The joy of hosting

I do love having people here to stay or for a day. This was a non-hosting weekend, but it gave me some time to think about the differences between a houseful of guests and one without.

I do make more of an effort with the physical environment when visitors come. So, yep, I clean if you visit, not so much if you don’t. This became a bit of a joke when the children were very small and I would ask people over for coffee explaining that nothing else would motivate me to get the vacuum cleaner out.

My house is not huge, but it’s not tiny. Having people here to stay or even just for the day is an exercise in re-enacting A Squash and A Squeeze by Julia Donaldson, one of our favourite children’s books. Well one of mine. I early on recognised the joy of cramming lots of people into a house and then the realisation when everyone leaves that there is plenty of space really.

Over the years, having the aim of inviting people over has led to certain decisions in arranging the house. A small extension now houses a large dining table. We replaced two chairs with another sofa in the sitting room, as that gave a bit more space for people to squish in. For ages there was no coffee table, because playing room for children was much more important. There is a variety of spare beds stashed throughout the house. The garden was changed to add in sofas and a few extra seats, recognising that our garden is a place for people much more than plants really.

I enjoy the challenge of catering for groups and am rarely happier than when the house is full at breakfast time. All of which makes me think I need to plan in some weekends hosting folks. Off to the diary I head.

Easter reflections part 2

The pathos of Holy Week inevitably leads to the absolute joy of Easter Sunday, at the least within the church services. Taken together the services are a safe way to travel through a whole gamut of emotions and have a really happy ending.

Our Easter was certainly joyous and happy. It was a Saturday of catching up with dear family who we rarely see, cousins were reunited and took up where they left off. News was exchanged and the most delicious giant profiteroles stuffed with ice cream were eaten. Other delicious things were eaten, but the profiteroles were seriously amazing.

Easter Sunday was a joyous church occasion followed by a sumptuous Easter brunch. I am not sure I have ever cooked brunch on Easter Sunday before, but I loved it. Brunch is a great meal to be able to create a sense of abundance and it always feels like a treat.

There was of course chocolate, wine, and coffee – all of which had been fasted from by various members of the family. There was the extended family, more cousins joyfully gathering. The day had an underlying retro Wii Sports competition happening, along with Easter egg hunts, Easter egg decorating, dog walks and frisbee playing in the park. And a lot of sun cream thanks to the amazing weather.

All in all a long and joyous day of family and feasting and being very aware of all the many blessings that surround us.

A London weekend

Style change alert. I think I am going to spend a week or so using this as a sort of online record of all I do. Let’s see how we go, I am not totally convinced by the idea.

Our weekend feels worthy of reliving in writing . We all, offspring and my Mum, got on a train to London on Saturday morning. It’s amazing how much more fun that journey is with family. And how much more fun fellow passengers are at the weekend. The enormous dog snoozing at one end of the carriage was gorgeous. The crowd of stage school students were just brilliant in their confidence and sense of fun and their enthusiasm for the morning and the application of makeup.

The aim of the weekend was to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the continuation of the stories on stage. There are two parts, it is recommended to see them on consecutive nights or on the same day. We did the latter. They are two brilliant plays, great theatre experience for the family, and we all loved it a lot. It absolutely lived up to our expectations. I have since downloaded Imogen Heap’s mesmerising music in four suites to relive some of the experience.

I had of course bought the “cheap” seats (its all relative!) in the balcony with the steepest rake I have ever experienced – I remember feeling terrified seeing Les Miserables from the cheap seats decades ago. Those in the group with vertigo coped very well, my instinct to not mention that the seats were very high and with limited leg room before we got there seemed to have worked. There have been a few whinges about sore knees since, but they are falling on the deaf ears of the shortest member of the family. There are few advantages of being my height, this is one I relish.

The show was interspersed with consumption of Japanese food. Having spent a weekend away recently without teens, we had to readjust back to the need for a lot of food this time. For a reason that is beyond us, there is no branch of Itsu in Birmingham, so every trip to London has an obligatory visit included. In this case lunch before theatre. Then for some reason the popular choice for dinner was Wagamama. I know, we could definitely have found independents to go and eat in, but we needed convenience and confidence in the food. And both choices were delicious and included vegetables, so I was happy.

The day was utterly exhausting – 5 hours of theatre is a lot. And there are a LOT of stairs in the Palace Theatre. So there were a fair number of coffee breaks too.

Sunday started with a run along the Thames for three of us, it was our first ever run with an offspring and having the South Bank area pretty much to ourselves was a treat that offset the rainy windy weather on the run.

A very long breakfast – in a vain attempt to fill up the teens and to consume enough coffee to wake me up – was followed by a gentle stroll back along the running route and a visit to Tate Modern. The Turbine Hall never fails to impress me and their flat whites are delicious – you get the theme of the day – stroll and coffee. We had the customary family arguments about the merits of modern art, but it was a fast stroll through the galleries. I do struggle with film installations when I am tired – they feel overwhelming. The Magic Realism exhibition was a flashback to student days though, I still find the movement fascinating.

Lunch was back in the hotel bar, which is comfy and was convenient. I discovered that the eldest offspring now seems to know something about football – its amazing the way they change when they leave home!

The afternoon train journey was very quiet with us all hiding in books or snoozing. We arrived back into Birmingham in a flurry of snow, which was bizarre. Mum and eldest headed back off to their respective homes and the rest of us settled into an evening of sofas, pizza and gentle TV. Lovely.

A great weekend indeed. And it’s always good to go back and relive it.

Sunrise over London

Holidays without kids

I have had a whole week and a bit off work and it has been splendid. The week started with the first trip abroad with the husband for many years. Prior to last week’s flight, the last flight we took just the two of us was when we de-emigrated (is that a word) and returned to UK on 31 March 1999. The last holiday we took together was a long weekend in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon almost exactly 20 years ago. It was somewhat marred by me being inexplicably exhausted and very very sick. A pregnancy test on our return clarified that we were embarking on a new adventure.

And that chapter of life is coming to an end. And as one chapter ends, we tentatively start a new one of life post dependent children. And what a way to start. We spent three nights away in Barcelona whilst youngest offspring was away on a school trip. Barcelona was the chosen destination due to logistics – the flights went from our local airport and the times fitted with the school trip times. Freedom is not quite ours, but frankly, having some restrictions on travel made the choice of destination easy.

And what a destination! Barcelona lived up to all the hype from friends who had visited previously. The hotel recommendation was great (Hotel Curious is very central, very quiet, basic, but really friendly and includes a great breakfast), transport into and around the city was easy and cheap. The city has a beach and the most beautiful basilica I have ever seen, even if La Sagrada Familia is unfinished. What more could we need?

Mostly the weekend was precious as we rediscovered how to holiday together again. Having just two voices in the decisions instantly reduces time taken. Twenty years later we discovered we are still very happy wandering, stopping for a lot of coffee, and then beer/cava in the evenings. Popping into bars to just have a drink was a treat. Not worrying about the effects of delayed mealtimes on children’s blood sugar levels was a relief. The biggest discovery was that our children really like to know what the aim of a walk or an excursion is. “Just having a look around” has never cut it for them, but I had not really realised how different that is to our holiday needs until last weekend.

A hugely successful first trip away without offspring. We did miss them though and spent a good amount of time pointing out things they would love to see and it was odd not to hear their opinions on the city. And strange not to just have them with us. Family McMillan have had amazing holidays as a foursome and they are always an adventure. I shall miss them indeed. But its good to know there is a different type of holiday awaiting us.

Awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia

Our favourite night of the year

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is a renowned symphony orchestra and an integral part of the varied cultural scene in Birmingham. CBSO has suffered huge cuts to its budget for community outreach, although at least one part of their work has remained in place – the large unauditioned community choir, SOVocal, created to bring the joy of singing in a choir to anyone who fancies joining it.  The choir rehearses in the south of the city and is a joyful collection of up to about 200 people meeting weekly to sing together.

The husband has sung with them for several years now and his decision to join a choir positively changed the fabric of the family in some ways.  He had never sung really before (hymns in church was the limit), so this was a new experience and a chance to hone a skill. He gained a regular hobby as a focus in his week and he has met new people, making new friends and having fun – all hugely important in life.  And all that before we even get to the health benefits of singing.  It’s a great hobby.

And just before Christmas every year we get to share in it, as the choir joins their parent Symphony Orchestra for a Christmas concert in the city’s Symphony Hall, an immense venue which imposes a real sense of occasion with SOVocal joining two other choirs and the full and very loud orchestra.  It is a family occasion for the McMillans. It’s fun to be going to watch Dad in a performance, after many years of Dad having to watch offspring in various things. We gather the wider family together and last night it was good to see my niece cracking up to Alan Titchmarsh’s Christmas-themed antics.

Every year the concert feels like the proper start to our family Christmas celebrations and one of the best nights of the year.

Energetic resting

“I hope you have a quiet weekend planned” in an email from a close colleague late last week evoked a firm declaration that my weekend, and the few days annual leave I have taken, are indeed quiet.  They need to be, I am recovering from an injury and a hectic few weeks at work.

Swiftly following the declaration was the plan for the weekend. It involves visiting three siblings and their combined six children, my parents in law, as well as two sets of very close family friends, all in a 250mile round car trip.

I wasn’t lying though, this is resting.  I love heading back to where I grew up and catching up with people I love seeing, but whom daily life rarely gives me a window to see.  Seeing so many people on one trip is especially brilliant.

We are staying with various delightful hosts who are feeding me and handing me drinks on a regular basis. The walks are frequent, but gentle and in brilliant autumn sunshine on the beach or around castles.  I live a long way from the beach and although I live close to a castle it really is not as stunning as those in Pembrokeshire.

The nieces and nephews are energetic and delightful, they’re all adoring of the auntie they rarely see and are mainly entertained by their teenage cousins.

Apart from chatting and catching up with everyone, there is plenty of time for sewing the cross stitch I have had lingering in the background for years, reading a chapter of a book and even a much-needed nap.  I have had time to catch up on some blogs I read, listen to podcasts and even smarten up this blog too.

All in all, an energising few days of intentional rest, made possible by being in a different environment surrounded by family.  Perfect. Not a perfect way to rest for everyone admittedly, but this extrovert traveller loves it.



Buying more intentionally

One of my goals for this year was to be slower in life, to do things with more intention and more deliberately.   A surprising manifestation of this has been in shopping.  I am not a  lover of shopping, I found it stressful – there is too much choice, too much expectation to be buying things to make life better.  That never sat comfortably with me.

Somehow this year, I am enjoying shopping.  I have not yet managed to totally overcome the impulse to just buy things mindlessly and then feeling guilty afterwards, but a few things have definitely helped.

A decision to be more ethical in my purchasing, specifically about environmental impact of what I buy has been a transformation in my mindset.  The fashion industry is one of the major environmental culprits, guilty of mass-producing clothing in appalling working conditions, using and damaging a wealth of natural resources and all with the intention of forcing a complete change of wardrobe every month or so.  It seems that a seasonal wardrobe is no longer enough, we now have transition wardrobes, party wardrobes, holiday wardrobes.  I struggled hugely and refused to buy anything for ages and then overbought on impulse. I have found a form of clothes shopping I love – charity shops.  Not just any charity shop, but a specific few close to home, which I visit in a specific ritual involving hanging out with a teenage son, him browsing for vinyl and DVDs and us both having a fortifying coffee before we even contemplate shopping. So, a new wardrobe and a shared hobby with a teen.  Great result.

It is rather odd to realise that I look forward to clothes shopping, but I do.  I changed work hours this year and changed them to make sure I could still go shopping.  Ok, the coffee and hanging out with the teen are crucial parts, but still, there is also weekly shopping involved.

And it turns out that I have so much to say about shopping that this is going to be a two-part blog post – which is astounding me.  Part two tomorrow.

assorted clothes
Photo by Kai Pilger on