Category Archives: Not a ‘homemaker’

It’s not working

I’m holed up in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday. I’ve a dental check-up bang in the middle of the day so I’m working from home around it. Except I’m not working. It’s not working.

Firstly, if I could be sitting downstairs at my desk in the home office it would be a bit more conducive to sensible concentrating than lounging on my bed. But I can’t. The office is full of provisions which have been evacuated from the kitchen and set out on the camping racks, temporarily erected for the purpose. I was very prepared, planning how to make our four week sojourn without a kitchen less bleak. There’s everything we need to self-cater the month away: the two-ring camping stove all tubed up to the gas bottle in the corner, and on the racking a couple of pans, the knife and chopping blocks, cutlery and pasta, rice, noodles, tinned stuff, a few herbs and condiments, breakfast cereals, a couple of onions and peppers, some bananas and apples. The fridge is in the hall, fully stocked, next to a cupboard, newly resituated and housing a few plates, bowls, mugs and glasses. [But the microwave’s on top, in pride of place. Because, in reality, two and a half weeks in, we’ve relied on friends, Grandma and Grandad, take-outs, meals out, but, mostly, I have to admit, Billy-no-mates microwave meals. In the couple of years or so before my Mum completely lost her mind (you could say while it was being mislaid), I used to do her grocery shopping and microwave meals became a staple part of her diet, at first because she could still manage to heat them up herself and then later for her tea-time carers to serve her. Choosing a varied (though balanced would be exaggerating) selection – not too many pasta-based, plenty of vegetables, some fish and meat, a spicy one or two – was a bit of a highlight of our regular mother and daughter routine. And so it has become for R and me, mother and son browsing together in the supermarket. Last night we shook it all up a bit and went for the soup options. Crazy.  Anyway, I digress]. It’s all very make-do and cluttered down there.

Practically speaking, then, it’s not easy to be downstairs, what with all the foodstuff. And then there’s the commotion. Slamming, banging, smashing, sawing, drilling, shouting, singing, radio blaring.  One wall’s been completely demolished, one knocked through, everything’s been stripped out, electrics rewired, plumbing moved, a gas pipe installed, flooring ripped up, walls and ceiling replastered and now the refit is beginning and on it goes. In the process they’ve uncovered two long-abandoned mice nests under the boards, one still stocked with a stash of dried pellets of dog food! Ew! We’ve lived here for nearly 20 years and never heard the scuttle of a mouse and only very rarely fed any dogs (we’re not asked much anymore to dog sit, you won’t wonder why if you’ve read this), which just goes to show these have been here for yonks! It’s too much to face.

So that’s why I’m away up the stairs. We have no running water down below, so up here we’ve fixed up our little breakfast station, with kettle, toaster, stock of bread and muffins, tea and coffee, jam and marmalade and marmite and peanut butter. Just a wee fridge missing so there’s some upping and downing in the process, but still, it feels cosy in the mornings (and, to tell the truth, mid-morning, mid-afternoon and at bedtime too), our own little b&b set-up. It’s definitely another distraction in the working-from-home-not-working scenario but we’re liking it so much we think we might invest in said mini fridge, double up on the kettle and toaster combo and keep it going even when the new kitchen’s in full swing.

But it’s not just the surroundings. I’m also taking a while to adjust to the mental self-discipline that working from home requires.  I lamented the loss of my professional role when we relocated to Houston, yet now I’m defining a new one, it’s still a teensy bit of a struggle to shrug off the carelessness of a carefree life. Actually, how do you slough off a lack of something? It was an unfettered way of being, with self-imposed routines revolving around leisure more than labour and an often less-than-executive focus. So, there’s that, my inner regimen taking its time to reemerge…

Fundamentally, however, I can’t entirely blame the lack of kitchen, noisy builders, the homely little nook on the landing or my mushy brain. There’s something else too: the office crack. I missed it and that whole other circle in the Venn diagram of life, overlapping but not completely overlaid with the home and family and friendship ones. Most of what  I’m paid to do now can be done anywhere I can hook up to a screen and wifi, yet I’ve chosen to mainly do it in the office and the truth is that I probably would’ve done even with a kitchen and peace and quiet and the ability to focus in the house. It’s funny there and not really very funny at all here, and I quite like a gossip, and an exchange of ideas, and asking for help and being asked for help and, well, the company, really.

So for all these reasons, for me, this working at home malarkey? It’s not working. Hence this.

Christmas decorations? Could do better!

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My friend Sue (she knows I’m writing this) isn’t American but she has been here for 12 years.   I took these pictures of her house today specifically for this blog.  And I didn’t even bother to include her three Christmas trees. Yes, she does have three.

Sue may be the Queeof Christmas in my book, but she’s got serious competition from countless others. Did you know that you can buy Christmas pictures, banners, cushions, tea-towels, hand towels, crockery, serving bowls and plates and jugs and glasses and mugs, tree skirts and mats, table runners, table mats, doormats, salt and pepper grinders, nutcrackers, corkscrews, loo roll, kitchen roll, bedding, dog bedding, dog bowls, and, actually, absolutely anything that goes in a home?  And folk do.  The shops are bursting with it all and it’s being bought, more and more of it to add to last year’s and the year before that’s.

It is difficult to comprehend the scale of the standard interior yuletide decor unless you’ve experienced it. Even these pictures of Sue’s place don’t do it justice. You walk in and you’re suffused with it, suddenly wishing you had a glass of mulled wine in your hand and resisting the urge to burst out with a carol or two. Last year I was quite overwhelmed, although this year I’m much less fazed. I believe it seeps beneath your skin until you become immune to the glorious, cheesy, over-the-topness and eventually start kitsching up like a true native. At a do the other night where we exchanged secret santa gifts, I was genuinely taken by a festive apron and a nodding reindeer candle holder, so you see it’s already happening to me.  (Last year I took a pepper spray as a bit of a, I thought, fun gift to a secret santa party which didn’t go down well. If it’s not Christmas themed and preferably decorative and made of china then, well, you really shouldn’t bother.  And everyone knew it was mine because a) I was the only non-American and b) I hadn’t put enough effort into its presentation – it was just a very small wrapped parcel when, as an absolute minimum, it ought to have involved some tissue paper and a gift bag or box. Mortified I was.)

So lordy lordy, the pressure’s really mounting to get our house decorated. And that would be outside as well as in. Now that our neighbours, the Ks, have switched on their lights, ours is the last of the five in our little crescent to remain dark. This happened last year,  our first Christmas in America. Mr N was away in the build-up, and I just couldn’t leave it any longer without us being considered the miserable British b*stards in the corner not joining in.  So I got myself a string of lights, visualising something of an ‘understated but classy’ look, and set boldly forth with the stepladders, hammer and nails.  Well, our house is not the biggest or the highest, but blimey, the ladders were heavy and hard to manoeuvre  round the shrubbery and the nails I was using were actually flimsy picture hooks which kept falling out of the fascia boards, which themselves were very hard to reach, and the line of lights quickly became an uneven series of slumps between the fixings, not a neat, tight contour of the roof as originally envisaged. But having lugged the ladders to the front of the house and got started there was to be no turning back. Three hours later (honestly, three), with a right sweat on and, frankly, feeling more than a bit cross, I’m at the end of the light string but, sadly, not at the end of the house. I have two choices: i) go and buy another set, or ii) make do. I made do.  The lights sagged a bit dismally from the eaves at the left, over the windows and door, to three-quarters of the way across the front of the house, where they abruptly took a straight line down. ‘Unusual’, I would say, rather than ‘understated but classy’.

Two days later, things took a turn for the worse. We had a storm. I feared my lights wouldn’t survive at all. But they did! Partially. The full string was still up, but one half, in a block to the left, had gone out, leaving alight just a couple of droopy dips in the middle and the straight down bit. They had now become officially ‘sad’ and, I’m ashamed to admit, that’s how they stayed for the season. While out walking the neighbours’ dog (thankfully they at least were abroad and would not, therefore, be witness), a lady from somewhere else in the neighbourhood stopped to introduce herself because she recognised the dog. “Oh”, she exclaimed with a dawning realisation after a couple of minutes of chat, “yours is the house with the lights!”  ‘Nuff said. I have no photo to show, but our holiday guests, Helen and Mark, can vouch for the awfulness, shamed as they were by having to stay in said house with the lights.

As I write this, all we’ve managed so far is an advent calendar inside and a big fat zero outside so we’ve got some serious santa-fying ahead of us this weekend.  Back home it wasn’t unusual for us to put the tree up on the night the kids broke up from school, but here it starts with a vengeance right after Thanksgiving so we’re well behind and I’m starting to feel that I can’t have anyone round until some more energy’s been spent on it.

But the funny thing is, despite the early clamour to get extravagantly Christmassy, your typical Yank heads straight back to work on Boxing Day (which simply doesn’t exist here – I never knew that till last year!) so it’s all over in a flash. We of course like to slum it out for days, gorging on leftover turkey and chocolates, watching films and TV specials, playing board games, doing the quiz of the year, certainly not working, and of course drinking too much and inappropriately early in the afternoon. We really should, then, make more of an effort with the decorations. Yes indeedy, most certainly could do better!


Squeaky clean or squew-whiff?

When we got in the other night my house was messier than my neighbours’, the K family, despite the fact that we‘d spent the evening eating  there. Granted, it was the end of a Saturday during which the whole family had been in at various times, but then so had the Ks, and they have two teenage boys too. So that’s no excuse. And we’re one down, our messiest offspring, H, being 5,000 miles away, so I can no longer chalk up the third child thing. And of course it’s been more than a year since working full time has been a reasonably valid claim for the clutter.

The reality is that some people manage to keep their houses tidy no matter what their circumstances and some people just can’t. I have friends who could  move house and you wouldn’t know it the day after, who can juggle babies, toddlers, teens, girls and boys, working, partying, you name it, and their homes remain spotless. I mean clean as well as tidy. I just can’t seem to do either very well, and certainly rarely both. Even when I had a cleaner, our place was scruffy not sparkling for six days out of seven.

It doesn’t help that my whole family is a bit slovenly with a high threshold for mess tolerance. It probably only needs one of the adults in a household to abhor a bit of dust or a pile of unfiled papers for the order to be restored frequently, but if both of you don’t care quite enough then it’s a recipe for, well, disorder.  Don’t get me wrong, ours is an organised mess: it’s rare that we can’t find the important things we frequently need to find (not so my reading glasses though), and things have their place and at times make it back there, and I’ve always managed to keep on top of the bathrooms and the washing and the washing up, but I do find that those last three seem to take up an awful lot of time and energy, always, and there is often simply not enough left to get round to the less health impacting stuff.

Saturday’s late night disarray comprised in part:

Not a clear surface anywhere

Not a clear surface anywhere

  • Two saucepans and a mug all containing remains of custard; R’s offer of  help with sherry trifle led to use of three pans – two to make custard for trifle itself (one turned out not to be big enough) and another to make more custard for himself which he then drank out of said mug; (he washed up one pan and some bowls and spoons etc;)
  • a pile of school photo proofs which we don’t like but haven’t got round to discarding (should we just order some for grandma and granddad anyway?);
  • two bowls with dried and hardened sausage stew scrapings which the boys had both eaten “to keep us going” right before heading next door for a meal;
  • large pan of above sausage stew, originally from Friday, still on hob, ladle on counter in smeary pool;
  • (obviously) empty beer bottles and wine glasses, remnants of apéros before dinner date;
  • several (in fact many) items of clothing, including but not exclusively: random socks and pants [British] (boys’); emergency cardy for cold shops and restaurants (mine); two cycling tops and four towels and a pair of running shoes snatched in from outside as it started raining (everybody’s);  a brand new pair of stripey happy socks and Breaking Bad t-shirt, two of Mr N’s birthday presents still lying around from Tuesday;
  • brand new margarita glass, cycling top, books (two), Empire State model (not yet built), and three bottles of whisky/whiskey – the rest of Mr N’s birthday presents still lying around from Tuesday;
  • a one-third completed, long-since abandoned jigsaw puzzle taking up loads of room on the table;
  • a horrid little cluster of small items such as calculator, broken bike light, tape measure, bag of coins, watch, adaptor plug, and shoelaces which has festered into a permanent home on the corner of one of the shelves;
  • a mute, sheet music, at least one trumpet and other trumpeting paraphernalia;
  • shoes EVERYWHERE;
  • and more, much, much more.

So, squeaky clean or squew-whiff – how do your surfaces scrub up?

I do the ironing now!

Well who’d’ve believed it: I do the ironing now!  You see, in my previous life (see ‘About Anthea’ page) I NEVER did the ironing. I didn’t have the time for it and I didn’t like it either. I mean this; I can count on the fingers of one hand, and specify, the garments I took the trouble to press. Mr N ironed his own work shirts and the kids, from a very  young age (before which they were at the always -grubby-covered-in-food-snot-and-paint stage anyway so what did it matter?), did their own stuff too if they really wanted to, which they mainly didn’t. My crease-free requirements were limited to important meetings at work, not an everyday occurrence by any means, and generally accomplished through dry-clean-only gear or, more usually, a quick exit from the dryer and a snappy fold. It helped that the kids didn’t have to wear school uniform, but nevertheless I’m pretty sure that we didn’t go about looking especially un-ironed.

So how is it, then, that nowadays I have PILES of the stuff? Maybe the teachers did share a running joke about our ever-crumpled kids, or our friends about our furrowed family? But I don’t really think so. No, rather, it’s just further proof of the maxim: work expands to fill the time.  In this life, I even have an ironing routine! Late Monday afternoon when the boys are home from school, listening along to the Archers Omnibus on BBC Radio 4 i-player, is my soothing, smoothing slot.  D’you see what’s been happening here? I’m even beginning to like it! This follows Sunday’s big wash, dry and sort: work shirts, school shirts, sweaty sports stuff, end of week catch-all of itinerant pants and socks; one week’s big pile of things to fold and stow, one week’s bigger pile of things to iron. Blimey, I didn’t even used to pile, fold and stow; finding your own clean clothes in our house was a bun-fight through one of the several baskets of done washing, wherever they might be.

But that’s because, back then in that life, I had a different role. Actually, it might be more accurate to just say I had a role. I went to work doing a job I enjoyed, earning a nice little salary that contributed significantly to our necessities and to our luxuries. And because of this, I was worthy of any time for myself in which I could (and did!) do nothing if I wanted to.  (I used to listen to the Archers Omnibus live on Sunday mornings, doing nothing.) Here, it’s not so much a role I have as a capacity. I can attend all the school meetings, I can commit to committees, I can keep the house clean myself (although for some reason I’m not very good at doing this), I can volunteer with the homeless, I can be the family taxi-driver (someone has to be in Houston, believe me) and the family correspondent, I can do all the shopping and cook all the meals and make healthy lunch boxes for my boys, I can write, I can lunch, I can run and cycle and play tennis. And of course, I can iron.

This has been my first blog and I can hardly believe it myself that it’s about ironing. Oh well!  I’d like to thank the Website Set Up Guide site for setting me off on my blogging way.