Getting Away

It’s been an exceptional year of holidays of all lengths and types.  We’ve managed short breaks as a couple, holidays with friends and family; activity holidays and chilled out breaks.

I have no idea why this year has been so holiday-focussed and can’t honestly say that it was intentional.  But it has been great fun.  We were in Edinburgh this weekend and spent a lot of time discussing how much we love trying out living in a new place.  Being a bit further away geographically enables me to take a bird’s eye view of life and to check all is well.  Somehow whilst living that life at home, I struggle to examine it.

Everywhere we go there is a conversation about whether we want to move there. It verges on obsessive.  I was slightly concerned that it’s a symptom of being unhappy where we live now, which we are definitely not. In reality, it’s a good way to reflect on what we could do better- maybe spend a bit more time lingering over coffee and newspapers in a local coffee shop, or mooching around excellent museums, or walking along rivers (or canals in Birmingham terms) to get a break from city architecture.  All of these are tiny tweaks of course.  More than that, it’s a great way to discuss everything we would miss too much about where we live – there is a lot.

Admittedly the idea of living in an amazing Georgian flat in a European capital city, spending the days walking for miles with pit stops at lovely independent coffee shops and evenings putting the world to right over excellent cocktails in interesting bars and great food in friendly local restaurants is hugely attractive.  Of course, I can’t actually afford that lifestyle for more than a few days.  And that’s ok – I am home again now in a house and community I love and back to the job I love, and starting the saving for the next holiday.

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.

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

Arbitrary deadline

Today is my last working day of the year.  When I next sit at my desk it will be a new year, a new start and I will be a totally new person.  

I will be very efficient, there will not be a thousand emails in my inbox, my to do lists will be legible and realistic.  I will calmly prepare thoroughly for all meetings and ensure that I have read all the required papers and have done some extra research on all topics to be discussed. I will follow all meetings and events with timely feedback and follow up wherever necessary. I will be available for every colleague whenever they need me, answering every email, phone and skype call as they come in.  I will have reflection time every day to develop my work against my plans and priorities. I will reach every deadline with time to spare.  I will be happy and calm at all times.

Ah, just writing all of that is making me feel so much better, I am typing and giggling at myself, which does a power of good.  My personal need to leave the year in some sort of state of perfection is indeed funny, even if I have not been able to see that in the last couple of days.  

Mainly I am looking forward to a holiday and I need to be very self-aware and check this daft feeling that I need to leave my desk today with everything in order for the imaginary perfection to be possible in a fortnight’s time.  Especially as it would take me two weeks just to clear that inbox. 

Happy last working day of the year to you, whenever it may fall for you.

Letting go of disappointment

Disappointment is when there is a gap between what I expect and the actual reality of a situation. Life is filled with all levels of disappointments.  There are some major ones in my life which I interestingly, do not focus on at all. Too big and too painful togo there. The minor ones I work on dismissing all the time.  It seems to be the medium disappointments that take me down.

In this case a holiday that did not go to plan.  A conversation yesterday made me realise that I cannot let this one go.  This summer an idyllic week of relaxing and exploring with dear friends and spending a precious week catching up together turned into a tearful and stressful reaction to the sheer awfulness of Ryanair’s customer service.  Ryanair cancelling flights in what feels like an arbitrary manner and then offering no support or replacement flights to their customers meant we were left with a mere three days together.

And in case you were wondering, three days are not enough to recover from the stresses of daily life (which is the point of a holiday after all) let alone a hideous four days of trying to communicate with uncooperative customer services and trying to get a family to a holiday destination in order to make the best of a really bad job.

I know, first world problems and all that.  But Ryanair makes a huge amount of money from people having the first world desires to fly somewhere hot for a holiday.  It’s not ok to be so horrible in your business dealings.

Maybe that is why I cannot let this one go.  Being a horrible company when you are financially successful and have a captive market is unjust.   There are many issues with our capitalist society, treating your customers or your employees badly feels like the pits.

Somehow though, I need to stop being angry and work out how to carve out some more time with those lovely friends who bore the true brunt of the disappointment.  Because I suspect my disappointment is not going to change the behaviour of Ryanair, it just makes me feel grumpy.

the pool waiting quietly for the holiday to begin properly

The value of vacation

Freedom is not free

The mithering today is based around the summer holiday.  More specifically – what constitutes value for money in a family holiday?  The tension stems from the fact that holidays represent freedom from home, from the rituals and routines that define our usual life.  We see new things, new places, we read more, drink more, exercise a bit more.  Most importantly for me, we are free to think a bit more.  All good things.

But freedom is not free.  As we are tied to school holiday times (but this is only for another couple of years), the cost is substantial.  And that is where my planning always hits the wall.

I am really happy to pay a lot of money for a special occasion; a family narrow boat holiday to celebrate my Mum’s 70th birthday springs to mind.  But, the annual summer holiday: not so happy.

The current thinking is around our mode of transport.  We have booked a week of beach and sun-filled loveliness with dear friends in Majorca this summer.  But, only a week, due to logistical challenges.   And we love a two week break from the routine.  On reflection I think I may enjoy two weeks in order to give myself time to settle into a holiday routine; the irony does not escape me.   So, what to do with the other week?

Having a second week on the island without our friends does not appeal.  Well not to me, the youngest of the family does want to do that, but he is being outvoted by the financially powerful members of the family.

One great idea is to hire somewhere in Barcelona.  And this is where the value comes in.  I really want to go to Barcelona, everyone recommends it.   But it is expensive.

And the biggest problem – transport.  I think we have to fly to Majorca.  I loathe flying; I am not at all anxious about it, but I hate the environmental impact, it makes me feel ill.  I loathe airports, the process of luggage drop and retrieval, rules on size of cases, the security ritual, the hanging around, the queuing.  Did I mention destruction of the planet?

But, due to our logistics (youngest is on a Scout camp and we have limited time to get to Majorca), we will have to fly out there.   But there is the second week plaguing my conscience.  If we fly home the cost is ok.  If we get a ferry to Barcelona and then the train home, it becomes so so expensive.  Unfair, but a reality.   So, ‘just flying’ becomes the solution.

But… will that flight home leave such a bad taste, that it reduces the benefits of the holiday anyway.  All in all – what is it I want from a summer holiday?