Monthly Archives: March 2016

Where do the hours go?

Standard

It’s been nearly a month since I stopped working and I’m still having mixed feelings. If on one hand I am loving being able to go to my daughter’s school in the middle of the morning to watch her dancing for Sports Relief, or go to talks about math, or spend some time clearing accumulated mess around the house, on the other I am not enjoying the lack of structure, rigid plans and sense of being productive.

Mondays, for example, are the days to tidy up and clean the house from the weekend with family at home. This is what I’ve done today. I am also sorting last details for our trip to Florida – basically printing whatever important document we need to take with us, putting everything in a folder so we have everything easy to access, etc. And I started packing; 75% done, I would say. I am also looking at venues for the girls’ joint birthday party – calling venues, checking costs and availability. I called and wrote to a few, but no success so far. I also washed and dried clothes, twice. And now the day is gone. Just like that.

While some people would say it was quite a productive day, for me it wasn’t much really. I read the posts I wrote a few weeks back and the sentiment is the same of not being productive, of feeling I’m not doing enough. The main difference is that I am not killing myself now. I can do stuff during the week, so I don’t have to freak out on the weekends. I am yet to come to terms with this new life; I’m yet to stop judging myself and realise that this new life is a good life, not a waste of time. Taking it easy is not a bad thing, is it? If I wasn’t happy before, I am doing the right thing and trying to slow down. Am I? So why doesn’t it feel good?

The main objective was to take March off, to recover from all the years of sleepless nights, all the anxiety, all the stress, all the manic routine. Yet, I didn’t take one single nap during the day since I stopped working. This is the one thing I was missing the most since I had children: being able to take a nap after lunch on the weekends. I can now, during the week. But I feel like I’m being watched (by whom? God?) and being judged for wasting precious time that I could have been… working? cleaning? cooking?

I won’t lie. I had so many plans for this period: learn another language, another skill, exercise, sort all the mess around the house, meet all my friends that are not working or are working from home, talk to people, stop shopping online and go to the supermarket. I have done very little of those and I have no energy to. I could blame it on the weather (and I partially will), I just can’t get myself to get out of the house. I can’t. Too cold, too grey outside. Inside is so much nicer.

We will soon be off on holidays and when I’m back I will have to have my life sorted out, even if just planning the routine. Either that, or I will soon start looking for a job.

 

Advertisements

Planning holidays and trips

Standard

I love going on holidays, but don’t like planning the trips at all. I don’t mind to research bit, read about places and choose the destination, but find it all very complicated to check logistics, compare prices, check offers, select accommodation. Especially because these days there are so many options that we can just spend several days looking and checking and looking again. Then you read the reviews and some are useful, some add even more confusion to our heads.

Holidays with kids can be pretty simple in a way: select a beach destination, find a accommodation with a swimming pool and that’s it. In theory, at least. This year we decided to change the strategy – but not much – and go to Disneyworld in Florida. We honestly thought it was just a matter of booking flights, finding accommodation, getting the tickets to the parks and that was it. I went to Disneyworld more than 25 years ago, in January, way before this climate change thing messed up the whole holiday planning. January was nice and warm, fresh I would say. There were queues, but nothing bizarre. We could see, do and go to most of the things we wanted, without too much hassle.

Now it seems like we are going to war, with so many strategies behind every move. You need to plan the days you should go to each park, as some are less busy than others, plan all the activities beforehand, so you don’t waste time in unnecessary queues, plan the meals, restaurantes, meet and greets. There is an app to help you with it. There are billions of blogs giving detailed information and planning tips. You have to book things in advance – sometimes 6 months ahead!, you need to have an idea of what attractions you want to go to. Of course, no one forces you, but without this careful planning, your trip can be ruined.

We are actually using the service of a travel agent to organize the trip. We booked the flights, the car and the insurance and she has sorted the accommodation and the itinerary + park tickets for us. She also has a very comprehensive blog (in Portuguese) about travel, including lots and lots of information on Disney, and has been several times to Orlando, with and without kids. So we are kind of taking her lead. Even small things like “this particular attraction might not be great for young kids”, despite me really wanting to go, is taking into account. The trip is for the kids and adults have a way around it (using single rider and child swap queue schemes, for example, that I only got to know about this week, reading her blog).

I will confess that after this whole experience, I would like to go again, another time, when it is less busy, for shorter period and maybe to stay in the park resorts. Or maybe not, maybe Disney will be ticked from our list for a few years, until they are old enough to go to every single ride and be able to walk for 10-12 hours without wanting us to carry them.

More to come on this trip soon.

A small office in the making (or the zero budget project) – part 3

Standard

I guess the hardest part is over. The room is in a decent shape and totally possible to work in it. Not one single penny was spent; I used everything I had already bought/got in the past. It is not ready, and I guess it will never be.

Some organizing is needed, but nothing too bizarre. Some cosmetic changes here and there are needed as well, but we need to fell the space and change accordingly. I’m a very practical person and having things just for the sake of having, with no real meaning or usage doesn’t work for me. I like it visually and I get why people would want to have a pretty space with a lot of pretty objects, but if it disturbs the flow of work (complicated places to put pen, little working space because it’s taken over by plants, etc) it is just not right for me.

So here is how the office is as of today. As I said, some changes required, including cosmetic ones, but overall, pretty pleased with the result and how much it cost (several hours of my days).

 

The view from the door

Is it my impression or the shelf is inclined? Ikea Kids poster on the left. Lion illustration for a kids nursery there too. Yes, it is possible to have kids artwork in the office, but if it wasn’t for the printer, this could easily be a wall of a nursery.

The desk. This Ikea desk is a bit… wonky. Or maybe we just don’t know how to assemble Ikea’s furniture well. Anyhoo, it’s ok to type, but really bad to write or draw on. I have a dog instead of a mouse. 😉

Laptop down: tah-dah!

And now from a different angle.

Now this is the part where I’m not so sure of, and probably the space that might change.

Hiding the cables and wires, visible cables drive me crazy!

I’m thinking about putting some plants on top of the shelf and maybe were the camera is. This camera is an old film camera that I didn’t want to get rid of (yet).

Details: box with washi tape in (I spray painted it), a candle, tray with a stapler and cute notes, a mask. I am trying to make some room in the cupboard in the dining room, so some of the stuff I had there is coming to the office (the mask and the candle are two of them).

Details: I’ve finally updated the photos, adding more recent ones of Laura and Beatrice. Previous photos were all Laura’s, when she was between 1 and 3 months old!

Details: hubby wanted a planning board, a simple one. So I made this using an old board, cardboard paper, washi tape, glue and 3M Command tapes. I would have used a black pen to write the titles, but I wasn’t in the room when he did it.

That’s it, peeps! Next plans are to make a cover for the chair, add some green bits around, sort a box of frames I have on the floor and… do some work.

A small office in the making (or the zero budget project) – part 2

Standard

Day 2: trying a different approach.

Instead of trying to find my way around the mess, I decided to remove it altogether and deal with it later. I’m not saying it was best or more efficient, but it felt right at the time.

Taking everything out of the room was the easiest part. It felt good, it felt like I was getting rid of things, it felt like I had space. In the room. Check out the state of the other rooms though:

My bedroom

 

The girls' bedroom

The girls’ bedroom

img_1341-1

The landing area

The landing area

 

The guest room

The guest room

Did I mention that we collected a bunch of stuff throughout the years and we have problems getting rid of things? Things that I found in this mess: 4 old mobile phones and about 8 different mobile charges, two broken laptops, a bunch of brand new/unused Frozen posters, lots of party favours from the girls old birthday parties (including Laura’s 1st party), old used nearly finished candles, many nearly finished notebooks, 6 old diaries, all sort of cables, floppy disks, dozens of empty DVD-Rs, dozens of used DVD-Rs with god knows what, shelves I bought and never put up, paper bags, brand new cushions, a bunch of fabric I was hoping to make stuff with… I also have manuals and boxes of every single thing we every bought.

One thing that delayed me on day 1 was actually sorting out our files. We piled up unopened mailed, which I managed to sort; I sorted old manual, Laura’s school reports and activities. Mr. C is also of the theory that he has to keep every paperwork he has ever got since moved to this country, so there are boxes of old bank statement, proof of addresses, utility bills from every single place he every lived in in the past 15 years. And because I am paranoid, I also kept my stuff from the past 10 years. I couldn’t be bothered to sort these ones out, by date, by category, like I did with our more recent stuff (as in past 5-6 years).

Once the box room was empty, it was time to clean it. Goodness, so much dust and mould. The photos below are a bit rubbish, the light was bad, there are shadows, but you can see some of the dirty on the skirting board and walls. I didn’t paint the walls, but I put bleach on everything and gave them a good scrub. And vacuum cleaned everything about three times. At the end of the day I was so damn allergic that I had to had medication to be able to sleep.

Check out the state of the of skirting board and the wall on the bottom left corner.

 

We decided to keep this unit because it would be too much trouble to remove them or even relocate them. It is a zero budget project at the end of the day.

 

Once it was all out of the way, I wanted to play a bit with the existing furniture. Should I keep them where they were? Should I move things around? I’m always up to moving things a bit, but I must confess: all the furniture in this room is old, cheap and ugly, so in the end, it was best to hide the uglier ones behind the door, as they were before.

I was tempted to place this shelf unit there, but it is so wobbly that I didn’t think it was safe. Main issue is the kids: they just go in everywhere and play with everything…

 

Then I thought about putting the archive there. But it is so ugly and now a bit broken… I thought about painting it or getting some wall paper to wrap it up, but I had nothing at home and will not spend money just yet.

 

This is how the set up is, when looking through the door. The shelf unit and the archive are behind the door, oddly placed, but hidden from the eyes.

The second day was easy, compared to the first one. Just cleaning and cleaning and playing with the position of the furniture. I did start sorting up things a bit more, but it wasn’t even 10% of the whole thing. At the end of the day, I had to put everything in the guest room so the mess would be out of the way and not a hazard to anyone.

A small office in the making (or the zero budget project) – part 1

Standard

One of the main things I wanted to do while at home, and before the Easter break, was to tidy up the house. This is a very ambitious plan, considering the amount of stuff we have been collecting throughout the years and how attached to these stuff we are. On top of that, I also challenged myself to spend as little as possible, using basically things I have already got at home.

I started with our box room, as it was by far the most messy place in the house (maybe just behind the garage). Our tiny room is the place where we dump stuff when we want the house to look ok, especially when we have visitors over. To add insult to injury, this room hasn’t been cleaned in several months, just because it is impossible to even get in.

This will be a series of posts where I will show the before, the during and the after of our home office makeover. Tips, constructive criticism and ideas are more than welcome. So here we go…

The messy room, as it was:

An old rug, old stair gates that we removed ages ago, two printers, one Silhouette Cameo, shirts to iron, and a bag of whatever on the floor.

 

Eeeer…. stuff. This is showing the space partially empty: the vacuum cleaner and the ironing board used to be on the right, where it is slightly empty now.

 

More and more stuff… there is more stuff to the top. This archive was partially destroyed when someone(s) broke into our house and the drawers don’t close properly.

 

I kept a bunch of bags – including those reusable shopping bags – behind the door. Not in the picture: there is a small unit with drawers behind the door as well, making the door hard to open in full.

 

First step was deciding to remove the ironing board+iron and vacuum cleaner out and placing them somewhere else. Finding somewhere else is always a challenge, so I had to empty one door in our wardrobe, where we stored heavy winter coats. We hardly ever used them, so making the decision of giving them to charity wasn’t too hard. An infiltration in the past left this area humid and mouldy, so I had to give it a good clean, polish it and pain it. I had left over paint at home, it wasn’t the right colour, but who cares?

Scary job: I’m so clumsy and so not patience that I was sure I was going to drop paint everywhere. Didn’t happen. Phew!

 

After the first coat of paint, the stains were still very much visible… and I thought it would be a simple job.

 

img_1472

After 3 coats of paint, everything was ready to be moved in. It’s a tiny space, but we could fit it all.

Then I tried sorting out the mess still in the room. I wanted to get rid of things before I even started cleaning it. It was a pain. It was too much to sort, too little space to spread things out, I had no clue what I had in mind. I have a massive problem trying to picture spaces in my head, especially when it is already packed.

I knew I had to get rid of a lot of things, our stuff wouldn’t even fit in the office if we wanted to keep them all. Well, they would fit in but there would be no space for us in the room.

Unplanned tidying up. I managed to remove some bits, throw others away, but I ran out of time and started feeling claustrophobic and anxious in this space.

So my first day was all about painting the space where the vacuum cleaner/ironing things would be – 3 coats, waiting a couple of hours in between to dry, throwing bits and pieces away. It felt like a wasted day, but I know it wasn’t. It just made me extremely anxious and overwhelmed with the task.

Next post: spreading the mess throughout – deconstructing to reconstruct.

img_1341

Landing area after moving some stuff out of the room.

 

The Horniman Museum

Standard

I’ve been in the UK for over 10 years now, always living in the southeastern area of London and, although I always knew about the Horniman Museum, in Forest Hill, and been once for a Christmas Carol several years ago, I have never paid a proper visit to it.

Until now. We went last weekend. Twice. I’m sure we will go back again.  The girls loved it. It has a nice big garden, with a Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, from 9am to 1.30pm, a food garden (herbs, veggies and fruits planted), a medicinal garden, musical instruments and a little pets section.

The museum per se is not that big, which is great to go around with children (they are not very patience, are they?). Having said that, it is big enough for several days of slow exploration. We went both Saturday and Sunday and haven’t seen it all. We loved the National History section and was a great opportunity to show and teach the kids about animals in general – and weirdly, about death. Another great thing about this museum is the opportunity that kids have to actually touch objects; it makes such a huge difference in how they appreciate a museum and learn about the past. I am a very sensorial person; I can understand facts better if I can see, touch, feel something, so I supposed it was great for me as well. 🙂

We ran out of time to visit the dinosaurs exhibition and the aquarium is closed until the 16th March. So I suppose we will have to go back there soon.

The Horniman Museum, part of the façade.

The “giant” walrus in the National History area. I suppose it is the normal size of a walrus, but seems giant to me.

I’m very jealous of this conservatory. I want one at home (it’s probably bigger than our house). There were some tables inside, for people to eat, but also lots of space for kids to run and shout.

 

Beatrice testing her music skills

The music section in the garden; great fun for kids and adults.

 

The museum also offers family activities on weekends. We went to three of them. The first one was the Hands on, where we all learned about and tried costumes from different countries and cultures. It was free and tickets are collected 30 minutes before each session.

Laura wearing a costume from China. One of the many that they presented.

Laura wearing a Greek costume and Beatrice wearing a Chinese dress.

 

Beatrice wearing a… construction helmet.

 

Mr. C wearing an Emperor costume. I can’t remember which country this is from. China?

We also went to an arts and crafts event, where the girls created their own Crazy Carnival Masks. It costs £3 per child.

Laura showing off her creation.

 

Beatrice with her mask.

 

We also went to a story telling session on Sunday, but I didn’t take any photos. Laura loved the two stories and left a really nice message in their guest book. Beatrice got a bit bored during bits and I had to keep encouraging her to do the actions and explaining parts, etc. The recommended age is 5+, so I guess she was too young for it. The storyteller was great, though, she didn’t mind at all the babies and noisy children in the room. This one was also free.

If you want to visit:

The Horniman Museum, website here.
100 London Road, Forest Hill, SE23 3PQ (
Closest train station: Forest Hill, national rail and London overground. Parking can be a bit of a pain.
Opens daily from 10.30am – 5.30pm, except 24, 25, 26 December. Gardens open from 7.15am Mon-Sat / 8am Sundays – until Sunset. Both museum and garden are free, except special exhibitions and activities.
There is a cafe inside with hot meals and snacks (at a decent price), but you can also take your own food and have a picnic there

Best Mother’s Day present

Standard

This year I got two non-convencional gifts for Mother’s day. Neither were given with Mother’s Day in mind, but worked pretty well to me.

The first one came in February, half term week to be precise. Hubby took the girls to Romania and I got to spend a whole-full-entire (yes, redundancy) week all by myself! It was a first, people, and it was brilliant!

Here is the part I say: don’t get me wrong, I love my girls more than anything. Most of the times, it’s me not wanting them to be apart, but knowing that they are safe and around with their father made me feel ok with the whole idea.

I had four days off at work as well, so morning, afternoon and evening all by myself. I was so desperately needing some time on my own that I couldn’t get myself out of the house. My time was all spent watching TV (I watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and caught up with new Criminal Minds), which I never do, listening to music I like and sorting out bits and bobs around the house. I even got the hallway/landing area painted, after several months just planning.

 

The wall that needed painting

The wall that needed painting (back in June 2015)

 

Now looking shiny and new. (the whole wall, landing area and hallway were painted)

 

The second gift was actually a Christmas present, that was only good to use in March. The date was an “accident”, as Mr. C doesn’t have a clue when Mother’s Day is; it just happened to be the very last presentation of Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna (Ama Luna?). He got us amazing seats, very close to the stage, and it was an adult-only event for us. I’m a big fan since I first saw them (on TV) and since I moved to the UK, we used to go every year. Until Laura was born that is. It was an amazing day for both of us, we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant in South Kensington, no rush, no stress, no trying to keep the kids quiet at their seats. We went to the V&A (my first time there, not sure why I haven’t been before). We had an interrupted conversation for hours!

The V&A – a lovely museum

 

The Royal Albert Hall is one of my favourite venues in London. Just being there makes me happy. RAH + Cirque du Soleil = dream! We were five rows from the stage, so close that the actors were a meter from us when performing near the audience. Luckily we were in the middle of the row, as they tend to pick people on the borders (I must admit that I would have loved if they got my phone to take some selfies).

Where is Wally? I mean, Mr. C… This is the lateral view of the stage, with our seats just in front of it.

 

One of the performers interacting with the audience. No zoom in this photo.

 

At the very end… I missed these performers “flying” over heads.

Although it was a great day and evening without kids, we also said how much Laura would have enjoyed the presentation. Beatrice is too young for it and would probably be scared or bored (there was a boy screaming in the middle of the show, roughly Bea’s age). Most of the artists were women, including the whole band (the director as well). We wanted Laura to see it and see how women can play any instrument and type of music, if they want to, and maybe get inspired. Laura always mentions “this is for boys”, “this is for girls” and we try to show her that there is no such thing.

I got all excited to go again next year; I don’t even care if it is a Christmas-Mother’s Day all in one celebration again.