Preparing to Move

My husband and I decided to move over two years ago. We selected our new house and put our current dwelling on the market. When it didn’t sell, we accepted that it wasn’t the right time for us to pick up sticks, and so carried on with life as usual.

‘Life as usual’ has continued until this past weekend, when we realised that the movers will be here in a few hours’ time to put our furniture in a shipping container and send it across the Atlantic. It’s crept up on us. Even through all the planning and phone calls, our visual landscape hadn’t changed. It’s been a fact…but so far off in the future that it hasn’t felt real.

And so movers arrived and loaded up a container filled with our worldly goods, all wrapped up and nestled together. The goods, that is – not the movers. Our house is empty save for the things that the new owners requested for themselves, as well as the two suitcases of clothing and toiletries we each have set aside for the next two weeks. Although, if I’m being honest, one of my husband’s suitcases is mostly filled with my stuff. He’s much better at being minimal with his clothing than I am.

Because the last few weeks have been quite rushed, there wasn’t as much time to declutter as I was hoping. However, I’m sure that there will be time to do that at the other end. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the freedom of living in a near-empty house, revelling in the expanse of wooden floors beneath my feet.

Closet Refresh

I really thought I was past my shopping addiction. I’d gone over a year without feeling the obsessive pull towards shopping apps – eBay in particular. Actually, it was strictly eBay. It still is. It’s embedded in my thoughts.

It started when I changed sizes. Don’t get me wrong, it was time for me to gain weight. I’d been the same size since I was about 14, and maintained this with bouts of anorexia. Eating healthily and daily was new for me. However, it did push me up a dress size. I went from a UK 8 to a UK 10. Not a major shift, but still noticeable. At any rate, I’m very happy with my body, and my husband seems happy that I have a bottom. So good changes all around.

However, few things I owned fit me anymore. Everything that wasn’t flexibly sized or too big when I bought it was unwearable. So I sold some things and donated some others. It was a lengthy process. I had no desire to go back to my old size, which made this easier. But if something was especially favoured before, I felt sad for a day or so. After that, I had to let it go.

What I wasn’t prepared for was replacing all the old things with new ones. I found a few of the old favourites in a size up on eBay, which was excellent. I also learned which jeans best suit me (wide leg all the way!). But I’d spent over a decade cultivating that old wardrobe – how could I come up with something that felt like me without all the years of hunting, saved searches and field tests?

The answer appeared to be ‘buy everything.’ I tried loads of styles – then kept some and sold others on. It was not the most efficient method of finding my style. Still, I’ve taken a few gambles and won some. I bought a new coat for a tenner, tried out white trousers and found that I don’t like floral dresses nearly as much as I thought I did.

Some days, I think that my closet has arrived – that everything I could ever need to make endless outfits is contained within and that I can stop. But other days, I realise that I’ve omitted basics like camisoles or no-VPL underwear and I question my tactics. Why have I been so happy to buy a velvet jacket but forgotten about a well-fitting pair of black ballet flats? Basics seem to have been overlooked in favour of exciting pieces with embroidery or some statement detail that, ultimately, makes the item harder to wear. It’s as if I’ve set myself up for failure but don’t know how to shop any other way.

This push and pull between my tentatively minimalist self and my old shopping addict self has been tricky. These days, I have a functioning wardrobe that I’m mostly happy with, but I still find myself shopping. I still want to ‘elevate my look’ and ‘appear relevant.’ However, the process of changing sizes has made me think that the investment pieces shouldn’t be blouses or jeans. They should be handbags, shoes and jewellery. The stuff that adorns us in ways that are unchanging.

Becoming Vegan

My ancestors left Russia with a full-term pregnancy and a work permit for an abattoir. There are two generations between us. My family’s past dependency on the slaughter of animals provides a bit of irony to my decision to go vegan, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if they hadn’t taken employment. However, I can’t help but feel that any other work would have taken fewer psychological tolls on them. I feel horror when I think of them paid to kill animals and then go home to the people who raised me. I’ve heard about what a problem alcoholism was in my family, but never about the conditions which may have instigated the desire to drink. Can we just decide that the slaughter of animals is bad for animals and people?

But back to me. I’d wanted to stop eating meat from the time I first learned that Lent=no meat season. This was when I was around 7, and I was vaguely aware of its virtuous connotations. Saints were vegetarian, and I was all about the virtuous abstention. Also, it sounded appealing to me from an animal-loving perspective. My mother, however, was against it because I had several food allergies (dairy, wheat, egg, nuts, fish) which meant that my diet was already limited. So my desire was put on hold.

When I was 14 or so, I gained a bit of independence in my food because I was at a new school close to my home rather than commuting with my mum and brother to another city. So I learned about cooking for myself, and decided to cut out meat entirely. One of my friends went on the Atkins diet and told me the horrors of carbs, but I shrugged it off. My body felt normal for the first time, confirming my choice as the right one.

I went back to eating meat briefly when I was in an abusive relationship and he told me, among other things, that vegetarianism was stupid and didn’t make a difference. In retrospect, the obvious response to this is that we all must follow our own moral compasses, regardless of how much impact we make. I want to ensure that my choices reflect my own ethics.

As I write this, I have been meat-free for several years. The last straw was when I started having nightmares in which the cows or pigs would talk to me or cry or berate me for discarding a bit of gristle. It’s clear that I’m not meant to eat meat, and I’m okay with that – even though cold winter days really make me want a haggis.

Dairy and eggs were never a question – I don’t have the nostalgia for cheese or Cadbury’s, because I’ve never eaten them. In this, my allergies have been rather good for me. (This is the only time I’ll say that.) But the last sticking point has been honey. I love honey. I can eat it straight from the jar. It goes in my tea, it goes on my porridge. My friends and I bring each other raw honey from across the world when we travel. It’s a treat and an antioxidant marvel.

Unfortunately, it also results in the gassing of bees at the end of the season, and the mutilation and artificial insemination of the hive’s queen. I’ve read several arguments on the topic, and have seen both angles. My personal ethics have previously convinced me that eating honey was correct for me. I now have rethought this, because I’m not and never will be perfect. If anything, it’s made me want to keep a hive and not eat the honey. We’ll see on that. When we move, we’ll have the space for it.

But back to me and how this decision affects my own little life. What will I have in my tea?! Green tea with honey and oat milk is my drink. It’s the highlight of my morning. Will blackstrap molasses suffice? Or golden syrup? How about maple syrup? I think I’ll start with maple and work backwards through this very tiny list, then do more research if necessary. In fact, with the weather on the turn, it’s probably the perfect time to try maple syrup in a breakfast context – and not just on fluffy pancakes.

Rootlessness

When I was doing the editing for my last post, my title word came up: rootless. What I thought was just a sense of this disconnection from my younger self to my older self turned out to be something much deeper. Multigenerational, even.

Lately, I’ve found myself aching for a sense of my own history. I am the immigrant daughter of a recently established immigrant family, soon to move to America. Any sense of self that I have built up in the last ten years will be greatly altered. Thus, it’s a time of personal reinvention and questioning. This step forward has made me think and overthink what I want my life to look like when I move. The kinds of places I’ll go, the kinds of clothing I’ll wear, the friends I’ll make – all have played on my mind.

And yet, I already doubt that this move will bring me close to an authentic sense of belonging. This is a pessimistic view, but I find myself wanting more and more to be closer to nature – to feel the Earth’s cycles, to feel dirt under my fingernails, to grow carrots and play in snow. These desires are at odds with a city where summer lasts for seven months and casual wastefulness appears on full display. Either I will find what I am looking for, or I will move on.

But that isn’t to say that I’ve ever felt truly at home where I live now. Nor did I feel as though I was at home in the house where spent my childhood. I am, however, enthusiastically looking. 

Religion was once a tradition I kept up because it made me feel like another link in my familial chain, kneeling before the sacraments and inhaling Vatican incense. When I unceremoniously left the church, I severed ties with an institution that had marked the births and deaths of my family since they were in the old country. Their names were logged, their marriages were recorded. So was mine. 

If we go back far enough, though, all of our ancestors practiced the ‘old ways’ – the rituals and beliefs that put humans in touch with nature and helped us understand the world through its cycles. 

Perhaps what my heart longs for is the black forests of the Volga River valley, where my mom’s family came from. Or the sun-baked earth in southern Italy, where my father’s came from. The push and pull of both is almost equal, which makes it difficult to decide where one belongs. If I feel a piece of my identity in both places, how can I call either home, or feel at home anywhere else?

When I married my husband, I became a Hamilton. I got to wear the tartan at balls, and I was part of a new family. It has been fun to feel like one of them, but I know I’m just an in-law – not a member in my own right.

Maybe these thoughts have come upon me because I’ve booked the shipment of our things and the flights for our pets. Maybe I’ve just been reading too much of Jonna Jinton’s blog, nostalgic for a life that was never my own. To be able to go back to a piece of the earth where my family once lived would be both a dream and impossible: it’s under the Moscow Sea.

Clean Slate*

I’ve always thought that, if I could, I’d give up everything and start over. New city, new country, new life. Given all the knowledge I’ve acquired about myself, I would, in the future, make all the right choices, meet all the right people, and say all the right things to those new friends.

I’d never have a misguided haircut or make a purchase for my fantasy life, as I’d have all the knowledge I needed to avoid such youthful mistakes. Nor would I forget my reusable mug, have a wardrobe malfunction, or wear stupid shoes that make my feet bleed. Those actions belong to a girl who is still learning, and I am so past that stage.

The problem with this polarised view of the self (past me = bad, present me = good) is that it makes me rootless: far too quick to deny that I have any past at all. I am also less forgiving of my mistakes in the present, because I should have known better by now.

To say that I am a perfectionist would be an understatement. I’ve considered plucking people out of my life because I don’t like who I was when I was last around them. All reunions remain unattended for this reason. There were some people I didn’t like back when we met regularly, but the problem is more that I didn’t like myself.

And so I have a desire to disassociate myself from the person who grew into me. She wasn’t perfect, and so I feel disdain for her. I’m even considering changing my name so her actions can belong to someone else entirely. The more I think about it, the more I wonder at my decision to start a blog. All my past thoughts will be visible in the future, should anyone go back and read them.

But that is off-topic. Because I am about to start a new life. New city, new country, etc. My husband, our pets and most of our furniture will soon be packed up for transport across the Atlantic. Currently, we live in the UK and will soon be moving to the US midwest. All being well, we will celebrate Samhain in our new home. Suitcases have taken up residence in our second bedroom and transport has been booked. Very few people know us. It’s strange, and also preoccupying. ‘Who will I be?‘ is the recurring question. I expect that the answer is simpler than I want it to be.

I will be me, of course. Some things never change.

*For some reason, the word slate always makes me think of Anne Shirley smashing her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head. It literally has no other connotation.

Audrey 2.0

It’s been said that September is the thinking woman’s January. This was probably said by Vogue, encouraging women to up their style game and buy products from the brands that they advertise. Nevertheless, I’m going to run with this idea. Because it’s September. And I’m undergoing a personal transformation.

Maybe we all do this continuously. We transform incrementally, working towards goals and accomplishing them only to move on to other tasks. The efforts might not be concerted in a particular direction, especially if we’re in a job we don’t like or derailed by a state of emergency. The difference this time is that I want to guide this growth so I end up in a new place.

I expect the changes to take many forms: my appearance, spirituality, exercise, culinary accomplishments and, perhaps most importantly, my writing. I’m going to focus on one thing at a time, so I can really give it my proper attention and, thus, take a solid step forward. Also, I can’t include everything in this list. There’s also familial love to cultivate, but I feel as if I can’t plan that; it needs to grow organically. Also, if I write down that I’m planning on adopting a dog, I can no longer pretend to my husband that a stray just happened to walk onto our property and stay. But I digress.

My appearance has been of some concern to me for a while. It is also what I’m going to be focusing on at the moment, as it is rather distracting for me to feel as though I don’t look my best. Our current locale is not overly conducive to feeling glamorous, though I do live in London (albeit a rougher area). I regularly see girls out in onesies and the local grocery is populated by people in their jim-jams. London may be a fashion capital, but the news has not reached my neighbourhood. This is not inherently bad, but I don’t want to be like that. I want to look like the best version of myself, and even the most glam onesie is not going to get me there.

So the clothes are a priority. I like a boho aesthetic, though I’ve previously lacked the confidence to pair up such outfits. Worse, I rarely make time to do so: I work from home, and my only regular outings are for dog walking. It’s been my choice to let my sartorial game slip, but now I want to work at it again. Not because I feel like less of a woman when wearing my husband’s jumpers…I just feel less like me.

My hair, too, is something I want to change. Currently just below shoulder length and in my natural colour, I find myself hankering for the copper locks I had a few years ago. But dye comes in single-use plastic, and I can’t justify using it just so my hair can be a different colour. Therefore, I’ll have to find some new ways to style it, and maybe a new haircut. Besides, it’s in better condition than it ever was when I was dyeing it. Surely that counts for something.

Lastly, my makeup techniques haven’t been updated in around eight years. My skincare is consistent but basic, but as I get a little bit older, I feel that both need an upgrade. It’s good timing, too, because my bottle of argan oil is nearly empty. So, as things run out, I’ll be replacing them with carefully-researched products that suit my ethics*.

So, there we have it. The official start of my personal transformation. I’ll be working to appear on the outside as I feel on the inside, and hopefully improve both.

*What a metaphorical minefield.