Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Today we decided to go and see the Hadrian “Empire and Conflict” exhibit at The British Museum. You can see Alex in front of the museum, with the poster advertising the exhibit, in the photo above. It was a bit of a strange trip into London actually, beginning with being delayed when our train broke down. We sat somewhere outside Paddington for almost half an hour while the repaired it. I was just glad they managed to fix the problem as I didn’t fancy a walk down the tracks in the heat! We kind of limped into the station in the end, but low and behold, the train was not taken out of service!

The Hadrian exhibit was very good, but it was very long and drawn out. Even with the audio guide we began to feel a bit like we wanted it to be finished a good twenty minutes before the end of it. Sadly, for someone who so influenced the world even up to this day, Hadrian appears to have been a very flawed human being. Some of his personal habits made me deeply uncomfortable – particularly his long term affair with a very young boy. And the way that the exhibit dwells on the relationship between diagonal lines in the earlobes and a 77% likelihood of developing coronary heart disease (possibly what Hadrian, who did have very distinctive diagonal lines in his earlobes, died of), is sure to cause a rush of history buffs running to their doctors to be checked out. In short, it was kind of depressing (and no, neither Alex nor I have diagonal creases in our earlobes – we checked). It’s a shame because some of the artefacts were simply stunning, but the exhibit wasn’t laid out in a way that made it very enjoyable. After finally getting out of the Hadrian exhibit, we made our way to “The American Scene” print display, but that was depressing too. It was time to get outside in the sunshine, so we said goodbye to the museum and headed to Oxford Street.

We had no luck at all shopping, although we spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering round Regent Street and Carnaby Street, including a foray into Liberty's – a veritable treasure trove of virtually everything anyone could possibly want – at a price of course! It was very hot though, and we found it quite tiring, so we headed to Piccolino on Heddon Street for an early dinner. We had been there once before – in April believe it or not – and the waiter remembered us! (This is despite the fact that we were a party of four instead of two that time.) After welcoming us back, our waiter recommended the Aubergine Paramigiana. I ordered it, and I am very glad I did. It was exquisite. Alex had the spaghetti carbonara, which was served with a poached egg on top. He said it was divine. We also treated ourselves to desserts – Alex had a chocolate fudge concoction that was amazing and I had a simple homemade white peach sorbet which was so refreshing and delicious. As we were travelling by train, I also had a couple glasses of a very nice Sauvignon Blanc. And herein lies the rub. For the first time in my life I did not check the bill in detail. So I missed the fact that service was included. Recently, having been informed by several waiters and waitresses that they almost never see the tips left via credit card, I have made a habit of tipping in cash, into the hands of our server. So, when the waiter shook Alex hand as we left, I pressed his 15% tip into his hands, not realising I had already tipped him via the bill! To be fair, he did say “oh, no, no, you don’t need to do that”, but I took that to mean “you shouldn’t have, but carry on” and I could hardly have taken it back, now could I? As a result I believe I may have tipped higher than ever before in my personal dining out history – about 28% I reckon. How embarrassing. Oh well, the service was excellent, and I’m sure we’ll get even better service next time!

The really disappointing thing was that I discovered that sitting outside, enjoying the café style atmosphere, is not what it once was. Unfortunately, all the smokers now sit outside, and they are allowed to smoke in the dining area outside the restaurant, despite the fact that smoking inside is prohibited by law. I just can’t understand that. There should be a separate area for smokers outside really. At one point, people at all the tables around us were smoking, so it was just like being trapped in a smoky cloud despite the fact we were sitting in the “fresh” air. Yuk.

The train ride home was even stranger, with a huge crowd of folks rushing onto the train heading for Great Barr, which stopped at Slough and Reading. It was so crowded we had to stand. Thankfully we managed to find a place near a window, or it would have been unbearable in the heat. The ironic part was the train company had put a sign saying “please close the windows to save energy and improve everyone’s travel experience”. If we had shut the windows we would have been roasted alive. I can see it in the winter, but in the summer it was hysterical. The man beside me asked if I’d like him to close the window, and as we faced each other, with sweat evident on our brows, I laughed and said “I’m good with the window open thanks”! This sign was just next to the one saying “Beware, some trains are longer than the platforms in many stations. Be sure to check before you alight that your carriage is in the station”. What??? They left out the part about – “And if you are not in the station, run like h**l through the train to get to a carriage before you end up missing your stop!” Very strange.

It’s a long ride, standing all the way from London to Reading. It’s a good half hour run and the train goes at about 125 miles an hour so it’s fairly hard to stay upright. It’s a bit jarring when you think we paid for the privilege as well. Let’s just say I was very ready for a nice cold drink when we finally did get home! But all in all, Alex and I had a really fun day together and I’m grateful for every minute of it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stepping Back in Time...And Moving On

I have a very grainy photograph (sadly too grainy to reproduce here!) taken on an old mobile phone of me on a Warner Brother’s back lot, sitting in Central Perk on the sofa from the television series “Friends”. It was taken two years ago on our visit to Los Angeles. The set had been re-assembled on in a building on a dark back lot just off the Warner Brother’s Studio tour route. When the tour guide took us in, it took my breath away. That set, and the people who played the characters in Friends, had spent so much time in my living room via my television I felt like I knew them – although of course I couldn’t possibly have as they were only characters played by actors. But somehow I felt like I was returning to somewhere I had already been a hundred times before.

For ten years, once a week, the characters from Friends were there in my house. Missing an episode was awful. To begin with, Friends aired on a Friday on Channel 4 in England. Part way through the first series, we moved 150 miles from London to the Midlands. One of the first rituals we started in our new house was eating take away pizza in front of the television every Friday night and watching Friends. For struggling young parents, it replaced the night out we couldn’t afford and we always looked forward to it. And for the few months that it took us to settle in and make new friends, it filled a gap. All of our friends always loved the series and it was often a topic of conversation.

We looked forward to every episode over those ten years. Never, before or since, has a television programme been that much a part of our life. I’m not much of a television watcher, truth be told. I’m quite selective about what I watch and only watch things I really enjoy.

Anyway, tonight they had a re-run of the last episode on television and I watched it again. It was strange to step back – especially after all that has happened this year – and remember how things were when I watched that last episode for the first time. We were in another house in the Midlands, and we were only just entering the difficult times my poor parents went through with their health. We didn’t even realise Dad was ill, mistakenly believing that his first heart surgery had cured the problem and all was well. We never thought he’d have to have another one, never imagined that four years later both he and Mom would no longer be with us. We could never have envisaged the upheaval we (and they) would go through, constantly on edge, frantic trips to Canada every few months, worrying every single minute for five long years. We could never have imagined how much my parents would suffer either.

I found myself almost transfixed, even though I knew exactly what would happen next in each scene of that last episode. It was almost as if I somehow moved backwards in time. This time though, I watched the episode, and observed my reactions to it, through different eyes. I’m older and slightly wiser, if a bit worse for wear. And somehow, watching it kind of helped me resolve some of the upset and confusion I’ve been feeling as I realise that I really do have to move on and let go of the pain. Like the television series Friends, that part of my life is over. All that matters is the present. If I don’t let go of the past I’ll be swallowed alive, and no one wants that. It’s the last thing my parents would have wanted either. Like the last scene of the series, the still shot of the closed door after the actors have left, I need to close the door on that part of my life and move on.

Strange, isn’t it, how something as simple as a well loved television programme, a piece of fiction, could come back round again and be a part of my life again just for long enough to help me move forward? God really does work in very mysterious ways.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Glimpse of the Future

We were at the British International Motor Show yesterday. It was a great day out. We saw hundreds of cars. You could get really close looks at them, and even test drive some of them if you wanted to. We also saw the Honda Dreamscape Show which was quite good, with lots of cars and motorbikes. It was a tribute to Soichiro Honda, the founder of the company, and it was very inspiring, encouraging people to follow their dreams. It is quite amazing to think that a little boy in Japan with a dream could create all that Honda has become, and inspire his company to carry on innovating even after his death. For me, the highlight was seeing Asimo, Honda’s robot. He walked on stage, delivered water to the actors on a tray, talked and sang. It was incredible. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of him, but to see Asimo in action a few months ago conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on YouTube, click here. After watching the show, it was back to looking at cars. I think Ford had the best stand, as they were giving out juice at the “Ford JuiceBar” and Ice Lollies (popsicles) on another part of their stand. As it was about a million degrees in the shade, both of these were incredibly welcome! Finally, at 7.30pm, after being at the show for nearly eight hours, we had a glass of champagne at the bar and headed off for dinner.

We decided to drive into Docklands, as Guy knew their was a Pizza Express in Cabot Square. So many people focus on Sunday Lunch in England that many restaurants close very early on a Sunday evening, but Pizza Express serves till 9pm. We headed off from Silvertown, where we were parked, towards the Docks. When we reached the entrance to Cabot Square we were shocked to find that it is now guarded by an armed security guard. You have to stop and have your car swabbed for explosives before he will put the barrier (and it is a barrier – a spiked bit in the ground, plus a metal bollard at tire level and a gate in front of the car) down. Of course, everyone understands this sort of thing is necessary in this day and age, but I had never seen it in London before. I remember the years of IRA terrorism when the City of London was closed to traffic and full of the big “lego block” barriers, but somehow this is so much more shocking. As the spikes lowered and the barriers moved out of our way, Docklands opened up before us. It’s beautiful in a very modern way, totally redone from how it was in the early part of the last century. We finally found the car park and were stopped once again with barriers and had to have the car swabbed again! It made us feel very safe on one level, and terribly disturbed on another. Dinner was very nice though!

We didn’t get home until very late, but it was a super day. Alex is full of dreams of his first car and we’ve got some ideas for what Guy might have when he changes his car (which now has over 80,000 miles on the clock!). As for me, I’m still blown away by Asimo, and wondering when I can have one to help out around the house!!

School's Out For Summer!

School’s out for summer! Alex finished on Wednesday. I love the school holidays. They make me feel like a kid again. The weather has picked up as well so that makes a huge difference. Being a country where the annual rainfall appears to be about 150 feet, we get very excited when it’s sunny and warm here!

We’ve had a super couple of days so far, including a fabulously productive shopping trip for Alex on Thursday. We found loads of clothes for him and he looks really smart in his new things. He was getting a bit desperate actually as we discovered last week he only had three pairs of trousers to his name – two dress pairs for school, one of which had seen much better days, and one pair of jeans. I did think I was having to do an awful lot of washing the last little while actually, but it turns out that Alex didn’t have many clothes! It was a great shopping expedition actually – one of those where it is actually fun to shop, you are all in a good mood and things fit – in short one where you actually have to make choices in order to stick to your budget as opposed to struggling to find anything that you like that fits. We also had a nice lunch, and stopped for coffee mid-afternoon so it was relaxed and enjoyable for us both.

All this has been made so much sweeter by Alex’s announcement that he does not, after all, want to go to boarding school for sixth form. The idea of a shared bathroom has finally hit home. Alex doesn’t even share a bathroom at home, he has his own. And as we only have one child, he has two of our five bedrooms for his own – one as a bedroom and one as a study. I think the shared accommodation at boarding school might not have been the best choice in view of this. Now you may be thinking that it was me who enlightened him but actually it was a few conversations with folks who were actually at boarding school. Luckily – and with no prompting from me – they all went on about how it is not as luxurious as it might seem from a distance. Funnily enough, Alex said after he made his announcement that I “must have been praying for this”. To my credit, I was not. I never did pray he would decide not to go. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did not do it. I am determined never, ever to hold my son back. There is nothing worse than clinging to your kids. When it is time to let go – as hard as it will be – it’s time to let go. But I’ve had a reprieve, and I’m enjoying every minute of it!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Musings on Life in General...

How did it get to be the 22nd of July? It seems like two minutes ago I was staggered that it was going to be the beginning of July, and now I’m having the same feeling about the beginning of August! Just for fun, I had a look on the internet and it seems everyone is feeling the same way. There are lots of theories as to why this is, from the very scary metaphysical “time is going faster” - which I don’t believe - to “we are busier so it goes faster”, to the old chestnut, “time goes faster the older you get”. Whatever the reason really is, I hope it slows down. Mind you, I think it might be because we are all so into planning in advance these days. My diary and our family diary is booked up nearly till the end of the year and the few remaining slots are rapidly being filled up. Everyone is so busy it is the only way you can be sure to see the folks you want to see and do the things you want to do. I mean, Guy and I have diary reconciliation meetings – and now Alex is part of them as well. My parents certainly never did that. Having said that, our life is pretty exciting a lot of the time. More exciting than I remember life being as a kid anyway. But I do think that is why time is going faster – we’ve become a society of advance planners. Apart from the hurtling time problem, that’s comforting for people like me who struggle with spontaneity.

I can sometimes be a bit rigid in my thinking as well, which is something I work on constantly. Like I thought that doing circuit training could not possibly be as good for you as running. Well, yesterday my personal trainer, Judith from EnExcel Fitness, worked through a Circuit training programme with me. I can definitely say I had the wrong impression about circuits. I’ve never worked so hard or enjoyed it so much in my life. I seem to suit short bursts of activity. Perhaps I do have a short attention span after all! I have to say, between Judith’s personal training, Kelly from Berkshire Pilates’ Pilates training and my yoga teacher’ one-to-one yoga classes, my body is really getting fitter, stronger and more toned. Plus the aches and pains I used to get in my back and shoulders have completely vanished. It’s definitely well worth the effort I’m putting in.

I do have to say that I’m glad summer seems to have finally arrived. There were days last week when I was wearing a leather jacket. That’s just not on for July. I don’t know about this global warming stuff. I think it’s more like global cooling! Bring on the sunshine!!

Monday, July 21, 2008

20th July 2008

We had a lovely dinner last night, drank lots of wine, laughed, chatted and had a great time. It was wonderful. This morning I took Alex to Silchester first thing. Well, that isn’t strictly true – as it was Sunday he didn’t have to be there till 10am, but it felt like first thing to me after the late night we had. Everyone else was just beginning to surface as we left. It was a gorgeous drive this morning though, and I even saw a beautiful deer running across the road out by Padworth Common.

We had a traditional Sunday lunch which was very nice. In view of my observation yesterday I just made everything easy, and ironically everyone raved more about this lunch than others I’ve worked myself to a frazzle over. I kept a plate for Alex as he had kind of missed out. Luckily our friends were staying for tea as well, so it didn’t matter. We all headed out to Silchester just before Alex was due to finish at 3.30pm. There is an amphitheatre that has been excavated just down the road from Calleva, so we all wanted to go and have a look.

It was kind of hard for Alex to leave the excavation as he has made a lot of friends this week, but he was comforted by the thought that he can go back and work on the dig again next year. Everyone was shaking hands with him and saying good bye as he left. It was only a short walk to the amphitheatre from Calleva and as the weather was good it was very pleasant, if a bit dusty down the dirt path!

Above are two photographs I took at the amphitheatre. It’s in the middle of nowhere and all you can really hear is the rustling of the leaves and the odd car as it drives down the road behind you. You walk down into a dip, and there it is – a huge circle carved out of the hillside. The edges rise around you, and you can see how the seats must have been staggered up the hills, although nothing of them is left. Thousand year old trees stare down at you and if you have a vivid imagination you can hear the roar of the crowd echoing through the centuries. It is totally awesome, in the more traditional sense of those words. Although it can make you feel very insignificant, in a strange way it also makes you feel connected to all the generations of people who lived in this place just down the road from my home over 2,000 years ago. Rome was the greatest power in the world, the Iron Age had only just finished and the resurrection of Jesus was still new “news”. Wow.

We all headed back home after our journey back into the past, and had a lovely meal together in the evening. It has been a super weekend. I’m so pleased our good friends could spend it with us.

19th July 2008

We are having a lovely weekend with our friends who are staying with us this weekend. It’s a good chance for us all to take a break and relax together. Alex is still working at Calleva on the Insula IX Town Life Project. The photograph at left is a picture of the dig which I took when we went along with our friends today. The progress that they have made since we were there last Saturday is staggering. In the bit that Alex is excavating they have found the edges of a hearth. I am still awed by the idea that at Calleva I am standing on top of a whole village; people’s houses, shops, temples, everything.

I must admit I was running around like a bit of a mad woman earlier today trying to get everything ready for the weekend. I seem to be permanently disorganised at the moment. But when you stand at the edge of the excavation at Silchester, you suddenly realise there are more important things in life than the things we get to thinking are so important on a daily basis. One day, thousands of years from now, my house will be under tons of soil just like Calleva. So it doesn’t really matter if my house isn’t perfect or I haven’t got absolutely everything for the perfect meal. It’s far more important I enjoy my life and spend time with friends. Never has it hit me so hard to think that “we are dust”. It’s by our deeds men will remember us, not our stuff. And no one will know whether I lived up to my own impossibly high standards or not.

Time to go have some fun.

Friday, July 18, 2008

21st Century Housewife Breaks the 5,000 Reader Per Month Barrier

The webspace provider I use for my main website allows me to access what they call “Visitor Statistics” for the website. These statistics tell me how many people have looked at the website and also what countries they are from. It even breaks down the information into how many hits per day, week, month etc. It does not, of course, violate anyone’s privacy by listing any information other than that.

Since its inception in 2003, 21st Century Housewife’s reader base has steadily increased. I am now thrilled to announce that this month we have had more readers than ever before. Over 5,000 of you are now reading the site every month and you come from over 19 different countries. From the United Kingdom and Ireland, to North and South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia and everywhere else in between, housewives the world over are reading the site every day.

This makes me incredibly happy, because as you know, I do believe that housewives are a hugely important part of society all over the world. We are no longer stereotypical mild-mannered 1950’s housewives, but rather a vibrant 21st Century version. We are all different, practicing our own kind of housewifery, but we are united by the fact that we choose to make it our career. It may not be our only career, but it is our career nonetheless. Growing and developing within this career, we are creating a new vision for this century, both personally and corporately.

As a group, we have so much potential to create positive change in the world. As housewives, many of the things we do involve helping others to grow and develop to their fullest potential. From our children, to our husbands and partners, to our ageing parents, our work often involves caring for others on so many different levels. In today’s frantically busy world, with stress abounding on all levels, this is something the world desperately needs. Of course, in order to care for others, we also have to care for ourselves. And this is where I hope this site comes in, allowing you to look at things in new ways, and above all to feel incredibly good about your choice of career and the difference you are making in the world on a daily basis.

I look forward to seeing what the future holds for us as more and more people turn back to the hearth and home as a response to the chaos we see in the world every day. But I also hope that housewives will see that their world extends far beyond this. I encourage you to move out into the world – whether that means travelling to see how others live, learning a new skill or studying something you have always been interested in, or becoming more involved into your local community. The career of housewifery is not an end in itself, it is only the beginning. No one is ever “just a housewife”. Both in the home and outside of it, 21st Century Housewives are a force to be reckoned with.

Thank you to each and every one of you who reads the site. Whatever version of 21st Century Housewife you are, wherever you live and work, I hope it continues to nurture you and help you to develop the wonderful person that you are into the happiest and most fulfilled 21st Century Housewife you can possibly be.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Call Me James

I know many other housewives will agree with me when I say there are days that I spend almost entirely in the car. It’s like I’m a chauffeur or something. I’m grateful I like my car so much and enjoy driving it, especially on days like today – that is, days when chaos just reigns.

It was a bit of a rush this morning both for Guy going off to work, and for Alex going to his work experience. Guy needed to be out of the house before 7am, and Alex and I just after 8am. Normally this would not be a problem. But, for some reason, both Guy and Alex were having “one of those days”. I wasn’t. Well, I wasn’t that is, until the aftershocks of their day started to hit me blindside.

I brought Guy some breakfast up to our room because otherwise he would not have eaten. Please don’t get all “you shouldn’t do that” on me – it’s only cereal and tea, and if I didn’t, he wouldn’t eat. Or he’d have a bacon sandwich at work. His arteries and I worry when he does that. So Guy had his breakfast and was rushing out the door. Normally I pop downstairs with him and just sort of check that everything he needs is there, but I was in the shower so I didn’t.

Alex was exhausted and having trouble getting up at all, and when he did everything was just a huge effort because he was so tired. To be fair, excavation is seriously hard physical work. Not something most kids are used to these days. Anyway, I kept having to hurry him along. Meanwhile I was trying to get myself ready and make Alex’s lunch, as well as loading the dishwasher, washer etc., all those lovely morning jobs.

About 8am, things started to go very badly indeed. Alex was having trouble getting together all his stuff and time was running out. For some reason, I was running out of time too. I was becoming very impatient…loudly impatient. As it tends to at moments like these, the phone rang. It was Guy. He had forgotten his wallet. Normally this would not have been a problem, but today he had meetings all morning and then had to go into London in the afternoon. This of course involves paying the congestion charge and for parking, both of which require, if not cash, at least a credit card. There was no way he could turn around as he would have been incredibly late.

So the only solution was for me to drive to his office. Nearly fifty miles away. By lunchtime. After I had dropped Alex at the excavation, which in itself is an hour long round trip. Oh, and had I forgot to mention that as I was planning on going for a run when I got back from dropping Alex I had not washed my hair? I had just pulled it back in a pony tail. I was not looking my absolute best – and I certainly wasn’t looking how I would plan to look when I was going to be seen at the office. I. Was. Not. Happy. But bearing in mind that Guy has saved my ass at least a million times, I really could not complain. Not that it stopped me.

By this time, Alex was in a complete frenzy of activity and had barely managed to get his (very dirty) boots on. The last thing you want to be is a frazzled teenager with a frazzled mother living in a house with cream carpet trying to put on dirty boots. It’s not a pretty sight. We were barely managing to be civil to each other.

We set off to Silchester in a complete huff. When I dropped Alex off thirty-five minutes later, I set the Sat Nav for Guy’s office. It took me on a lovely cross country route and as it was a nice day I left the roof down, intending to put it up before I joined the M4 motorway. Suffice it to say, I forgot. Despite the fact that I had my hair in a ponytail, I was being blown to bits. Other people had their roofs down, but I began to notice that they were all men. And they were all bald.

By the time I got to the office I felt like I’d been in a tornado. Guy said I looked really good getting out of the convertible, but I think he was just trying to butter me up. I certainly had the “beach look” all the magazines are saying is the fashion this year – kind of windblown and like my hair had dried naturally after swimming in the sea. I gave him his wallet and went into the ladies to repair the damage.

Needless to say, before I set off for home, I put the roof up. But by the time I got home, I had been in the car for over two and a half hours, and I had not even gone anywhere I needed to go! And joy of joys, I have to drive for another hour this afternoon down very narrow country lanes to collect Alex and bring him home.

Just call me “James”…as in “Home, James!”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A City Girl Driving in the Country

Alex is loving his work experience assignment. It’s very hands on, and not only is he learning loads, but he is getting to be involved in the “finds” every day – unearthing things that have been buried for 2000 years. There is something quite amazing being the first person to lay eyes on, or clean something that has been buried for that long. There is a whole city buried underneath the fields. The excavation at Silchester is only of about half a city block, but as far as the eye can see, a Roman city lies buried.

Silchester is a good drive from here, so I’m spending about two hours a day in total in the car. As I explained to Alex, it isn’t just taking him there, I have to get back home as well! It’s a beautiful drive, but after doing it in my car yesterday, I decided it might be more prudent to borrow Guy’s car for the next few days. The lanes are incredibly narrow, and you can come round a corner to be confronted by another car, or even a horse, in the middle of the road. So you have to slam on your brakes (even if you are only going about thirty miles an hour, it seems too fast). Of course, there are lots of locals on the roads, and many of the roads are actually National Speed Limit, which for single track roads is sixty miles an hour. So part of the time I have some very irritated people who know the road driving right up my back wishing I'd just hurry up. I'm no slow coach, but I won't drive faster than I feel I can manage on a road I don't know. Some of the lanes are so narrow, there are little passing places carved into the sides of the road. Many times there are not any though, so you just have to drive into the hedge and hope that it is just hedge and that there is no flint wall behind it! I do a lot of the drive with my heart in my throat.

Once we finally get to Silchester, we have to drive down even narrower roads to get to the track that leads to the dig. This track is about a mile and a half of dirt, full of pot holes bigger and deeper than I’ve ever seen before. It’s like being in a roller coaster, even if you are only going a few miles an hour. You certainly can’t do more than ten miles an hour, it would be horrific. Passing is not very easy either, and the road is not wide enough anywhere for two cars to pass. So you just drive over into the edge of the field, and hope there are no bunnies hiding there. So far, there have been no casualties thank goodness. I’d be devastated.

Mind you, even the drive near home is fascinating, as I’m forced to use the country roads up near our house to cut though to the country roads to Silchester. I normally avoid them as they are very narrow in themselves, but there is no escape this week. On Monday morning Alex and I saw two rabbits and a fully grown deer – which ran out across the road in front of us – thankfully about 10 yards in front of us so I had time to stop. It’s wonderful, and yet terrifying at the same time!

Only two more weekdays to go, and then Alex has Friday off. He is going back on the weekend though as a volunteer, even though his work experience assignment is officially over then. I’m so pleased he is enjoying it so much that he wants to go back. After that, it’s only three more days of school and then it is the summer holidays.

I love the summer holidays. Even though I am officially grown up and don’t go to school any more, there is something about Alex’s last day of school I just love. Finally, a break! It means I don’t have to stay at home just because Alex is in school. We can do anything we want, and Alex has lots of things planned to keep him busy so neither one of us will get bored with it. He’s even away for a week at his “summer camp” for actors – West End Stage. Roll on summer!

Monday, July 14, 2008

13th July 2008 - A Party in the Garden

We went to a garden party today. It took place at the home of British Telecom’s outgoing Chief Executive Officer, and was an opportunity to meet the new Chief Executive Officer and his wife. The setting was absolutely stunning, the imposing house being set in very large grounds.

We were greeted with champagne, and frankly it never stopped flowing all afternoon. Canapés and mini portions of food were being offered round by uniformed waiters and waitresses. Mini hamburgers (how did they get buns that small?!), BLT mousse in martini glasses, miniature wrapped portions of fish and chips and satay skewers were just a few examples of the yummy things on offer. There were several marquees including two just for children, with actors doing shows for them, and face painting. A popcorn machine and ice cream barrow were nearby and a never-ending supply of free snacks was being dispensed to the waiting children.

A main marquee in the centre housed a bar where wine, champagne and soft drinks were available. On the wall of the marquee was a sort of bookshelf arrangement, each section full of miniature desserts. There were wicked chocolate brownies, blueberry cheesecakes, shot glasses with baby puddings in them and skewers of strawberries and raspberries.

A jazz band played just across from the marquee, and further up the lawn on a good sized court, four middle aged chaps played a very energetic game of tennis. It turned out they were all former champions – among them Ille Nastase and Pat McNamara. They were obviously having fun, and it was very entertaining to watch them. If you wandered past them and up the hill, you came across a marquee housing a chocolate fountain. You just helped yourself to a skewer, and selected something from the huge range of treats – mini donuts, marshmallows, fudge, strawberries etc – which you then dipped in the fountain of chocolate. It took great self discipline to drag ourselves away from that marquee – but not before we had tried a good selection of the treats on offer.

A secret walled garden further up was the location for a classical quartet playing orchestral versions of some very modern music which was lovely. Wandering beyond this point revealed another bar, and table tennis tables where the British Table Tennis team were playing matches with guests. From here you could wander into the house, where one room was given over to SEGA racing machines, a Wii and other computer based amusements. There really was something for everyone.

The weather was gorgeous – only a couple of showers threatened and these blew over without incident. It was so amusing. All three of us had a lovely time. When the afternoon ended, every lady was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers. Mine has hydrangeas, roses, calla lilies and some beautiful purple flowers I don’t know the name of. It really was a super day.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

12th July 2008 - Stepping Back in Time

Alex has a plum assignment for his Year 10 Work Experience next week. He’s working on the Roman Life Project – the excavation at Silchester. I needed to go along to find out where I needed to take him every day next week, plus they very conveniently had an open day today, so we headed off first thing to check it all out.

It was quite a windy drive through the country lanes, but we finally arrived at the car park. You then walk about 700 metres down a path to get to the excavation site. Bearing in mind I wanted to be an archaeologist until I was about 15 (at which point I realised it involved hours of patience and frustration and decided I’d probably be better suited to something else) arriving at the excavation at Silchester was incredible. I wish I had taken photographs when we arrived, but frankly I was so blown away by everything I was seeing I totally forgot! For me, it was like the scene in one of the Indiana Jones films where they arrive on the excavation site near the pyramids, with all the walkways above it. It was completely overwhelming. You can look down on the remains of a city circa 60 or 70 AD, with everyone working on slowly brushing away the sands of time, to reveal bits of walls, wells, kitchen implements and the stuff of day to day life 2000 years ago.

They were offering tours of the site, which we took advantage of, and there were also various displays of artefacts which made it very interesting. It did rain at one point, but that didn’t stop us all looking round and absorbing the atmosphere. It was incredible. Alex is going to love next week.

I’m amazed we have such an incredible example of history so close to us. The Roman Wall that surrounds the area is incredibly well preserved, and you see bits of it as you drive through the surrounding villages. To think, we’ve got an example of something so historic, so very close to us. And to think that Alex gets to spend a week there, immersing himself in that amazing history. Wow!

To find out more about the University of Reading’s excavation at Silchester (this is their 12th summer there!), click here. The picture on the page you see first is what confronted us at close range when we arrived. Incredible!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Life, the Universe, and Sweet Peas

The concert last night was really nice. I need not have been worried about it. Of course, it is usually the “good” children who do get involved in extra-curricular activities so we did not see many of the bad apples which was great. They also had a display of artwork that some of the sixth form students had done which was very interesting. Alex played very well as did all the other performers and we really enjoyed it.

This morning Guy went out to get Alex a new iPhone 3G which of course involved queuing. I want to upgrade my iPhone to a 3G but I’m going to wait till all the fuss dies down and everything is easier. I don’t really “do” queuing unless I absolutely have to- in which case I am a very well behaved “queuer” and get very upset if anyone does not follow the unwritten rules of queuing! Having said that, I’m a little jealous that Alex has his 3G and I don’t, but never mind! Poor Alex has to have his tetanus booster this afternoon – the least I can do is let him have the pleasure of being the first in the family to have one of these amazing new phones.

After I went for my run this morning I went out to have a look at my sweet peas in the garden. I’m not the sort of gardener who spends ages out there working, but I do love my garden and it brings me a huge amount of pleasure. I’m especially enjoying watching our garden here evolve and show me how it wants to look. It is the biggest garden we have ever owned, so I do have my work cut out for me! Anyway, back to the sweet peas…well, almost to the sweet peas but bear with me…

I have a china vase that used to belong to my Grandma Piott, which my Mom gave to me some years ago. It was one of the few things Grandma brought with her from England to Canada when she was a little girl. It is just a tiny little thing, with a heraldic shield on it and the words “Shrewsbury Abbey” underneath it. Mom gave it to me because I always loved it when I was a child. When I used to pick violets from our garden on Krug Street, this vase was just the right size to put them in. Mom used to let me carefully fill it with water and put the violets in it. I realise now that it was still relatively early days for my Mom in terms of her grief over losing her own Mom back then. My Grandma had died less than four years before I was born and I was still really little. I suppose it was a way for Mom to remember her, by letting me use the vase.

But back to the sweet peas (finally!). I’ve always made a habit of putting small flowers in Grandma’s vase – from the little buttercups Alex used to pick for me when he was a toddler to small flowers from all our gardens over the years. So I picked some of those first sweet peas that were in bloom and put them in it. When I stepped back to have a look at it, I suddenly realised that this was one of the first times I had used the vase since Mom’s death. It reminded me of her, and of when I was a little girl, picking flowers from our garden. And I suddenly thought how putting flowers in my little vase is kind of a way of remembering my Mom. It’s also a way of remembering my Grandma, even though I never knew her. And it made me think about all the amazing women I’ve known who have passed away. From Mom’s dear friend – the woman I always referred to as my second Mom - Jenny Modrowski, to my Aunt Irene, Aunt Trish and my lovely cousin Barbara Wild, without whom I probably would not even have come to England. It makes me happy to think that such a small thing, something that is so very old, can help me feel connected to all those wonderful women who helped me to grow into the woman I am now.

All that from a walk in the garden, an antique vase and a few little sweet peas. Who’d have thought?!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chaos As Usual!

Chaos as usual here! We are all pretty sleep deprived and running on empty, looking forward to the weekend.

Yesterday was so busy. An old colleague of Guy’s was coming round to dinner, but I also had to take Alex all the way to Birmingham for his orthodontist appointment (you start out with an orthodontist, you stick with him all the way through!). Birmingham is a good two hour drive, but I knew that yesterday it would take longer as the weather was absolutely appalling. The appointment was at 3pm, and our dinner guest was due at 7pm. It was going to be a tight squeeze, no matter how I sliced it.

So I spent the morning rushing round getting everything ready – tidying up, setting the table, grabbing a few last minute things etc. etc. At 11.50am I hightailed it off up the road to collect Alex from school and we set off on our journey. The rain was just torrential. Visibility was not good at all, and the roads were like skid pans. Our normal two hour journey took closer to two and a half hours. We did get there in time though, and even managed to stop for a quick bite of lunch.

The hysterical thing about these orthodontist appointments is that they last all of twenty minutes, if that. When we combine a trip up to the orthodontist with something else, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous. But yesterday, being as we had to be back in time to cook dinner, the impracticality of the fact that we were spending four hours plus in the car to get to a twenty minute appointment was glaring obvious and kind of irritating. But what can you do? You can’t change orthodontists in the middle of your treatment, any more than you would want to change plastic surgeon in the middle of your face lift! When someone is redesigning your bite, and hence your face, you really don’t want to mess around. They are really nice in the office though and even got Alex and I coffee before we set off again.

So we got back in the car once again and headed back off down towards home. If anything, the weather was worse. Even driving cautiously there was so much water on the road it was impossible not to aquaplane from time to time. The journey home took two and a half hours as well, but we made it through the door by 6pm, which gave me a whole hour (wow!) till our guest was due to arrive. I tried to get my face to relax (I’d been concentrating so hard on driving in the bad conditions you could see the tension written all over it) while I touched up my makeup and rushed around getting things ready to prepare dinner.

Guy came through the door at 6.45pm, just off the train from London after a very busy day. Things were nearly set to go. If you want to see what I cooked for dinner, check out today’s entry on my food blog at . Actually, the evening went really well on the whole, and our guest was very good company. He and Guy really enjoyed seeing each other again. He didn’t stay that late either, but we were all exhausted at the end of it.

So this morning, I really relished my morning coffee. In fact, it took two cups of the stuff, and a cool shower to drag me into full wakefulness. After Guy and Alex had left for work and school respectively, I rushed around doing the usual morning routine of picking up after us all before heading off to my Pilates class. I saw a cup on top of the desk in the study, which I quickly grabbed, assuming it to be empty. I narrowly missed throwing lukewarm tea all over myself. Guy and Alex are so funny. If I have a cup of tea or coffee, I really enjoy it, and unless I am running around doing my chicken with its head cut off impression, I generally finish all of it. They don’t. For them, it is more the idea of a cup of tea or coffee that appeals more than the actual drink itself. They might carry it round with them, but very rarely do they drink it all. I find half full cups of tea everywhere. Guy’s excuse is that “it’s too hot”. It’s tea for heaven’s sake, of course it is hot. Not that this is a sore point or anything….

Today is another busy one, with Alex performing at a recital this evening. It’s at the school. If you read this blog regularly, you will know how unhappy we are with Alex’s school due to the fact that the bullies seem to be running the place. So tonight is an opportunity for us to present a united front as a family and I want to look good. I’m going to have to pull out all the stops though, especially in my attempts to make the dark circles under my eyes disappear! I’m not quite sure how it is all going to work logistically either. Alex is at school till 5pm working on coursework and Guy won’t get home until at least 6pm if I’m lucky. Alex has to be out the door again by 6.15pm and Guy and I have to be at the concert before it starts at 7pm. All this and dinner too! I think this might be a night for my famous Emergency Spaghetti (also on my food blog!).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"Just Who Will I Be?"

Guy got in at 12.30am last night, and was out the door again by 7am. This is when being a corporate wife is a pain. Mind you, Guy isn’t having a ball either. He is incredibly busy and tired, and just when he thought he was forty minutes away from home last night, road works made his journey almost double that time.

After a day of torrential rain and even some thunderstorms yesterday, the sun is finally out today. The garden is absolutely gorgeous after the rain, everything growing for all it is worth. Even my sweet peas are starting to come out. I love sweet peas.

I’ve read a wonderful little book today called “Just Who Will You Be?” by Maria Shriver. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s inspiring and thought provoking, taking you beyond “me” to “we” and then back to “me” again in a fascinating study of how none of us is ever finished growing and developing. Its words empower you to change and grow no matter who you are or what age you are. If you can get hold of a copy, do. It only takes about an hour to read, so no excuses about being too busy! Whether you are eighteen, eighty, or something in between, this book will speak to you.

I particularly liked how Maria Shriver talks about housewifery and motherhood being vitally important in society and I loved point 2 of her pledge to herself at the end - “to avoid using the word “just” to describe myself”. Well, if you have read this website in any detail you know I agree with that one!!

Actually, I had no idea what amazing things Maria Shriver is up to. She has a fantastic website which you can see by clicking here. Admittedly the website does refer directly to California, but the message could be translated a long way beyond California itself with its focus on “We”. Maria Shriver is also heading up a Women’s Conference in Long Beach this October. Click here for more information. It’s one I would like to attend but due to the distance and timing I’m not sure I’m going to be able to. We’ll see. The focus of the conference is excellent - “Be Who You Are”. Not “how to be someone else / richer / thinner / more organised / a better human being” – but “Be Who You Are”. As I say on the Welcome page of my website , “You really are amazing just as you are right now. You do not need anything else – no special products, nothing fancy - just the wonderful person that you are.” It’s true, and I’m not the only one who says so!

On that positive note, I’m off to ponder. Aside from “The 21st Century Housewife”, “Just Who I Will Be?”!

7th July 2008

Guy went to the British Grand Prix yesterday. Alex had rehearsals for an evening concert so he and I stayed behind. It was one of those really chaotic days with everyone in different places. Luckily Guy made it back to see Alex play in his concert, slipping into his seat just a few minutes before Alex came on stage. This was despite sitting in traffic for hours, desperately trying different routes to get back. I was so grateful he managed to be there.

I must admit, I didn’t exactly bound of bed full of enthusiasm for my Monday morning this morning. I felt utterly exhausted. But once again, exercise saved the day. After a good run (on the treadmill as it was raining sadly) and some floor exercises I felt like a new person. I’ve lost an inch off my waist in the last month, with no dieting at all, just with the exercise. It is wonderful watching my body reshape itself with the help of some willpower, a great personal trainer, wonderful Pilates instructor and excellent yoga teacher!

It really is a busy time here, with so much going on. There are a lot of end of term activities for Alex, including a last minute rush for the few remaining bits of coursework. Next week Alex has work experience at a Roman excavation. It sure beats stacking shelves at the grocery store, that’s for sure! I just hope the weather co-operates. I’m busy getting ready for the summer, so we can relax and enjoy the nicer weather and hopefully all three of us having more time together.

Alex and I have been cooking together a lot recently. I feel very strongly that young people should have a good repertoire of easy dishes they feel confident cooking. There are very few life skills more important than being able to feed yourself and your friends. Alex has really been enjoying it, and he’s beginning to develop some great recipes of his own, some of which he has very kindly given me permission to share on the new Food Blog. I’ll be adding them gradually over the next few weeks.

Guy is going to be working long hours the next couple of days, but I’m hopeful that things will slow down towards the weekend and we’ll have a bit of a lull. It’s been so busy lately I hardly know what task to take on next!

Friday, July 04, 2008

3rd July 2008

Sometimes days just fall into place like yesterday, and other days they just don’t. I am not sure it is the fault of the actual day – in fact I know that it most certainly is not. I’m pretty sure it is the way I look at the day that can change how it turns out. And today has not been the best of days.

It is a busy time at the moment for all of us, and the fact that I still have not managed to finish sorting out the study, library and garage from our move is an almost constant irritation to me. I know I can get it done, but I always hesitate to start as going through papers, books etc almost always turns up something that reminds me of Mom and Dad and makes me feel sad. So I do everything I can to avoid the pain. The thing is, Guy really needs the study to be sorted, as he is working in the dining room most of the time at the moment and that does not work for either of us. Even though we don’t “need” the table as we have a dining area in the kitchen as well, the dining room is one of the first rooms you see as you come in the house and we all like it to be tidy. I need the library sorted as that is, in effect, my study. It is also my refuge, where I keep my favourite books, furniture and photographs. At the moment, even carving a path to the reading chair is a dangerous enterprise, involving getting over and round boxes of books, memories and the strange metaphysical presence of my frustrating and irritating reluctance to move forward. So I don’t read in there, and I’m working mostly on the kitchen table at the moment. The library is one of the prettiest rooms in the house as well, with a gorgeous feature window, and mostly I keep the door closed to hide the mess. Not ideal.

And for some reason today was just really hard work. Even my Pilates class was a struggle – although in the end I was very proud of how hard I had worked and what I had achieved – and yoga was made harder by the fact my head kept getting in the way of trying to move through the poses. (By my head I mean my mind of course, not my actual head!) The fact that Guy had a hugely busy day as well was not helping, and when I finally texted him at 7.15pm asking should I give Alex some dinner and then get ours later, we were both pretty stressed out.

I thought I had recovered the situation as Alex and I had a really nice time in the kitchen making his dinner. I taught him to make an omelette. Alex really likes cooking and I think it is vitally important that young people be able to cook healthy, nutritious food for themselves. It was wonderful to watch Alex being creative and learning to make something for himself that he really enjoyed eating.

But the truth is, both Alex and I should have eaten a bit earlier. Because by the time I had made Guy’s dinner and he had got home and we had eaten, I was frazzled out of my mind. Guy had work to do after dinner as well. So Alex and I went to have a quick look at the television to chose something for him to download off the Apple TV to watch tomorrow night (Guy and I are out tomorrow evening). So Guy put his Bose headphones on so he could work.

I hate Bose headphones. Guy has a top of the line pair, and they completely cut out all outside noise. He likes them because as well as having great sound quality, they can also be worn to cut out all outside noise and make it quiet. He can use them to sleep on airplanes. I can’t wear them except to play music. The total absence of sound just makes me feel claustrophobic – to me it’s like I’m dead.

Anyway, after a while Alex went upstairs and Guy carried on working. Being in the mood I was, I was kind of floating around not really doing anything in particular. This is the point I should have done something nice for myself like go upstairs and read or something. But I carried on working – ironing, tidying etc. Guy carried on wearing his headphones, so I could not even say a few words to him without having to touch him on the shoulder. Alex was upstairs watching television.

So being in the mood I was I felt completely abandoned and rejected. In retrospect this was stupid, I should have just taken the opportunity to have some “me” time. But I hate “me” time and I hate Bose headphones. So I chose the mature approach and got really, really cross. Eventually I just stormed off to bed – after making sure Guy could hear me whilst I told him how much I hated those headphones.

I felt quite badly afterwards as Guy worked till nearly 2am. But I learned something from it all – I need to put myself first more often. Just because everyone else is busy I don’t have to be. And I don’t have to wait until someone else is free to relax with me to go and do something relaxing myself. I’m allowed to take a break, and I don’t have to feel rejected just because everyone else is doing something else. I think most 21st Century Housewives could learn from this one. And it is probably easier to learn it by reading this than by doing what I did – “storming off” is always exhausting!!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Corporate Wife

Today was one of those days where I woke up knowing I was a corporate wife and knowing that there was no other thing I would rather be. It might have been 4.15am but that did not matter one bit.

Guy was on the Eurostar at 7.30am from St Pancras to Paris for meetings, so that meant getting up at 4.15am in order to get the train from Reading and then the tube to St Pancras to get Eurostar. I'm really glad I didn't have to do that part. Luckily, I was able to do my job in my pyjamas! All I really had to do was put on the light and actually haul ass and get up. So many people say to me they don't bother to get up when their husbands have to go somewhere. I just have to. As far as I'm concerned, you say goodbye when they leave at the front door and hello when they come home at the front door - even if it means flinging yourself out of bed and down the stairs at 6am when the flight from Singapore comes in early...or at 2m when the flight from Germany gets in late. But you get up and you do it at the front door. After all, they are getting up to go and do the job that pays the bills. And even if you have money, pay bills and have a job of your own, you do it because another human being cares enough to get out of bed and go to work to benefit the family. (So I'd expect a bloke to do the same thing for his wife if she was heading off on a business trip - Guy has always done it for me!)

As it happened, I remembered this morning when a very exhausted Guy nearly forgot to take the Euro from the drawer beside the bed (fondly referred to as the foreign exchange drawer). Two heads are always better than one, and never more so than before 5am. And it means a lot to have someone standing there beside you when you have to get up and function at an ungodly hour. Seeing them snoring away while you stumble around is nothing short of soul destroying.

Needless to say, once Guy was safely on his way, I retreated back to bed. It took me a while to fall asleep (why are birds so loud at 4.45 am???) but I got a good two hours in before I got up with Alex as he got ready for school.

I don't think there is anything I would rather do than be a housewife and corporate wife. Yes, I'd like this role to evolve and become something that could benefit others as well as my family, and I have every confidence that is going to happen. But for the moment, it's enough, and I'm really very grateful indeed to have the opportunity to be who am I right now. And yes, I'll be standing at the front door with a cup of tea or a drink when Guy gets in at nearly 11pm tonight - and I'll count myself blessed to have the opportunity to support him however I can. Not only because I love him, but because that is what he has always - without question or exception - done for me.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

We had a really fun weekend. On Saturday afternoon, our Goddaughter Tilly (see photo on the left) arrived to celebrate her birthday with us. Tilly is the daughter of our dear friends Lesley and Dudley and they brought her to see us after a day out at Legoland. Tilly’s older brother Elliot, Guy’s Godson, came too. We were thrilled to be able to celebrate Tilly’s birthday with her. We had a really good visit with everyone and had a huge laugh watching the animated film “Flushed Away” after Tilly’s birthday tea and cake.

Lesley, Dudley and family went home after breakfast Sunday morning. Although we had plans to try to sort out some more of the boxes in the study, the weather was gorgeous so we drove to Pangbourne and walked all the way home along the Thames Path instead. It’s about a three mile walk along the path to Pangbourne so it is a good hike. We saw loads of beautiful boats, some of them clearly antique but in wonderful condition, and also lots of people out enjoying the sunshine. It was wonderful. Of course, once we got home we had to drive back to collect the car, but it was worth it! Perhaps next time we’ll walk both to and from Pangbourne!

Sunday night we watched Fool’s Gold which we rented on our Apple TV. It was a lovely comedy with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in it – my kind of film – a good plot, funny and not too violent!