2018, winter and other news

January 27, 2018

2018, here you are. This year my primary resolution is to manage the time I spend on electronic devices. I find that people are half present these days because they always have at least one foot in cyberspace.

I worry I’m too preoccupied with my iPhone. The problem is that it has become my one stop shop for so many things – photos, to-lists, maps, encyclopaedia, conversations with friends etc.  In my defence, at least I don’t yak on the phone for hours the way my parents’ generation did so maybe I shouldn’t feel so guilty.

I need my phone and other devices because they are my pipes to the outside world but I’ve decided that, in 2018, if I’m going to be on my phone or computer, it has to be worthwhile. I’m going to spend less time twirling around the internet and reading toxic, fear-mongering articles and news reports that give me a nervous twitch.  This year, I’m going to spend more time with my new friends Judy, Gordon, Aaron and James.   I bought myself a subscription to masterclass.com for Christmas and it is fantastic. I’m taking virtual cooking courses with Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck, writing classes with Judy Blume and James Patterson and I’m learning screenwriting with Aaron Sorkin, just for fun. Annie Leibovitz is also going to teach me how to take decent photos. The masterclasses are filmed as if these fabulous people are talking directly to me, as if I am their pal and we are having a chat at a coffee shop. Wonderful!

Winter, urgh

I always divide winter into two parts – there’s the bit before Christmas and the bit after Christmas. November and December are fun because there’s the festive build up to Christmas and the excitement of the first snowfall. January and February are intense. You just have to hunker down and focus ahead to spring. The problem is that I have weather dependent moods so if it is grey outside, I feel grey inside. The low lying cloud over the lake has reappeared and I hate the Wuthering Heights, mist-in-the-moors vibe.  I find that the longest, most exhausting days are the ones when we stay at home and unfortunately we do this more often in winter.  We also walk to and from school so we are at the mercy of all weather conditions.  Try walking in horizontal rain with three kids.  Fun.

Skeletal trees and day in day out greyness

One thing I struggle with in winter, particularly with little kids, is the heat. Yes, you heard me right. I said the heat. The Swiss heat their buildings to roughly the temperatures of the inside of a pottery kiln. Swiss buildings are hotter inside in winter than they are in summer.

Overheated buildings are challenging because as soon as the kids feel the slightest bit warm or uncomfortable, they strip.   They are quick to fling their clothes off but slow to put them on. Often when we leave the house, Kate is bundled in my wrap and becoming hot and agitated while the others are still half naked and faffing about. Jessica thinks it’s fine to leave the house in ballet pumps and a leotard when it is zero degrees outside.

Sometimes I wish Megan and Jessica helped me a little more. They are only 5 and 3 years old, I know, but I’m not asking for them to make their own dinner or operate the washing machine. I would just like them to help me by putting on their shoes and a jacket when I ask. Maybe I expect too much.

I’ve concluded that children are exactly like these collapsible push puppets. Whenever you push them and need them to do something – put on their shoes, eat dinner, get in the car, tidy up their toys etc – they collapse and become floppy and uncooperative.

Other news

This is Al’s busy period so he is working long hours. He’s warned me well in advance so when he phones and says, ‘I’m going to be late tonight’, then I can’t be passive aggressive and disappointed like I usually am when he is 15 minutes late (15 minutes feels like 150 minutes at dinner/bed/bath time).

A picture of Daddy drawn by Jessica (age 3).

Kate is chunkier and losing that newborn fragility. She still has no interest in her baby toys, possibly because she has enough stimulation from her two older sisters who are like two human, life-size rattles.

Boisterous sister love

Kate usually sleeps non-stop from about 8pm to 4am, which I consider sleeping through the night. Whoo hoo! It baffles me why babies insist we stand while soothing them. Whenever I sit down and rock Kate in my arms, she objects until I stand up and do it. That’s why parents are so zonked – we can never sit down. It was the same with Megan and Jessica. Why do babies do that? It’s a mystery.

I find I sometimes struggle to go back to sleep from 4am onwards but any sleep deprivation is my fault, not Kate’s. I sit quietly breastfeeding in the dead of night and my body sees this as a moment for deep thinking – dissecting the past, planning for the future and analysing the present. My brain careers around like a runaway horse. I remember one of my favourite writers saying, ‘My mind is a scary neighbourhood to wander alone in at night.’

My newest challenge is the TV. That’s another reason why I hate winter – because we are indoors more and the TV or ipad are such temptations. It’s crack for kids. It is a mood-altering, trance-inducing sedative that turns Megan and Jessica weepy, sluggish and irritable after the initial high. It may give parents respite but the aftermath is annoying. Today I had enough of the tears and rage when I turned off the TV so I’ve banned it indefinitely … or until tomorrow.

Megan and Jessica adore their schools. I’m so happy they’re happy.  They rarely recount what happened during their days but Megan jabbers in French and she plays by re-enacting her experiences in the classroom with Jessica as her pupil so I see what goes on indirectly.

Beef

To end off, I want to share a profound thought from Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass course.  He said that in life you will never be able to please everybody so you shouldn’t even try. He said, ‘Think of beef.  There are so many ways to prepare beef.  You can make boeuf bourguignon, filet mignon, beef wellington, you name it. But, if you want to cook beef in the way that the least number of people find objectionable, then you would make a McDonald’s hamburger.  McDonald’s hamburgers are nice, but they’re just ok, nothing special, nothing memorable.  If you were a chef, you wouldn’t aspire to make them.’  This a lovely lesson, especially for chronic people pleasers like me.  Do I want to be the human equivalent of a Big Mac? Ew, no way.  I love this image so much that I’ve now absorbed it into the daily Surycz family lingo.   Be steak, be stew, be a roast.  Be interesting, be different, be you.

 

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Books read in 2017

January 1, 2018

In 2016, for the first time ever, I started keeping a list of the books I read during the year. It was fun, so I did the same in 2017. I read less this year. I didn’t read a single thing the whole of October as my mind was fluffy and distracted after the birth of Kate and my horrendous flu. Then, in November, I read the French translation of Jojo Moyes’s book ‘Me Before You’ and that was a slow chug. When I read anything French, I stay in first gear all the way.

I love reading. These days everyone reads a lot all the time. You can’t help it because we are constantly force fed words from every angle on our phones and computers. The non-stop bombardment of words from the news, whatsapps, Facebook, emails etc feels as if I am living beside a 100 piece marching band.

Reading an actual book is different. A book is not something that adds to the noise; it quietens my world down. I don’t have time to read in long leisurely stretches but I grab every spare moment I can. I step inside a book, I enter it and the world around me fades away for five minutes or so at a time. There’s nothing more magical than getting lost inside a fabulous book. This year, thanks to my reading, I’ve stayed at home while I travelled to Rwanda, North Korea, Cambodia, China, India, Somalia, South Africa, the UK, the US, Japan and Germany.  I’ve also gone back in history multiple times.  Pretty cool hey?

I’m not sporty. I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I can’t sing (completely tone deaf). I can’t play a musical instrument. I can’t sew. I can sort of cook. My art is words. I LOVE words. Nothing moves me like beautifully crafted sentences strung together in beautifully crafted paragraphs. Libraries are my art galleries, my museums. A big, quiet, old, dusty library is a sacred and magical place.

I believe it is my parenting duty to carve out a little time to read every day. I want my children to read so I should too. Someone once said to me that children tend not to do as you want them to but they often imitate you. For a while Megan starting saying ‘oh heck’.  This bothered me. I said to Al, ‘Who the heck taught her to say that?’ Oops. I reckon the best way to teach certain behaviour is to model it. I want Megan, Jessica and Kate to have interests and passions so I must show them that I have mine.  It’s a paradox that the things you don’t need to live – books, art, music, dance, theatre, connecting with nature and so on – are the things you need to live.

I read many great books this year. In fact, I never finish a book that isn’t good. Some are better than others and the notable mentions are written in red on my list below.

FAVOURITE BOOKS OF 2017

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell – Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors so I inhale anything she writes. I read on my Kindle but I always buy Maggie’s books in hard copy so I can hold them and touch them and stroke them. Any book she writes is a totem, a precious object to be treasured forever. When she releases a new book, I buy it on the day it comes out and then I ration it and allocate myself a small portion to read every day so I draw out the heavenly experience and make it last as long as possible.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay – This book is the diary from when Dr Adam Kay was a doctor with the National Health Service in the UK. Given the broad spectrum of people who use the NHS, you can imagine how hilarious this book is. I couldn’t put it down. It’s light and fun with serious undertones. It opened my eyes and made me grateful for people who work in the medical profession, so much so that when I was in hospital for three days when Kate was born, I gushed thank-yous, you’re amazings and I’m so gratefuls to every nurse and doctor that came into my room.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart – This book is about an autistic boy told from the perspective of his dad. It has a warm and happy ending and was beautifully written. It’s the kind of book where I wanted to cry at the end, not because the story was particularly sad but because the book was finished. A good book should leave you feeling bereft at the last page and this one did exactly that.

I also recommend the classic war book ‘With the Old Breed’ by EB Sledge and the memoir called ‘Rena’s Promise’ by Rena Kornreich Gelissen. Both of these were educational and humbling and I think they should be compulsory reading in schools. The world would be a kinder, gentler place if everyone read them. 

  1. Band of Brothers by STEPHEN E AMBROSE
  2. With the Old Breed by EB SLEDGE
  3. Son of Hamas by MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF
  4. The Taming Queen by PHILLIPA GREGORY
  5. Beyond Band of Brothers by MAJOR DICK WINTERS
  6. Sweet Revenge by JANE FALLON
  7. An African Love Story by DAME DAPHNE SHELDRICK
  8. The Little House by PHILLIPA GREGORY
  9. Trophy Child by PAULA DALY
  10. The Key to Rebecca by KEN FOLLETT
  11. Helmet for my Pillow by ROBERT LECKIE
  12. Europa, Europa by SOLOMON PEREL
  13. In My Hands by IRENE GUT OPDYKE
  14. Rena’s Promise by RENA KORNREICH GELISSEN
  15. A Train in Winter by CAROLINE MOOREHEAD
  16. As the Lilacs Bloomed by ANNA MOLNAR HEGEDUS
  17. First They Killed My Father by LOUNG UNG
  18. China Marine by EB SLEDGE
  19. Le Garcon en Pyjama Raye by JOHN BOYNE
  20. The Break Down by BA PARIS
  21. Big Little Lies by LIANE MORIARTY
  22. Lying in Wait by LIZ NUGENT
  23. Village of Secrets by CAROLINE MOOREHEAD
  24. Lion by SAROO BRIERLEY
  25. Marry Me Tomorrow by CARLA BURGER
  26. A Boy Made of Blocks by KEITH STUART
  27. Unravelling Oliver by LIZ NUGENT
  28. Into the Water by PAULA HAWKINS
  29. Glass Half Full by CARO FEELY
  30. Harvest for Hope by JANE GOODALL
  31. A Respectable Trade by PHILLIPA GREGORY
  32. Maybe in Another Life By TAYLOR JENKINS REID
  33. They all have their Exits By AIREY NEAVE
  34. Emmanuel Macron by ANNE FULDA
  35. Holiday in the Hamptons by SARAH MORGAN
  36. The Gustav Sonata by ROSE TREMAIN
  37. The Mayor of Mogadishu by ANDREW HARDING
  38. The Alice Network by KATE QUINN
  39. The Identicals by ELIN HILDERBRAND
  40. They All Fall Down by TAMMY COHEN
  41. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by JONATHAN ALLEN AND AMIE PARNES
  42. Then She Was Gone by LISA JEWELL
  43. The Map that Leads to You by JP MONNINGER
  44. Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza
  45. I Am, I Am, I Am by MAGGIE O’FARRELL
  46. The Last Anniversary by LIANE MORIARTY
  47. Cry Freedom by JOHN BRILEY
  48. In Order to Live by YEONMI PARK
  49. God and the Transgender Debate by ANDREW WALKER
  50. The Choice by EDITH EGER
  51. The Girl in Cabin 10 by RUTH WARE
  52. This is Going to Hurt by ADAM KAY
  53. The Girl with Seven Names by HYEONSEO LEE
  54. Our Souls at Night by KENT HARUF
  55. WTF by ROBERT PESTON
  56. The Bonfire of Berlin by HELGA SCHNEIDER
  57. Paris for One and Other Stories by JOJO MOYES
  58. Very British Problems by ROB TEMPLE
  59. How to Stop Time by MATT HAIG
  60. Reasons to Stay Alive by MATT HAIG
  61. The Humans by MATT HAIG
  62. Avant Toi by JOJO MOYES