Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Tuesday TED talk

Ok, here's this week's TED talk. It's short, even shorter than last week's, so no excuses.

It's a topic very close to my heart. This post about why it's ok to go to bed at 10 is all about it. And the Extra Hour can only be productive because I have had a full night's sleep. (If for some reason my sleep was not as long as it should have been, like last night, I will often make the executive call to stay off the training bike and sleep in for another 40 minutes.)
 I am sick of the kudos attached to no sleep. I want to push towards the culture change of admiting that being fully rested is when we work at our best. Of equating driving after little or no sleep, to driving drunk. I want my surgeon to have had a full night's sleep. Same with my pilot. And if I had kids in school, I would certainly would rather their teacher was fully rested...

Here Arianna Huffington talks about the culture change. What do you think? Can we be part of the change? 

Monday, 28 April 2014


D and I are keen long-distance runners. He is fast and I am not, but we both enjoy the training for races the preparation, the anticipation, the pain and the pleasure of starting and of finishing. Not of winning, but of being part of the process, of the communal experience, of, what I see as a huge celebration of life. This might be the reason why I have likened our journey to parenthood to a race.

When we first started thinking about trying for a family we expected it to be a sprint. Many people around us (most it felt like at the time, and feels that way often) would decide to start a family and then, usually around a year later, would have a healthy, bouncy baby in their arms. In fact most of the people who got married around the same time as we did (5 years ago) or even after us, now have one, some even have two, babies.
And so we thought it would be simple. While trying to get pregnant, it started to dawn on me that maybe not, maybe it would not be a 100m sprint – maybe it was a hurdles race, but that too was OK: we had already learnt that we were good at hurdles, D and I.

After getting pregnant and losing the pregnancy at three months we had to re-evaluate. Most people, my doctor included, simply saw this as a small bump (pun wholly unintended) on the road and that, in fact, we would be pregnant again in no time and we’d have our very own baby soon.
They were right, in part. I fell pregnant again shortly after, barely two months after my first pregnancy. They were not right about the second part, though. I miscarried again at 11 weeks.
Things were looking bleak. The race was getting longer and it was becoming clear, to me at least, that nobody knew quite how long it would actually be. Especially as, after some surgery to remove the defunct placenta from my uterus, it seemed unlikely that I would ever be able to get pregnant again.
The race was evolving from a simple 400m hurdles, to the gruelling 3000 metre steeplechase. And the sad fact of the matter was, I had not prepared for it, I had not trained, had not expected to be running so far and was feeling pretty knackered already.

A year later and several surgical procedures, some complications, a post-operative infection and quite a few weeks spent in a hospital setting, I got pregnant again! The race seemed to be nearing its end – I could see the finish line and I thought all I had to do was sprint to the end.
It was not to be, the finish line was to be moved once more and I was to be informed that actually, this was not a simple track race after all – this was turning into a road race – possibly a marathon.

Marathons take grit and determination, they take commitment and preparation and they take the unwavering belief that you are doing the right thing – no doubt can creep into the preparation for a marathon. Adoption was definitely a marathon and we entered prepared. At the same time, all around us, people entered parenthood with what seemed like minimal effort.
But as our marathon unfolds, as we run through the mile markers it is becoming obvious that this is no ordinary marathon. That even in this path that we have chosen, the route is unmarked and, in fact, it is not a simple road race, but a trail marathon, the length of which is undisclosed.

We are somewhere around mile 23, somewhere high in the clouds, led by a compass we are not sure is working, with a map that has several holes in it, but always, always maintaining the belief that somewhere out there is a finish line for us. That, if nothing else, our path to parenthood has challenged us in so many ways that it has made us stronger. That our unwavering belief that we want to be part of this race will carry us through the darkness after:  the tough days of parenting. Because the finish line is not the goal at all, in the end. Because the finish line is also a start line to the rest of our lives. 

Saturday, 26 April 2014

A Big Day

Today was a Big Day. Not ours, alas, but of some very good friends with whom we have been through most of this process: the road to adoption. 

We met P and A on our fourth night in Ethiopia, a Greek couple who had gone through the paper trail, the home study and who were there, at the same time as us, to be matched with their kids. 
We gelled instantly - they were warm, on our wave-length, with the same concerns regarding ethics, with the same worries and hopes regarding transracial, international adoption. We enjoyed their company and kept in touch, and P has been my rock, the voice of reason and my help in all of this. I hope that I too, have helped her on some level. 

The long road to adoption came to a happy end today for them, as they return home with their precious children. A new journey, infinitely more exciting and rewarding has already started for them: the life-long adventure of parenthood. I wish them all the best - they certainly have the love, patience and energy to be wonderful parents. 

And we wait... but feel like our time is coming too. Somewhere out there, in the future... maybe soon. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Taking things personally...

...and letting go!

I am guilty as charged. I am one of those people. I do take things personally. I read this post on Agnostic Adoption's blog. (I think it needs to make it into my adoption resources page!) and it made sense! 

I loved the graph, I loved the advice and I sorely needed it. But what really resonated was one phrase. Here it is: " If your referral/match doesn’t work out I recommend thinking of the event as “what happened” as opposed to “what happened to me”."

Oh my goodness this rang some bells! That is exactly how I think. Not just in the adoption process, but in everything in life (here is a link to the insanity in full swing in my post The Queue of Life). Everything is personal. My dad's illness and death. D's two years of unemployment. The losses we suffered while trying to become parents. The adoption wait. At some point, it has all become personal. At some point, however, I have also had to let it go and move on.

The main way for me to move on seems to be to get away from the personal, get away from this "what happened to me" and see things simply as they are: "what happened". 

I had one of those moments a couple of days ago. After more waiting and phonecalls with out lawyer, and with adoptive parents in-country, after yet another setback and moving of our court date further into the uncertain fogginess of the future, I broke down. The thinking was just that: "Look what has happened to us!"
Sensitised further by our prior losses, carrying our baggage firmly on our backs, we questioned whether we are "meant to" become parents. Once more. 

D spoke to me with more patience and more wisdom than I have ever possessed (and this is how I know he is meant to become a parent...). He soothed me and presented the facts, just as facts, taking the ego out of it all. This is simply what happened. We move on.

I feel lighter. I have admitted to myself that I have no control, apart from taking my response to this and "fixing" it. I wait and I march on. I have taken the personal out of it! I, at least for now, have let it go!

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Tuesday TED talk

I love listening to TED talks. I usually do so while sitting on my turbo trainer (for those not familiar with cyclist-lingo, this is the contraption that one clips their bike onto in order to turn it into a stationary bike... the potential for boredom is immense).

I tend to train in the morning (that Extra Hour I have often raved about) and I love that I can do my exercise and get exciting, useful, innovative ideas at the same time. It really starts my day with a bang and gets me all inspired! The format suits me well too, I only have 30 minutes or so to get it all in, so I usually manage to watch two of these videos during my morning session.

From now on, on Tuesdays I would like to share one of the TED talks that I have recently listened to that has made a difference to me: that has changed the way I think about something. 

Here is today's: 

(The link does not work in some browsers so here's another link, the old fashioned way How to Make Stress your Friend)

Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist from Stanford University. This fourteen minutes should change the way you think about stress forever, and, as the evidence she presents shows, that alone, your perception of stress, can be one of the major factors of whether stress affects you negatively or not. I think it is a very powerful message, so, if you can spare 14 minutes, watch this! 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

10 things I love about dogs

Ok, I admit it: we are dog people! We love dogs, heck, we have four of them. I often think of them as the best thing that's happened to us since moving to Greece and I am 100% sure that we were adopted by them and not the other way round. So... here goes, the ten things I love about (our) dogs:

Four dogs in a car. Can you spot them all?
1. Coming Home
When you have a dog (or a few dogs) coming home is always wonderful. It doesn't matter if the best holiday of your life has just come to an end, you still look forward to coming home. The reception is always warm and they are always super-excited to see you. Which links onto...

2. The Way they Greet Me
I love the way the dogs greet me! Whether I am coming home after a 30 minute outing, or returning home from a two-week holiday, whether I am simply getting up after a night's sleep, or letting them in after their dinner there is a tonne of unconditional love being poured out. There is not a chance that our dogs won't come to the door to greet us, won's show excitement and joy at seeing us again (even if they only just saw us a few minutes ago...) 

3. Running/getting outside
We love the outdoors anyway and even if we didn't have dogs we would walk and run on the mountain. However, doing so with dogs is just 100% more fun. From the moment they see me lacing up my running shoes they know. They are fantastic company to walk with and (again) I love how they come back to check in every now and again, but love to run ahead, explore, climb and sniff everything and everywhere. 
Four dogs on the run.

4. Contagious Excitement
...about pretty much anything. But especially walking and getting outside. But also for working in the garden, playing with balls, having breakfast... pretty much anything. Their excitement makes me appreciate my life so much more! They truly live in the moment! 

5. Grooming and Petting
Ok, I do spend a lot of time moaning about the hair (and yes, it is everywhere in our house, no matter how often we hoover). But I love grooming them, brushing and stroking them. And I love how they love it. Of course there is the Science bit, all about oxytocin and how owning a dog can make you and keep you healthier here  and here. And although that's not the reason we have dogs, it's certainly a bonus!

6. Being Loved!
Unconditionally. Ok, so they might show it a little more just before feeding time, but I honestly think (and there are studies to prove it) that there really is a bond between us. Woof! 

7. The Company
Dogs are such great company. Even in the middle of the night, when tummy ache wakes you (and your spouse would rather sleep than hold your hand) your dog will come and keep you company. I love those nights, when for some reason I cannot sleep, and I lie there, usually with Spencer, our black doggy and spend hours stroking him. I think he loves it too. 

8. Playful at any age
We do have a lot to learn from them, I think. They do tend to be more playful as puppies, but even adult dogs, even old ones, like our big boy Fifi, can play with the best of them. 

9. The Smell of Dog
I have a confession to make. I love the smell of dog. Yes, you read correctly, I love the way my dogs smell (which is not the same as other dogs, I think). I still don't like the smell of wet dog, though!

10. Dog People
We love meeting other dog people and, in my book at least, there is something instantly appealing about people you know have dogs. There is ready conversation and, in general, it is a useful tool in judging (!) potential friends. There are, it seems, certain characteristics, a kind of "down-to-earth-iness" about dog people. 

So here it is, my ten things I love about (my) dogs. In fact, I could have kept writing and writing, but here are some pictures instead... 

Friday, 18 April 2014

If you love something, let it go... (Or The Road to Simplicity - Losingthe Books Part 2)

In The Road to Simplicity - losing the books? I talked about how I am definitely for a more minimalist lifestyle, as long as I don't have to get rid of all my books.

It has been my big sticking point, my one difficulty in decluttering. I have got rid of most of the clothes I have not worn in a year, I have donated all of my unused shoes without batting an eyelid. I am happy to throw away unused cosmetics, donate old magazines, give away my old electronics, phones etc. But mention the books and a chill runs down my spine. Not the books!

This is only compounded by the fact that Greece does not have charity shops (why not, I am not sure, but I think it is to do with legal issues). In London, shortly before we moved to Greece and in an effort to pare down our belongings to a manageable two cubic metres I packed a bag full of books and I cheerily took it down to the nearest Oxfam. I was not happy to part with them, I wouldn't got quite that far, but I was serene in the knowledge that somebody would benefit from this book. The charity shop will make some money, that goes towards good causes, and the book will find a new home, where it will be read and enjoyed. What better ending would there be?

I have been looking at the books, trying to work out what I could part with the first. Which one will be the first to go? I have started giving some away, to friends I know will appreciate them. That has been easier than I thought, but totally inadequate in terms of numbers of books I have got rid of. If I am honest, the seven books I have given away, have not really made much of a dent in our four, double-lined bookcases. 

And then, while reading ΣΧΕΔΙΑ, the Greek equivalent of the Big Issue I came across an article that was written just for me! (Ok, not just for me, for me and the thousands of people who are already part of this community.) The answer to all my troubles (at least my book-related ones) is bookcrossing. 

Bookcrossing is amazing in its simplicity: you take one of your books, you get a unique ID number from the site, and you release it "into the wild". That's it. Now your book can be tracked as it travels the world, read and appreciated by tens or hundreds of people. People can journal about your book, recommend it, set it free again. It's a kind of World Library. 

I love the idea and working on the practical side of it. Living where we do it might be difficult to release English language books and have the captured, so the plan is I will tag them and start releasing them when I go into the centre of town. Or maybe on the airport metro. I am hatching a plan. Maybe the classics should go first...

I am preparing (psychologically) to let them go... Even though I love the dearly. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Holidays are Olive Trees and Chamomile

It is dawning on me just how strange we might seem to the outside world sometime... 

Take yesterday, example. We are on holiday as of yesterday and for two weeks, for Greek Easter (which, this year happens to fall at the same time as Western Easter). 

What did our first Saturday on holiday consist of: not boozing, not going out, not sleeping in, not going for coffee for hours (which is customary here in Greece). It consisted of a run with the dogs.

It consisted of enjoying the spring flowers on the mountain.

It did consist of a coffee date with my husband. But it was short (and sweet)!

We then came home where he painted our olive trees (a weird practice where olive tree-trunks are painted with a mixture of chemicals to protect the tree from bugs) and I picked chamomile from our garden. Here it is drying, ready for next winter:
And here are the olive trees, white socks and all! 

To finish the day we went downtown to run in a short race around town, then have pizza and wine. 

All in all a fantastic start to the holiday and a reminder of just how much I love spending time with D. Here's to the next two weeks! 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Hydra Adventure

I'm struggling to write. I am emotionally and physically exhausted. Bronchitis, waiting, bronchitis, waiting. Coughing and checking emails obsessively does not make for a fun day. And working. What feels like a million hours a day (but is actually only about 14). 

So instead of writing, here are the pics from a wonderful weekend in Hydra with D (and some kids from school). He did great in his race. I did not run due to, you guessed it, the bronchitis. But the island was simply wonderful, as was the drive there!

Stopped at Epidavros beach for a quick healthy lunch.
Fava beans, more beans, beetroot and octopus! 

Leaving the mainland behind. 

Arriving by boat is great.

A walk around the island at dusk.

And then a morning cheering on the runners, walking by the beach and enjoying the sea breeze.

Gorgeous blue waters, though a little too cold for a dip. 

All in all an awesome weekend!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Week Just Gone

Bronchitis! That's been what my week has mostly been about. A hacking cough, a burning chest, some difficulty breathing. Not great! No fever, no chills, just fatigue. In fact, if I am honest with myself I have had this for close to a month now, since my last cold. It left behind a niggling cough that seems to have worked its way down into my chest. So... here we are. Bronchitis!

The problem with being a little sick (not enough to not go into work) is that life becomes completely sterile. It becomes a race to Friday, a wake-up, go-to-work, try-to-make-it-through-the-day, go-to-sleep, rinse and repeat pattern. All pleasure seeps out. I realise that is largely because of how my life is structured: my priorities is (at this point has to be) work. The rest, the fun stuff, the exciting stuff, the stuff that keeps me happy gets lost in the effort to survive. That's because the "fun stuff" happens in The Extra Hour. And, when sick, the extra hour is useful in other ways... like some extra sleep.

However... I've made it to the weekend. The glorious weekend, with the luxury of time! With the possibility of sleeping for an extra hour and walking the dogs. And then, if I want to, I can also write! Oh, the luxury of time! 

We are also going away this weekend, to the island of Hydra. It is but a couple of hours from our house, and before we moved here we had vowed to visit regularly, but life got in the way and our weekends got taken over by other things. Well, today D and I are off to rediscover the first island that we ever visited as a couple (albeit for a race, which I will not be able to participate in because of the aforementioned bronchitis). 

A picture taken by D on our return trip, back in October 2007, a few months before we moved to Greece and after our first visit. 


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