When you think of ‘home,’ what, specifically, do you think of?

When I think of home I think of waking up in my teenage bedroom, my un-spectacled eyes blurring the sloped yellow ceiling with it’s crudely painted, haphazard stars. Home is remembering how long it took to scrub the spray paint off the carpet. And my hands. And the cat. Home is the low, long window that yawned out to the “front” garden with it’s roses – so different to my sisters view of the back garden with its scrubby bushes, swingset, and sweeping views of the fields.

Those fields – I planted them until the sun set, harvested them until the first hard frost, and ran mile after mile around them until my knees gave in. Those aching fields, flat and monotonous and as endless as a teenager might dare to imagine. They stretched outwards, wrapping themselves behind villages and under schools, until they clattered headlong into the sea. 

Home is the sound of the English rain and knowing that all there is to do is sit in the conservatory and listen. The smell of the dirt. A visitors unidentified shoes in the utility room, and the kettle on. Home is October. Home is July and August. Home is my birthday in April collecting daffodils and filling the house with grass. The house – my house – converted from a school to a hunched, red-brick building held together by iron poles, magic, and necessity. We started wars in those walls – some of them small and inconsequential, resulting only in nostalgic conversations over telephones and emails – and others so heartbreakingly long-lasting that my parents sit in different houses now, aged with pain. 

Home is not twenty-eight. Home is not the air-conditioning failing to work, or the lack of snow removal on our street in winter. Home is not Applebees, or light beer, or Twilight fan fiction. Home is not my knees hurting when I role over at night, or the rapidly diminishing number that qualifies my motherhood potential. Home is not my own voice rattling self-consciously from my voice mail, making words in accents that are placeless.

Home could be the faces of my two four-legged children when I come home from work, the sound of their snores as I fall asleep, their first sleepy tail wag in the morning after breakfast. Home might be the smell of wood-fired steaks on a ninety-five degree day. Home almost certainly is my husband playing guitar downstairs when I sleep in on Sundays.

But home will always be that bedroom – the bookcases filled to capacity, the carpet strewn with clothes. Home will always be the pattern on the carpet, the sound of BBC Radio Four, and the shadow of the cat on the kitchen windowsill after he had come back from a long, strange night.

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Where would you most like to go and why?

I think of this question and one word comes to mind: home. A visual: the yellow brick road, red heels, a gust of wind and then… nothing but the searing North Sea, rain and currents all the way to Norway. But then I regain my resolve and think further afar.

For one living abroad there is nothing so tempting about the idea of going home. Oh little windswept farm, where art thou? I imagine myself back there, somehow back in my teenage bedroom with the walls unchanged, the Oscar Wilde quote on the ceiling, the candles on the dresser. I imagine looking out over those flood-plain fields and remembering all the places I wanted to go: India, Africa, Nepal, the rain forests of Brazil, the remote Galapagos islands. All those years spent dreaming of the faraway lands, the stories I would write.

And now I am here, dreaming of being home dreaming of strange continents, fervent cultures, and strange, jarring sounds. Imagining the dream of all five senses in overload. If I had to pick one of those destinations for my “one place” it would probably be India. My heart always cries out for Africa, as my mother was born there and my Grandma was a citizen of Kenya until very recently. I have never visited “true” Africa, but I long to, although part of me fears what I might find if I do. What I might feel – the guilt, the agony, the crippling sense of inadequacy when I think of how little I’ve done with my privileged birth.

So India it is. India – a strange, mystical land. My Grandmother was born in Kenya but raised in the Seychelles, where she describes the population as half African, half Indian. With her dark golden skin tones, petite frame, and long, thick hair my Grandmother is most often taken for Indian, rather than Kenyan, and I remember her pride when I dressed in a sari for a school project. I think, from that moment, when I closed my eyes I always imagined myself as a little bit Indian – running over the lush hills, exploring the vibrant markets, speaking rapidly in the diverse, ever-changing dialects.

If I were able to go anywhere on this earth I think India would be my first calling. Somehow I think it would give me a sense of peace, to transport me back to a point in time before my birth when the world was a more diverse place, a more interesting and exciting place. I imagine the adventures I might have, the things I might learn about myself.

I have every expectation that I will visit India in my life – hopefully soon – and if I don’t I know that the regret will be stamped on my heart forever.

What is the difference between falling in love and being in love?

Love is a difficult topic to write about. It’s hard because it’s nearly impossible to verbalize, and almost certainly different for every single person. Also, I personally feel that people that write about love as though they know what’s best sound conceited, self-important, and invariably detached from the reality of other people.

That being said, several questions on this list revolve around the topic of love, and so it is time to tackle the topic head on. And so I am writing with an obvious focus on what is true for my life, my marriage, and the limited knowledge that I have of other people’s relationships.

Falling in love, for me, is infuriatingly easy. I am a product of the 1990’s, of the Richard Curtis generation of Romantic Comedies, and the generation where paupers become princesses. I also grew up knowing a great deal of love: love from my family, love from my friends, and love from the community that I grew up in. Love was a constant in my life, I never felt the absence of it, nor the need to seek it out. I also saw many young girls in my high school getting pregnant, but never really talk about “love”. Sex was the appeal in my high school class, not romance, but I always felt connected with the notion of recreating some epic, literature-worthy affair of the heart. I easily found out that teenage boys are easy to create romance around, they are blank canvases that allow themselves to become pictures of whatever we girls want them to be.

It’s easy to love as a teenager, because falling in love is about hope, and need, and fear. As an eighteen year old setting off for college I was full of hope and full of fear, I was also in need of comfort and security – so I took my high school boyfriend with me and he was my transition, and I his. Once we settled into a “new life” we gave each other up amicably: there was never any question about ever trying to retain anything past the hope and fear and need.

Fast forward ten years and I’m married – just past our four year anniversary – and I think that I fell in love with my husband for the same reasons as that first boyfriend: I was in a period of huge change, and he represented all of the hope, he calmed all of the fears, and he fulfilled all of my needs . He was a constant. In fact, the period of change that I was going through lasted several years, through our courtship, engagement, and marriage. I believe that however much we protested we were already “an old married couple”, we were still falling in love past our first anniversary.

In fact, in the years we have been married there have been periods when I have felt that we have fallen even more in love – we are currently going through one of those periods – and they all hinge around a trying time, a moment when one of us is scared, hopeful, or in need. I think that falling in love doesn’t happen once, I think that it happens cyclically, and that being in love is the quiet and patience between the “falling”, and the trust and faith that the cycle will repeat.

Of course, I have explained this theory to my friends in the past, and I don’t know that anyone has ever 100% agreed with me. I think my theory scares people as it suggests that marriage is only made strong through challenges – I know a lot of people feel as though the best marriages are a calm and tideless sea. Like I said – love is such a personal thing, and I have no business speaking on behalf of other people or trying to counsel them to my way of thinking. But for me, and for my marriage, I think that this is how I would define the difference between falling in love and being in love.

Shoeboxes at Christmas

 

Children Opening Their Shoeboxes, courtesy of operationchristmaschild.org.uk

One of my favorite childhood traditions was putting together shoeboxes at Christmas. These shoeboxes were to be filled with gifts and sent to Africa where children would open them on Christmas morning, children who otherwise would have nothing.

Every year as sure as purchasing advent calendars and helping my father pot the tree came the choosing of the shoeboxes, usually stored away throughout the year whenever one of us got a new pair of boots or sensible Clarks sandals. We children would solemnly select our shoe box from the collection and then busy ourselves with imaging the child that would receive it. My mother always allowed us to choose the type of child that would receive our boxes (we could select between genders and from certain age categories), and would the help us choose appropriate gifts to put in the box. Of course, there were toys and books, but also we had to think of gifts like toiletries, clothing, medication.

As a family we would talk about what these children might need, and it was through these discussions that I first learned the difference between being poor and living in poverty. Looking back as an adult I realize that we didn’t have much growing up, although I failed to see it at the time, but there was always warm water and clean clothes, toothpaste, bandages, and sanitary products. These were the things I learned others did not have. I remember my mother teaching me about the differences between my hair type and the hair type of girls like me living in Africa, and helping me choose the right type of products to send over, as well as brightly colored hair clips to compliment their skin tones.

After our boxes were full we would wrap them in bright christmas paper, choose a christmas card and write a short message with a photograph of ourselves. My brother and sister typically just wrote “Merry Christmas” and signed their names, but I always wanted to write more, after weeks of thinking about this faceless child I felt a profound connection with them and wanted to express that. To this day I wish I had copies of those cards that I wrote aged six, or twelve, or fifteen.

This might sound like a strange Christmas tradition to a lot of people, especially a strange memory to rank in my favorites, but to me it symbolized Christmas. It was part of how we did things, and part of our Christmas day was talking about which toy we thought they would play with first, whether they liked the books we sent, and how we hoped they were able to be with their families as we were with ours. It may sound overly sentimental, but it was genuine to the point that I took the tradition to university, where I helped organize the Shoebox Appeal for our campus. The following years I made charitable donations to schools in the developing world instead of giving “conventional” Christmas gifts.

Why do I bring this up as one of my favorite memories? Why do I indicate this as one of the reasons I respect both my mother and father so much? Let me explain. Other than the previously mentioned fact that my family had very little monetary excess when I was a child, my parents managed to raise my brother, sister, and I in a way where giving was more exciting that receiving. Neither of my parents practice any religion, and yet they managed to educate us in the exact meaning of Christmas in a way that was applicable and appropriate to all three of us. Both my brother and sister are atheists, I am a Christian that chose to be baptised as an adult, and yet we still agree that Christmas should be celebrated in the way our parents taught us.

Of course, I have plenty of other favorite childhood memories, and plenty of other reasons to respect my parents, but this one seems the closest to my heart. Every time I buy a pair of shoes I am still loathe to throw away the box, I find myself ferreting them away in corners and daydreaming about wrapping paper, toothbrushes, and books. It is the spirit of Christmas to me, and I am reminded every year of how fortunate a child I really was.

 

 

To learn more about the Shoebox Appeal visit: http://www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk Visiting this website taught me a lot about how the mission has developed over the years. I wish they would start this in the United States

What is the difference between innocence and ignorance?

This question is pretty far down on the list, but it’s an issue that’s been prevalent in my recent life. One of my pet peeves in life is having to watch or hear about people who suffer as a result of their own ignorance – claiming selflessness as an excuse. I’m talking specifically about genetic illnesses or predispositions, and I’m going to start this on a personal note.

When I was fifteen years old my mother was diagnosed with late stage two breast cancer. She survived, thankfully, but her treatment was a number of years. In fact, I was in college when I was still visiting her in hospital. I had my own first mammogram before she even finished her treatment – I was eighteen. Some might argue that is radically young, even for someone with a cancer victim in the family, but I disagree. I knew my risks. I went on the pill when I was eighteen, and chose to come off when I was twenty-three because I knew the risks of continued use of hormonal birth control after a certain age.

When I was twenty I found a lump in my left breast and, even though it felt like a cyst, I still went to consult with a doctor to make sure. I could have ignored it, convinced myself it was nothing, and gone about my life. Fortunately, this lump was a simple cyst, something that flares up every month; however, it is something that we (the doctor and I) keep an eye on just in case.

I’ve heard mixed opinions on this topic, especially as I was raised in England where we have a national health system “free healthcare”. I’m going to be honest, when I went in for my cyst several people told me I was overreacting and using up valuable resources for trivial matters – after all, they argue, the odds of it being a cancerous lump were in the 0.00’s, even with my family medical history. What if, they argue, every person that had a cyst went to the doctor – imagine the wasted monetary resources. My argument is this – imagine if all the people that ignored their cancerous lumps went to the doctor when they first noticed them – how much money would we save in treatment costs? And, rather more importantly, how many lives would we save?

Now I’m going to look at someone else that I know, someone that I adore as if they were my own flesh and blood. This person is my parents age, has been of dubious health, and lost both her parents to diabetes. My friend refused to go to the doctor, even for the most uncomfortable thing, claiming to “not want to worry people” or “not be an inconvenience”. Eventually her family forced her to the doctor and she was immediately diagnosed with severe diabetes, her blood sugar levels were out of control. Her long term health has been ruined.

Everyone that knows her argues that she was a victim to her own selflessness, that she simply didn’t think it could be diabetes. I look at it differently – I think she acted out of fear, but also out of ignorance. She ignored the facts, ignored the symptoms, and ignored the risks. Even though she is in her sixties, she had never once had her vitals measured. She was not innocent in this case. Innocence is my good friend Suzann’s baby, Keyra, who was born to a diabetic mother. She is likely to develop diabetes at some time in her life – but when she asks for apple sauce or some other high-sugar treat, she is truly innocent of the risk to her. Of course, she is only one year old. If at sixteen (and after sixteen years of watching her mother inject insulin twice a day), she still demanded sugar, then she would be ignorant.

I know that people will disagree with me, or think I am being too harsh on these people – I don’t mean to sound cruel. My point is that as human beings we are the most informed that we have ever been – we have medical journals available on our smartphones, we have 24 hour numbers to call, we have decades and decades of medical knowledge and history helping us pre-empt our medical pitfalls. There is no excuse to be uninformed, to be ignorant, of our bodies. We owe our genetics a debt of life – we have the potential to life longer than any other generation, but we shrug off our bad choices saying we didn’t have the calorie count, and are allowing sticking our heads in the proverbial sand.

If you could choose one book as a mandatory read for all high school students, which book would you choose?

 

So the Amazon Kindle Fire is an amazing thing, isn’t it? I feel somewhat blasphemous writing this on my macbook, knowing that the Fire was cause of much pain for iPad sales last Christmas, but since indulging myself in January I have barely passed a full day without switching it on. In fact, my addiction is such that I probably use it to check my email and facebook more that I use my laptop. However, non-literary indiscretions aside, I purchased the Kindle Fire as a means to reignite my love of reading, and it hasn’t been a disappointment.

Truthfully, I have been a little let down that some of the books I would like to read are not available in the kindle store (can I get a petition started for LOTR, please?), but for the most part I have been able to read many books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read for fear of stepping foot in a shop. It’s a sad reflection, really, that I absolutely loathe shopping as an adult. I used to adore bookshops with a passion, and would come out armed with volumes of fiction that I would read in a matter of days. Now it’s all coffee and magazines, expensive stationary and iPhone cases and teenagers loping through the aisles searching for the bathrooms.

Purchasing the Fire was a true test of “what is my favourite book”, translated, in e-form, to “which book do I want to download first”. Those that know me won’t be surprised by the fact that after a few minutes and some clumsy finger clicks, my fresh-out-of-the-box Kindle had a brand-spanking-wonderful version of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ on it. It’s my absolute favourite, made more special by the fact that I read it whilst in high school, and it ignited a romanticism in me that I would have imagined crazy before. I even had a reading from it at my wedding.

I would dearly love to make everyone in the world read ‘Wuthering Heights’, but only if I could make them see it the way I see it, which, let’s face it, is unlikely. Any work of fiction carries the risk of personal taste and interpretation. Let’s take Joseph Keller’s modern day classic, ‘Catch 22’. I read this in high school too, and I hated it. I don’t know that I even got to the end. I thoroughly bored me – me, who read Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ when I was 10. I tossed it on my heaving bookshelf with contempt and never gave it a second thought, where it lay discarded until my sister picked it up. That very copy of ‘Catch 22’ still graces her shelf, it has travelled around the world with her, and is now bound together with electrical tape from being thumbed through and read so many times.

I think that my point on fiction has been made clear: you can’t prescribe it. Being told you have to read this book, is a sad temptation for fate to make certain you hate it.

So, back to the question, if I could make all high school students read one book, what would it be? I’m tempted to say “the dictionary” in a derisive tone, as it appears most people could benefit from the read. But I’ll give a proper response.

And here is my answer: Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne.

But wait, it’s a work of fiction, isn’t it? Well, probably (although I like to imagine Eeyore really does roam gloomily through the English woods), but it’s not fiction in the same way. The one wish I have for teenagers, as I see them teetering around in their high heels and tweeting pictures of their iPhones, is that they could reconnect with their childhoods. I would love the idea of a group of teenagers united by the beautiful illustrations by E. H. Shepherd, drawing parallels between their friends and the enthusiastic Tigger or the ever-loyal and unquestioning Piglet. Rather than focusing on lust and torment, like ‘Wuthering Heights’, or the horrors of war and politics, like ‘Catch 22’, A. A. Milne focuses only on the values of friendship, imagination, and innocence. It is a book that we could all benefit from falling in love with – a book that reminds adults that we were children once, and that could possibly, very possibly, remind our children – because teenagers are still children – that they can still believe.

If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would your message be?

I’ve had a lengthy pause from my last post. 2012 has been quite a year so far. Some of you may recall my stating that I was going to train for a half marathon earlier in the year. It’s true. The “big day” was this last saturday, the 14th April. Well, I did it. Truthfully, the experience was a little disappointing for me, and I didn’t manage the time I’d hoped to finish in, but at least I crossed the line. I was expecting to be more emotional, but I was in so much pain when I crossed the line that I was just overwhelmed by relief that it was over!

The question today is about messaging. I’m in the world of marketing, and spend a lot of my time thinking about and focussing on what the correct message is for the right situation and audience. I’m also surrounded by people who are always presenting the best image that they can of themselves, and of our company. This is a trait that I am in awe of – I am brutally honest to a fault, and can’t contain how I’m truly feeling most of the time. When piecing together localized marketing campaigns, it’s easier to decide what the message should be. I work in the southern states, and it’s a safer bet that two people in the same geographic area will respond to the same anecdote than two people from opposites sides of the country. When putting together a national piece the challenge is harder, and a lot more difficult to predict. My experience has shown me that, the larger the audience the more general the message. Therefore, I have to consider than any personal message I would want to convey would need to be general enough to have a beneficial appeal to a wide audience.

This rules out things like “visit the North West Norfolk Coast” (A place a would strongly recommend anyone to visit, but is located in rural England). I’m not very political, and even the few political items that I have decided opinions on would not be things I would want to influence people’s decisions on. I’m not eligible to vote in the United States, and mostly I am glad of it; with the election this year most people I know have gone politics mad. My husband, formerly the most liberal person I know, has joined discussion groups and is considering becoming a representative for a republican candidate, and everything from his iPhone to his facebook is a walking banner for his own political opinions. I think that over time this is something he might regret.

I think that my message would have to be hinged on something I think it plausible and relevant for any person, regardless of country, gender, education, or age. It would need to be universally important to every person.

My first thought, thanks to Richard Curtis, is the message of love. Yes, I believe it is one of the most important things we can learn to do, and also learn to accept from others.  But I think that we hear this message a lot, thanks to Church billboards and hallmark cards, it’s hard to decipher true messages from propaganda.

But, I would still like my message to incorporate elements of love, and peace, and strength. And so my message for the world would be: Know your Inspiration. Sounds strange, maybe, but I think it’s universal. My thought is that if you know why you are doing something, and what you want to achieve, then you are far more likely to a) succeed, and, b) do something worthwhile. Do YOU know why you are doing what you are doing? Or are you simply following someone else’s motions hoping it will ring true for you?

When I entered the 8th mile of my race over the weekend I lost sight of my inspiration. It was what crippled me. By the time I crossed the 11 mile mark I was walking 90 percent of the time and thinking “why on earth am I doing this, it doesn’t matter”. I ended up feeling worse about myself at the end than at the beginning, and it’s because I lost focus on my inspiration. Even now, knowing this, I still find it hard to remember what my training was in aid of, but I know that if I had kept my inspiration close to me I would have had a much better and more positive run.

My message for humanity is a dream for an inspired world, where people work with dedication and passion, with a deep rooted belief in their actions. Perhaps it’s not original and, I’m sure, people will argue that it’s not even possible, but I genuinely wish our societies allowed us more room to act on our inspirations, and to see how that new energy fuels the world that we live in.