Happy Thanksgiving

Though I wish with all my heart that we had a similar holiday in the UK, Thanksgiving has forged a place in my life thanks to all my wonderful American readers…

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For me it serves as a reminder each year that there is so very much to be grateful for, that Brocantehome continues to thrive on both sides of the Atlantic and that I am truly blessed to still have the friendship of so many wonderful women.

Tonight I will eat a roast dinner at my Mum’s table and I will think of you all; each and every one of you enjoying the company of your family and simply feeling glad to be alive.

May we share many, many more Thanksgivings to come….  

Leonie’s Workbooks Are Here!

Oh me Darlings. I cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am for all the comments and emails you sent me yesterday. It is astonishing to feel so loved and to find in your words so much comfort, reassurance and yes… help. Thank-you. As always, thank-you. Today I feel lifted. Almost held up. And I am so very, very grateful.

It is time to look to to the future. Though I have always paid lip-service to making plans for my tomorrows, in the past few years, those plans have been spectacularly bull-dozed time and time again, mostly I think because I have always been so willing to take my eye off the ball and attend to somebody else’s needs. This year, 2015, I so very much want it to be different: I want to commit every last inch of me to making our world a better place for Finn and I, and I desperately want to achieve all that I have had to leave by the wayside in recent times.

Which is why I am so grateful for the serendipitous arrival of Leonie Dawson’s 2015 workbooks in my in-box. Sometimes a person needs to stop and take stock. To make links between what has gone wrong and what needs to be done to make things right. She needs to sit down, quite alone and make plans, or else she will continue to flounder: to tread cold, exhausted water while failing to imagine exactly how she can get back on track with creating a life that matters.

Leonie is so very inspirational. She is the kind of woman who tells it like it is. Even when that is hard to hear. But heckity pie, she is real. This is a woman with real oozing out of her pores and I know for a fact that if I were to sit down in front of her and tell her how I came to be quite so very down and almost, but not quite, out, she would look at me aghast and tell me to throw every fibre of my being in to creating the kind of life where no such thing could ever, ever be allowed to happen to me again.

This year I am going to heed her. I am going to use her prompts to pull me out of the mire and concentrate on me. What a revelation that might be my lovely readers. Won’t you let Leonie pull yourself out of stuck too?

Asking For Help

It’s official. My marbles have rolled under the bed. Or the dog has chucked them out of the window. Today I did something I have never done in eleven years of blogging: I accidentally posted something I have posted before. (Blink and you would have missed it).

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After a morning of  dog walking and carrot juicing I was feeling fired up and I sat down with my little notebook full of scrawled poems and settled on one that seemed to reflect my mood. I added a picture, pressed publish and lo and behold I had posted a poem I had already shared and didn’t realise until I found myself thinking as I stood pouring water on to coffee, that the reason why the poem seemed so familiar is because I had already posted it.

I am not good at asking for help. In fact I am even pretty rubbish at taking it when it is offered. And people are so very kind. Lately I have been awash with offers of help as I continue to drag myself out of the mud that has been the past three years. They offer and I pretend I didn’t hear them. Or I mutter, please don’t worry, I am ok, no really I am ok, when it must be obvious to all and sundry that right now I couldn’t be less than ok. Shouldn’t be ok. Ok is in fact something not required of me at all right now.

You see, put it this way: If my house was a hotel and I arrived to stay here and met me, as my landlady, I would not only refuse to stay but would firmly confound matters by writing the kind of review of Trip Advisor that would make the national newspapers. Hell yes: I can no longer refer to Chez Brocante but must now call home, Shed Brocante where she who used to be Alison May now resides.

Help is a conundrum of awkward manners and the admittance of failure. Refuse it and you seem rude. Or stubborn. Or stupid and curmudgeonly. Accept it and you feel as though you are letting the whole world down. And worse than that, that you have failed in the kind of spectacular fashion it is all too obvious, the whole world can see. That makes me feel ashamed. Vulnerable. And silly. And weak. And silly and weak are the kind of personality traits I cannot abide in other people so how in the name of all things festive am I too admit that today I am feeling both silly and weak? Frankly it’s a no-can-do in a situation where help right now could make all the difference.

But people want to help. They offer time, and money, advice, cold hot chocolate and a hug. They bring flowers and a smile, they send middle of the night texts that simply say “Are you ok?” and they tell me that they love me over and over again and that none of this is my fault. That it would be ok to stop sacrificing all that I need and sit down and have a little sob for all that is lost. For all that will soon be lost. That it would be mighty fine and just downright bloody dandy to say I can’t do this right now. I don’t know what to do next on a list of a million things I don’t feel capable of doing. I’m a little frightened Sweetie…

It would be all right for me to say it and readers, my darling lovely readers, it would be all right for you to say it too. For here is the thing: if we were watching someone else struggle we would down tools and do everything we could to help them, even when we are utterly incapable of helping ourselves. We would step out of our coat and wrap it around someone who really needed it. Hand over our last penny. Stop the clock and try to fix them. I would. You would. We all would. So why is it so terribly hard to ask for help with both the big stuff (the un-paid bill, the child who seems sad, the house we cannot keep warm) and the little stuff (the door that sticks, the pint of milk we could do with someone bringing in, time out from a busy day)? I would like to say I have the answer, but I am probably ludicrously prouder or even more stubborn than you are.

So this is a turning point. Today I am going to ask for the help I need. I am going to say NO to anyone who asks me if I’m ok and then I am going to take whatever they offer because despite my reluctance to accept help, today I need it. And maybe you do too. Maybe you too need a little patience from those who care. Maybe you need to hear them say I love you and I can fix this and for once you are going to let me. Maybe you need to return the calls, answer the texts, lose yourself in their arms or let them cook dinner tonight.

Maybe it is time to stop and face the music: you cannot do everything yourself and you are destroying your whole life, trying. Your body will give in long before your head does and that is a dangerous place to be. You don’t have to keep on keeping on when you are going around in circles. You aren’t designed to handle catastrophe all by yourself. No-one, not even you, is strong enough for that.

And so there we have it readers: another blogging first – the first blog post I have written with tears in my eyes. Time to stop trying to be strong.

Stocking Fillers: Simpkins Lavender Drops

May I please just give a great big, affirmative, delighted BrocanteHome nod to Simpkins Botanical Drops?

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They really are little drops of restorative heaven and come in well-being enhancing flavours as diverse as Cherry and Echinachea to Green Tea and my favourite (obviously), Lavender…

Quite the most soothing treat at bedtime… and the perfect gift for refined ladies everywhere.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying

There are two types of housewives: those who prioritise cleaning over tidying, and those that prioritise tidying over cleaning. I fall heavily in to the tidying category, mostly because the house is small enough to be almost unmanageable when you are a woman in possession of a boy, a cat, a dog and far too many books and thus I spend many a merry hour chasing my tail in a demented fashion because people and animals seem really rather determined to live in my house: a fact I consider to be tantamount to outrageous rudeness, when frankly I would prefer it if they sat and looked pretty and did not go about needing to eat, and sleep and moult and play and generally add a layer of lovely chaos to my life that I could well do without.

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So yes. Pop me firmly in to the tidying category because it is turning out to be my life’s work, though not, I must confess, to the same degree that one Marie Kondo has made it her business.

Kondo is you see the author of the Japanese best-seller, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying. A tour de force in the world of literary housework and the latest spark to ignite my urge to stuff everything I own in to bin bags.

Truth be told though: I struggled with the very premise of the book, perhaps because it is culturally different to my way of life and Marie Kondo writes with all the cheerful enthusiasm for tidying up, I can’t imagine clutter-busting could ever inspire in me. I like her. A lot. But this is a woman who started tidying and organising her entire families house when she was about six, and this strikes me as neither normal, nor even really human in a child!

So yes. She had no qualms about nipping in to her sisters room and throwing her things away when she was out, nor about losing most of her childhood to organising everything her family owned, while doing her best to reduce those belongings to almost nothing. It makes for quite bizarre reading altogether. And obsessional doesn’t begin to describe a trait that eventually became her stock in trade.

Kondo’s main focus is on discarding that which does not bring you joy and I have spent an age since finishing the book, struggling whole-heartedly with this concept. You see I think there is a world of difference between joy and necessity, and Marie Kondo really doesn’t seem to hold much truck with the essential, making frequent reference to the question of  joy when one is deciding whether an object should be given house room, when there are things in this life I am quite indifferent to but very much need in order to function domestically.

Furthermore her method for going about discarding everything she owns focus on what she calls “the correct order of categories”: namely clothes, books, paper and then “Komono” which pretty much amounts to almost everything else in the house. While I can get on board with this to a degree, it is in fact the Komono which causes me the most problems. Somedays I feel a bit up to my eyeballs in blooming Komono and then what’s a girl to do? She can’t very well stand everything she owns upright in a drawer the way Kondo consistently advocates now can she? No she certainly can’t. And furthermore, nor does she particularly want to  utilise many a cardboard box in the way Ms Kondo so frequently recommends either: for there it is in a nutshell – Kondo cares more for organisation than she does for any degree of aesthetic pleasure and I can’t quite buy into her vision of old cereal boxes organising everything I own.

So despite my reservations, do I still recommend reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up?  Abso-bloody-lutely. If only because it will inspire in you, as it has in me, a need to clear the decks of all the flotsam and jetsam we stuff so precariously into every corner of our homes. It will have you wandering the house with a bin bag in hand calling for volunteers for the skip and it will remind you that much of what you own inspires no joy at all.

And joy my darlings, should be our raison d’etre….

Embracing Empty Space

You would be so proud of me. Last week I helped my Mum and Dad move house, endured something rather nightmarish, developed some sort of Shingles related sores across my face and chucked out half of the things I own in a fit of the “just bin it’s”, Nike would be proud of.

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It is you see, my new philosophy. Just bin it! I think I said it about fifty times last week: when Mum discovered a pile of my old school books in her loft, I said it. When Mark dragged a ladder to my own loft in search of a long lost chair, and happened across a stack of boxes filled with old magazines, I stood below him, and shouted “Oh just bin ‘em!” (Yep, I binned both Martha Stewart and Mary Englebreit: so shoot me). I said it when Finley came downstairs carrying the book I was reading, now thoroughly chewed by the dog. I said it to myself when I dragged the wheelie bin in front of the front door and wandered in and out the house carrying a myriad of things that were broken, or just rubbish, or no longer necessary. And I said it when it came to the sofa dilemma I found myself presented with mid-week.

Mark’s Mum was about to saw her almost brand new red sofa and chair in half in favour of a new grey one she had acquired, and one afternoon Mark suggested that I replace my rather battered cream sofa’s and chair with Peggy’s old one before she got too happy with a saw. So because beggars must not try and get choosy, I said yes and Dad arrived with a van with said sofa and chair to exchange the suites. And I was all of a fluster because I don’t manage change very well, but even I understand that needs must. And then all of a sudden the dilemma presented itself. The old suite had two sofas and one chair, the new one just one of each. There would be a gap! Now ordinarily gaps give me horrors, but in my head was a little cherubic devil whispering “just bin it, just bin it, just bin it….” so I said it out loud because I am good at doing exactly what I am told, and before I knew it I was walking backwards helping Dad load said extra sofa on to the van, and changing my mind twenty times before he finally announced that all would be well because he had a place I could store it in for a while in case my horror of gaps got overwhelming.

I have long been scared of empty spaces you see. I have failed to understand that when we create a gap, we invite the universe to fill it with something wonderful, but that when we keep rubbish things just because they fill a hole in our heads, our souls, or our living rooms, the universe decides we are fine and dandy just as we are, even if the sofa is grey with dirt and the cat has eaten the lining. Even when the books will never be read again, the man is sending us to an early grave or the job or business is putting us on the fast track to the loony bin.

We have to embrace gaps you see? We have to create them, live with them and then trust that the universe will help us discover just the something’s to fill them. Be it the perfect snuggly armchair we have had stuck on our pin-board for many a year. The man who will stitch our broken heart together or the new idea that will revolutionise a stale career or business.

When there is a gap, energy has room to dance wild and free and whip up a storm and present us with ideas we would never consider before. People see the gap in our hearts and bookshelves and offer help and chairs and something to read. People are rather wonderful like that. But it is always up to you to create the gap: to say enough already, just bin it… or else the universe will intervene and do it for you.

Don’t believe me? Why believe me you must. Because on Saturday night after Dad had lovingly stored my sofa’s away, a gang of naughty boys came along and burnt the place where it was stored, down. No really. I wouldn’t bin it, so the universe did it for me. And though I’m not quite sure I like it’s style,  I’m hearing it loud and clear: there is no room for half measures lady – just bin it!

A Brother For Finn…

In three weeks time, Mark’s wife, Hannah, will give give birth to a little boy. I have typed that sentence as I would type any other: as if it is not loaded with meaning. Not loaded with longing, delight and hurt.

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Finley is utterly ambivalent about having a new brother. I think he can’t quite imagine what it will mean or where he will be in his Daddy’s pecking order. Hannah is utterly dreadful at involving him in what is set to be the biggest shift in his family life to date, and Mark is so very torn between the two of them.

So I sit by and watch from the sidelines helplessly. I mourn the children I will not now have and feel angry with Mark for not sticking in a relationship he now admits he should have remained utterly committed to. I want to throttle Hannah for turning Finns room in her house into the babies room, without so much as a bed for Finn to sleep on, and instead insisting that he sleeps on a sofa bed in the cold conservatory whenever he can be persuaded to stay there.

Gosh. I am making her sound like the Wicked Stepmother I am not sure she is. Though I do not know her at all, and I am very aware of how much she resents my very existence, I also know that she is a woman just like me, who wants to ensure the security of her family. Who wants her husband and her baby to be her world. I do understand that. But I simply cannot tolerate her indifference to my little boy. As far as I am aware, she has never spent any time with him alone, does not ever go on Mark and Finn’s outings and has never bought him a single present, or item of clothing in the five years she has known him.

It barely seems possible to me. Finn is an extremely easy child to love. Heaven knows he talks too much, but he is impeccably behaved, has the sweetest, kindest heart and so desperately wants to love this woman who will not love him back. And for my part, though I think asking for her friendship is probably out of the question, I truly wish that I could call her when Finn isn’t feeling well. When I have forgotten to pack socks, so I could check that she has some spare ones for him. That I could be sure that she would not shake his hand when he says goodbye to her, but would instead embrace him in a great big, Step Mum hug.  I wish he went to a house where there was a room for him. A home from home. A wardrobe with clothes that belong to him in. I wish that occasionally she would shove shove his clothes into the washing machine instead of sending them home to me caked in mud. I wish, really, that she would be Finn’s Mum when I am not there to do it.

But this I know for sure: Finn will love his new little brother. And I will too because he is Marks. Because the love and respect that I have always showed Finn for Mark: the respect and love that still remains, will be extended to a baby called Sam, who must, I think, be just about the luckiest little fella in the world to have a brother like Finn…

Oh how my world is changing, Readers.