Archive for May, 2012

I’m sitting at our dining table enjoying my first cup of coffee.  A little cream, no sugar.   The sunshine is pouring through the blinds of the front window, as it always does this time of day.  Our house faces east, so we have the sun all morning in our living room.  The live oak in the courtyard offers dappled shade on the curtains next to me.  I’m using our home PC, a refurbished Dell laptop we bought about 2 years ago.  I need to buy a flash drive to back up my photos and a few documents but haven’t got round to it yet.

Today is Thursday.  N is out of school already for the summer, so she’s sitting in the rocking chair watching Team Umizoomi and eating a home made cranberry popsicle.  My Mum is puttering about getting ready to walk over to the local hairdressers where she has an appointment at 10.

The washer is humming along in the utility room next to the kitchen.  I can hear the swishing of the water in the machine.  I’m doing a load of towels – colourful summer ones I bought at the end of the season a few years ago from Target.  We used them on Tuesday in Galveston and I’m getting ready to pack them with our stuff for Florida later.  We leave tomorrow for Watercolor on the Gulf Coast, with an overnight stop in New Orleans en route.  I’ll be the chauffeur as my Mum doesn’t drive.  We’ll be staying at the Monteleone Hotel, where my husband and I stayed after we were first married.  I make a mental note that I need to print out the reservation information and google maps for where we’re going in Florida.  We’ll be meeting May and Tim and their kids down there.  She’s my sister-in-law and we’re a lot alike.  We haven’t seen them since Thanksgiving in St Louis so everyone’s looking forward to some family time together.

The dog is snoozing in a corner of the couch, where he’s taken up residence since my husband passed away.   He has no idea that he’s off to stay at the vet’s tomorrow.  He hates going but I know he will be taken care of while we are on vacation.  Poor baby.

The table is still partially covered in sympathy cards, Christmas mail, correspondence I haven’t got around to answering yet.  I love the immediacy of the internet but there’s nothing like sending or receiving a handwritten letter in the mail.

I’m still in my PJs.  A pink Liz Claiborne T – part of a pajama set but I don’t like the bottoms, so I’m wearing a pair of navy sleep shorts.  Have a pair of black and white slides on my feet which I keep for inside the house. I have my glasses on and will go upstairs shortly to get ready and put my contacts in.  Lots to do today.

But first, time for another cup of coffee and a little breakfast.


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In past years I have been fortunate to have many wonderful rooms with views.

Growing up in my grandparents house, I had the back bedroom.  I looked out onto the garden, usually lines of washing blowing in the wind, or my best friend across the way, whose house and garden backed onto ours.  Very often we would find ourselves in our rooms waving to each other as we did homework or crafts.   When we moved to the flat, I had the corner bedroom with two windows each overlooking trees, festooned with blossoms in springtime.

Lucky enough to live in both Sydney for six months I shared a flat with two great lads.  We lived in Drummoyne  – a suburb adjacent to the Paramatta Bridge with views of the small local bay.  In the mornings, I could set my watch by the incoming British Airways flight from London, whose flight path passed directly over our place en route to the airport.  I often waved at the plane though I doubt the people inside could see me.   Ten years later, living and working in Paris, I climbed six flights of stairs to my apartment and was rewarded with a stunning view of the Sacre Coeur Basilica peeping through the chimney tops of the 19th century buildings in our neighborhood.  My kitchen window overlooked our courtyard, and afforded views of the apartments in the building next to ours.   Great people watching as we all were making dinner in our tiny kitchens.

My favourite view in this house is the one from the kitchen and den onto the back patio.  We live in a town home so space is at a premium, and I look on this as an outdoor room  – when it’s not too hot I love to sit and read out there, sometimes we eat dinner al fresco too.  I recently bought a patio umbrella.  It’s big and bright orange and I love its warm glow on the kitchen in the late afternoons.   Orange makes me happy.

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I love a clean house but I loathe cleaning.  Dusting, vacuuming, mopping the floors, all of it.  I find it tedious.  When I first moved to Houston I was setting up a new office and traveling for work constantly, so I hired a cleaner to do my apartment every 2 weeks.  I loved coming home to a sparkling kitchen.  I had another cleaner come for a while after N was born.  She also came every 2 weeks and it was wonderful.   When money got tight, we sacrificed our cleaning comforts and did it ourselves.  Even the knowledge that I was saving money didn’t inspire me.

When I bought this house, I fell in love with the floors downstairs.  Hardwoods in the living and dining area, and beautiful Spanish porcelain tiles in the half bath and kitchen/den.  I didn’t realise that the sellers had just installed the tiles to make the house more attractive to buyers, and that those same pretty tiles had never been factory sealed.  Urgh.  Porcelain is porous, so it just attracted dirt like nobody’s business.  And in a high traffic area like the kitchen is completely impractical.   I sealed them myself about 7 years ago, but the sealant is wearing off now and needs to be done again.  When deep cleaned, the floors look amazing.  I just need to make time to do it when N is at camp this summer.  We haven’t had as much dust in the house since we replaced our AC unit last summer though, so that’s a blessing.   We have a dog that sheds white hair constantly, so I really should vacuum daily, but I don’t. 


I’ve never minded doing laundry.  It’s so easy with a washer and drier in the house.  Growing up, we didn’t have an automatic washer.  I think we must have gone to the laundrette to do the big stuff when we were living with my grandparents.  Everyone pegged out the washing on the back yard clothes line.  We had a prop to hold up the line which would sway precipitously when it was a bit windy.  When Mum and I moved to the flat, we did laundry down the street and then brought the wet loads back to dry in the garden.  I remember the day she bought a twin tub from a friend – such luxury to be able to wash at home!  I love the smell of freshly laundered towels and sheets.


When I was little, I used to stand on a little wooden stool at the kitchen sink and wash the dishes while my Grandad dried them and put them away after dinner.  I loved our shared time together.  I still have the stool, the woven seat is pieced together with duct tape now and really needs to be repaired. N sits on it sometimes when she’s doing a project at the coffee table.  Having a dishwasher makes the dishes a breeze.  I first met an automatic dishwasher on a high school year abroad in Canada.  I lived with a single mom and her four teens who were attending the same school, and loading/unloading the dishes was was my chore because nobody else wanted to do it.  I loved it.  I always feel a great sense of accomplishment when the dishwasher is loaded and humming away in the evenings.

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I watch.

I watch TV here and there.  Usually it’s on in the background while I’m writing or doing something.   I watched Lost without missing an episode.  I watch sports, although not as much since my husband passed away.   I’ve discovered Xfinity which allows me to watch most of the TV I’m interested in, on my own time.  I still own a working VCR but I don’t watch any taped shows on it, mostly old Disney movies.

I watch movies – preferably at the movies.  Always loved the big screen.  Most of the movies I see these days are child-friendly but sometimes I’ll stop by Redbox and rent a grown-up flick.  If I’m lucky, I get to watch it the same night, but sometimes I never get around to seeing it, so I return it unwatched. I’m hopeless with Netflix so I canceled my subscription.

I watch.

I watch my dog.  Usually he’s watching me back to see if I’m going to give him a snack or take him out.  I wonder what he’s really thinking.

I watch the birds on the patio.  They chatter like a group of kindergarten children.  They watch me and wait for breadcrumbs.

I watch the lizards watching and waiting til the coast is clear, the birds are gone, and the sun is warming the plants.

I watch our garden grow.  My ten year old bougainvillea.  Morning glories that have reseeded from last year. We planted sunflower seeds and they’re coming up already.   I watch the seasons change.

I watch.

I watch my daughter growing up too fast.  She’s only five but some days seems wise beyond her years.  I watch her observe the world with open eyes, soaking up each new experience, asking questions, loving unconditionally.

I watch my mother getting old too fast.  She’s 72 in August and while in great health, her mind and body are slowing down.  Sometimes I get impatient with her, forgetting she’s not as young any more. I wonder if I’ll be like her in 30 years and will my daughter be as impatient with me too.

I watch and see my daughter and my mother in myself.  I can’t believe I’m 47.  I know I look much younger, but I wonder where the time went.  I’ll be 50 in three birthdays and I’m not ready for that.

I watch.

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Some people have a love/hate relationship with food.  Not me.  I love it.  I am nourished by it.  I try not to miss a meal.   If I miss a meal you’d better watch out, I’m like the Hulk – you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry. My husband used to say I was always hungry.  He gave me a cookbook wrapped in brown paper as a birthday gift once.  On the outside of the paper, he had written in big blue letters:  HUNGRY.

Breakfast:  Often cereal and milk, or Greek yoghurt with granola and fresh fruit.  Sometimes a bagelful if I feel lazy.   I stopped my habit of kolaches when I realised a ranchero was a full 9 weight watchers points.  Didn’t taste quite so good when I had to work out to work it off.   I make pancakes and scrambled eggs when I have more time on weekends.  Hot coffee with a splash of cream (and a sprinkle of cinnamon on the grounds before brewing). 

Lunch:  Most of the time I eat at my computer.  Which is why my keyboard is full of crumbs.  My husband made the best sandwiches – his Dagwoods  – usually whatever deli meat was in the fridge (roast beef, pastrami, ham) plus sliced swiss or provolone cheese, broccoli sprouts and a generous slap of chipotle mayo.   These days if I have a chicken in the fridge I’ll make lettuce wraps instead.   I don’t eat as much bread now and I actually feel better for it. Sometimes I will treat myself to sushi – spicy tuna roll and/or unagi.  Lots of wasabi and ginger.

Dinner:  Love my salads in the summer – romaine lettuce and the spring mix tossed together, then sliced cherry tomatoes and English cucumber, a quarter avocado, some chopped walnuts or almonds, radishes if in season, baby carrots, and often the imitation crabmeat.   Sometimes a little splash of poppyseed dressing and a few croutons.  I’m into fish too -salmon, catfish tacos, that sort of thing.  If we go out to dinner I’ll try to do a salad or some kind of seafood.  I recently discovered buffalo and love it. I love soup too – chicken tortilla, tomato basil, gazpacho. When it’s colder I make a lot of crockpot meals.

Growing up we had a few traditional meals on a weekly basis.   Sunday lunch was always roast potatoes, veggies, and gravy, with some form of meat – usually beef or lamb.   On Mondays we had “fry-up” – Sunday’s leftovers tossed in a pan and bubbled and squeaked together.  Fridays was the fish day – fin and haddock, tripe, place, cod – whatever was on sale at the market. My Nana made the best potato cakes which we would eat on Saturday afternoons, toasted and buttered while hot, with a cup of tea, sterilized milk and two sugars.  My potato cakes have never worked and I take my tea with low fat milk and no sugar now.  We didn’t eat a lot of desserts when I was growing up.  I tend not to buy cakes or cookies as I can’t resist them now.  Icecream is okay because I usually forget it’s in the freezer anyway.

I’ve gone off pizza though.  My husband and I used to make it once a week, but I haven’t had the appetite for it lately.  It’s not the same when you’re eating one alone, and the personal pizzas to me always look a bit sad sitting there in the freezer.

Never had a weight problem til I hit my 40s, then the metabolism slowed right down. Had a baby and after 5 years decided I couldn’t use that as an excuse not to get fit any more.  So I joined weight watchers to get my body back.  There’s a gal at my meetings who lost 80 lbs in 10 months.  I’d be happy to lose 30 – I don’t mind if it takes longer than that.

And it probably will.

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Evenings are so different from season to season in our house.   In the fall, once N is home from school, the evening kicks into gear.   We take the dog for a walk, maybe a little time to play in the park before dinner, bath and bed.  If I am super lucky, I can get her to bed by 8.30pm after at least 3 books read together. As the daylight hours grow less, and winter comes on, the time for outside play grows shorter, and it’s theoretically easier to get N into bed with the darkness descending around 7.30pm.  I say theoretically.  

Last winter I was so emotionally drained that I found myself going to bed at the same time as she did.  I needed my sleep more than ever after everything that had happened to us.  Renting movies from Netflix was a waste of time – they would sit there on top of the television for weeks, unopened, until I finally got around to cancelling our subscription. Thankfully I have since discovered our cable Xfinity has a kind of Tivo thing, so I have been able to watch favourite shows on my own time, if I didn’t fall asleep after the opening credits that is.

When spring hits, and the evenings start to get longer, we spend more time outside both before and after dinner.  Walking the dog, heading to a park, meeting friends for playtime.  After school activities this spring were busier – ballet/tap on Mondays, art on Tuesdays, gymnastics Thursdays (with Bo’s Place til 9pm this past spring as well), French class Fridays.  So dinner and our evening schedules were all over the place.

Summertime, and the evenings are easier……

With no school days, we try to do a light snack at 4pm.  Around 5 o’clock, we head to the community pool about a minute’s walk from our house (sometimes this could be our second visit of the day).  More often than not, we have the pool to ourselves at this time of evening.  That monthly $35o condo fee becomes a lot less painful when we’re enjoying the pool every day.   When my husband and I were first married, we’d often head out after dinner for some quiet relaxation time at the pool together.  Being in the water is second nature to me:  I learned to swim when I was 6 years old and was on teams and lifesaving squads throughout high school.  Now it seems my daughter is becoming a fish too and loves the water as much as I do.  

We’ll usually spend an hour or two at the pool.  N is starting to get more confidence in the big pool now she’s a head taller than last year, and I’m hoping the Elmo floatie will soon be retired altogether.  Tonight she started swimming without it – just a few strokes but it’s a start – head under water, goggles on, impressive. 

After our pooltime, we head home and have a quick bath or shower, then dinner.   One of my goals this summer – and in general – is to eat more meals at the table.  We have two so there’s really no excuse – one in the kitchen and one in the dining/living room – the one that isn’t covered in N’s art projects is usually covered in my stuff- which means we often eat dinner on the couch watching the television or a movie.  Bad habits left over from my marriage, unfortunately.  When I was N’s age, we always ate dinner together at the table with my grandparents.  The TV (black and white) was on in the background, but nobody ever paid attention as we were too busy eating or discussing our day. 

We’re so tired after evening swimming that bedtime is often the same for both of us.  Lately I have been sharing my bed with N.  She was always so good about staying in her own room until my husband passed away, and we both found comfort snuggling together since then – so I haven’t pushed her to sleep in her own bed much in the past few months.  I could do without the 22 stuffed animals (we counted them tonight) that have also taken up residence with us, however.  After N falls asleep, I’ll read for a while, and then it’s lights out for me too.   If I’m lucky I will have at least a third of bed to myself most of the night, but usually I end up half in and half out on my side, with N sprawled across the middle arms and legs everywhere like an octopus and the stuffed animals taking up the other half.   Even so, I normally get a pretty good night’s sleep considering.

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1940s-1960s: “A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it.”   In 1939, my grandparents buy a house with a bathroom indoors for 750 pounds cash.  My mother is born in this house in August 1940. Frugality is key during and after the war, with ration books the norm and the only available veggies coming from the family allotment. In 1954, my mother begins working as a secretary after leaving school at 14 (standard in those days).   Supporting yourself at a young age is an inherent family value.   I am born in London in 1965 and we move up to the family home later that year when things didn’t work out between my parents.

1970s: age 5-14. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”  Spent my pocket money on books and serial wildlife magazines, and my hobbies, mostly.  Stamp collections, ballroom and Latin American dancing lessons.

1980s: age 15-24.   “Who do you think I am, Baron Rothschild?” Started earning money on my own with part time jobs while in school and university, and temp work during the summers.  Spent my money on travel – had a year overseas after high school, then a year traveling and working around the world after university.  No credit cards. No student loans thanks to the local education authority which paid for my college degree.

1990s: age 25-34.   “Save up your pennies for a rainy day.”  Bought my first new car.  Furnished an apartment in Boston.  Spent money traveling around Europe while working in Paris.  Moved to Houston and added more furniture.   Credit cards appeared in my life.

2000s: age 35-44.  “”Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”   Bought a house.  Got married.  Refinanced the house. Had a baby.  Baby started preschool.  Husband’s business not doing so well.  Credit score went down, spending went up – bank account went from good to bad to ugly. 

2010-2012: age 45-47. “If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”  Priorities are to pay the bills and put food on the table, cover the cost of N’s preschool.  Me always in last place.  Suddenly widowed, then lost job. Saving money becomes more important than ever.   My daughter already has three “piggy banks” and I’m socking away her social security from Dad for her college fund.  Rolled over my 401K to an IRA.  Savings become more important than ever.  I need to find a balance between taking care of myself, our daughter, our dog, and our bank account.   Live within our means.  Be frugal, but not cheap.  Watch our pennies.




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