Category Archives: At home

How can we be in May already?

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It seemed not long ago that I read all the May the force be with you  / May the 4th be with your posts on Instagram. And this week they were all back. We are in May… goodness.

And with May comes the girls’ birthdays. Beatrice is turning 3 years old next week and Laura turns 6 at the end of the month. In between we have a birthday party that I am trying to organise. With the trip to Florida in April, I got timings wrong and everything got delayed. Nothing to panic about… yet. Not that things are under control, they are and they are not. Things are completely… messed up. Let’s say that there will be a party and kids will have fun, but the OCD mum here is kinda freaking out because, due to the lack of planning, it’s all a bit random. We have a theme, which is important, and it is Ariel-Mermaids (like… different styles)-under the sea. The designs are all mixed up, got some designs from Etsy, some from party websites, from Little Mermaid stuff and that is the typical kids birthday party. Because, let’s face it, kids are… random. Get a 5 years old to pick up her outfit and you will see. It will look great, but not always will match.

One of the reasons for the delay in planning (I’m not a quick executer, I must confess, so I need extra time) was that Laura couldn’t decide on the theme. Princesses,  fairies, My Little Pony – no! Equestria Girls, a spin off MLP – Rapunzel, Ariel… she set her mind (not quite) on Ariel/Mermaid just after we got back from Florida, so I couldn’t even check out what are the latest party stuff in the US. Not that the prices are better there, they were not, but they have more options. More physical options, as opposed to online stuff. Although I get everything online these days, there is a lot of shopping in the dark and getting something slightly different than I thought.

I’m also a bad planner… I did some research online (thanks Pinterest and all party blogs) and wanted to get and do everything! And started shopping for random stuff. Now I’m not even sure what I’ve got – most of them didn’t even arrive yet. Food-wise, there is very little I can do before next week. I mean, I don’t think I can bake a cake and leave it for a whole week, right?

One of the fun stuff about it all is sharing little things I do on Instagram. It makes it feel a bit more special for me. It’s just too much work and too much effort (and money) for just a 2 hour party for 20-something kids. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally worth it, they will be happy, but I feel like I need to share the behind the scenes with more people. I love how some of my friends give their opinion and help me along the way. My “comadre” (Beatrice’s godmother) is also my consultant – thanks to Whatsup – and provides me with instant feedback when needed. Not to mention that I have an “ear” (an eye, more likely) to listen to my insecurities, and and someone to tell me “it’s great!” or “maybe try this”.

Being at home is being great to get this party organised in the little time I’ve got – I would be pulling my hair off if I was on a full time job now. It is also very lonely, if it wasn’t for the online community. When hubby comes home, we talk about other things (I’m working for him too), and the girls are super excited about the party and I do welcome their feedback, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Mini wooden treasure chest that I spray painted in gold and Laura decorated with stickers. I have loads of washi tapes at home, so experimented with them – I don’t love how it looks with them on, but Laura does, so she wins.

 

The fun part: spray paint 30 mini chest in a few minutes.

 

It’s a bit of a messy job and I ended wearing gloves (not a big fan), but no far, my favourite part.

 

Little bracelets that will go in the mini chest… I was going to put each one together, but friends on Instagram voted to keep them in bags and let the kids do it at home. Got myself a few hours back here.

 

Ballon filler in training. We have a lot of balloons to blow, missy B, you better practice. (If I don’t give up the day before, which is what normally happens)

 

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Where do the hours go?

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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.

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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Landing area after moving some stuff out of the room.

 

The things I’ve seen and learned

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It was an intense week. I decided to go to every single meeting and event at Laura’s school and spent two days there, between World Book Day and the character’s parade, to PTA coffee morning, meeting with teacher, math talk, etc. Between now and the Easter break, there are at least another 4-5 events.

All good, I’m not complaining. I’m surprised though. Surprise on how much is expected from parents, grandparents, carers, to be part of the children’s school lives. It is not a bad thing, because it is not the school’s responsibility to raise the children. We are the parents, we are responsible for them, we need to be present, we need to know, we need to participate, but how the heck are we supposed to do that working long hours? I feel incredibly lucky to be able to take a break and go to all the school events, do homework at a decent time of the day when Laura is not exhausted or wanting to play, meet parents and teachers, but I do feel for parents that would love to be there and instead are stuck in a 9-to-5 job.

There should be a balance in life. I love working and I don’t see myself as a full time housewife for the longer term, but if I go back to the corporate world, I will want to work 4 days a week. It’s a 20% cut in salary, but it will be a much higher rate improve in life. And I don’t think this is something that only mothers should think about or fight for… A present and participative father can do wonders to a child’s life. At Laura’s school, the vast majority are mothers (it is still the norm, I guess), some grandparents (oh, the lucky ones that have them around) and some few fathers. On the day that we went to read with the kids, in Laura’s class, there were only women. Some took the morning off before heading back to work. Last year, hubby went, as his work was way more flexible than the actual one.

Interestingly, the main lesson I took from this was not that us, parents, should find a way to attend these events at school, but how important it is to have a solid and safe network in our community. I’ve seen mothers reading to 3, 4 kids because other parents couldn’t be there and it was alright. The kids were fine, they were happy to have an adult there – they were happy to have the parent of one of their friends there. They didn’t feel left out. So, yes, parents should try to be there, but the parents that can be there should carry on going the extra mile and supporting those who are not as “lucky”*. It takes a village to raise a child, right?

  She was soooo excited to see me at the parade (she didn’t know I was coming). Her happy face was priceless!

P.S.: I don’t know the situation of all parents; sometimes they are not lucky to be able to go to school. Sometimes they are unemployed and desperate to find a job and luck is not the right word.

One week in

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It’s been one week since I stopped working. My last day in the office, last Monday, was hectic. Long lunch with colleagues, but working until the very last minute, trying to wrap up and tie loose ends. I don’t like leaving unfinished business behind but there is just so much I can do too.

The first week has been quite weird. I’m still trying to figure out what to do. I wanted a break from it all, I needed some rest, I needed not to be an employee, a wife and a mother for a few days, but my mind and body are so set on auto-pilot, so conditioned to run as a machine that the much needed rest is not happening. I’ve been washing, cleaning, tidying up, trying to make up for not being “productive” and “earning a living”.

It’s funny how in my head doing all the house chores is not considered – to me – as being productive or working, when it is actually a proper job. It’s probably because I was already doing these things before, just that this time I can finish everything during the week and spare my weekends for the family. I can’t help but ask myself how I managed to do everything while I was still working full time and actually answers my on going question on why the heck I’m always so exhausted and in such a bad mood.

I must say that there is no pressure from anyone other than myself at the moment, so I’m hoping that with time, I’ll learn to take it easy and try not to kill myself with things that are not that important.

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Today is also the International Women’s Day and I received a few congratulations for it. I suppose it is good to have an international day to remind us that there is still a long way to go for women everywhere, but this is an every day battle and cannot be limited to a single date. It is a long and winding road, sometimes for each step forward there are three backwards. We conquered so much in the past years but there is still so much work to be done.

I have two daughters and I so wished I didn’t have to teach them, show them that they are as good as anyone, that they deserve respect, that they shouldn’t feel like they cannot achieve certain things because of their gender. I wish I didn’t have to tell them to cross their legs, to wear shorts under their skirts, because despite being 5 and 2, there are a bunch of sick perverts out there that are turned on by little girls and although they are the wrong ones, the ones that should be locked in a cell, society will blame the girls for not behaving themselves.

It is an every day battle and it starts at home. Both husband and I were raised in a sexist society, but we are educated adults, we understand now a lot of things that our parents and grandparents didn’t have a clue, we have access to information and we have the capacity of changing – ourselves – and influencing – our children – and fighting – against those who do not respect women (and human beings in general). Some silly examples that we face at home go from “make up is for girls only” (“no, men can wear make up, if they want to, and women don’t need to wear it if they don’t want to”) to “pink is a girls’ colour” (“no, it’s not, it’s perfectly fine to NOT like pink if you are a girl, or like pink if you are a boy, and blue is an amazing colour, as is orange, black, and any other colour that makes you happy”), to more serious ones like telling them they should always tell us/the teacher if something or someone is making them uncomfortable (the school uses the term “butterflies in the tummy” to explain that strange feeling of fear that kids my experience without knowing exactly what it is).  Part of our disagreement in our house is on career. Husband wants them to be doctors or engineers, be able to earn enough not to depend on anyone; I want them to be happy with whatever path they choose. I do think, though, that we have to encourage them for more adventurous paths – it is not expected that young girls show interest in politics, engineering, coding, etc., when this is mostly down to the fact that we raise our girls surrounded by dolls and our boys with Lego and science kits. So we both agree that we should give them the opportunity to learn everything, make it a fun experience, avoid any negative remarks and let them figure out for themselves what they like and want to develop. Education is one of the most important things that we can offer them and giving them the same opportunities as any other kid – boy or girl – will be the best influence in their careers we can hope for.

We learned from Laura’s teacher that she is a “natural leader”. I read that one big mistake that parents (grandparents, family, etc) can make is calling a kid with strong leadership a “bossy” child, especially when it’s a girl. A leader has ideas, has charisma, has vision. I’m not saying that my 5 years old has all these qualities (I think she has, though), but I also don’t want to reduce her to an annoying kid telling others what to do. And I won’t reduce her very good friends to a bunch of sheepish kids that just follow her where she takes them without thinking for themselves. I do hope that we can encourage her to be adventurous, creative, vocal and kind and respectful towards others, as well as not being shy to express herself and show leadership if this is where she sees herself.

I have chosen to become a stay at home mother to be with them during this early age, to be there for them and to learn from them. To be able to see any signs, good or bad, that I can act upon. I don’t want them to think that this is a burden or a lack of choice or, worse, something that only women should do. It was a choice, an opportunity, which unfortunately not everyone can have. They’ve seen me working full time and they will see me working again. I do think it is important for them to see both their parents working, helping at home and raising them – this is a partnership and as a wider message, it’s about working together for a greater good.

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International Women’s Day is not about congratulating women on Facebook and sending flowers to the woman of your life. It is about equal opportunities and respect to your mother, your sister, your daughter, your wife, you neighbour, your cleaner, your nanny, your teacher, your colleague. It’s about making this damn twisted world a slightly better and safer place for us all. So simple in theory…