Wednesday, November 19, 2014

hello from

...the creepiest country I've ever been to so far?

The hotel is a cross between a Stephen King novel about masks that come alive in the dead of night, and The Shining. (Hotels with red carpets.)

On coming into land, you see clusters of little islands that make up the jagged coastline of Helsinki, just stuffed with these talk Nordic fir trees. Between all the buildings are these Twin Peaks trees.

It's creepy and weird. I LOVE it.

On closer inspection, so on ground level, the trees are all tall and packed together, very Blair Witch project.

I have a feeling that we won't have to venture too far to find something INSANE here. Finland might be Scandinavia; clean, expensive, dark and cold in winter. But it's definitely creepy and strange.
God it feels good to be in a ridiculous place again.

So far my son and husband don't seem to mind it either, mostly ignoring the red carpet and masks and living it up in our upgraded room (a suite!)

And, according to my Favourite Irish Gay Friend who is a genius at languages, accents and linguistics in general, all I have to do is add 'leinen' to the end of everything to be understood in Finnish.
'Televisionleinen, Sebastianleinen, sofaleinen....'

The thing is though, it's not that cold. It's 1 degree. That's nippy, but it's not Baltic, which is the seaboard we lie on currently.

I am wondering if we will even see snow on this north pole expedition?

Monday, November 17, 2014

there are days like these

I have collected a stash of quotes over the last few months, and I store them to stare at sometimes because they put all my thoughts and sadness into words.

Sometimes when I'm having a bad day, I don't always want to talk about it. So I rather let the quotes do the talking for me.

Friday, November 14, 2014

the play room project

I've been busy with another project.

The Basement.

It's gone from being a storage dumping ground, to a muddy hole, to renovated into a functioning abyss. It's now a half laundry room, split into a spare room.

We painted it white, put tons of bright lights down there and added a day bed. To make it look less like a Fritzl Bunker and more like an inviting place for a guest to lay their head. My mother slept in there for 10 weeks without too many issues. I think.

So, because I thought Sebastian would be spending his days at home with a little pal and a nanny, I decided to really deck out the thing. Create a hybrid room.

A spare bedroom for adults, blended with a play room.

So not too much 'playroom', but not too much 'adult guest room' either. A nice blend, so that whoever is in there, feels comfortable and at home.
I love an interiors challenge.

I wanted the room to feel bright and open, given it is a small space. I also wanted to do this for another reason. Sebastian's nursery was created for both my twins. It still has two mobiles hanging on the ceiling, and much of it still reminds me of having two babies, but only filling the nursery with one. It's not the end of the world, and I don't want to completely change this. But I will be tweaking it slightly too.

We went to IKEA. I vowed never to go back there after last time. But we needed new wine glasses and luckily for everyone involved, Seb really loved his first trolley experience.

By accident I found this little circus tent - loved a 'fort' when I was a child so am sure he will too -  and the circus theme formed the basis of the decor in this room. (I should add: circus sans clowns. There will be no clowns in the Fritzl chamber.)

He will only really start to use and appreciate this room when he is older, but I wanted to get it done before I went back to work.

So with the tent forming the basis of the room, this is what I did:

Mum made these flag tapestry numbers for us a few years ago, and the little quilt with elephants on was from a friend for Sebastian.
I bought some cushion covers in circussy prints. These Cath Kidston and Kirstie Allsopp ones were the best I could find, after scouring Pintrest and Etsy and Amazon and eBay and every other site on the internet.
Coincidentally, Cath Kidston and Kirstie Allsopp are actually cousins. How's that for a bit of interior design trivia?

The day bed is a wooden bench, that serves as a single and double bed, when pulled out. So when it's not in use it can be piled up with pillows, and be the perfect place to snuggle up, read books or chill out.
I wanted something that was slightly whimsical, gender neutral but fun, and these looked just right.

Then we added these funky hooks to the wall, and also bought these storage thingies from IKEA, to put books, toys or other bits in.

Then I took down the bunting in his bedroom/nursery, and put it downstairs. It works much better down here in the circus room.
 We also added the shelf, so he had a place to stack his teddies, or when guests comes, their stuff.
I covered the existing pillows that were white in circus theme pillow cases - and these worked so well with the others I got too. Now anyone can rest easy when they're sitting here - boys, babies or adults.
  Then, I saw H&M were selling little boys road rugs, so I got one of these for the floor.

 My mum found this little chair at an antique shop for £4 when she was here.

 For the side tables, and adult side of the room (which will be climbed on and pulled down no doubt), so let's assume this will be here for all of five and a half seconds - I stacked a collection of our old trunks and suitcases up, with a print and lamp.
 Et voila.  I'm just pleased he has an extra bit of space to play in. Our flat is rather small!

 In progress...

 (Note baby gates that still have to go up - top and bottom of the stairs)

And finished!

It's small, but it should work. The large drawers under the bed should hold a lot of storage and toys.

Am really happy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

nursery and childcare - questions

There've been a few stressful weeks involved, and lots of to'ing and fro'ing, tears, everything else, but as of today we now know exactly how and where we will be leaving Sebastian when I go back to work.

You have three basic choices here: nursery, childminder or a nanny.

A nanny is the most expensive, and the most sought after - your child gets one-on-one attention, they get to stay in a home environment, probably won't catch measles in five seconds, and you can control what they eat.

In London, most nannies, for one child, costs anything from £1 500-£2 500 a month, depending on experience. It's extortionate, and one would see why many wouldn't bother going back to work.

We thought we'd be clever and set up a 'nanny share,' a new thing that has come out of this economy, where families that live near to each other, with similar-aged babies share the cost. The price tag comes down, but the flexibility ratio also goes down, and suddenly you realise you're at the mercy of not only your child's schedule, but three other people's too.
To cut a long story short, it hasn't worked out.

I'm sad and disappointed for Seb, as I think it would've been nice to have him under nanny care at least until he was one (he will be nine months when I return), but on the other hand, I am slightly relieved too.

We registered him at a nursery just in case, which is usually the second best option to a nanny. When I first started this process - looking for nannies, budgeting, looking at childminders and then realising most lived in high-rise council estates so aborting the mission after three separate visits - I was adamant that a nanny was the only thing that we could do for Seb.

I was convinced he wouldn't get the 1:1 care at a nursery, he was too little, many nurseries seemed like a 'dumping ground' for people's children. These are still concerns I have. No doubt.

But I'm trying to see the positive too. He will only go four days a week, (I'll work from home one of the days), and since meeting new mums this year, my feelings towards nursery have started to change.

"Nursery is definitely the right choice for me. It'll give Eleanor all the stimulation I can't give her, and it'll socialise her too."

"They seemed so nice, and he can do things he wouldn't be able to do at home - like messy play with paints."

"Sarah cries whenever another baby looks at her, so nursery will be really good for her to teach her how to be around other babies."

"Nursery is much more flexible in terms of holidays. When we had a nanny, I was always completely stressed out. I was running around trying to please the nanny more than anything, and then paying for her holidays while she wasn't looking after him was heavy going."

That's the other thing. When you employ a nanny, you employ her like a company employs a person. You pay their tax, their holidays, their everything. When you are on holiday, you still pay the nanny. When they are on holiday, you pay them still.

It's fine if you have lots of cash floating around, but I was panicking a bit about that already. Goodbye any 'lavish' holidays to Europe or South Africa; hello holidays in Southend-On-Sea?

Still, I am nervous. I just hope we are doing the right thing. We will go for a few 'settle in' sessions, but then we head off to South Africa for four weeks and Seb won't remember much any of this. I just hope the staff are dedicated and genuinely love children (and aren't just there because it's a 'job'); I hope he is happy and the food is of good standard.
Am I dreaming? I hope not.

We registered him and checked it out over the summer, and it seemed fantastic in terms of all the stuff they have - music room, garden with big jungle gyms and sandpits, lots of toys and facilities, even a messy play room which is white and spray-downable after the babies have wreaked havoc in there. But the thing that gnaws at me, is that he is going to be one of the youngest there.

He will either be in the group of 3-9 month olds (so oldest in the group), or in the 9-16 month old group, and therein the youngest. They'll assess where he fits best. It's three kids to one adult supervisor.
Am I being paranoid? Is there anyone out there who can offer some advice or hopefully, better still, some comfort in that I am doing the right thing by him?

Friday, November 07, 2014

the mobile sleeping bag

Autumn. Simply Scrumptious. 

There are a few things - rites of passage - that one must fulfil when becoming a true Londoner.

Most of these things can only be fulfilled over a number of years, and thereafter, as if by coincidence, you usually get a passport at the end of it. (I can apply for mine next April/May. I can hardly believe it.)

My little cousin from New Zealand (New Zaylin) is fresh off the boat; been here for 6 months. She still has much to learn. (Even if she doesn't think so.)
"British people love chain stores. Love a chain store."

No, they don't, actually.
The Brits love an independent, local, very British, small, homegrown, business. In fact. The big chain stores are all closing down and people would rather support the local small guys than the big "money guzzling" guys. At least, the educated middle-class do.

Her: "I love the tube and taking buses across town! It's so easy!"

Me: Um...until you are working. And you have to do that every morning and every night. And when you're on a mission, it's extra fun. Especially if you have to see a friend on the other side of the city. Eventually you won't bother, and you will gradually lose contact with that person."

It's true.

Some of the things one realises as the years roll by, in no particular order:

1) People here don't actually eat crumpets all day long. Or much. Even at all. Maybe your gran does in deepest, darkest Lincolnshire for her 'tea' (which is supper), but I have yet to see anyone actually eat crumpets since I've been here.

2) The tube is a novelty for people who are fresh off the boat, or tourists. The novelty lasts no more than one week. Ever.

3) You will start eating organic, superfoods into your diet. All the supermarkets have an organic range, and stock gorgeous, beautiful ranges of fruit, vegetables and weird things like goji berry-infused quinoa. You have so much choice here, and if you do it wisely, it won't break the bank.

4) You will eventually buy a sleeping bag coat.

A guy came into work last year, and proudly chortled that he had invested in a Canadian goose down (very trendy and expensive) padded duffle coat.  mobile sleeping bag.

Positively balking, "Oh dear, say goodbye to getting laid ever again," I said. "What made you do it?"

He said: I got sick of being cold.

I got sick of being cold.

He was closer to being a Londoner than I was. One year closer, in fact. Because I have also decided that I don't want to be cold anymore.

Not only is it a rite of passage for living here; it's a rite of age. One sounds old when they declare that they're sick of being cold.
One is old when they're sick of being cold; just like one is old when they're sick of seeing the inside of a nightclub. Or that one plays one's music too loud.

It's not that I was freezing in my wool coats, and these I will wear on warmer days.

It's just that, the moment I pulled on my new, duffley, entirely waterproof, windproof, coldproof, mobile sleeping bag, I knew there was no turning back.
Gosh, but this IS nice.

I am now, after all this time, a true Londoner. Where you don't bother fucking around, you instead buy something that forms a warm, soft barrier between you and the biting elements.

I did my research, and I went for this incredible Ted Baker number. (Best £300 quid I've ever spent?) It will last a lifetime, and it's all shiny and brassy and comes with an enormous hood filled with luscious faux fur.

It's quilted and lined with feathers, (not quite Canadian goose, but feels just as brilliantly warm), and it doesn't come with a belt, but rather pull rings to give it some shape.

One of the drawbacks of the mobile sleeping bag is that you look like you're in a tent, and you might as well kiss your shape (and sex life?) goodbye.

Not always so. This parka fits me like a glove baby. My only regret is that I didn't buy one winters ago.

No fuss, no wet wool, no belts hanging in toilets (that's happened so many times, I can't even tell ya. Going for a wee whilst wearing a coat with a belt. After too many mulled wines), no blustery freezing wind going down my neck.

And a zip that goes from top to bottom, no fannying about with buttons. (I'm not even product placing here. For real. I'm just so goddamn chuffed with my winter purchase.)

And like most Ted Baker jackets, it has a beautiful satiny lining. Yum.

It's parka time.

(Just in time for Finland. Also my son is literally being pushed around in a mobile fleece bag, so I'm in good company.)

 Can I climb in there with you too please?