May 24, 2004

And What About Those Two Boys Of Yours?


Sue wrote me back the other day and said, “Yes, but I really want to hear about the boys, how are they?”

How are they? They are fantastic and amazing and lovely and growing and running and kicking and hugging and a handful and trying so hard to grow up, all at the same time.

Nathaniel will be five in August, and he’s been asking about his birthday party for the last six months (we will be on the Cape then, visiting my mother and my Aunt Cayo). Time has little meaning still, I’m guessing he understands about as long as a week either side of today. He’s pretty good on yesterday and tomorrow and the day before yesterday and in two days, but then it gets a bit murky.

He’s going to a new school, a private school, as the state schools with any space near here were not really places we wanted to send him (unlike the state school he was at in Cornwall, which we realize now was a complete gem). He tries so hard. He’s in Reception, which is the equivalent of Kindergarten in the States, and he’s already reading. Much too soon we think, and we wish there were a Waldorf school around (or Steiner schools as they call them here). His play and imagination levels have decreased since leaving the Waldorf school in California, and there are times, especially when I watch him put his head in his hands and say “I can’t do it” in that little voice of his, that I cringe and wonder if we’re doing the the right thing by having him in school at this age at all.

But the goodness of him so outweighs the badness we may be thrusting upon him. He still loves to draw and paint, and when his granny Deborah comes over to paint with him he blossoms like you wouldn’t believe. He doesn’t ask for much, someone to push him around the garden on the tricycle, someone to throw the ball with, a ride on the back of Dad’s bike. His eyes are still blue, and he still takes his doggy to bed, and he still likes to be held.

There is quite a rivalry between Nathaniel and Sebastian. I’m sure there are times when Nathaniel would prefer to be an only child, and when he’s pushed Sebastian over for the n-th time I try not to yell at him and Rachel asks whether he’d like to go into his room and do some drawing with the door closed and have some quiet time. Thank gawd I’m married to Rachel because she has so much more patience than I do, though I’m trying to be better, and running more regularly has been helping a lot.

Sebastian has dark eyes and hair, and round cheeks, and I think he’s going to look like Rachel (whereas Nathaniel with blue eyes and blond-ish brown-ish hair looks very much like I did at that age). He is walking well, and even trying to run, not quite sure what to do with his arms. When Nathaniel started to run he would run with his arms behind him like an airplane – it will be interesting to see if Sebastian does the same thing. Sebastian has learned how to climb up and down stairs, and is quite good at turning around in order to get down what are quite steep stairs here in the house in Leatherhead. I guess he has no real depth perception yet because even a half-inch transition, say from the walkway to grass, will cause him to turn around and “climb down” onto the grass. It is absolutely adorable to watch, and I need to get it on tape before he stops doing it.

Where Nathaniel is going to be an artist, Sebastian is going to be a rugby player. He already kicks the soccer ball with both feet, and loves nothing better than to throw a tennis or rubber ball with you. We stopped at Ros’s house on the way to Hil’s birthday party this afternoon, and there was an orange frisbee that he wouldn’t stop playing with. We’d throw it from me to Rachel to Kristyna (the new au pair who arrived this morning at 6AM after an 18 hour bus ride from Prague) and he’d run happily between us, picking it up and running to the next person and doing his best to throw it.

There are lots of older cousins here for the boys to be around. There’s Charlie, Ros and Chris’ 16 year old son, who is Nathaniel’s idol. Charlie will spend hours with both boys, but especially Nathaniel, helping him on the scooter, playing with him in his Indian teepee, or in the fort, or looking for things in the woods. And today at Hil’s birthday party her three youngest children were there, Sarah, 18, Alexander 17, and Lilly 14, and they were lovely with both boys. Up and down the grassy knoll, kicking the football, rolling and tumbling and laughing with them.

Sebastian is quite attached to his binky, going “unh unh unh” until we get one into his mouth. When it’s not in his mouth he’s quite chatty, and there are times when the cadence of his chatter sounds like a sentence. He’s been saying “da da” for many months, and much to Rachel’s chagrin is quite good about pointing at me when you say “where’s Daddy?", or at Rosie (the dog) when you say “where’s Rosie?", but doesn’t point at Rachel when you say “where’s Mama?” He loves it when you ask where his nose is, and then points at your nose, or sometimes his or your toes. He seems to understand nose and toes and ears and mouth and eyes and hair, and it’s amazing to see the word comprehension growing almost daily.

It wasn’t until recently that he would hug either of us, or hold our hand. Whenever you’d pick him up he would push away from you (right in the throat, ouch) and point at something else, the dog, the light, anything but one of us. And if you tried to hold his hand while he was walking he’d push it away. For awhile we were worried that he would never hug us, that maybe he had Asperger’s or something (can you have Asperger’s at that age?), and it tore Rachel up, and I would just squeeze him tight and tell him that I loved him. But just in the last two months he has changed significantly, becoming much more cuddly. He wants to be picked up a lot, and stay in your arms rather than be put down right away. Whew, what a relief. He has a wicked sense of humor too, and he laughs with his eyes as well as his mouth.

Being home has its advantages and disadvantages. I can drop Nathaniel off at school in the mornings, and pick him up in the afternoon. I’m home all day now, working on the photo album product, and it’s hard to create boundaries between work and home. What do you say when he says “Can you push me around the back yard?” or “Can we go for a ride on your bike?” Too often I say “sorry not now", but I’m trying to be better and realize they’re only little once.

So how are the boys? I love them both very very much. I can’t imagine life without them. But every once in awhile I wish we could put them on hold – press a Pause button on the channel changer of life – and go sailing in the Greek Islands for a couple of weeks, just Rachel and me. And when we’d come home we’d press the Play button, all renewed, ready to have life pick up again right where we’d left it.

Posted by: Frank @ 12:49 am — Filed under: Comments (0)

May 23, 2004

Welcome To Surrey, Just Keep Your Dog At Home


I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the difference between living in Cornwall (which is 4 1/2 hours south-west of London) and living in Surrey (which is just 30 minutes south of London), and I’ve been having the darndest time. The differences are in fact quite dramatic, but reeling off a long laundry list of differences really wouldn’t do it justice. I needed an example. Just the right example. And today I got it.

“I’d prefer it if you wouldn’t let your dog run down the street again” I heard a very clipped and ice-cold voice saying behind me. I turned around to find a highly-coiffed and well-dressed older woman in her mid to late 60’s standing in our driveway. “Excuse me?” I said. “That’s right, your dog was just in my garden and I don’t like dogs, and I want you to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

We’d just gotten home from all day away, and the garage door was open as I moved a futon into the au pair’s bedroom (yes, an au pair, yippee says Rachel!), and I was having a hard time imagining that in the less than 2 minutes I was upstairs Rosie had run all the way down the street, and this lady had walked all the way up the street to complain. I was about to call her a liar, but thought better of it, and said “O-K” slowly and deliberately. As I looked at her she continued in that very clipped upper-class voice (you Brits know what I mean, and you Yanks may have heard it on programs like “Upstairs, Downstairs", or in the movie “Remains of the Day” or “A Passage To India", that Upstairs, Etonian, nasal, look down one’s nose at you, talk to the servants kind of voice) “This is the second time she has come into my yard, and the last time there were small children there, and I didn’t like it one bit.”

Now Rosie is a very friendly dog, which is code for “a bit licky at times", and I could well imagine that she had gotten right into the little people’s faces and stuck her tongue out to see what they tasted like, and that this had frightened both the children and the old lady. And in normal circumstances I would have been happy to apologize…but I just couldn’t get the words out of my throat, not in the middle of the dressing down I was getting.

“Just see that it doesn’t happen again.” “O-K” I said a second time. “Welcome to Surrey,” I thought, “now keep your damned dog at home.”

In Cornwall I don’t think that scenario would have happened, not with the Cornish anyway. We would have first talked about the weather. Then I would have been asked where I was from. Then the subject of the dog would have come up. And both parties would have been apologetic. And both parties would have gone home feeling better.

And that my gentle readers is the difference between Cornwall and Surrey(*).

As I was writing this piece I started to wonder why. Why is this? What causes these differences? And why are they so pronounced?

I went back to the States a couple of weeks ago to do some consulting, and I found the differences between Cornwall and the States quite stark, and similar but even more pronounced than the differences between Cornwall and Surrey. My sense of being in the States was one of rush rush rush, hurry hurry hurry. I would drive in the slow lane at 55 to 60mph, one of the slowest cars on the road, and watch the fast lanes fill up with bigger and bigger SUVs traveling bumper to bumper while my lane would be mostly empty (and sometimes moving faster than the “fast” lanes).

And many of the same things are true here in Surrey. Too many people. Too many cars. Too many choices. Too much to buy. Everyone breathing the same air. Everyone trying to maintain what little they’ve got.

And as I write these words a part of me longs to be back in Cornwall where on a Saturday night I can take my violin to the Trewarmett Inn and play along quietly trying to learn some good Irish and Cornish fiddle tunes. Ahh, the simpler life. Has it been hijacked temporarily or permanently? Stay tuned as we try to figure it all out.

(*)To be fair, Rachel just reminded me of two things: First, on Saturday two very nice families around the corner here in Surrey found Rosie and took care of her for three hours after we’d left the door wide open in our rush to get to Nathaniel’s school open house on time – which means that all of Surrey isn’t mean and nasty. Second, Rachel was yelled at on the beach in Cornwall by someone who didn’t like Rosie licking her kids. “Yes” I said. “but wasn’t it half-term, and didn’t we say at the time that she was probably from Surrey?” “You may have a point” laughed Rachel.

Posted by: Frank @ 8:13 pm — Filed under: Comments (0)

May 18, 2004

Making Life Simpler – Part I: No Forwarding Address

A good friend from Seattle emailed me the other day. I’ve known Sue since 1986 when we met at a party hosted by mutual friends. Sue is married to a wonderful man, I’ll call him A for short, and they have a lovely nine year old boy H. Here is what she wrote (very lightly edited):

We just went to the cabin on the weekend for the first time in months. We are thinking of taking a year off starting a year from June, [take H] out of school–the whole thing. We are working too hard, on our computers too late every night, mired in “stuff” although I have recently made a good breakthrough in that arena, thinking about a remodel (will we care after a year away? ), yearning for more down time. [A] is thinking of cutting back again (he now has 12 weeks off a year). So….we do too much trying to catch up and not enough of just living. That’s the truth. We feel very good about our dear friends, but life seems to fly by and we don’t see them enough.

I’ve heard this lament – “we’re working too hard and we don’t have enough time for ourselves or our friends” – over and over again from friends both in the States and here in England (though I would say it’s quite a bit more pronounced in the States). It was also one of our constant bleats before we started on this journey.

As I read Sue’s email it struck me that we have just about stopped saying this, and I wondered why that was (though I should probably check with Rachel to see if she feels the same way).

I wrote just the other day about friendships, “the little things may be just as important, or maybe even more so.” And I think the same may be true for simplifying one’s life – even the little things can make a big difference.

When I was back in California a couple of weeks ago, I went to my brother’s for dinner. There in his kitchen was what used to be in our kitchen in California – a huge pile of bills and other correspondence (In the interest of full disclosure, my brother is receiving what little mail we still get and sending it on for us – thank you Chris! – so we’re to blame for one of the piles.)

Piles. Big piles. Little piles. Of bills. Of junk mail. Of magazines unread. They were my constant headache. The bane of my existence. I could never seem to get ahead of them.

Until we moved.

In the months leading up to moving, I changed our address on things that mattered, things like credit cards and health insurance, and I turned off everything else. I printed out a stack of letters (see below), and whenever a piece of junk and other non-essential mail arrived I would pull a letter off the stack, stick it in an envelope, add an address and a stamp, and leave it for the postman.

The letter said:


We’re moving to England and have no forwarding address. Please remove us from your mailing list.


Frank and Rachel

Very simple. No forwarding address. No unwanted mail. Very freeing. Very simplifying.

Try it. You might find it makes one part of your life just a little bit simpler as well.

Posted by: Frank @ 1:17 pm — Filed under: Comments (1)

May 17, 2004

The Extraordinary In Our Lives

One of the hardest things about leaving California has been leaving our friends and family behind. And the same has been true of leaving Cornwall.

I was back in California a couple of weeks ago to do some consulting, and saw quite a few friends, including my brother and sister and their families. It was lovely to see them all. Many of them have been reading this weblog, so they knew a bit about what we’ve been up to, and we’ve kept in touch with emails and photos and phone calls; and so for the most part we were able to pick up where we’d left off in September.

But it was also bittersweet. Because as I walked around Mill Valley and Sausalito and Palo Alto and San Francisco, I realized that what we were really missing by living half-way around the world were our friend’s “life events". Most people think of life-events as the big things, like births and deaths and weddings and divorces. But lately I’ve been thinking that the little things may be just as important, or maybe even more so. Things like birthdays, and holidays, and picnics, and dinners, and vacations. All of the things that build a friendship, and turn the people around us from the ordinary in our lives to the extraordinary in our lives.

I was thinking about this because I just got an email from our good friend Barney. Barney is English, and he and Rachel have been close friends since they were (practically) youngsters in the London ad industry. Barney wrote because a friend he’s been helping care for had just died. Barney’s an extraordinary person (one of the many things that makes him extraordinary is that he runs a non-profit that helps people with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and AIDS, make their way through the ever-treacherous U.S. medical insurance industry). To make a long story short, Barney was present when this friend died, and he sent us an email just after the death that was very real, and raw, and stream of conciousness. I asked if I might include the text of the letter in this weblog. He graciously agreed, and so here it is (with some very minor editing).

And thank you Barney, for gently reminding us how important friends are.

Hi There,

Robert died Sunday, it had been an intense week ending up on Saturday after the Hospice nurse came by, with his asking me to take him up to a meadow on top of Mount Tam, overlooking Stinson Beach so he could show me his favorite spot and where he wanted his ashes scattered. Hot day, hard to get the wheelchair up the rocky paths but we managed it - he was so happy, fell asleep under the warm sun, then down to Stinson to have his favorite fish and chips at The Sand Dollar (he didn’t eat more than a morsel, but that’s not the point) where he nodded off and I thought he had died - but no (thank god), he was too tired to get up the stairs, even with help, to his bedroom so I carried him up, dog clambered up and went to sleep with his head on Roberts chest. (heartbreaking scene).

Robert slipped in and out of consciousness (I think he might have picked up a nasty cold that one of the stupid attendants turned up withone day about a week ago - I made her go home ( “I didn’t think it was important") andI covered the shift - he being so at risk for infection following the chemo.) I stayed the night downstairs (an attendant stayed up with him for most of the night,and woke at 5am Sunday morningand went to check on him - he had that “death rattle” breathing, sweating profusely, soI washed his face with iced water and put eyedrops in his eyes as they had gotten very dry from being open so long.A very nice and helpful (and one of the only one’s without a personal agenda) friend of Roberts’who had driven up from LA to see him, came in at 11and we laid on the bed with him for about an hour, and then he just stopped breathing and turned ghostly white, Eric thought he was dead but I checked for and found a pulse and faint heartbeat, then 5 minutes later it was over.

I am stunned that it happened so fast, but knowing Robert, once he made up his mind, that was it - he just let go.
I opened all the windows to let the spirit out (or something like that) and we dressed him in his favorite clothes and covered the bed with masses of individual purple orchid blossomsthat I had bought him (his favorite flower) and several hours later the funderal home came and collected him.

I am so happy that he left so quickly, on his own terms. It left me with a sense of tranquility and inner warmth that he came to embrace a real sense of peace and accomplishment just before he died……unfortunately, that did not last long, for now the “vultures” (as he called them) are circling, “Oh, I’m one of his closest friends” who had not seen him for ages, or called in weeks, were never available to sit with him, or run errands, empty his shit bag, or at least call him frequently to check in, or take him to medical appointments or collect him from the hospital - but now are bugging me to know who is getting what from the house….arrrggghhhhh the man just died, give me a break!

They can have all the stuff in the house, I don’t want any of it, but as executorI have to inventory everything for the attorney for probate requirements, maybe by the time his will is probated (6-8 months) they’ll have found another carrion to salivate over. Now I really get why Robert wanted me to be his Power of Attorney and Executor. My job is to make sure his wishes are fufilled, with no personal agenda, the same most definitley cannot be said of these slithery drama queens. (what a vivid description!)

Tirade over, must get back to finishing all the letters to clients…

Love to y’all, especially the boys.

Barn. XXXX

Posted by: Frank @ 1:14 am — Filed under: Comments (0)

May 13, 2004

Frank’s Wood - Bluebells, Communion and Stepping Stones

I wanted to show Frank the bluebells before it was too late. I saw them over a week ago on Leith Hill and they were perfect, not just a wood, but a sea of blue extending out under the woods in all directions.

Frank got back from a 10 day trip to San Francisco a few days ago and I knew we’d have to squeeze it in quick to catch the bluebells at their peak. But then came jet lag naps, and lots of rain, and a trip to the circus, and the bluebell window kept closing. I felt like Mirium in Sons and Lovers who so wanted to show her lover the flowers in the woods so that together they could share some sort of feverish, religious commmunion. Actually what I really wanted was for Frank to be amazed like I was and inspired to record the sight in his weblog. I wanted to capture the magic somehow.

Having worked that part out ,I realized that I could capture the magic myself, so I set off with the camera to record them and took my Mum and Sebastian with me for the communion company. In our house it’s usually Frank who takes the photos, but this time it was me, balancing Sebastian on my back in the slightly broken backpack, and slithering around on the banks of bluebells. There had been so much rain that the clay earth underfoot was sticky and soft. Together Mum and I clambered up to the top of the wood to explore the paths, but they didn’t really go anywhere except into a green bog. She helped me up and down banks with the camera and backpack and even helped tie my shoelace one time which was sweetly poignant since I’m so much the mum these days that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be helped like that.

We got home to dry socks and hot tea, (I do drink so much more of the stuff now I’m back in England), and I proudly showed the photos to Frank. “I thought you might want to write a piece about these” I said, But then I realized that I wanted to write a piece about them. So I am.

I’ve been trying to start up my book again after weeks of moving houses and getting settled here in Leatherhead, and I’ve been finding it tough to find child-free time, and the right peace and space. So the bluebells are helping me start again, a bit like getting back on the horse. Some days I get overwhelmed by the idea of actually writing a book, but then I remember Ridge Sampson’s words back when I worked at Ozone and was feeling overwhelmed. “How do eat an elephant?” he’d say, eyes twinkling. “One bite at a time.”

I’m beginning to feel like I may have my appetite back.

– Posted by Rachel

Posted by: Frank @ 10:51 am — Filed under: Comments (1)