Addicted to Love

I’m not a newsgirl. But something on the radio today caught my attention during my drive home from a weekend adventure with the girl:


I once saw the backside of Lance Armstrong during the 2003 Paris time trials. Of course the riders whizzed by so fast that I really caught nothing more than a flash of yellow in amongst the red, white and blue of his team but still.

I’m not even particularly interested in sports, or public figures. What interests me is what drives people, their ‘human’ rather than their celebrity side.

I read a condemning blog post about Whitney Houston’s death, and the scathing tone touched me enough to comment that maybe addiction isn’t as logical and manageable as we want to think it is. That’s why it’s called addiction in the first place, and apparently being a celebrity does not make you rise above that. So just like Whitney was clearly addicted to substances, I am wondering whether Armstrong became addicted to the success he created.

Can you be so addicted to success that you would do anything to attain, and maintain, it? Including taking performance-enhancing drugs? Including pressuring your teammates to do the same by threatening their careers?

Can you get addicted to success in the same way that you can become addicted to alcohol, gambling and drugs? Is winning the next race, getting that next medal the same as craving that next fix, wanting to turn the roulette wheel just one more time?

How do you rationalize and reconcile this with being publicly celebrated for what no cyclist before had achieved? How do you live with that amount of deception? And why?

I believe underneath it all what every addict wants is a feeling of feeling good. Not so different from the rest of us, except for an addict, that feeling of feeling good is to be attained at all cost, no matter the consequences.

And maybe in Armstrong’s case, that feeling of feeling good came from winning. Not only the races, but the admiration of millions. To be admired and respected is just another way of feeling loved, and who doesn’t want that? Everyone, of course, except thankfully not everyone resorts to large-scale lying and cheating in order to get it.

Part of me is saddened that such a sporting legend has been stripped of his achievements. That’s not to say I condone the alleged doping. That’s not even to say that those achievements were real. But my heart goes out to the pain Armstrong must feel at having lost his iconic status, at having been deprived of his ‘fix’, at being stripped naked in front of his adoring fans.

I can’t begin to conceive how you reconcile yourself with all that. How do you deal with watching the world that you have so carefully constructed crumble in front of you, to lose the identity that you have created?

I am sure over the coming days and weeks there’ll be many more condemning news reports and commentaries. But my take on it is this: have a little compassion. Don’t condone the actions, but see the person underneath. The hurt, the addiction. Today’s news must be like going cold turkey on steroids.

Who knows whether he’ll continue to deny what seems overwhelming evidence, or whether he’ll decide to come forward with a ‘confession’.

All I know is this: Addiction isn’t logical, it’s emotional. If indeed there is such a thing as being addicted to love, then it’s just that – addictive.

And we might as well face it: Judgement never heals. Not us, not the individual we are judging.

Love heals, but loving an addict is hard.

I know. I’ve spent a lot of time judging.



Jumping Jack Flash








Well, not exactly… since he was a rescue dog, we have no idea when he was born, so we celebrate his arrival in our family instead. And it was really yesterday, but laptop time was limited and I didn’t get this post up in time. So for the few minutes it will take to read this, let’s just all pretend it’s still October 15, okay?

Last year for Jack’s first ‘birthday’, I bought him a rawhide bone and a rubber chicken. The bone was swiftly dragged behind the bed… where it remains untouched to this day. The chicken provided entertainment for about 15 minutes, which was about three minutes longer than it took me to clean the rubber chicken pieces off the living room floor.

This year, he got a bonus walk with lots of ball throwing, and a can of (wet) dog food. Canned food may not sound special but it went down well. Literally. The whole thing was gone in two minutes flat. It must have seemed like a feast to a dog living on dry kibbles day in, day out.


It’s actually quite curious that I should have a dog. Because for the longest, I was quite afraid of them. Big dogs, mostly. I think my paternal Gran’s mean king poodle snapped at me a few too many times as a young child. This mild dog phobia was swiftly cured during my NLP Practitioner Training. We did an exercise where we imagined the ‘movie’ that runs inside our head when we think of something we are afraid of, and then change it. So my visual of a hugely terrifying bulldog bounding towards me in the park lost its grip when I imagined him baring his teeth to reveal a diamante-studded smile. BLING! Big dogs were never the same after that.

When I broke it to Rob that I wanted a dog, he pulled out all the usual arguments: ‘What will we do when we go away?’ ‘We don’t need a dog in a one bedroom flat.’ ‘Who’s gonna walk him every day?’

But I’m not one for letting a few valid notions get in the way of my desires.

He then tried the ‘next year’ strategy. As in ‘Honey, you can have a dog next year.’ That one worked until Jan 1 of next year, but not a day longer. 2010 was the year I wanted that dog.

Some ten months later, Jack entered our lives. We were trying for a baby at the time and I finally announced to Rob that this dog would have to appear soon as I figured me falling pregnant would add new fuel to his ‘We don’t need a dog’ case. (As it later turned out, I was already pregnant by the time we brought our four-legged family addition home.)

I love that dog.

I love being out in the park and seeing him bound towards me at full speed. I love seeing him chase a ball, especially at the beach where he fearlessly careens into the surf in hot pursuit of his little treasure. I love him curled up in his basket with his nose tucked under his tail, watching him twitch and whinge in his sleep. I love dressing him up for special occasions.







You can see more of my favourite Jack moments here and here.


I also love watching Lilly and Jack interact. The other day, I caught her picking up his dry food and hand feeding him his entire dinner. When he protested at being chained to the playground fence, she kept walking out of the gate to check on him. They’re like little pals following each other around.







So when Rob suggested that celebratory bonus walk, I was torn between taking Jack to the park and skiving off to the café to write.

But in the end, who can resist those puppy dog eyes?

Sunday Morning Ramble

Quite uncharacteristically, the girl, the dog and I were on our way to the park by 9am this morning.

There’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment that accompanies breaking away from your daily routine and getting out early. Sundays are especially good for morning walks as our usual afternoons in the park are unfailingly problematic for the canine. Too many teams practising ball sports, too many fathers doing the same with their children. All lovely, for sure, but not when your four-legged ball-obsession needs to be contained on a lead for the certainty that he will otherwise barge in head first to join (and take over!), not always to the delight of parents or offspring.

But on a Sunday morning, the park is empty save for a handful of fellow dog walkers and a team of eager tennis players on the courts. There’s a sense of serenity as you push your buggy along quiet paths and marvel at the sunshine breaking through drying leaves, hitting the fresh, unbroken dew spread over the grass. I love the unhurriedness of this time when the whole day is still freshly unfolding before you.

There is without doubt beauty in every season. The first signs of spring, when everything teems with new energy, unfailingly seduce me. I love the feeling of shedding dreary winter layers and letting bare limbs soak up the warmth. I love the lazy energy of hot summer days and the cosiness of long winter nights.

But there’s something special about autumn (or fall, if you live in the US). It’s my favourite season.

There’s the much-romanticised melancholy of fog and falling leaves, the irresistible comfort of lighting candles and ending your day snuggled under your favourite blankets. But what I love most is that transition from summer to autumn. The first crispness in the morning air, the gradual adding of layers happily discarded months earlier. Pulling on your favourite chunky knits, grabbing a scarf as you head out the door, dusting off your cashmeres and, most importantly, your collection of boots. As a lover of clothes and accessories, I always celebrate the feeling of having a ‘new’ wardrobe as the seasons change and old favourites make their reappearance.

This year especially, autumn is bringing a new surge of energy for me, a sense of new beginnings. I’ve been feeling it for weeks now. The freshness in the air seems to be bringing a breath of fresh air to creative projects that have been lingering all summer. I feel new excitement, and new ideas are popping up all over my brain like those dewdrops on the grass. I am actually finding this a great time to refocus in ways that are often lost to me as talk of goals and New Year’s resolution fills the air at the beginning of the year when I mostly feel a grey limbo (often mirrored outside) after the hype of the holidays.

But the chilly brightness of autumn sunshine is just the thing to get me going, both physically and creatively, and I am relishing a much-needed fresh start.

By the time we leave the park, the cricketers are just warming up and the previously dormant posh neighbourhoods (on the other side of the tracks!) are beginning to show signs of awakening. I feel accomplished and ready to write. Conveniently enough Lilly feels tired and ready to nap. Jack contentedly curls up having had his daily dose of exercise.

Win-win for everyone.


Sibling Rivalry

I’ve been coming across a lot of articles lately talking about how writing is like raising children.

You know, you ‘birth’ your work, you shape and nurture it, you apply some heavy-handed discipline when the characters fall out of line. Sometimes you reign in your storyline, while at others you allow it to take on a life of its own.


All true. Yet somehow, this whole child metaphor doesn’t really stack up for me.


Least of all the notion that in writing, you have to murder your babies.

Makes me cringe, that one – for obvious reasons. Once you become a parent, anything even vaguely implying harm to your child will make your throat constrict and your stomach knot. Yes, I know there are times for ruthlessly culling your work. Times to let go of what no longer serves your story. But infanticide? A plausible metaphor, perhaps. A reality of population control in ancient Rome, yes. But don’t talk to me about smothering children when my own is sleeping peacefully in the next room.

< I say this fully aware that my poetic firstborn is currently undergoing serious mutilation… purely on paper. >


Then there’s the philosophy that your ideas are your children.

I can buy that… to a point. After all, if you don’t care enough about your ideas to pour your heart and soul into them, they remain nothing more than a figment of your imagination, a mere twinkle in your eye. But unlike children, you can have as many ideas as you like, no contraception required.


I am guessing that all these child connections are made by well-meaning writers who currently don’t have small children in their lives.

But who is talking about what happens when your real-life, in-your-face-now child competes for attention with your authored offspring?

I can only speak for myself here but the real-life, in-your-face-now child wins just about every time.


I may wake up at 3am with a burning idea about a new piece, or a key turn of phrase that will make a current one stronger. I will do my very best to blaze that thought into my brain in the hope that its ashes still smoulder there come morning. But I tend to stay snuggled under the duvet. Sleeping with a husband and a toddler isn’t conducive to nocturnal writing spells. When the babe on the other hand rises in the small hours, there’s no hiding under the covers. She can be just as persistent as that red-hot thought, but with much greater volume.

Then there’s that sacred time dedicated to daily writing. It doesn’t always retain its consecrated status whereas daily childcare is a given. I can take a day off writing but honestly, I can’t yet recall 24 hours when I haven’t spent time with Lilly.


So when it comes to sibling rivalry, I can almost guarantee that the immediate needs of the real-life, in-your-face-now child are going to trump over those literary ones. After all, whoever shouts loudest usually gets the attention. Lilly’s got a pretty strong set of lungs.


But I believe my writing is finding its voice. And at least in writing, unlike parenting, you always have the option of starting over with a blank page…

…without resorting to overly dramatic gestures.


Just Say ‘No’…?

I went to the park with the girl and the dog the other day. As we were doing our quotidian laps around the green (so the canine can run free), a little girl called Amy started chasing after Jack. She wasn’t really called Amy, but I’ll rename her just in case I ever run into her and her mother again.


From the moment we met Amy, her undoubtedly well-meaning mum showered her with a seemingly endless tirade of “no’s”:

‘No Amy, don’t touch the dog.’

‘Ok, but don’t touch his tail.’ (Generally solid advice, only Jack doesn’t have one)

‘Don’t sit on the picnic blanket!’

‘Don’t take the other girl’s stacky cups.’

‘Ok, take some but you must share.’

No no no, don’t do this, don’t do that.

This applied to everything related to the dog, us on our blanket and another mum and toddler they met after us. I started getting edgy and irritated just listening to this incessant naysaying so imagine how Amy must have felt.

I mean you can’t really feel good about yourself if you are constantly reminded that whatever you are doing is wrong? Doesn’t seem like a recipe for self-esteem to me.

Imagine how I would feel if my day with Rob went something like this:

‘No, don’t fold the laundry like that.’ (Haha, please demonstrate suitable alternatives!)

‘No, don’t do the dishes until you have cleaned the floor.’

‘No, don’t feed Lilly before you have fed Jack!’ (Or was that the other way ‘round?)

‘As a matter of fact, feed no one. Touch nothing. Leave everything in its place. Don’t talk to anyone. I said don’t touch that. And please, can you share?’


You get the picture. An unrealistic scenario, for sure. But what would it be like if other adults constantly spoke to us like we so often speak to our children?

I’ve been doing some reading and research. About children growing up to be rooted within themselves, self-reliant and able to know their own minds. For now suffice it to say that if you want that for your kids (as I’m sure most of us do), then you’re not gonna get there by doing the same old things all over again. A lot of what I am reading is challenging the way I think – massively. It certainly doesn’t seem the ‘easy route’ but OMG, I want all that for Lilly.

Now, as our little park scenario was unfolding, I’d of course be lying if Jack didn’t get told off a fair few times. Mainly for running out of sight. Most vehemently for jumping up on a girl’s bicycle parked in front of the playground and operating its squeaky horn by biting down on the soft balloon-y bit whilst going into absolute fits of terrier rapture. I’d love to have taken a picture prior to curtailing him on his lead but I thought it was bad form.


Guess I’ll have to trust that he won’t be suffering from subsequent low self-esteem.

Doggie therapy, anyone?



Swinging Naked

Yesterday’s casual breakfast conversation went something like this:


Me: You know that day spa voucher I got for my birthday?

Rob: Yeeeeeeees???

Me: I’d like to use it.

Rob: When?

Me: Today.

Rob: Will you be back in time for lunch? (Note: the man dislikes doing solo meals with the girl… something about the time it takes and the mess it makes.)

Me: No.

Rob: Will you be back in time for dinner?

Me: Yes.

Rob: OK.


Now that’s just the answer any girl wants to hear and positions my husband one step closer to sainthood. I love spontaneity; not least of all because it doesn’t leave you time to overthink matters, but rather propels you to just get on with it. Thankfully it also doesn’t leave Rob time to ponder the implications of looking after little monkey all day while mummy goes splashing in the hot tub. So before anyone can change their mind, I grab a few essentials, mainly a swimming costume and a travel magazine, and head for the train.


Turns out I need not have bothered with the swimwear as the brochure proclaims the Covent Garden spa’s apparent tradition of swimming naked. Nobody does, of course, except ‘a few of our older members’ as the lovely pedicurist reveals while painting my toenails the same shade of bright pink as my flip flops. In the absence of those trend-setting seniors on a quiet Wednesday, I frolic in the water and coyly flirt with the famous Atrium pool swing before deciding to get up close and personal for a bit of that playground feeling. I jacuzzi and steam room and lounge and lunch and daydream. On my own. For a whole day. It’s heaven.

Now of course we all want to believe that one day out is enough to leave you feeling recharged for, say, the next six months. I know Rob does. Turns out though that the girl is a bit miserable today. Bad night’s sleep, streaming nose and just a wee bit sorry for herself. I empathise and cuddle but there’s only so much constant clinging to I can take over the course of the day so inevitably I lose my cool once or twice. Ok, twice. Never my proudest moments.

But even so, I’m sufficiently refreshed not to beat myself up about it for hours afterwards. Instead more hugs, cuddles and letting her know that I wish I hadn’t scared her by taking my frustrations out on the potatoes and chopping board while she was balanced on my hip.

A friend on Facebook posted about a similar challenge, and I duly commiserated, only to be delighted by someone else’s comment:

‘I haven’t seen any wings around lately, perhaps that means none of us are angels’

Exactly. Not a carte blanche to be impatient all the time but a timely reminder that even mothers are only human. So I again thank my daughter’s self-proclaimed fairy godmothers for an amazing day out, and look forward to the next time.

At which point I might just follow that tradition of dispensing with the swimwear. And get on that swing in the buff, C-section scar and all. I mean really – why wait until you’re over 60 to drop those inhibitions and have some fun?

I may be German, after all.


Stigma of the Stay-At-Home Mom

Right. I’ve been avoiding writing about this but it keeps cropping up in various guises.

Before I start, a few disclaimers:

  1. This topic has been already written about a gazillion million times. Not by me, obviously, but still.
  2. All I have to offer are my thoughts. They may clash with your thoughts. That’s ok. Just because we have different thoughts doesn’t make me right, and you wrong. Nor the other way round.


So, what on Earth am I talking about, then? (pretend the title hasn’t given it away already!)

It’s this whole working vs. staying-at-home-as-a-parent business. Or, more precisely, staying-at-home-as-a-mum (or mom, whichever you prefer!).  I come across this a lot now that Lilly, at 14 months, is considered to be past that ‘baby-stage’, and old enough to be taken care off by someone else so that I can return to work and be a so-called responsible and contributing citizen. Hmmm…

Now, for starters, I’m not of the opinion that employment is the key to any of these qualities, nor to maternal fulfillment and happiness. I know mothers who work and are unsatisfied. I know mums who take care of their children at home and are blissfully happy. I know mums in between those two extremes trying to find a healthy balance (i.e. me!).

I struggle defining myself as a stay-at-home mum, because

a) that’s by far not ALL I do and

b) the stigma attached to the term really irks me.

I generally get the impression it’s seen as ‘the easy way out’, especially by those without kids; although my trusted mummy friends who have returned to work ensure me that it’s anything but a lazy cop out.


So if it’s supposed to be all about choice, then why do so many mums feel the pressure of having to return to ‘work’?

Well, there are the obvious rewards of a job – recognition in monetary terms, and otherwise. Don’t get so much of that at home.

And then of course not everyone feels like they have a choice.

I’m especially thinking about countries with scarily short maternity leave, such as the United States or South Africa, where you are expected to be back at your desk after a mere four months. That’s a very short span of financial compensation before you have to decide whether to put your brand new tiny person into someone else’s care, or relinquish your right to your previous employment. You may feel like you don’t have the ‘luxury’ of not working without impacting your current lifestyle (although lifestyle, by the way, is also a choice). You may be a single parent needing to provide a stable income.

In all of this, I do have to own that many of my assumptions are coloured by my ‘middle class’ background. I recently came across a study suggesting that the stay-at-home moms who are most unsatisfied are those with previous low-income jobs where their paycheck doesn’t cover the cost of the childcare needed in order for them to work. Not much talked about, that.

Equally, I need to recognize that I am currently only writing from one perspective so I can’t comment on things like mommy guilt due to being away from your child, although I do know about the needs of said child happily interfering with what you might want to get on with, like capturing that important thought about your writing, or putting up that post you are just dying to share. Or being too tired at the end of the day to do any of that.

Some people of course love their jobs, and need some sort of fulfilment beyond fulltime parenting. I do too, and in my world feeling fulfilled is not a luxury problem (as it has recently been put to me) but an absolute necessity. My definition of responsibility and contribution doesn’t necessarily look like going to the office from nine to five. I believe the choices we make don’t have to be an either/or scenario – there are many options in between if we look for them.

There’s ever so much more to write about choice, so look for that in a future post. I could also say a lot more about the responsibility and contribution of bringing up content and socially adept children, although I am not saying that staying at home is the only avenue to make that happen. I’m quite certain that Lilly will be taking care of by someone outside her immediate environment at some point, at least part-time. But I will be carefully choosing whom to trust to provide a setting that mirrors the values we hold for her.

The scary thing is, though, that in work as in motherhood you tend to get promoted just as you get good at something. I just got good at providing three daily meals, doing laundry, maintenance cleaning , girl/dog walking and having regular writing time. As I graduate into more active toddlerhood, I foresee steep learning curves. God help me when she starts to talk all day. And worse, drops the daily nap. Except more maternal meltdowns here…



The Letter

For most of my teenage years, I felt like I was standing on the sidelines, watching. I felt shy, awkward and like I didn’t really belong.

When I was seventeen, I had the chance to go on a school exchange to the United States for a month. I struck a deal with my Dad – he paid half and I paid half from the earnings of an after-school job.  My mother hated my gut for going, or probably more accurately for having the independent means to contribute to the project.

It was all terribly exciting, going on my first flight, going to the States and going away from home for that length of time. I stayed with a family of five in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania  – three boys and two girls (although the oldest two had flown the nest by then). My host parents were quick to joke that I was the girl to even out the gender imbalance in their family. I was welcomed with open arms and I got a glimpse of a family life that was rather different from my customary surroundings. The words ‘I Love You’ were readily spoken between parents and children, and not in the superficial way that Americans are often accused of. I am sure everyday life wasn’t a happily-ever-after fairy tale but still, I soaked it all up and loved being part of it.

After I came back home to Germany, a letter arrived in the post. My host father, a very busy lawyer, had taken the time to sit down and write to my parents. It was a handwritten letter on that thin, parchment-like pale blue airmail paper. It said lovely things about me. I can’t remember exactly what they were… something along the lines of me being a clever, worthwhile and confident person who was a joy to be around. The details don’t really matter. All I know is that letter said things I didn’t believe about myself. My mother didn’t either, and was quick to tell me so. It was kinda like reading about another person, but one you would like to grow up to be. Reading that letter made me feel important and hopeful that if somebody saw all these things in me, then maybe I could one day be them.

My dad kept the letter in a filing cabinet in his office. Ever so often, I would root through stacks of paper to find and read it again. My dad’s office has now been dismantled for a great many years, and I no longer have access to that letter. I guess a long time ago, someone threw it away along with the stacks of paper that surrounded it.

Still, I cherish that letter. Even now, more than twenty years later. I love that my host father stepped away from his busy work and family life long enough to write it. To him, it may have been a very small thing. To me, it meant the world.

Thank you, Mr Kaufman.


Pack Your Bags and Go!

I love traveling.

Most of my childhood vacations in the 70s and 80s were the then-typical three week summer holidays where we piled our family into a tightly packed car and drove off into the sunset. The sun set in Austria for the first ten years of my life, and along the North Sea coast thereafter. I guess my parents liked the predictability of going to the same places year after year.

As a teenager, I caught on to the concept of travel as an escape. New horizons, new adventures and the fringe benefit of getting away from all the same old stuff. School exchange programs and class trips were obvious first ‘safe’ choices, although I couldn’t wait to start traveling on my own!

One of these school trips was to the United States, and I often mused that I might spent a year or so there after graduating from High School, maybe as part of a university exchange. I couldn’t wait to get away and experience life in different places. Little did I know that once I left Germany, I was never to return. Well, not permanently, anyway.

I spent a year in Spain before moving to the US. Not just for a measly year at uni, but for six years in Nashville, TN, followed by two more in Atlanta, GA. I worked in hotels in just about every capacity except catering and cleaning rooms. The job that mostly defined my hospitality career was Revenue Management, which is basically playing a huge game of Monopoly with real money. I ‘revenue managed’ in individual hotels and on corporate level for Starwood, Hilton and Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG). I moved to London, and then to Brussels. I got to travel for work all over Europe, and still found time to travel for fun. For five years, I had a house in France.

Despite the fact that by star sign I’m a cancer, I am not terribly good at staying in one place for too long. I’ve now been back in London since 2007. To me, that’s a VERY LONG time.

A friend in the States once called me peripatetic.

Traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods.

Can’t argue with that. I love the word, even though  I think he used it as an excuse for not dating me. His loss… although quite possibly his life is a whole lot quieter for it.

So anyway, rather than a faint moan of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ from the back seat, my favourite question tends to be a curious and excited:

‘So, where are we going next?’

Except when I travel these days, I am hauling a whole lot more stuff…