Holy moly, yes

naked frosted cake with bear on top

I emailed someone the other day, asking if they wouldn’t mind doing something for me. The details don’t matter (it was work, it was for a magazine) but the response I received does. She replied: HOLY MOLY, YES.

HOLY MOLY, YES.

It cracked a laugh out of me straightaway.

Then it made me think: when was the last time I felt like that about something? When was the last time I said yes to something so quickly, so effortlessly, so excitedly, upbeat and optimistically?

When was the last time you did?

So today, a day after my birthday, I’d like to say: HOLY MOLY, YES.

HOLY MOLY, YES to that extra piece or three of leftover birthday cake. To last minute texts from best friends asking if you’re free to meet for ice cream. To ditching routine every once in a while.

HOLY MOLY, YES to throwing caution to the wind like confetti. To sneaking off with your husband without the kids (hey, we had a babysitter that day).

HOLY MOLY, YES to cutting your hair short when you’ve only ever had it long for years, even though you know it horrifies most people because they say: You cut your hair! instead of: You look great! And so, also, therefore: HOLY MOLY, YES to the hell with whatever other people think.

HOLY MOLY, YES to unfollowing the folk who make you feel less than and stepping back from those in person who stress you out. And HOLY MOLY, YES, then, to no longer feeling guilty for it or indeed for any other things that you have to do just to put yourself first;

HOLY MOLY, YES, then, to putting yourself first;

To saying no to the things you don’t have to do, you don’t want to do, you don’t need to do; to writing what you want to write; doing what you want to do. To less time online, to more time right here. To singing your own praises every once in a while.

HOLY MOLY, YES to protecting your own precious time.

To standing up for yourself, for your kids, for the people you love.

To standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

To calling folk out when it needs to be done.

HOLY MOLY, YES to being fearless. To being brave. To being all these things, doing all these things, in your very own ways even if (especially if) sometimes your voice isn’t as loud as everyone else’s, even if (especially if) you take your time because you’re thinking things through.

HOLY MOLY, YES to at least giving it a try.

HOLY MOLY, YES to the face looking right back at you in the mirror, the face you wished when you were younger looked like somebody else’s, like all the other girls at school, but that you’ve learnt to slowly love because others love it too.

HOLY MOLY, YES to the person you’ve become. To the person you’re becoming. To the guy that’s by your side. To the ones you’re bringing up behind you.

So.

Holy moly, yes.

Who’s saying it with me?

Books by my bedside: what I have been reading lately

The opposite of loneliness, essays and stories by Marina Keegan. More on the books I’ve been reading on Our Story Time ourstorytime.co.uk books reading writers books

At the start of this year, I set myself the lofty goal of not just reading more, but reading better. It warms me to say I’m not doing too badly. I’ve read more books so far this year than I did at all over the entire course of the last and I think, in part, feeling clearer and less anxious about what I’m doing with my writing has enabled that. So, gone are those self-help-entrepreneur-creative-business-hustle-type books which served their purpose once-upon-a-time yet also sometimes served little purpose at all. Instead, I have made room for other books, more beautiful books; books that may not help me build-my-brand (Dear Lord!) but that will at the very least stretch my thinking.

I keep a list of all the books I’d like to read in my notebook. That list is very long and every time I go into a bookstore or the library, I stray from it, browsing through books as though I’m picking berries in a field on a summer’s day under a straw hat. I am easily swayed by smart alliterative titles, easily convinced by the girl behind the counter who says I really must try this one that she couldn’t put down; hell, I am swayed sometimes by books that just look damn pretty. Bookstore layouts are my downfall, my labyrinth; I am trapped yet I also don’t want to leave. What I am trying to do, though, is be more mindful of what I bring home. Because the more unread books on my bedside, the more books I seem to want to keep on acquiring. So I’m trying to pace myself: one book at a time, Huma. One book at a time.

It occurred to me, while writing this blog post, that almost all the books I’ve happened to read lately are essays or collections of some sort. I suppose this isn’t all that surprising, given that my first book was a collection and now I’m threading my own essays together too, but though I am biased, I have to say - collections are such a nice, easy way to make time to read. When time is short or you are battling with a novel you just can’t make heads or tails of, it’s refreshingly spritely to dip in and out of a collection of stories, or a collection of essays; one at a time. If you haven’t ever tried reading a collection, give it a go. The individual pieces are often short, so easy enough to digest, and yet they are almost always more meaningful than tweets.

Here’s what I’ve been reading these last few months:

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essay and Stories by Marina Keegan - Marina was only 22-years-old when she died in car crash, five days after graduating from Yale. This alone makes her smiling face, beaming out from the front cover, hauntingly poignant. Marina was young but yet had work published in The New Yorker and The New York Times. This book brings together pieces of Marina’s portfolio; both non-fiction essays and short stories she wrote during her time at Yale. They’re written in that voice of being twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two; that voice which believes so passionately that the world is yours for the taking. That she, in turn, was taken so soon is what makes this collection all the more moving.

The Good Immigrant USA edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman - The premise of this US collection is the same as The Good Immigrant’s UK collection: a gathering of fresh perspectives from writers of colour. It is bright and triumphant. My favourite essays are On Loneliness, by Fatimah Asghar, in which she takes a ride in an Uber and is suddenly confronted with an overwhelming sense of wanting, of needing, to belong and How Not To Be by Priya Minhas, in which she describes her girlhood, of learning to be a woman caught between her family culture and wanting so desperately to fit in.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett - I have never read any of Ann Patchett’s novels and yet I was drawn to read this collection of her journalism. When placed together, these first-person pieces read like the most charming memoir. I found this delightful to read; even when she writes of difficult things, like her first marriage failing, she does so with lightness, all these moments just tumbling on to the page. It was a dream to read.

Feel Free by Zadie Smith - In her foreword to this, Zadie Smith mentions how she feels some sort of anxiety about not having any real qualifications to write - this from Zadie Smith. I haven’t read all of her novels, just two (White Teeth and NW) but I’ve always enjoyed her more journalistic pieces more, and so I loved the chance to delve deeper through these essays. It’s not the sort of book you’d want to necessarily read all in one go, but the sort to dip in and out of, by nature of the fact most of these essays are journalism, and you’d probably be moved to pick them out by subject rather than read them chronologically. The subjects of her essays are far too wide-ranging to list here but her voice is so beautifully consistent and simple throughout and such a lesson in writing as you. It’s as though she’s thinking aloud. I’ve underscored many, many pages of this collection; I suggest you do too.

You think it, I’ll say it by Curtis Sittenfeld - Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favourite writers. I don’t hold on to every single book I read or buy; I pass them along to other parents at the school gate, I leave them out on the brick wall for neighbours to take, I send them to my mother and my mother-in-law. But Curtis Sittenfeld’s books have always stayed on my shelf and I re-read her regularly (American Wife is one of my most favourite comfort books, by which I mean a book I’ll turn to when I’m needing the literary equivalent of a cup of tea and a big slab of cake). I was excited to learn she had written short stories too and I’ll offer up right here that I haven’t finished this yet because I’m savouring every single page and trying to make it last. Most reviews all name check the title short story, but there are so many in here that I loved - Off The Record, The Prairie Wife (what a twist!), A Regular Couple. What I love about her writing is that it is so down-to-earth, so unpretentious and yet so clever in its simplicity. I love the way she zooms into personal relationships and holds them up to the light. I’d love to write like she does.

And now then, over to you: what have you been reading? What should I pick out next?

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A kitchen without a window

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I wish I had a kitchen window.

I’d do the dishes and they wouldn’t even feel like a chore with the sun slanting in. I’d keep one eye on the kids up to mischief in the garden, instead of half-dreading what sort of mud-filled situation I might find them in once I emerge from where the kitchen is, down in the basement. If I had that window, I’d sure as rain take my time, sip my tea, maybe even water a planter of herbs that might sit there right on my sill, alive, in the glory that is natural daylight.

Alas; I do not have a kitchen window.

I have an off-kilter skylight which filters light cleverly down the stairwell and just about spreads it into our below-ground basement kitchen but it’s not at all the same. Kitchen windows seem to be a curse that follows me around. One time, when I lived alone in, my kitchen was literally an alcove (no window here either). As newlyweds, we did indeed acquire a kitchen window only this one looked out over the ugly construction sites of King’s Cross (one of the first things I did, then, was to put up window film).

I have written about our small, 70 square foot kitchen before mostly because it is both curiously and delightfully different (a little rabbit’s hole of a space below stairs) but also because it is a challenge to me most days. There are steep, angular stairs to brave, while carrying trays laden with little people’s dinners up to our dining table. There’s the problem of our incredibly tiny fridge which at full capacity, has strawberries and blueberries rolling right out of it like overflowing marbles. There’s the larder, into which you have to side-step to see anything at all. It’s a tricksy little space.

I have learnt, however, that while it is a pleasant distraction, there is little purpose in daydreaming about bigger, light-filled kitchen spaces as seen in magazines or moodboarded all over the place. So instead, I turn to like-for-like and look for practical ways to make the most of our dark little space. I find this way of thinking immensely useful; it serves to make the most of what we have instead of hankering over something imaginary. It’s a way of thinking that may even extend beyond comparing kitchens. I am reminded that while our kitchen is tiny, it somehow has just the right space for what we need. This too, a note to self: more only begets more.

My kitchen does not let me down aesthetically. A scheme of white, wood and little flashes of copper, it is to my taste for we were fortunate enough to replace it when we first moved in. But there were a few little things I had not thought of yet and would like to include, the most pleasing of all being the idea of adding a mirror into this windowless room. A mirror, in a kitchen; I sort of like the exuberance of it.

It helps that I have just the thing already; a bevelled, angular mirror hanging from a chain which we bought as newly-weds from a vintage market in Camden Passage. This mirror has been passed around from room to room, but had not yet found a place in our home. It is one of the few pieces that I have kept, wrapped up carefully in my wardrobe, wishing I wouldn’t have to let it go. It makes sense to me, now, to hang it in the kitchen and I only wonder why I never thought of it before.

Also in the spirit of an on-going spring clean, I am finding small and simple ways to freshen the kitchen up. A basket of bright tough-skinned lemons sits atop the counter, to descale the kettle and scrub the sink (and also, for this sort of thing). A few drops of eucalyptus oil clear out the drain. We’ve been juicing big, fat oranges rather a lot lately, and that sweet smell alone brings the sunshine in. Elsewhere, a dredger of baking soda and lavender oil keeps our fridge fresh. Last summer, while on holiday in a sleepy village on the Danish coast, I brought home kitchen linens from an architect’s home-turned-museum at the bottom of our lane and I hope to add a few more too to this collection, the sort I would not mind to fold over the oven door (which also reminds me, it’s been four years since we’ve lived here and we still don’t have oven gloves). A few rounds of clumsiness and several broken mugs and plates later, there are gaps in our crockery that shall slowly be refilled. These are on my mind.

With all of this to think about, I suppose that I should count myself lucky, then, that I don’t even have a water-stained window behind the sink demanding, of all things, to be cleaned.

ps it perhaps goes without saying that the photo up above of our nook of kitchen shelves is completely un-styled. The motley crew of our everyday.

Elsewhere:

On Spring Cleaning

A dream kitchen nevertheless

Speckled plates

Flecked cups