Sunday, 27 July 2014

Our love story - part 2

If there was a subtitle to this post, it would be Faith & Love.

When we met in Fuerteventura, it took us all week to establish that we were definitely going to meet up again, so it wasn't until the flight home that we had a real, deep conversation about... well, deep things. He asked me if I knew how old he was, and I honestly didn't - and was honestly surprised to find him 12 years my senior, which I'd never have guessed! Also, divorced. None of it thwarted the sense of peace I had, though, as I sat there in the airport cafe with him holding hands.

On the flight back, we had four more hours to talk. Cutting to the chase, at one point I asked: "What do you think of God?" - a pause, a breath, a gulp later, the answer boiled down to agnostic; he thought there was more than just the physical, that there was a spiritual dimension, but not a personal God with thoughts and feelings. My next question was, "So what do you live for?" - another pause, breath and gulp, I think he found that one harder to answer...

Once we'd met up back in the UK, where he came to a carols by candlelight service where I was part of the choir, I think he was intrigued by my faith. I hadn't kissed him, and had told him I didn't really want to kiss anyone other than my husband. [I still laugh at remembering this - when I said that, his taken-aback response was, "Where is he??" - so had to explain!] So my faith certainly had an impact on the way our relationship was progressing, which is perhaps why he wanted to learn more about it. When I asked if he'd like to do an Alpha Course and explained that it was an opportunity to learn about and ask questions about the Christian faith, he immediately said yes.

Having found a church near him that ran the course, for the next three months I would travel to Bristol every Wednesday after work to attend it with him. I was amazed and humbled to see him grapple with, question, and seriously examine the claims put before him with an open and curious mind, never just dismissing or ignoring an issue. I remember how I learned about Christianity and fought every. step. of. the. way. to find arguments against everything that I found! 

I had a very hard time reconciling my growing love for him with the fact that, until a good three months into being together, we didn't share something as basic and deep as our faith: the defining factor in my outlook, world view, and identity. I couldn't stop feeling more and more deeply for him, yet I had no idea what he'd be thinking at the end of the course! It was a scary, emotionally risky time but I could not hold back.

Taken on our wedding day,
just before I came down
the aisle. One of my favourite
photos of him, ever.
By the end of the course, Mr. had not had all his questions answered - I think no one ever has every single question answered - but he found it made sense and decided to follow Jesus. In his words: "I knew I needed help and direction in how to do life well. Glad I found it." Too easy, I wondered? Is he doing this because of me? 

I made a point never to ask him if he was going to connect with that church, if he was going there on Sunday, if he was going to small group... I had to see what he'd do. And what he did was run with it. He became part of a small group (which I visited maybe twice before we were married; it was his group, his church, his walk and growth) and dove into this new life as if he'd been waiting for this all his life. I guess he had - I guess we all have - just some of us are perhaps more aware of that. 

He knows he's found a good thing, and he's grabbed it with both hands. I feel privileged to have shown him to the signpost, but he's walked that road himself.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Our love story - Part 1

There's a wedding at our church tomorrow, two dear friends getting married and we'll be there cheering. And earlier this week another dear friend in a distant place has been in touch to say she's found love.

So today I'm reminiscing, thinking back to the heady days of getting to know Mr. and growing closer - sometimes I feel so settled in our togetherness, it's strange to think I haven't always been with him. But it's only been about two and a half years since we first met! So, if you'll please indulge me, I'll try to keep it short but this is the story of our love.

We met on holiday. Going with a group seemed like good option for me as a single who didn't want to be alone on holiday, but neither did I want to go on a 'singles' trip. I found Traveleyes, who offer group holidays where half the people in the group are blind/partially sighted and the other half are sighted. As a sighted guide, you just act as a friend and helper to a different person each day. And you get a discount! I figured that's a great way to meet some interesting people and have a fun holiday as well as being helpful, so needing to get away from the UK in winter and get some sun, I went to Fuerteventura with them. And so did Mr. for much the same reasons.

We met at Stansted Airport. He was late. I was wearing huge sunglasses. He tells me he didn't really know what to think of me hiding behind those; I was immediately attracted to him. He's handsome, but especially, his kind eyes.

He took this pic of us - at the time just
being friends - that was pretty much the
first time we touched, I'm quite sure.
The entire week was an intricate dance of getting to know one another, while we each had responsibility for a new person each day and wanted to make sure we spent quality time with them. We went on each of the optional outings, and often chatted. Somehow we happened to sit together at breakfast and dinner, and it wasn't long before others caught on that something was developing... in particular, one couple who teased and encouraged us in equal measure - until, on Friday at the end of the week (Saturday was home time) the guy more or less ordered Mr. to put his arm around me. Which he did. And then we walked back to the hotel arm in arm, and that sort of settled the matter.

The next day, home day, we knew we'd meet up again. I drove home late at night from the airport (he and others were staying overnight as it was very late) and heard nothing from him the next morning. I sat on my hands, got busy cleaning, trying to read - until finally, after midday, he texted. He'd thought I was going to sleep in and hadn't wanted to disturb. Phew!

I'm pretty sure that from that day on, we were in touch at least every day. He never 'played': I knew, all the time, that he was sincere and that he liked me. No games. I consciously let him set the pace - mostly - but he was always clear and honest with me: a quality of his that I still value hugely.

How did we get from there - December 2011 - to here - married with baby on the way? Stay tuned for the next installment....

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Why I pick city over suburbs - even & especially with family

A non-baby post, for a change!

Our 'spare room' - which will be baby's room.
Small but perfectly formed...
We live on a boat. A large boat as boats go, but a small space by most local standards. It's a confined space without outdoor space of our own, and that has some downsides - notably, the dog needs to be walked every time he needs the toilet, he can't just be let out. Later on when we've got the child, equally, I can't just open the back door and say, out you go!

Beyond that I truly struggle to come up with downsides. I love living in the city. My grandmother, with whom I rarely agreed about anything, was a city dweller all her adult life (and brought up two children in Vienna) and could not understand why anybody wouldn't choose to live in such a convenient place. I lived in New York City for a while and I'm still in touch with an amazing family with three girls who choose to live in Manhattan, right in the place which the majority of people (who can afford to) will leave as soon as they start families.

Bristol certainly doesn't compare with NYC in scale, but it's city living, make no mistake. So, you ask, it's crowded and living space is small and why do I love this?
One of our local parks - usually plenty of dogs
to play with!

  • I get to live on a boat! - OK this isn't the kind of city living most people experience, but.... a boat! The character, the freedom to roam, the water's reflections on the ceiling... I love our home.
  • Walking everywhere. Within (easy) walking distance are my dentist, GP, vet, a convenience store, and pretty much all the attractions tourists come here for. Within longer walking distance is my work, the main city centre with all its shops and services, the hospital, local markets. Our car gets used, on average, twice a week - the Mr. cycles to work as it's too far to walk, so he gets a workout each day without having to think about it.
    Not using the car has several advantages:
    • It keeps me [somewhat] fit to walk rather than drive places.
    • My Mr. enjoys cycling and it keeps him seriously fit - his route is very hilly!
    • Wear & tear on the car, and fuel cost, is much reduced. 
    • If I need to get somewhere in a hurry I can drive, but most of the time the walk to wherever I'm going takes me as long (short) as it would if I lived in the suburbs and drove to things.
  • No gardening / ground maintenance. It's no accident that we have no allotment... I can't stand gardening. I'm not sorry to have no grounds to maintain! I do love a good outdoor space, however, and there are five large outdoor spaces within easy walking distance. We call the closest one, a small green under a flyover right by the river, 'our backyard' - almost the entire way to it is car free and the dog can go off lead, once there we can sit on benches or in the grass as he explores in safety. I look forward to times spent with our little one there too. If we want to walk a little further, there are proper woods to explore, a stately home with its grounds, ponds, rolling hills... how can a puny piece of yard compare?
  • Neighbours. Now this may again be specific to our situation, but we know and talk to our neighbours. We help each other out. Anywhere I've lived in suburbs people rarely even knew their neighbours, and since everyone has their own large house / space to retreat to, life doesn't really happen in shared spaces the way it does in the city - where much of the living is done outside the small home, like in parks, libraries, or in our case, sitting in the sunshine on the pontoon with the neighbours. 
  • Community. A different kind, not thinking about immediate neighbours but communities of interests. Whatever your interests: in the city, you'll find a group of like-minded people doing interesting stuff. I played Volleyball in New York City, and ran with the Hash House Harriers; in the last few months I've been astonished at the amount of community spirit and support for local mums. There are baby friendly cafes with baby/toddler activities; regular meet-ups for walks; plenty of baby/toddler activities to get involved in and make friends. If you're lucky enough to find an interest-based group in the suburbs that chimes with your own interests, good for you - but mostly, if it does exist, it's probably quite a long drive away.
  • Culture. This from a totally non-arty person. I appreciate having local history and culture right around me, being able to access landmarks and tourist attractions and - in the future, with kiddo in tow - museums, the zoo, aquarium, libraries... all of which run kid-friendly programmes and features. Free and cheap opportunities to learn and entertain kids abound here.
I have never felt confined in the middle of a city. I don't always love all aspects of cities - in larger ones, the pollution, overcrowding, sheer noise and so on can make me crave a getaway into silence and solitude. But I always come back to the city. It's where so much life happens, and I can't wait to introduce our little one to the bustling life of the city!

Friday, 4 July 2014

A label for everyone: looks like I'll be a 'crunchy mama'

In trying to get ready for the baby adventure, I'm reading and learning lots. One of the things I've learned so far is that, since mothering is a mass pursuit (by which I mean, the very vast majority of all women do it), everything I might want to do or consider has been done or considered by someone else before. Here's a truth: nothing I do, think or consider in relation to my child is unique. Someone else has already done, thought, or considered it.

I think that's great! In the age of the Internet, I can learn from the experiences of others and hopefully avoid some of their mistakes.

Labels for everyone

Hippie baby... uh, no.
It also means there are groups of people with labels on. Think of 'tiger mothers', 'earth mamas', you name it... I certainly don't go around looking for labels and then trying to conform to any particular label. Although there can be comfort and support in that, because similar people cluster together and help each other. I've always done my own thing: I suppose I collect labels more like scout badges, never just one, and they don't usually go together.

So for example, I'm a vegan Christian. A Christian vegan. I have yet to meet another, online or in person - which puzzles me really, given that compassion ought to be a central Christian tenet, yet in the evangelical circles I move in this seems to apply almost exclusively to humans. Christians and vegans tend to be in pretty much opposite camps, for reasons unfathomable to me - vegans being (generally unfairly) associated by the other camp with unwashed hippies, Christians being (equally unfairly) associated with right wing homophobes. I like to think I'm neither unwashed, nor right wing or homophobic - I just try to follow truth (Christianity) and lovingkindness (veganism) without seeing them as diametrically opposed.


Now crunchy is an interesting one - why that designation I have no idea (a shared affinity for crunchy granola? Crunchy over smooth peanut butter?)... I've come across that label several times when searching for things / ideas totally unrelated to each other, so I couldn't help but notice a pattern... looks like the things I'm considering, ways I plan to raise my child, often conforms with the crunchy label. Not always, mind! Urban Dictionary defines a crunchy mama like this:

Mother who supports homebirth, breastfeeding, baby wearing, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, gentle discipline, etc. One who questions established medical authority; tends to be vegetarian and/or prepare all-organic foods. See crunchy and hippie.

Here's the hippie label rearing its head again! (still no flowers in my hair). But yeah... here's how I plan to 'crunch' it...

  • Homebirth: totally would, if it wasn't for the fact that this is a boat and if something goes wrong, I would need to be transported some 100 metres down the pontoon and up a ramp before getting to a road to an ambulance. Not a good plan. Plan B, a midwife-led birthing centre with a home-from-home atmosphere, feels safer and I still hope I'll never have to actually see a doctor.
  • Breastfeeding: can't understand why everyone doesn't... it's free, it's nutritious, it helps you lose the weight, it bonds you to baby, no faffing about with bottles and sterilising and all that malarkey... oh yeah and as for breastfeeding in public: whyever not? I often eat in public as well, why shouldn't a baby? That said, I like to keep my boobs to myself and my Mr. (well and baby) so I expect I'll cover up in some way. Not so crunchy.
  • Baby wearing: partly to do with space on our boat, but definitely I also see benefits in keeping baby close where they feel safe, protected, and warm!
  • Cloth diapering: £300 for an all-new kit of cloth nappies and all you need (if bought new, which I won't do - now that's crunchy! - my kit, which is almost complete, cost £20) or £'000's over the years with disposables. Also, it takes about 3kg of raw material to make a cloth nappy versus about 120kg for disposables. That said, my newborn will start in disposables because I'm not totally mad - I'll give myself a couple of weeks to get used to baby!
  • Co-sleeping: again, a space consideration, but even if that wasn't the case baby would definitely be with us. Why would I banish a tiny baby who experiences their world through immediate experiences like closeness, safety, or abandonment... to their own room? 
  • Gentle discipline: yeah, but let's emphasise that both gentle and discipline are of equal weight here. I won't take no $h!t from a 2-year-old.
  • Vegetarian: yeah totally. I wouldn't give my child harmful substances. As they get older they will have a choice, but I'll definitely make sure it's an informed choice.
  • All-organic: nah. Not on our budget. 

I suppose all of the above just seem like common sense to me, however apparently they justify a label because not everyone agrees. Just like, I'd say, veganism is an obvious and decent choice for all but not everyone agrees. Oh well: another label badge then!