Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"Good Fences Make Good Neighbours"

"Good Fences Make Good Neighbours"

The garden wasn’t nearly as young and pretty as it once was, but then again, neither was I. 

It was the first warm spring day— when the warm sunshine on your face makes you think anything is possible. I looked around my garden and noted the tall apple tree bursting with blossoms, the path choked with weeds, the spring tulips shooting skyward and the collapsing shed. The day I planted the apple tree sapling I was a newlywed, and I could remember it as if it were yesterday. Turning down a different memory lane, I could picture my four children chasing each other in the garden on a summer day.

Looking at the fences, one side was falling down, the other was a posh brick wall. I didn’t know much about either neighbour, but then again, I didn’t want to get too attached. Living in the same house for 59 years meant I’d seen a lot of people come and go— both in my own house, and in the neighbouring houses in our Victorian terrace.

I heard the back door opening next door, with the screams of delight that come with the irrational exuberance of children who have spent all day being well-behaved at school. 

A few minutes later, a tennis ball flew over the fence and landed at my feet. I groaned a little— my 82-year-old bones were enjoying the respite from movement. A note was attached to the ball with a rubber band.

“Will you be my friend?” the note asked in penmanship that was unmistakably young.

I reached inside my apron pocket for the little pencil I always kept there. “YES!” I wrote. 

I threw the ball back, hoping that a new game would begin. 

This is my Flash Fiction story that was awarded a prize in the "Writing on a Wall" challenge from Eltham Arts. It was published in the anthology and if you're interested in reading the other winners, you can buy it from Amazon here.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Family that NCAA Brackets Together, Stays Together*

*OK. So it doesn't roll off the tongue. But I'm hoping it's still true. 

With two teenage boys (one of them off to university in 18 months), we often talk about Life Skills. 
• Let me show you how to work the washing machine. It's a life skill. 
• Let me show you how to pump gas. It's a life skill.
• Let me show you how to roast a chicken. It's a life skill. 
• Let me show you how to fill out a NCAA bracket. It's a life skill. 

Perhaps the last one is a stretch, but maybe it's not if the boys ever live in America, where March Madness is a religion all its own. Regardless, we spent Monday night instructing them on the fine art of filling out an NCAA Men's Basketball Championship bracket. 

As a proud graduate of current national champions Villanova University, this is not a life skill I take lightly. So I did my best to explain how to do it, without letting them get bogged down in too much detail (RPI and strength of schedule, I'm looking at you). I also noted the other schools in which we had a vested interest: Northwestern (where we went to graduate school), University of Virginia (nephew is a current student, brother-in-law an alum), and University of Dayton (my brother is an alum).

To make things interesting, we all got a bracket to fill out. And when I say ALL, I mean all of us, including Buddy the Dog. If you're wondering, Buddy picked this way: all vested interest schools got a bye in the first round. After that, a coin was flipped to determine the winner. This created some unusual picks, such as Troy beating Duke in the first round (one can only hope) and North Dakota in the final four. But Buddy also has Villanova winning it all-- it won all the necessary coin tosses-- so I can abide by that decision. 

The rest of the family also had Villanova winning it all. I don't know if they did this because they believe the Wildcats can repeat as National Champions, or if they feared my wrath if they picked another team. Doesn't matter. I think it's a winning strategy. 

Watch this space to see how March Madness ends up in our house-- either in tears or in ecstasy. There is no middle ground, as far as I'm concerned.


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Happy International Women's Day: The Women's March London

Happy International Women's Day! 

It's been more than six weeks since I marched in the Women's March London. I thought today would be the perfect opportunity to revisit that monumental day. 

To kick things off, here's my favourite poster of the march. Believe me, it was hard to pick a favourite. The Brits are known for their wit for a reason. See?

(So am I, sister, so am I.)

I still smile every time I think of the march. It cheered me to no end to know that there were other people out there who felt like I did about the current state of the world: frustrated, angry and disbelieving. Or, in the sage words of the woman above, "Quite Cross."

When I set out that morning, I expected a decent gathering as they were expecting a crowd of 25,000. But as soon as I got on the train at Greenwich and saw how many other people were heading to the march, I thought it would be slightly more than that. When I couldn't find my friend at Bank because of all the people there, I revised higher. When they told us on the tube that Bond Street station was closed due to the high volume of people attending the march, I revised even higher. When the wave of people got off Oxford Street with us and we lost half of our group, it was then that I concluded it was going to be a special day. And it was.

We waited quite a long time in front of Claridge's Hotel for the crowd to move. (Hey, there are worse places to be stuck.) So here's something you don't see every day: a pair of breasts in front of the hotel, also waiting patiently for the march to start.

Here's a Feminist puppy. Every rally should have one.

Finally, here's an accidental selfie taken by my camera when I was putting it away at the end of the march in Trafalgar Square. I'm wearing the Pussy Hat that my friend got for me. She couldn't come to the march, but she wanted to be there in spirit. I'm also wearing the Amnesty International #StandTogether sticker that I got at Oxford Street when a page of stickers got passed from person to person while we waited to exit the station.

So today, on International Women's Day, I just want to say this:

Monday, February 13, 2017

2017: Week 6

Week Six:
That time when we almost needed to be rescued by the RNLI because we got stranded in the mud flats of Thornham while out on a walk on our first day of the half-term holiday. As it happens, no emergency crews needed to be called, but there were definitely moments when I thought we might need to do that. As I told the rest of the family, "These are the experiences which become oft-told family tales in the future. We'll be able to laugh about it eventually."

Taken in Thornham, Norfolk, on 12 February 2017.

Monday, February 06, 2017

2017: Week 5

For Christmas, my lovely friend Angela gave me some bulbs in a pot with a cosy knitted by her. This week, just when I was beginning to despair about the world (Trump, Brexit, you name it), one of the bulbs emerged. 

Taken in our kitchen in Greenwich, London, on 5 February 2017.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

2017: Week 4

In Week Four, the fog had rolled into Greenwich Park. Here, Buddy is taking a rest on the cricket pitch. 

Taken in Greenwich Park on 25 January 2017 on our morning walk. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017: Week 3

Week Three: 
Brought us the Women's March in London, where I was lucky enough to (a) be given a Pussy Hat by a friend who wanted to be there in spirit; (b) I marched with a great group of women; and (c) I felt some hope, given that there were thousands of other women who felt like I did. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

2017: Week 2

Week Two: We were lucky enough to be invited for a free preview at the new Shake Shack in Canary Wharf. Yum. Burgers all around!

Taken on 11 January 2017 at Shake Shack, Canary Wharf.

Monday, January 09, 2017

2017: Week 1

After a full hiatus in 2016 and a partial hiatus in 2015, I'm *trying* to resume my 52 weeks (a photo a week) project for 2017. Here's Andrew after a hard day at Sixth Form, fast asleep while still clutching his phone.

Taken on 5 January 2017.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Our New Addition

His name is Buddy.

He's the most awesome dog ever.

That is all.

Monday, June 22, 2015

2015: Week 25

The week in which I did the impossible: ran a 10k after having spent most of March, April and May with some sort of knee ailment, which meant I haven't run much.

It's true what they say: EVERYTHING is easier with friends. The only reason I was able to finish is because I ran with my great good friend Angela, who dragged me around with her. 

The best thing about the race? The complimentary glass of fizz when it was all over. That's the way a race should be run, if you ask me.

Monday, June 15, 2015

2015: Week 24

This. Is. My. Niece.
Spotted on the Southbank between sliding down the slides at the Hayward Gallery, 
and going to watch "As You Like It" at the Globe Theatre. 
(The large finger automatically makes me think of Monty Python. I can't be the only one.)

Monday, June 08, 2015

2015: Week 23

Another sunset! I can't help myself. This one was over the Model Market in Lewisham, a most spectacular and delicious food experience. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

2015: Week 21

In Week 21, I got to go to a book launch of "The Sun in Her Eyes" by Paige Toon. Appropriately enough, the sun got in my eyes on the way home when I spied this sunset over London.

Monday, May 11, 2015

2015: Week 19

Although we've lived in the United Kingdom for more than 16 years, May 7 in week 19 was the first time we got to participate in the General Election. 
The election didn't go the way we wanted, but it was still exciting to vote.

Monday, May 04, 2015

2015: Week 18

The week in 2015 in which the United Kingdom welcomed a new princess!

On the day in question, we were out knocking around celebrating Comic Book Day. As we were walking in Soho, I spied the BT Tower, which was scrolling the special message, "It's a girl."

Exciting times.

Monday, April 27, 2015

2015: Week 17

The annual photo of the amazing cherry blossom trees in Greenwich Park, which were at full bloom in week 17 of 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

2015: Week 16

Week 16 of 2015 was Easter break. We went to the London Zoo. We admired the penguins. The penguins admired us back. It was awesome.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My 10th Anniversary of the London Marathon

Ten years ago today, I ran and finished the London Marathon.

As it certainly ranks in the top five of my most memorable and happiest days of my life, it certainly wouldn't be right to let its 10th anniversary go by unmentioned on MarathonMum.

Ten years on, so much of it is still incredibly vivid. But when I reread my post on my race day other memories came flooding back to me too. I have so many memories of the day that I will never forget:
  • The electricity in the air, combined with the atmosphere of extreme nervousness, at the start; 
  • Seeing my family with their Mr. Incredible balloon at mile 6.5;
  • My great good friends, the Walker-Allen Family, cheering me on at mile 7, 19.5 and 24.5. They were (and are) amazing;
  • The utter misery followed by the utter joy of seeing Tower Bridge at mile 12.5;
  • Not wanting to look at my feet at mile 19 as I ran through Canary Wharf utterly convinced my feet would be bloody (my shoes were 1/2 a size too small);
  • Hearing Aretha Franklin on my iPod belt out "Respect"-- one of my favourite songs at mile 20;
  • Running along the Embankment at mile 25 just behind someone dressed as Tigger. When I told Thing Two later that both Tigger and I were both struggling at that point, he observed, "He must have been all bounced out." Indeed. 
  • Sobbing at the finish line because I couldn't believe I had finally accomplished my life-long goal.
There are many more memories because it was such an incredible day for me, but I don't want to bore you silly. It will be my only marathon, but that's enough for me. I've found over the years that when marathons come up in conversations, if you've said you've done it, they never ask if you've done any others. One seems to be enough of an accomplishment for many people. (And only hyper-competitive jerks ask you what your time was.)

The other thing I accomplished was raising more than £4,000 for CAMFED, a British charity dedicated to sending African girls to school. At the time, it was a small charity that not many people had heard of. In the 10 years since, it's gone on to be the Financial Times charity for December two times, won numerous awards and is far better known than it once was. I still feel a great amount of pride that I sent more than121 girls to school that year, due to my fundraising efforts. Given that I got my marathon spot through the lottery, which still amazes me now, I did the fundraising because I wanted to, not because I was required to do so. 

I learned so much by running the marathon that still helps me today, 10 years later. These include: 

I would like to say that I marked the anniversary by going on my favourite run-- a 6-mile jaunt through Greenwich Park, around the dome and along the Thames to home-- but alas, a sprained knee has kept me from doing any running at all. Before my injury, I was still running, but not with the fervour of 10 years ago. My longest race last year was a 10K/6.2 mile one, and that was enough for me. It's enough for me that I can go out and put one foot in front of the other, albeit slower than I was 10 years ago. 

My training for the marathon was actually the inspiration for establishing this blog in the first place. This was 2005, a time (hard to believe) before Facebook or Twitter or Skype or a million other ways to keep in touch. I started the blog so I could keep my family and friends informed about how the training was going.  Now, of course, I'd set up a Facebook page or a Twitter feed and be done with it, which would have been much easier than writing a blog in 2005, when knowing a bit of HTML went a long way. 

Ten years is a long time. Loads of other things have happened since then, both happy and sad. But I will never forget my marathon day. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

2015: Week 15

In the second week of Easter break, we made a massive effort in our continued refurbishment of the garden. While cleaning out the shed-- today's task-- we found the old car seat. When I went to clean out the cup holder, I found this surprise effort sticker. Well done to whichever son earned it.

Monday, April 06, 2015

2015: Week 14

Easter 2015 took place in Week 14. This year, we had a contest to hide the Easter eggs in the most creative place possible. This was my effort, of which I was very proud.

Monday, March 30, 2015

2015: Week 13

We are big Sherlock fans. In Week 13, we realised we were in the neighbourhood of the key location for "Sherlock jumps off a building-- Or Does He?" so we had to take a look. While there, we found these dedications in the grimy window to London's beloved detective.

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015: Week 12

In Week 12 of 2015 there was a solar eclipse over the United Kingdom. Allegedly. 

This is what I witnessed from my vantage point in Greenwich, London. Lived dangerously by looking directly at the sun. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

2015: Week 11

On the first level of the Eiffel Tower, looking down through the glass floor to the pedestrians on the ground. My nephew loved jumping up and down on it, which both amused and horrified us in equal measures. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

2015: Week 10

Taken on the most beautiful day yet in 2015, while showing off Greenwich to our visiting American relatives. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

2015: Week 9

Spotted on my Sunday morning run. #photorun

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015: Week 8

Sunset in Norfolk. 

Sure, it's a photo cliche, snapping a sunset. Do I care? I do not.

(Also, this was one of my most popular Instagram posts. Not sure how that happened.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

2015: Week 7

Our Sunday afternoon walk in Norfolk at the start of half term. Seeing some blue sky was good for the soul. #nofilter

Monday, February 09, 2015

2015: Week 6

A Sunday morning walk in Greenwich Park full of sunshine and shadows. All the S's!

Monday, February 02, 2015

2015: Week 5

Winter rugby, in all its muddy glory.

It was very cold. It was a bit snowy. It rained occasionally. It was muddy. It was, to be sure, less than ideal conditions for a rugby match. But as you can see, the conditions did not deter Thing Two from giving 100 percent.

I bought a new bottle of Shout just for the back alone.