Clodember - clo recommendations and reviews

Dear friends and fellow clothes-lovers, Clovember may have ended but my search for flattering and affordable things will never stop.

Clothing-wise I have found some amazing things recently, things that deserve to have their praises sung publicly. (I have not been approached to do this, all things reviewed below I have shelled out my cold hard cash for).


I left my soft, warm deathbed yesterday (a heady combination of asthma and chest infection has been killing me all week) and got gussied up in honour of Z's 40th birthday.

I am wearing two recent discoveries - this cardigan of wonder and surprisingly warm, surprisingly slimming M&S crochet tights.

I am allergic to a substantial number of woolen things, but this cropped eyelash cardy is so so so soft and warm it is like wearing breath of kittens. To say nothing of the fact that it has bird-print and pockets - two irresistible features as far as I am concerned.

And finally a shoutout to these over the knee boots from Next


The back half of the boot is made of textile, so it has no problem accommodating my chunkier calves. The front half appears to present an impenetrable shield to the wind and keeps my arthritic knees incredibly snug.

Thank you Pirate Boots, for embracing my legs just as they are and keeping the winter away!

On trauma and anxiety

Most people (perhaps even everyone) struggles at some point, in some measure with obsessive &/compulsive thoughts. Ever since early childhood I remember being visited by terrible dreams (pursuit, flight, apocalypse, burning cities, loss) and a vague but persistent sense of of something awful but unseen waiting in the wings, hovering just out of sight.

Collapse )

By the time I was 30 the great early stresses and trials of motherhood and marriage had settled and been resolved. I was happy, things were good. Predictably this was an open invitation for (new! enhanced!) anxiety to come back, because for the first time in years I had so much to lose.

Most of the time I am good at keeping the fear at bay. Often when I talk with my clients about anxiety I use the analogy of passengers in a car and we talk about finding ways to resist fear doing the driving. Fear will still be in the car of course, fear may even be in the front passenger seat. The quest is no to eradicate it (impossible) simply not to trust it with the wheel, and if we catch it trying to navigate then to ask for a second opinion.

There are many areas of my life in which I can relegate fear to the backseat, even the boot. I notice my thoughts and let them go. I practice the Golden Egg meditation of my invention, I distract myself, I lecture myself, I tell myself it is only Anxiety. I resist getting drawn in to the lure of obsessive thoughts, into the false comfort of rituals. But the fears find me in my sleep. They create dreams that feel so real I cannot remember they are dreams, and night after night they come for me.

I keep dreaming of the deaths of one or both of my children. The nightmares are almost always the same in their content: 1/3 logistics (filling out forms, waiting in offices, making phonecalls) and 2/3 a howling, indescribable grief. I wake up drenched in tears, suffocating.

The fears are not always this bad. They are set off in the present by the fact that in just under a month my family is going on a plane ride without me which feeds on every deep rooted anxiety and trauma I have and conspires to try and send me over the edge.

This has happened before. Most likely it will happen again. Before Z's surgery last June I was similarly climbing the ceiling and then talking myself down, half-convinced that he was going to die in some catastrophic freak medical blunder, as since October 1989 the words "routine surgery" have lost their power to reassure me.

My fortune is that it's been over a decade since I was entirely overtaken by fear. There is always a part of me that remains on the outside, reflecting, encouraging, looking in. Saying "it is only anxiety. It is only anxiety. Still your mind. It will be all right."

In my case Anxiety is exacerbated severely by being An Intuitive, because it makes it harder to convince myself that the dreams are not premonitions of imminent disaster but only the voices of old fears, old wounds. I remind myself of all the times when my anxiety has been wrong in its predictions. My argument is bolstered by all the times the world failed to end. All the planes that safely landed, all the fires that were put out. My children's survival of their births, their infancies, their toddlerhoods. Z's failure to perish in freak ways. All weaving together to slowly, slowly, inch by inch regain and transform some of the traumatised ground.

And in the night when the fears go on the offensive, as the war goes on and I wake up - I do all that I can do in the face of not knowing. I draw the Golden Egg around myself. I repeat the litany of "It Is Only Anxiety. It is Only Anxiety, that Supreme Poker Player, that Greatest of Bullshitters. There are no wolves at the door, only Anxiety."

I breathe. I dry my tears. I pour my love into my home and my family as completely and as fiercely as I can. And mostly I let go. I contain my fears. I entrust my spirit. I close my eyes. I remember love and peace and I step into another day.

*I AM Slavic after all.

** I can promise you that this story has done literally nothing to diminish my own rodent phobia.

clovember 10-23 -"Winter Is Coming"

This latest installment of Clovember is brought to you by the fact that for once everyone has gone to bed and fallen asleep without

a) arguing with me
b) petitioning for water/cuddles/philosophical debate/one more cartoon
c) my day and subsequent functioning was much improved by a long afternoon nap

Now for Collapse )

morning hide and seek

Matei is on the whole not a morning person. The morning (especially a school morning) is an assault on his dignity and human rights; therefore morning is The Enemy and must be resisted with a mix of Violent Struggles and Peaceful Demonstrations.

On the other hand, his little sister embraces a New Day with enthusiasm and her chirping has also made mornings one of my favourite times of day.

Here she is, enjoying a game of repeat-pretending to be a chicken hatching from an egg.

game of chicken hatching

prelude to clovember

Ah, livejournal how I have missed thee!

Employment has tolled the bell for my Social Media and whatever little energy I seem to have left at the end of the day is largely spent on the usual threats-and-negotiations that precede hustling my offspring into bed.

However the fates have aligned and I have decided to seize some free time to catch up on your doings and the joys that are Clovember.

This year Z is growing a Mo and I shall be posting my own Clo's, but in the meantime here are some Halloween photos as a placeholder.


And here are the children, featuring their home-made Superhero outfits, including superhero cloaks lovingly sewn by me and lined with fleece because I am from the Balkans and we are all obsessed with Guarding Against The Cold.


(Mis)adventures in Kefalonia -all is well that ends well, including fires and car crashes.

Our Kefalonian holiday was utterly lovely, though at times more adventurous than anticipated ( on which more in a moment).

After a day of rest to get our bearings and ooh and aaah at the scenery and the clean everything and the warm water we threw ourselves wholeheartedly into driving and eating our way around the island. The roads leading up into the hills were steep and sharply curved, the air was abuzz with crickets and the scenery was stunning in its ruggedness and the jewel-like vivacity of its golds and blues. Z took pictures of a million cliffs and olive trees, while I developed an unexpected passion for goat portraiture. (There will soon be a number of pictures in my Flickr attesting to this under appreciated art form).

Driving up towards the heart of the island on our second day, we passed a tiny crossroads cafe that a village entrepreneur had set up in his backyard. It advertised lemon and apple pie which was all the encouragement I needed to badger Z into a stop. We sat down on a rickety picnic table under the olive trees, ate our pies (they were amazing), shared thoughts on Greece and reflected how the faint smell of smoke in the air really in some in fathomable way reminded us of the villages of our childhood. Then Z noticed that the smell of smoke was quite strong actually, and appeared to be originating near the feet of two children who were squatting over a pile of kindling. Perhaps they are incinerating rubbish, we thought, although it seems rather close to the house and those old trees. Then the fire leapt up and the children ran away. Emboldened, the fire doubled in size again.

"Fire", Z said, waving to the proprietor who was blissfully relaxing under a neighbouring olive tree. The proprietor nodded and gave us a friendly wave back.

"Fire!" Z said more urgently, with gestures. "Fire!"

Then things got a good deal more exciting what with the clouds of smoke and people rushing about with hoses and buckets of water and after the blaze was controlled the proprietor going to find the young arsonists and thrash them with a branch of the olive tree - an ironic but convenient choice of weapon.

On the fourth day we were in a car crash. A drunk driver coming out of the bend on the wrong side of the road collided with the taxi we were in. Fortunately it all happened so fast that I didn't have time to be scared - there was suddenly just a truck looming and emergency brakes and violent swerving; the crash of metal and glass and the force of the hit like a punch that knocked the glasses from my face and sent me flying.

After the first incredulous seconds of ensuring that we were actually alive and in one piece we scrambled out onto the road and engaged in a protracted game of explanatory charades with concerned Greek passerbys, while the taxi drive was having a much more energetic discussion with the completely wasted driver of the other car. This included an exciting high speed chase in which the other driver tried to drive off at speed to evade the law and endanger more civilians, while the taxi driver with Jackie Chan like agility ran alongside his car holding on to the steering wheel until forced to let go.

The road then became a congregating point for a number of other drivers and vehicles all having very spirited discussions in Greek while Z took photos of the damage and I busied myself picking out tiny shards of glass from my skin.

Although we had thankfully managed to avoid a direct collision (which would have certainly crumpled the taxi like a harmonica) the damage to the side of the car was extensive (shattered windows, caved in doors) but fortunately the damage to us was very light. (None to Z, while I got off with some impressive bruising and a fractured toe and probably some lasting anxiety responses at the sound of emergency brakes).
We felt incredibly lucky, impossibly blessed to be and the habit of erecting roadside shrines suddenly made perfect sense.

The rest of the holiday passed without incident. We travelled by boat to Zante and saw sheer white cliffs and beautiful sea caves; I did not get stung by jellyfish or drop my cameraphone in the water. Nobody assaulted or distressed us, aside from the weather in England.

the history of love

My son was born into stormy times, between two bereavements, at the end of a month of immense financial and social stress. His birth was attended by anxious ghosts from the past- a hovering family anxiety and the ghosts of the lost boys, uncles and great-uncles and my stillborn brothers. We were thrilled and ecstatic at his safe arrival, riding the wave of a high I had not previously known. But we were also inexperienced and grieving, in physical and emotional shock from his birth, drained by sleeplessness and massive bloodloss. In many ways Matei's arrival was a sundering of everything we thought we had known about children, about family, about ourselves and each other. It was a cataclysmic, life-changing event that shook us to the core and re-forged family bonds and made us all better people. But it was undeniably a time of anger and sadness, of anxiety and trauma and intense grief.

And making it through that made us feel powerful enough, optimistic enough to welcome another child. I remember in the heat-exhausted, interminable lead -up to Helena's birth getting my body used to broken nights, mentally squaring myself up for another marathon, rehearsing for the gruelling grind of sleeplessness and constant feeding. Stronger, wiser than before we felt ready for anything, except how easy she was.

A six month struggle with SPD was the only trouble Helena ever gave me. Having prepared myself for another 17 hour labour I was utterly shocked when she was born a mere 4.5 hours later. She didn't cry, just sneezed loudly to assure me that she was breathing and looked at us and we looked at her and experienced a kind of Hollywood falling-in-love, a deep and utter bliss I had never known.

I would joke later with my mother that the most joyous day of my life was not 4th August (her birthday) but the 5th, when I saw that we had snagged A Baby Who Slept and how ever since then, every week, every month of her life has been my favourite. Every time I would think "this is the best month yet. I cannot possibly feel happier, more in love than this; she cannot possibly be anymore adorable, anymore delightful than she is now" and then the next month would prove me wrong.

I have loved all the ages, all the stages of Helena and I have never been able to get over the luck of having a child that I could just enjoy without worry and heartache. I still can't believe it, and so I keep trying to keep my joy covert out of the old stories, old worries of joy that gets snatched away for no reason other than that you let go, that you relaxed, that you were enjoying it too much.

And oh, how I have enjoyed her. I loved the fat baby-ness of her. Her little round belly, her multiple chins, the fat rolls of her thighs and arms; her sparsely haired-head, her lovely eyes. And later as she grew I loved her gummy smiles and her indignant squawks, the mornings which belonged to only her and me. I loved the weight of her in the sling and her curious hands and her pudgy feet. I loved her lightning transition from glad-and-benevolent to angry-and-sleepy.

DSC_6161 - Copy

We called her Little Buddha for her wide smile, her luminous and benevolent nature. Unlike her brother she talked late - reluctant to give up her personal language (an intricate thing, with long strings of sounds and what sounded like rich anecdotes and its own syntax) in favour of a tongue the masses spoke - and preferred to communicate her Gladness-Or-Sadness on a range of subjects via respective vehicles of Wide Smiles and Collapsing Stricken on the floor, like the finale of Swan Lake.


And now she is almost 3, and if not quite trilingual then at least bilingual-and-a half. She has a good ear for tunes, for music of church liturgies(prone to intoning "let us pray" at random times) and nursery rhymes, of Slavic and Romantic Languages. Cuddly only when sleepy or ill, Helena prefers to communicate her affection with acts of generosity ("I am sharing with you because I love you") and protectiveness. She laughs easily and often, and rarely cries but when she does it is an activity that she treats seriously and will rebuff attempted interruptions or distractions with "I am crying and I am not finished yet".


She loves cats and dogs and mice and lizards and frogs. She is in thrall to her brother and thrilled to copy everything he does. She is cautious when confronted with The Unknown and fiendishly, massively brave when facing down any threat (real or imagined) to those she loves. She loves babies (whether plastic, animal or human) and if permitted to do so would spend an entire day nurturing and bossing them about.


She is 80% compliant and benevolent and 20% Fierce. She smiles sweetly and fights dirtily. She has dealt me a slap in a fit of pique and then seeing my shocked expression turned contrite and attempted to erase it from my face.


She loves Lego and painting and reading books upside down. She can unlock iPads and open up puzzles and cartoons on Netflix. She loves all accessories and the colour pink. She is charmed and charming, loved by humans and tolerated by puppies.


She is off having adventures without me at the moment, running around in Montenegro with her brother and the other City-Infants-Turned-Feral-Monkeys who gather there every summer. And while I go to work and come home, clean the house and weed the garden, as I love and enjoy this borrowed temporary London life of a single person all the same there is always a part of my heart hovering, biding its time to have them back.

Perhaps she meant Danger Mouse

Matei, running around and pretending to shoot webs from his wrists:“ I am Spiderman! I.AM.THE.AMAZING.SPIDERMAN!”

“are you Spiderman?” I ask his sister who is running after him, making theatrical hand flourishes and miscellaneous grand onomatopeic utterances of her own.

“No,” she says, offended. “I am a mouse!”