I guess I did all right in 2018. One thing I achieved was overcoming a crippling fear of failure/success in publishing online.
I started two new blogs — which I actually made (gasp) public (unlike my previous attempts) — and published around 100 posts. The main goal was to find and connect with people (online) who had interests like mine, and blogging on Github, Medium and WordPress did turn out to be the answer to that. I am very grateful to each of you fellow writers and artists who helped make that goal come true. The Github blog, though had no audience (at least none that I knew of), at first, attracted the attention of a kind and intelligent pair of Digital Humanities grad students who asked me to collaborate with them on a fun project, and I started learning more about Github as a collaborative tool, as well as my own processes, thanks to them.
I planned (gasp, again — this time because I’m allergic to plans) not ONE, but THREE family holidays. I’m proud of these because I chose places that I thought would be best for the whole family, rather than attempting (as I usually do) to do what everyone thought was best for the family (thus never booking anything; rather “flying by the seat of our pants” to random over-filled campgrounds, instead).
The holidays were both super inexpensive and super relaxing and I loved all three of them. The kids did, too. I will tell a little about those:
The first one was in the spring. It was a week-long visit to a little rented cottage near a lovely quiet lake in the Dordogne. The cottage was in a campsite with a pool and play area for kids, and very safe/contained, so very relaxed, and there were other kids for them to play with. I got to spend lots of time hanging out with my four boys and we did some fun outings like panning for gold with a wonderfully charismatic gold-finding expert that the cottage manager had recommended to us. We also visited a vast underground cave. Not to mention taking daily hikes around the lake. The weather was gorgeous and I even worked on increasing my freckle-count a little. My husband Super-T came to join us for a weekend there and was bronzed within minutes of course.
The second vacation was something I’d wanted to do for years — a mindfulness retreat to a Buddhist monastery. This was in the first weeks of summer. Sadly (for me) only three of the kids were with me for the mindfulness retreat, since the eldest child is a teenager and thus didn’t fit within the allowed age/gender/language group for that camp. Super-T did not want to stay at the separate camp (25 km away) with our eldest son, so they happily stayed home together, just the two of them, and got work done on the house instead, which made them happy as well. I hope to convince them to go to the teens’ camp next year, though. It was an incredible experience, we met some of the most wonderful people whom I will consider friends for life even if we never chance to meet again, and I am beyond grateful for what the nuns and monks do, to organize these inexpensive retreats for families. One of the best surprises was finding out that hot meals were included (um HELLO, a mama’s dream come true!!!) and the meals were VEGAN. Seriously it was the bomb.
The third vacation was a small family reunion with my family of origin, for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. They had not wanted a big party, so together we decided on a beautiful shared house in Normandy for a week, just them, our family and my sister’s family. I have lived in France for a number of years now and know where to find the good deals online. Plus it really helps to be able to speak/write in French. So once again we had an as-yet undiscovered diamond (blows fingernails and buffs them on shirt). My parents generously paid for that one in the end, so other than the 30-odd hours I spent researching, coordinating and booking it, it only cost us fuel and fun — what an amazing gift. Fantastic for the boys to see their little cousin again and their auntie and uncle (my sister and her man), and for me it was great to play music again with my mom, and hang out with my dad in the lawn chairs by the pool. My sister organized some awesome games and we also had a fun day sightseeing in the nearby city.
The rental was a REALLY great property with wooded acreage and a pool, and truth be told, I was researching the real estate market soon after arriving back home, dreaming of a bigger house like that one, with more rooms and more space, but in the end we decided to stay in the “Zone” for now and do more work on this lovely old place. We have some emotional ties, since two of our kids were born in this house, and for me I also have ties to the great linden tree that stands overlooking the little valley. The kids and T have their ties as well, of course.
I became smoke-free in April 2018; so far so good. I never smoked much, usually only at social gatherings or alone under the stars at night, but still found it a pesky sometimes-habit and a toxic, smelly one at that. Mainly I was worried about setting a good example (and staying healthy) for our kids. “Mamai,” Super-T’s mom, had died of throat cancer a year and a half before, which deeply affected me. And alcohol and tobacco are major causes of throat cancer.
In family life I made the decision to switch our four kids to a different school, where I hoped they would have more cohesion and more opportunities. This was a fairly major operation in terms of cajoling (two of the kids were reluctant) and paperwork (I think I filled out 80 forms for four kids). The French paper mill is pretty serious. I’m not one-hundred percent sure I made the right decision in terms of the primary school, but the high school has been an improvement for sure, in spite of the older kids’ initial reluctance to leave their new friends. This school is more dedicated to maintaining classes even when teachers are sick (i.e. by ensuring substitutes are available) and also is more flexible about language classes (since English is our kids’ native language, at this school they’re allowed to take a third and even fourth language, whereas at the other school they weren’t). Also, at this school complex, which contains both primary and secondary, all four kids have Wednesdays off (common in France), which gives us more free time, AND, since they are all at the same complex, I find it easier to pick them up and have lunch with them during the very long French lunch hour (90 minutes), which the kids are much happier about. Finally, my eldest son, who, like his dad, is an IT whiz, has gotten a volunteer job helping the secondary school upgrade their computer systems and he is gaining great experience from that.
We lost our beloved uncle, friend and neighbour, Super-T’s uncle Mark, this year. He had suffered from prostate cancer (which had metastasized to his bones by the time it was discovered) for nine years. They had given him “six months to one year” to live, when it was first diagnosed back in 2009, so I feel grateful that we had him in our lives for that much time, though it was very tough to see him, and his devoted, care-taking wife and soul-mate aunt J., suffer for that long. Uncle Mark, an artist and builder alongside Aunt J., was the kind of guy who lights up a room with his warmth, vibrant energy and twinkling smile, and that’s how I will always remember him. Actually, you know that quote that says, “people won’t remember what you said or did, but how you made them feel”? That was the epitome of the goodness of Uncle Mark for me. He was one of those exceptional people who always made you feel welcome, valued and loved. Uncle Mark, for me you are not gone but live always with us in our hearts and minds and in the very substance around us.
I became a volunteer at a local organization that helps people in difficulty get the psychological, medical and dental help they need. I met two “clients” this way whose courageous vulnerability uplifted my spirits and I felt privileged to have had a glimpse into their lives and strife, and to maybe have helped a little. I also met a couple of amazing fellow workers who genuinely care for the welfare of the people in their communities. There is a lot of good in this world if we choose to see it.
Anything else? Oh yes. Not to end on a crappy note, but finally upgraded our septic system this year. That was one of our first times organizing a renovation project in France that we did not do entirely ourselves. We’d thought it would be a good collaboration and exercise in delegation, and an opportunity to spread wealth in the area (since Super-T now had more money and less time than we’d previously been accustomed to). It took three months instead of three weeks, and three times as much money as originally budgeted, but taught us a lot about cultural differences and relational boundaries, so win-win-win, now that all’s said and done. The other bonus is that the final height of the buried tank made it unable to grow grass, the way we originally had, so we decided to splurge on a cobbled terrace. I’ve been organizing deliveries and backhoes, and Super-T has been working hard doing the labour on the weekends, with the boys and I helping a little here and there; and today, as I write this, T is laying the final pavers. Not bad, for the ultimate day of the year.
Time to go make olie-ballen, it’s a Dutch New Year’s tradition from my mom that I feel we should keep.
Happy Old Year!
Lots of love,
Image: Lotus gone to seed, by Nadine JL