country is awash with guns and money but no-one really wave these things in your face, maybe it’s their determined non-Europeaness (in the heart of Europe) attitude, who knows, but whatever the reason I wouldn’t mind being Swiss.

 

Ten reasons to tidy the house

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1. Your parents are arriving soon and you would like to convince them that you are now mature enough to live in a clean and tidy house and that you have moved on from your messy teenage clothes-discarding, teacup mould-growing, chocolate-wrapper-strewing ways.

2. When you remember that you have wooden floors and the soft squishy ‘carpet’ you have been enjoying is, in fact, moulted cat hair.

3. You politely allowed an ant or two to pop in and make their acquaintance but now they have overstayed their welcome and rudely invited all their friends. It’s time for that colony to take the hint and leave already.

4. You are constantly late for work because it takes you at least an hour every morning to locate the second shoe that seems to have been subsumed into the general disarray (like a stapler dropped into a dish of jelly).

5. The laundry that you did and dried and then put in a pile to put away later, but later became too late once the cats decided to nest in your freshly laundered undies and now everything is covered in cat hair once again and you have to start the whole process from the beginning.

6. You remember that at the age of 30 you are supposed to at least be able to pretend to be a grown up and grown ups are supposed to be able to remember to tidy on a regular basis. You don’t want to be the one to dispel that particular delusion.

7. You have run out of clean plates and cutlery and are now eating your pasta straight from the saucepan with a wooden spoon. Soon you will run out of clean saucepans and wooden spoons.

8. Whilst there are undoubted benefits to practicing your contortionist, gymnastic skills as you navigate your abode, pirouetting around a trainer here and a box of recycling there, you shouldn’t have mistaken this for actual exercise.

9. You have run out of money from constantly replacing items (such as bike lights, batteries, matching shoes) you considered lost forever in the general melee.

10. You recall that your apartment was once a spacious cavern of roominess with room for swinging as many proverbial cats as you liked, but now resembles a squalid den of teeny-tininess and even the cats can touch both sides of the room from a sitting position.

Ten reasons to love the rain

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1. As a wise man said, in a book I read about the Dalai Lama, there are certain external factors in life you can’t change but you can change how you respond to them. Sadly, I can’t control the weather (although I would love that as a superpower) but there is no reason why a little downpour is any reason to get down in the mouth.

2. When you are in the midst of a month-long heat wave a bit, or even a lot, of rain is a refreshing relief. The sensation of feeling cold and wet from the rain rather than hot and wet from the heat and sweat is something that can be relished whilst those blistering memories remain fresh in your mind.

3. The rain makes you feel slightly less bad about the pot of lavender on the balcony you keep forgetting to water. Even if the upstairs balcony shelters said plant from nature’s watering can.

4. As my dad taught me if you have planned a picnic, then you have a picnic. Rain is no cause to stop play but, if you really have to, you can bring along an umbrella. Rain just turns an average picnic into more of an adventure activity.

5. If you aren’t going to work or somewhere else where you are going to have to spend the next 8 hours in soggy clothes then rain is just an extra shower for the day and it’s always nice for everyone to be clean, right?

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6. It’s pretty entertaining to find yourself with a friend, sat on a bench at the Geneva beach area at Bains-des-Paquis, a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming, drinking a beer, eating some Pringles and getting completely drenched whilst sensible types flee the premises in search of shelter and warmth. Add in a lunatic laugh every now and again just to convince any stragglers that you are as insane as they clearly think you are.

7. Running in the rain makes a lot of sense, are you sweaty, is it just rain? Who knows! But there’s much less chance of getting dehydrated when the skies are leaking, and if you are thirsty on route you can just open your mouth and look up for a little light refreshment.

8. Swimming in the rain also makes sense and I did this a lot in Cambodia. The women in my hostel clearly thought I was nuts as I’d be the only person in the pool pootling up and down but my thinking was swimming is already a wet activity, rain doesn’t change that so why should it put me off?

9. Rain makes it easier to get your cats in if you want to go out or lock up the flat before bed, without having to bribe them with kitty treats or wait hours for them to wander in from whatever catty business they’ve been attending to. It’s so much less of a battle to entice them away from the delights of sunbathing and birdwatching/killing if its wet.

10. Rain is really no reason not to do stuff but it does provide a great excuse not to do stuff if you are feeling a bit anti-social and would prefer to spend the next few hours huddled up with a cup of tea/wine and some chocolate and watch endless episodes of the latest Netflix obsessions (I’ve recently discovered Orange Is The New Black).