How do you spend the majority of your free time?

Right now, at this very second in time, I am at the bottom of a dog pile. Batman, my four-year old dachshund and constant companion, is in his spot of choice, which is nestled in the nook of my knee. Starsky, our rescued baby, who has not been with us a full year yet, is on my feet. We are on the couch in our basement. This couch was one of the few pieces of furniture that I picked out myself – everything else my husband purchased prior to our wedding. In fact, we have another sofa that he chose in the same room – a sixties-style orange affair with low, square arms – that was our only sofa for two years. Then our basement flooded, we got an insurance pay-out, and Momma went shopping for something comfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to have good taste, but I also like something comfortable and easy to live in. This is why I like jeggings, messenger-bags, and those hair tie things that can pass as jewelry if you squint a bit. So when I went shopping, comfort was my primary objectives, after all – I told myself – we spend a lot of time on the sofa.

This is an unfortunate fact of my life: the long evenings on the sofa. And not in some newly-wedded “sofa time” kind of way. I’m a two-blanket, yoga-pants, cup of tea kind of sofa girl. I find the sofa is a place where I can really relax. Partly because of the reassuring coolness of our basement, partly because it’s close to a lot of my reminders of home (artwork, books, the leather club chair my mum bought me), and partly because I feel tucked away here.

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Starksy and I chillaxing on the couch

For the last few years I have spent a lot of time having to work in the evenings, being enslaved to a job that kept expecting more and more hours. I broke that routine (see pretty much all of my blog posts from july to November of last year) finally, but not before I sustained a massive knee injury running a half-marathon and spent the majority of my summer having to elevate one of my legs. If that wasn’t reason enough to claim the sofa as my primary residence, I also have several minor but chronic pain syndromes, and find an unordinary amount of comfort in a hot water bottle on whichever bit of me is in pain.

Yes, I know I sound lazy, but the honest truth is that I’m actually not. Naturally, I’m an active person, but I have found I am the type of person that attracts injury and illness. Therefore, right now, in my late twenties, I find myself steadily working towards the sofa each day. Of course, there are days when I don’t have any sofa time at all – days when my knees or back and stomach doesn’t hurt and I can walk the dogs, or days when I don’t find myself reaching for the work laptop (a habit that is no longer necessary, but still hard to break), and those days are good too. But I would say that, at least for the last few years, the sofa has been my sanctuary from stress, from homesickness, and from injury. And because I spend most of my time stressed, homesick, or injured, it’s become a “go-to” place for me.

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Getting loves from my Batman!!

And don’t think I spend all my time watching TV (although I am partial to Netflix): I read books, work on my novels, skype with my family, and read world news from my spot stretched our on the chaise. I know that one day, maybe soon, I am going to have to overcome some of the things that send me sofa-wards, and I’ll tackle those when I need to, but right now I am glad to have my (very large and very green) chenille sectional from Macys, my Wal-Mart heated blanket, and two very snuggly puppies.

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The husband joins in for sofa-fun!!

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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.

What lifts your spirits when life gets you down?

When I first joined Pinterest many months – even years – ago, when it was an obscure website that only twenty-something women that baked had heard of, I came across the following picture. It was the first thing I pinned.

This “pin” summed up in an instant the way that I have felt about the world for most of my life, the most used of these methods being “the sea”. When I was sitting on the veranda looking out at the north sea, it’s currents and creeks tracing paths all the way to Scandinavia, I felt as though nothing could touch me. Since emigrating, I have always been able to lift my spirits or calm my mind by simply wishing myself back there – closing my eyes and imagining the cry of the seagulls, the sound of the waves.

Most specifically, I remember one morning when I was a teenager. My sister and I woke up to an especially high tide, the water being at least a third of the way up the embankment – merely a few feet from our front door. It was a bright, sunny day in early summer, and I remember that we took advantage of the cool, clear morning tide and went swimming. Through the water we could make out the concrete blocks of the bank, some still with beer bottles and candles in them (used for lighting as people stargazed).

This memory, however small, has been one that has carried me through many hard times.

Unfortunately, I think that there are moments in life that are impossible to cure, and that simply have to be endured and escaped from as quickly as possible. Having recently gone through one of the most trying times of my life, one of these impossible times, I have found it harder to conjure this memory when I need it. Instead, I have resorted to numbing my mind with television. Of course, this doesn’t really do a lot to to lift my spirits permanently, but it is a good distraction for me as a pass the time until I am able to rebuilt my spirit, and return back to the sea.

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

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.

So today I am going to tackle the following questions in one response: Are you holding onto something you need to let go of? When you are 80 years old, what will matter most to you? And, when is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards and just do what you know is right?

Well. I have been in the unique position of having to address all of these questions at one time on two separate occasions in my life. The first was making the decision to follow my heart and allow myself to be with the man that is now my husband, and the second occasion is my present day life.

The first time I had to weigh up these turmoils in my mind I had to wrestle the idea of having trans-atlantic relationship with a man I, realistically, didn’t know that well; leaving my family and my homeland; making myself employable and desirable in a foreign country; the impossible large idea (especially for a 20 year old) that this might be my biggest regret if I didn’t go for it, and maybe this person was the person for me. I was much more romantic back them, with my notions of soul mates and such. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good decision and I love the hubs, but nothing is ever as clear cut as a twenty-year-old literature lover can dream it to be.

And so now I’m on the flip side, faced with a familiar dilemma. I love Kansas City, I have friends here. I don’t love the crime, and I don’t love the distances between places, and I don’t love the work ethic. I don’t love the idea of raising children miles away from their only potential cousins, or in an environment where I’d have to hand them over to daycare at eight weeks. I’m not fortunate enough to afford the luxury of staying at home when the time comes. And, seven years later, I’ve never adjusted to being so far away from my home. So you see, dear internet, I’m in a predicament.

What do I do?

What I would like to do is pack up my husband and my hound and board a plane. Our friends have passports, they can travel. I don’t want to cause pain and upset to my inlaws my stealing their only son and, after all, these people have been my family for the last five years, I’d miss them too. But without them we have nothing here, and that’s the realization it has taken me years to reach.

I miss the sea. I don’t want to wake up at seventy years old and realise I’ve only seen the ocean a handful of times since I was in my twenties. I’m used to seeing it every day. I think it’s soulful – it’s a part of me.

I know all the arguments for staying, and all the arguments for going back to front and inside out. I know what my heart wants to do. Strangely, and probably something most people would doubt about me, I actuallywanted to come here and find it enough, and to be able to allow my husband to be the only thing that mattered to me. But I’m not a Victorian, my post-feminism, liberated backside has dreams and preferences and loves of it’s own, and signing them away with my marriage license didn’t happen.

And the hubs really isn’t set against moving; at least not most of the time. Really, he’s been very flexible in his opinions on subject, other than the occasional “Dammit, woman, I’m American and I need steak and beer every day” moment. His main fears are for his family.

This post isn’t really to seek answers to declare a resolution – I know that these questions are going to be conversations that we have for a LONG time – I just know it’s the only honest answer to these three questions, even if the answers aren’t really answers, but more questions.

What would you regret not fully doing, being or having in your life?

Sometimes it’s really hard to actually sit down and reflect upon all the things that I’ve done and achieved in my life. We live in a world where we always want more, always feel as though we should be more, or have more, or do more. It’s a race against ourselves, and normally a pursuit of pointless or meaningless things.

I am (nearly) 27 years old, and in my life I have been a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student, an employee, a girlfriend, a fiancée, an immigrant, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a hound-momma, and a home owner.

In my life I have travelled the world, got a college degree, written a thesis, been published in a book, stayed close with my family and friends, bought my own home, married a fantastic man, planned a wedding, survived the immigration process, met several famous people, raised a bratty dog, got and kept a good job in a poor economy, learned how to style my impossibly curly hair, and read thousands of books.

In my life I have had the opportunity to do many wonderful things, meet many wonderful people, I have had the chance to own my own property, work for a living; I have had encouraging friends, a loving family, and good employers. I have 1400 square feet of Missouri to fill with things I bought new, and to allow my dog to run around in.

I have done, been, and had plenty of things in my life – it’s really hard for me to consider wanting more.