Owning Up

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Okay, so I know this may be hard to believe but we do encourage humility in our household and do try and rein in the egos as we manage our way through whatever we’ve got on in a day.  However, I am thinking I do need to put my hand up to something which may have had a huge impact on the world around me.  So here I go…you know how we were right on the verge of having a white Christmas in England?  Remember pre the winds and the floods right back to the 14th of December? Well, I think I may have to take responsibility for the weather we have been having since then.  Yes, on that day, just after I picked up Skyler before collecting Christy on their last day of school ahead of the holidays, we were killing time and I went against my rule of buying a kid a gift 10 days before Christmas (“‘cause you never know what Santa might have already got you and you wouldn’t want to double up on something from your wish list”).  Anyway, with Skyler by my side (although I am not blaming him), I… bought him… a snowball thrower.  Ssheesh, you say.  Why would you tempt Fate that way and jinx the weather out of providing the key element of snowball making and throwing…the snow?!  I know, I know, what was I thinking?

So, I wanted to start this post with my confession and apology for such a lapse in judgement and for causing not only the snowless, but incredibly windy and wet Christmas we had in the UK.  I am not entirely sure (and according to Ukip I might have to share the ridiculous responsibility with others), but I guess while I’m at it, I will also say sorry for possibly playing a role in causing all the torrents of rain we’ve been battered with over the last month – all because of my snowball thrower purchase.  Mark Twain is famous for having commented,  “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Well, I am afraid I’m not only talking about it, I am fessing up that it might have been me tipping the balance of the cosmos and causing the weather to go so far afoul.  Thankfully, however, I think I may have worked out how to fix things.  If you can stick with me, I reckon there is hope.

Like many of those of you nearby, with the A25 closed and Brasted under water, I spent a lot of time in my car at the end of last week literally ferrying my kids to and from school.  As I splashed my Landrover past the waterfalls gushing from the verges along Chart Lane wishing a polar vortex would freeze them like the Niagara Falls, I cranked up the radio to accompany me through my rides and ended up listening to an inordinate amount of BBC Radio One programming.  Apparently they had decided the whole of the UK could do with an attitude adjustment.  They were on a mission to cheer us all up from the January blues and they actually had every deejay on each of their shows spreading the mantra that we should all “Be happy!” irregardless of the bills, the soggy return to school and work, and the drought of Bank Holidays on the new year’s calendar with one not to be seen again until the 18th of April.  Surprisingly, the campaign was, in fact, fairly effective and, although I am prone to being pretty happy anyway, with each playing of Pharrell Williams’ Happy song I felt more and more inclined to bop along to the catchy tune and follow some of radio station’s top tips for spreading the good feeling. The suggestions included indulging in Laughter Yoga, getting active, enjoying your pets and reaching out to others.  I started to imagine all the people I was passing huddled under their umbrellas, bumping into each other and peeking out from underneath to share a smile.  I thought about each of us in the confines of our cars and homes reaching out through our FB pages, emails, texts, telephone calls and even good ole fashioned hand written notes and how key those connections are for me and, in deed, how I do feel happier when I am connected to others.  And then I considered just how contagious a good feeling can be if we can find a way to share it, letting it multiply and flourish – no matter the weather or whatever may be trying to dampen our spirits.

It came to me then as we wound  our way back through waterlogged Kent, how perhaps, if I shared with you all a little story about snow, I might gain the power of the connection with you and, with your help, change the rain to snow and finally fix the mess of weather I had gotten us all into.  As cheesy as it sounds, I was thinking of J.M. Barrie’s, “I do believe in fairies.  I do!  I do.!” and how effective it was at reviving Tinkerbell.   I thought that maybe in sharing it with you on Pumpkin Potential it might be just the thing to tip the scales back in our snow favour.  So here’s hoping we dry up and chill out soon…without further ado…The Magic of Snow

At a Christmastime, not too long ago when we were dreaming of white Christmases with treetops glistening with snow instead of rain, we had a true brush with magic.  It was the year all of England got snowed in before, during and after Christmas.  The year when those who had received hopeful sledges of metal and plastic had had their wishes come true with days on end of long, deep slides up and down the hills and, in fact, high streets of most villages.  During much needed stretches between mad present wrapping and opening, resplendent meals of turkey and pumpkin pie, and nestles by the fire, we had enjoyed the snow to the utmost.

My son, Skyler was five that year and in particular could not believe his luck when on the first day the kids were due back to school, it was closed with an overnight snow storm.  The excitement furthered when he found even Dad was “stuck” at home and was taking the lead to bundle the whole family up for a mid-morning sledge.  We chose to visit a spot along Pipers Lane just beyond a small herd of shaggy, chestnut coloured cattle breathing smoke from their enormous nostrils to a little hilly set of fields rolling out from the woods.  Besides the five of us, our Irish Wolfhound, Finn, some how fit in the back of the Land Rover with two flat Wham-o boogie board sleds and a trusty old Radio Flyer with blades you could steer with your feet.

The sound was all but absorbed that day except for the squeak and crunch of our boots in the eight inch snowfall; higher where the wind had gusted the drifts even deeper.  Finally, at the top of the biggest hill, away from the trees and the split rail fence that runs along the cattle’s field, we took turns pushing off and enjoying rides all the way to the bottom of the slope.

I remember Skyler had to remove his hat and scarf with the heat of the excursion from pumping his smallest legs up and down the incline when he tugged his sled back up to the summit ready for the next go.  Meanwhile, Megan and Nick hunted for the best runs carved out by earlier rides to help them make the most of their sledding momentum as Christy ate the snow she lay in on her back swishing out a snow angel beneath her and admiring the puffed up robins flitting around the hedgerows above her.  We were undecided as to whether the control of the Radio Flyer with its guided ride was better than the Wham-o’s reckless speed met face first, stomach down bursting along the crest of the hill. Irregardless of the sled type, Finn chased us each to the bottom and back up again and again nearly jumping on board when he was not almost galloping on top of us.  Eventually, when I saw even he was starting to lag, I made a rally cry of, “Time for cocoa!” to get everyone moving on the slow walk back to the car.

Leaving the hill, we found the sledges stuck and slid along haphazardly on their bottoms as we pulled their tethers behind us.  Each kid, in turn, tried to talk a parent into pulling them along on top of a sled but was met only with a “No, you are too heavy.” retort.  Only divvying out the Polo mints I happened to find in my pocket at timed intervals along the walk seemed to entice everyone to progress down the path back to the car and our home.  We were quiet with the best kind of tired in our legs and lungs full of the fresh air and activity.

After such an ideal day of snow and fun, we were certain with no new real accumulation that school would start the following day.  Skyler did ask as I put him to bed if I thought it would be possible another school cancellation would greet him in the morning.  I felt I needed to manage his expectations so I gently told him I really did not think school would be closed two days in a row on a return from Christmas break.  He accepted my assessment, said his prayers including a wish for more snow and then lay back on his pillow, happy with the day we had had and satisfied to get some well earned rest.

The next morning, however, the radio alarm blared with the news that we had received an even thicker coating of snow as we had slept and it was still carrying on in the dawning light.  Big, thick feathery flakes floated down and filled our view of the back garden as we listened to announcements of school after school being closed.  Nick and I decided to make a cup of tea and sit in bed watching and waiting for the kids to wake up to their surprise.  It felt like Christmas morning all over again.

Skyler bounced in first, “Did you see?  It’s snowing!”, he exclaimed and lifted the covers to crawl in next to me and watch the storm with a full smile on his face.  Christy wandered in next with a blanket hooded over her head.  She said the quiet of the house had told her what her blackout curtains had kept as a secret; another snow day was emerging just beyond.  Not too long after, Megan, too, came and crawled into our bed, pulling the duvet from our feet to tuck herself in, sleepily grinning at us and the bank of our bedroom windows which by then were giving us all a shook-up-snow-globe display of a winter storm.

Surveying the scene and remembering his prayers, I turned to Skyler and said, “You must have some serious magic in you the way you made the snow come again today.”  His response came quickly and with more enchantment then any spell a magician could conjure.  He said, without missing a beat, “No, Mommy, I don’t have the magic, God does – he just breaks it up into lots of little pieces.”

So now whether a Christmas is wet or white enough to fulfill even Bing Crosby’s dreams, I remember the magic of this time of year with a nod to the gifts around our tree but even more so for the gift of a child’s ability to appreciate at it all so purely.

All together now…I do believe in snow.  I do! I do!…Fingers crossed this does the trick.  I’ll keep you posted.

Retrieving Responsibilities

IMG_1481Winston and His Stick at Limpsfield Chart

 

It is a marvel to me how Winston has the ability to choose and pick up sticks (aka large limbs or logs) in his mouth which are generally double his body length and carry them at a full run preciously in the centre of the length of wood so they stick out, perfectly balanced, on either side of his black head.  He never fails to hold the stick with his head held high and at a height precisely set for clocking me in the back of the knees time and time again.  He uses the stick as a “helpful” reminder that he would be well pleased for me to hoick the stick, limb or log over my head and chuck it as far as I can for him to retrieve over and over again.  He particularly likes to use his stick trick when I am a remiss dog owner and “forget” his ball and its handy launcher in an attempt to have a more peaceful walk with him.  Instead, Winston has other ideas and is quite the master at finding any sort of projectile for me to throw for him just so he can be assured that he will have something to retrieve over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Indeed, Winston, has become increasingly insane about retrieving and it is wild for me to consider how he got to such a state.  I mean, it is like an addiction from the moment he notes me coming to he drops a slightly defuzzing tennis ball on my still-stuck-to-the-pillow head and then proceeds to follow me around dropping it at my feet, in my lap, on my laptop, even in the middle of my backgammon game until I give in to a game of fetch.  He seems to be under the impression he needs to refresh my memory that the ball or stick is there to be thrown and that he would very much like to retrieve it over and over again.  I am not kidding, once I decided to count how many times he would bring the ball back and on a half hour walk, I counted he retrieved it ninety-seven times.  He was relentless; the bursitis in my shoulder being the only thing stopping him from clearing 100.

More disturbingly, the thing I have noticed most about his retrieving recently, is that it seems as though he is taking it beyond his instinct of doing something that comes naturally and enjoyably to him and, instead, bearing it as a responsibility.  Winston is as hard a task master on himself as he is on me pressing me with his balls and sticks into the throwing part of the retrieving.  It has gotten to the point where I feel like it some how is not as fun as it used to be for him or me.  It has gotten to the point where I feel like I am just monotonously throwing it long enough such that I can keep up the pace and move the walk along so I can keep him distracted and meanwhile get on with the real task at hand, which for me, is thinking through my to do list.  Just as Winston obsessively tries to keep up his commitments to retrieving anything and everything,  I obsessively try to keep up with my commitments of retrieving my responsibilities, looping my to do list, adding to it and tweaking it from the moment we begin our walk some times all the way until get back to the car.  I have to admit, when it comes down to it seems we are really as bad as each other on these walks with Winston cycling through his retrieves and drops and me multitasking in the worst way – purposefully striding through our jaunt so I can tick it off and move on to the next activity I need to complete in my morning, my day or my week.

Last weekend, however, as we were walking sans the “b-a-l-l”, (if you say it then you are doomed to throwing it over and over again), and I was side stepping the hefty sticks he was trying to whale into my legs, I decided something had to snap us out of our bad habits.  I decided I would just ignore each stick, limb or log and by acting like I hadn’t seen (or felt) it would see if I could break the recent pattern of our promenades.  It took a little while, but eventually with a little perseverance, Winston stopped with his retrieving responsibilities and charged around like he used to, pre the retriever instinct kicking in.  He took off after a scent, wound beneath the spent feathery fern fronds, ducked and dived over and under felled trees, dashed through and drank, like only a dog can, from murky muddy puddles and romped behind the scenes of the wild rhodendron clearing its roots and snuffling through its leaves and old blackberry brambles.  He checked in periodically, but he seemed so carefree I did not dare call him back.  I just let him cross the well worn path we walked together, way ahead or hanging behind, following where ever the scent would guide him.  It was a joy to see him so in tune with the woods and so exhilarated with his charge through the early morning walk.

Free from throwing Winston’s stick, I stopped worrying through my list, and suddenly realised I had gotten into my stride.  Just like Winston, untethered from my mental burdens,  I could actually revel in the stretch of my walk and let my mind wander more freely.

I know with New Year’s resolutions looming and back to work catching up to be done post the holidays, it is easy to accumulate a giant set of responsibilities and build a structure to accomplishing our goals.  However, in watching Winston let go of what he thought he had to do and wind into rolling into the moment he was actually in, he seemed so freed and joyful I had to see his change of tact as one to follow.  I know you can’t leave everything behind as kids still need laundry and meals and life has to carry on with its practicalities, but watching Winston reminded me of the necessity of taking a time out, to just keep it simple and to, maybe, stroll or even run every once in a while unburdened without a stick or ball or responsibility to be retrieved in the course of a day.

As a Capricorn, I am notorious for liking to get things done, but I guess Winston showed me there is a quality to taking some down time which can be even more beneficial and productive if you can put the to dos aside for a moment or two.  I may not have worked out the logistics of how I was going to  shove in the next load of laundry while preparing the Sunday roast while ordering my on-line groceries, but I did move things forward in my spirit, releasing it for a moment to rest and properly rejuvenate for my next set of duties.    Above all,  given the quiet moment, I thought about keeping a balance between abiding our mutual inclinations to follow our instincts so doggedly and changing it up a bit, even in a little way, so as to improve the quality of our walks wherever, whichever way they wind us.

Postings prompted from pumpkin epiphanies