BRING BACK LOVE!!!

August 27, 2013

When I left university and started work, I was naive and desperate to please.  I was a lamb skipping off to my career slaughter and I didn’t realize it at the time.

My first audit job was intense.  The client shoved us into a windowless boardroom that looked a lot like an air raid bunker. The work was mind numbing and I had some sick, icy moments, when I wondered what on earth I had got myself into.  My colleagues kept me going.  We had fun and deep conversations as we sifted through dusty old invoices and tapped at our calculators.  We connected in a way I imagine prisoners of war bond by encouraging each other and dreaming of a better life beyond their current hellhole.

DownloadedFile-6After the job was over, I sent a chatty, personal email to a more senior co-worker.  I signed it off, ‘Love Julie’.  That’s how I signed off all private correspondence in those days – With Love – and I did it without analyzing anything at all.  My colleague pulled me aside later and said (very sweetly), ‘Julie, a word of advice for the future.  Don’t sign off any work email, personal or not, with ‘love’.  It is unprofessional and could be misunderstood.’  I flushed, deeply embarrassed.  That criticism of a harmless, perfunctory sign-off has scarred me for life.

I’m now self-conscious so when I end off an email to someone who is not family or a close friend, I pause.  I wonder ‘How should I end this thing off?’ and I consider various options.

Have you noticed that it is rare for people to sign an email off with ‘love’? When I (rarely) receive an email signed off ‘love XYZ’, I know it doesn’t mean the person has a romantic crush on me or that they want to jump my bones.  In fact, it doesn’t even mean they literally love me. Why are people so protective of their ‘love’?  What’s the big deal?

Of course I never sign off formal emails to the estate agent, the plumber, the electrician etc with love.  I use ‘yours faithfully’ or ‘regards’ for that.  With my close friends and family, I always say ‘lots of love’ but there is a grey area for personal acquaintances and people who are not my big mate but whom I like very much.

Here in Switzerland, none of the expats use love and I have started signing off emails ‘J xxx’ or ‘Thanks!’.  Some people say ‘Best Wishes’, ‘Take Care’, ‘Best, Julie’, ‘God bless’, ‘xxx’ or ‘Cheers’.  Some people don’t sign off at all, which sometimes I do too.  I end the email in mid-air and hope they won’t notice.

It drives me insane when people simply use names as the greeting and sign-off.  My old boss used to do that.  He would send me emails along the lines of:

Julie

Please change the font on your Powerpoint slides…bla bla…Next time, please don’t use your initiative.  You know that is not required in this job…bla bla…

Bob

I hate clipped intros and sign offs like that.  The tone feels like an attack and it puts me on the defensive.  When someone addresses me in that way (and uses ‘hope this email finds you well’), I want to smash metal dustbins lids against the wall, in sheer frustration.

DownloadedFile-5In French, they often say ‘bisous’ to end off casual, friendly emails.  It means kisses.  Alastair got one of those as part of a group email from a male French friend.  I think it is lovely to get an electronic kiss, especially from a man.  I like it when people break with convention.

Not all French emails are that relaxed.  Formal emails bow and scrape and are more formal than I have ever seen in my life.  I got an email from our notary that ended, ‘En vous souhaitant bonne réception des présentes, je vous prie de croire, Mesdames, Messieurs, à l’assurance de mes sentiments distingués.’  Roughly translated, it says that he wishes us good reception of this letter and begs us to believe, ladies and gentlemen, in the assurance of his highest consideration.  Blimey.

When I lived in London and reached the doldrums of my career when no one would hire me, God did.  I was part of a staff of about 250 people at my local church.  In hindsight, I realize it was one of the best jobs I ever had.  All emails, to people of all levels, were generally signed off with love or lots of love.  It was not a rule to do it like that; it was just the ‘corporate’ culture.  I found my tribe.  It was my kind of place.  The ethos was that we are all human beings so we should conduct our business with a foundation of love, with our best intentions and no hidden agenda.  It was liberating.  And people were productive and they weren’t doormats, which is what one would expect with such lovey-dovey email sign-offs.

images-19My 12 year-old nephew has sent me emails which he signed off ‘Lots of love’.  Warms my heart, I tell you. I know it won’t last for long and this makes me sad.  I’m just waiting for the day when someone crushes the lots of love out of him and says it is not manly to send all that love in an email. I value the purity, the innocence in his emails.  I know no should-I, shouldn’t-I thought has gone into the ending.  It is a pure heart response, real and unedited.

Bring back love.  Love from Julie.  Love from Bob.  Love from Mary.  Love from Joe Soap.  Let’s stop messing around with these neutral, non-committal email endings.  Just say love and be done with it, dammit.

Anyway, I’m rambling.  Let’s end this thing now.

Lots of love

Julie

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Ever tried a Dutch Pancake?

August 24, 2013

Have you ever heard of a Dutch Pancake?  No?  I hadn’t either … until yesterday.

I was at a friend’s house for tea and she served a Dutch pancake, hot and fresh out the oven.  There were about 6 of us gathered round the table and we all jumped up when we saw our friend approaching with the steaming, swollen pancake in her ovenmitted hands.

‘Wow!  What on earth is that?’ We exclaimed and cooed at her masterpiece.

It tasted AMAZING.  I wanted to break into song Julie Andrews-style after the first bite. I wanted to lick my plate when I was done.  I couldn’t wait to get home and make one for Alastair.  The way to Alastair’s heart is definitely through his stomach and I knew he would purr after eating this.

A Dutch pancake is light and fluffy and reminds me of a soufflé.  Apparently the Germans call it a ‘Bismarck’.  It takes 5 minutes to make and about 20 minutes to bake in the oven.  It is dead-easy and you could cook it blindfolded.

As it comes out the oven, you should toss some sugar, lemon juice and a bit of butter over it.  My friend sprinkled icing sugar and I preferred the fine texture to normal sugar.  Alastair drenched his in syrup.  After about 30 seconds out the oven, it is likely to sag so you should not dither about and you must eat it chop-chop to experience the pancake at its best.

I made our pancake this morning.  I found a recipe on the Martha Stewart website.  As I pulled the pie dish out the oven, Al and I dived into it.  We ate it panting and standing up in the kitchen.  We devoured the entire thing in about 5 minutes flat. It got Alastair’s seal of approval, which is a major feat as he is a very picky eater.  He said I can definitely make it again.

Here is a picture of my Dutch Pancake.  It wasn’t as fluffy as my friend’s.  Her one rose up on the sides and looked like a big, puffy bowl.  Totally yummy.

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Martha Stewart’s Dutch Pancake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of butter (1 is to dribble over the pancake as it comes out the oven)
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup of milk
  • ½ cup of plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup of sugar (plus one extra tablespoon to sprinkle over the pancake once it’s cooked)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 210C.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and then pour this into a pie dish.
  3. In a blender, combine the eggs, milk, flour, sugar and vanilla.  Blend until foamy (about 1 minute).  Pour the batter into the pie dish.
  4. Bake in the oven until the pancake is puffy and lightly browned.  This should be for about 15-20 minutes.
  5. When it comes out the oven, dot the pancake with butter, lemon juice and icing sugar.  Slice into wedges and serve immediately.

Outside my window is a lonely goat herd … Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo

August 19, 2013

Our apartment overlooks a patch of land that is about the size of three tennis courts.  I’m not sure who is responsible for it but, during the past two summers, some phantom has trimmed it back every now and again.  This year no-one maintained it.

It is unkempt and wild with neglect and now, after a spring and summer of intense heat and lots of rain, it is a mass of tangled greenery that would daunt any standard lawnmower.  It is getting on my nerves.  It would be fine if this were a soft meadow that I could romp in but this patch of land has claws.  The grass is sharp and dry and, near the entrance to our building, there are weeds that are the same height as me.

I’ve been eager for someone to trim the grass because we are desperately trying to find replacement tenants for our apartment and I have been concerned that people will be put off by the scraggly wilderness out back.

This year Alastair suffered from bad hayfever and the pollen from outside put his sinuses in a spasm.  He didn’t breathe through his nose throughout June and July.

Last Tuesday, the managing agent for our building came over to sort out some paperwork for our move.  I led him to the window and pointed outside.  I asked if he could please arrange for someone to cut the grass.  (I initially pointed to the unruly patch and said in French, ‘Please could you cut that hair.’)

On Thursday evening, at the insane hour of 20h00, I heard a weed-eater blasting to life outside.  I was watching Megan drift off to sleep and, when she heard the noise, she sprang up in her cot and reminded me of a champagne cork shooting from the bottle.

I peered outside and saw my neighbour chainsawing through the grass.  I could have been irritated with him for making a racket at such a bizarre hour but I was grateful that someone was taking the initiative to tidy things up.

The following morning, Alastair and I woke up and looked out the window.  We saw that the grass was only cut at the boundaries and a flimsy red fence surrounded the patch.  In one corner there was a big yellow sign with a skull and cross bones.  It said, ‘ATTENTION!  Clôture électrique!’

‘What on earth is going on?  What’s up with the electric fence?’ we wondered.

Our first thought was that during the night someone had installed boundary markers for a new construction site.  We stressed about how difficult it would be to find a tenant if that were the case.  I told Al that I would write a letter and complain, in French, to the managing agent.  (I’m into complaining.  It feels as if I have done it a lot lately – but with good reason.  I calmly hand out complaint letters like sweets, but each subtly laced with poison.  I’m becoming very Swiss.)

So, I wrote an email and asked who gave my neighbour permission to put up a electric fence in an area where there are lots of kids.  I queried why there was a trough full of water in the corner.  I attached two photos, as if I were a cantankerous, inquisitive little old lady with nothing better to do.  (I must say, I was chuffed with my letter.  I wrote it myself with no help at all except for a few corrections from Word’s French spell check.  I didn’t even use Google Translate.)

An hour later, I was at my desk that faces the window that faces the open ground.  I watched in surprise as a van reversed on to the land and then a man walked round and opened the back doors.  Five goats tumbled out.  The man then jumped back in his vehicle and drove off.

Goats!  Yes, goats!

They are here to cut the grass. Goats in my backyard are as incongruous as a flamingo in a field of cows.  I love it!

To cut a long story short, the goats are here 24/7 for a month.  My neighbour borrowed them from a farm up the road.  I quickly sent an apologetic, backtracking email to the agent – ‘Ignore my last email.  Don’t worry about the fence or the grass – I’m happy with the goats.’

All three bedrooms in our apartment look out on to the patch of open land.  The goats are almost constantly within view.  They are like a soothing screensaver that is on in the background while I go about my business.

This is what I see out of every bedroom window.  This is my goat “screensaver”:

photo-17

Megan and I will be inspecting the goats close-up every day they are here.  They chomp away non-stop and work so hard.  I have new respect for goats now.  I think they may just be my new favourite animal.

photo-16


Guilt Revisited

August 11, 2013

I just reread my Guilt post from yesterday and I thought, ‘Blimey, when Al reads this he’s going to think I think he does nothing’.   Perhaps, after reading it, you may think so too!  Not true at all.  So I better make it clear if it is not so already:  Alastair is AMAZING and I am very blessed.  I just sometimes feel that, as a stay-at-home mom, I should be doing a bit more myself and that makes me feel a little guilty!

 


Guilt

August 10, 2013

When I had a baby, all sorts of different feelings tumbled into my life.  I expected Joy, Fulfilment, Unconditional Love and a lot of Fatigue.  But I never anticipated Guilt and Fear.  Guilt and Fear gate crashed into me like two uninvited guests in my home.  They waltzed through the front door as if they owned the place.  They didn’t remove their heavy boots and traipsed dirt down the passages of my mind.  They flopped on the couch, put their feet up, placed their hands behind their heads, leaned back and stated, ‘We’re not leaving.’

I am incredibly grateful for the privilege I have to stay at home with Megan.  If we don’t live extravagantly and we make certain manageable sacrifices, I don’t have to work if I don’t want to.  Every day I thank God and Alastair for this special gift.  At this stage in Megan’s life, there is nowhere else I would rather be.  She is an extension of me, like another body part and I need her near me as I need my ears or my eyes or my hands.  I should just chill out and enjoy this luxury.  But I don’t.  I feel guilty about it.  At no time does Alastair ever make me feel this way but I still do.

DownloadedFile-8I feel an uncontrollable urge to compensate – overcompensate – for this gift by being a great wife, great mother, great cleaner, great cook, great friend, great administrator and great all-round everything.  When Megan was born and I left my job, I believed I should release Alastair to focus on his work while I concentrated on everything else.  It didn’t dawn on me exactly how much everything else is.

Every evening, Alastair asks, ‘What did you do today?’  I usually brush him off by saying ‘the usual’ or ‘stayed at home’.  It is not that I did a little; I just don’t have another scrap of energy to explain it in any great detail.

There are few opportunities to park off and chill during the day.  I play with Megan, I feed her, I change her nappy multiple times and push her in her pram around the neighbourhood.  I hover near her room as she bounces in her cot and refuses to nap.  I cook her organic, nutritious meals from scratch and spend an inordinate amount of time peeling vegetables.  I breastfeed Megan, I bath her and I put her to sleep in the evening.  While Al’s at work, I pay bills, I wash dishes, I load the washing machine, I hang up laundry, I clean the house etc.

images-55At night I am so exhausted that I am daunted by the rigmarole of getting ready for bed.  I could sleep anywhere, even standing up like a flamingo.  Al often asks for help cleaning up after dinner and I say, ‘I can’t.  I’m too tired’.  Then he responds, ‘But I’m tired too’ and I feel guilty because I know he busts himself at the office and is still willing to help around the house too.  I invalidate my tiredness because I don’t have a formal job with a payslip.  I scrape myself off the couch and help him clear up because he brings home the bacon and I don’t.

What Alastair doesn’t understand is that I am actually more tired than him.  At least in the office, you can pause at the coffee machine or take a lunch-break, all by yourself, to recharge.  One of my friends said that we should never get into who’s-more-tired arguments with our husbands.  She said of course we are more physically and emotionally knackered.  Just accept that, know that and leave it at that.

Men say they understand what we do all day.  But they don’t really get it.  When one of my friends complained to her husband that she was constantly exhausted and could do with hiring a cleaner, his input was, ‘Why don’t you start going to bed earlier, like at 7pm?’

images-46One friend left her husband with the baby for a few hours.  When she opened the front door, he pounced on her and explained he had a great afternoon but needed an hour or so of Me-Time to recover.  He mentioned he was glad my friend arrived home when she did because he was fed up with all the wiping.  Wiping bums, wiping faces, wiping hands, wiping kitchen counters, wiping down highchairs, wiping dishes.  He never realized looking after a baby involved so much wiping.

I think us first-time moms need to be kinder to ourselves.  I recently had tea with one of my expat friends who was drained after her daughter’s non-stop, unexplainable screaming and moaning the previous day.  She said she was feeling guilty for the overwhelming desire she had to bark, ‘SHUT THE F*** UP!’ at her daughter.  Of course she didn’t do this but she was taken aback by the urge that bubbled up inside her.

I never anticipated the paradoxes one experiences as a parent.  I find it baffling how one can feel love and frustration, euphoria and exhaustion, fulfilment and loneliness, peace and anxiety all at the same time.  I have been stunned by how high and how wide, how deep and how long my love for Megan is so I am surprised and then guilty when I sometimes fantasize about finding a meaningful part-time job.  I adore Megan’s company so I feel guilty that I spend so much time strategizing how and when I can get her to sleep.  A baby makes one more housebound than I expected.  I always thought I would thrive on nesting at home with my little one for company so I feel guilty when I am crazy with isolation after a few days welded to the house like a barnacle to a rock.

Gandhi famously said ‘I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.’  I never expected to feel guilty about certain things and many aspects of motherhood have surprised me.  But really, I am doing my best and I work hard all day so Guilt has no right to roam around and wreck havoc in my head.

(I am writing another post on Fear which, I must say, is a beast of an emotion)