Let’s Talk About Food…

This past week I have had my mum staying with me.  To be clear from the start, this is a very good thing.  My mum is brilliant and as she and my dad live in South West France we don’t see enough of them, so a week long visitation was a lovely treat.

There was only one thing.

The food talk.

If you were married to James Martin, with Mary Berry and Michel Roux Snr as your parents and Matilda Ramsey as your daughter, you would still not experience as much food talk as has gone on in my house this week.

It starts at breakfast with idle musings on what to have for lunch and supper – perfectly reasonable you may say.

BUT, just as you are grabbing your purse to shop for the agreed components for said meals, up pops mum “is it coffee time?”

Yes yes, of course, coffee time.  And a biscuit, no problem.

How civilised, morning coffee and a chat with your mother.  Until she gets that look in her eye and you know what is to come “of course we don’t have to have the sausages tonight, we could have a backed ham or maybe some fish”

I reach into my bag for the shopping list and scrub sausages from the plan.

“So…ham or fish?”  I press for an answer

“Ham, let’s have ham and then we can use the leftovers for tomorrow”

Great!  Two meals decided in one go!  I down my coffee, pocket the list and head for the shops while the going is good.

As soon as set foot in the supermarket the mobile goes “which ham are you going to get?”

“umm..” (this could be a trick question) “unsmoked?”

“a nice joint though.  Are you going to the butcher?  It will be nicer from the butcher”

“Well, I’m in the supermarket but I can go to the butcher afterwards.”

“OK, good.  Will you be back in time for lunch?”

Lunch?  Of course, it is midday, it must be time for lunch.

“I’ll make a start” says mum “what would you like?  Would you like a sandwich?  I’m having a sandwich, I’ve got a craving for white bread, can you pick up some white bread?”

Shopping done, I make it home for lunch (sandwich on white bread) and further discussion about the next meal.

Will we have boiled new potatoes? Or maybe the sliced ones in cream and garlic.  Did you buy some greens? Fresh greens would be lovely.  How shall we cook the ham?  Will you do a honey and mustard glaze?

Finally, a post lunch lull.  Time to catch up on some work, put a wash on, drag the dog around the block.  Better be quick though because before you know it..

…time for afternoon tea!

Cup of tea (milk in first, don’t squeeze the bag), piece of cake (homemade, natch) more chat, mostly food timing related.

What time shall we eat?  Is the oven on yet?  Don’t forget to change the water in the ham pan.  Oh, and you will roll and slice the greens individually leaf by leaf won’t you?  So much nicer!

Finally, the much anticipated repast is upon us.  Teens have been wrenched from screens and reacquainted with the dining room table. Places have been set with cloth napkins and side plates – correct Granny etiquette has been observed.

The potatoes are perfect, the greens sliced correctly, the ham boiled to perfection (we decided against the glaze).

We savour our first mouthfuls and sit in the brief respectful silence that a lovely plate of food commands.

“Delicious”

Says mum

“Just what I fancied.  Now, what shall we have tomorrow night?  I saw a lovely recipe for slow cooked lamb in Good Food magazine.  You could pop up to the butcher tomorrow…”

Gaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

Let's (not) Talk About Food

What’s Your Life Anchor?

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Recently I’ve been feeling a bit adrift in my own life, a sort of vague searching for purpose type of feeling.  My default reaction to this sensation is to up sticks and re-locate which goes some way to explaining why we have lived in such a variety of places over the years.

But this time I must be thinking like a proper actual grown up (for once) as I have taken a step away from salacious property porn viewing on Rightmove and tried to identify exactly why I want to move.

Of course there is a large element of ‘greener grass’ syndrome, it is easy to think that everything will be better somewhere new.  The reality of this is summed up in a quote from my lovely friend Anna, “same shit, different view”.

Exactly.

I think it all comes down to having something to anchor you to a place.  It might be a family connection, a job, a partner, a lifelong ambition to live near the sea/city/countryside.

I chose Dorset five years ago because of the excellent state schools but as the teens grow older and move on even that tenuous link will be broken.

Which leaves me with…not much.  Dorset folk have proved a fairly tough nut to crack socially and I can take my work anywhere so no ties there.

Which leaves me a choice, to quell my fight or flight instinct and try to forge new reasons to stay, or to hit the Right move app and start the re-invention process all over again in a new place.

Common sense tells me to man up and do the former which is quite daunting as it involves lots of ‘putting yourself out there’ type activities.

The jury is still out so I will let you know what I decide but, in the meantime, what would consider to be your life anchors?  What keeps you happy and content where you are?

Resting Bitch Face

RBF

I suffer from this.

I know that because Teens 1 and 2 remind me of it regularly.

“For God’s sake” they’ll hiss “stop giving them the evils”

More often than not I am actually thinking about something random and unconnected, like can I get away with wearing a skirt tomorrow without shaving my legs, or have I uploaded the meter reading.

But to the outside world it looks like I am a seething mass of anger and resentment judging and criticising everyone in my path.

This actually is the case in Waitrose on a Saturday morning but other than that I am innocent of all charges.

It is quite an affliction because people make snap judgments based what they perceive from your facial expressions.  I may be dancing the Macarena on the inside but the person passing me in the street immediately assumes I am in a bad mood.

It is hard to control RBF because it is basically just the way your facial muscle fall.  However, when I am in a situation where a cheerful first impression is vital I do try and make an extra effort.  I consciously lift the corners of my mouth whilst channelling happy thoughts and clips of Michael McIntyre sketches.  Sometimes it works but the half -crazed, twitchy lipped gurning look is not to everyone’s taste.

The great unfairness is that I do smile and laugh.

A lot.

It’s just that when my mind is elsewhere my face just downs tools, goes on complete strike until I re-focus on the present.

I literally have sulky, work to rule facial muscles.

So if you ever pass me in the street, or stop your car next to mine at the traffic lights, PLEASE don’t take offence.  I’m not thinking evil thoughts about you.  I’m not thinking evil thoughts at all.  Just give me a prod to come back into the moment and I will release my inner Macarena – goodbye Resting Bitch Face, hello Active Smile Chops.  No gurning necessary.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

Things are a bit weird around here at the moment – Teen 1 has passed her driving test.

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This is, of course, cause for great celebration.  Passed first time – yippee! Can drive herself places – Yippee! Can drive me places – yippee!

That last bit was me BEFORE the test.

Now the L plates are off the reality is that she is rarely here, pausing in the door way just long enough to nonchalantly swing her car keys in my direction before speeding off (within the speed limit obvs – don’t want to short circuit the telematics black box fitted for the insurance) the lingering echo of drum and bass the only evidence that she was here at all.

The before-test me would say, fab! Now you don’t have to drive her everywhere you can use that time to do other stuff, like hoover the stairs/read a book/ write a blog post/launch an award-winning ecommerce business from the kitchen table.  That kind of thing.

The after-test me actually sits like a rabbit in the headlights not knowing how to deal with these little parcels of gifted minutes.  Far easier to do none of the above and just pass the time tracking her location on the Find my Friends app.

I know.

Ridiculous.

I wonder if this is how CEOs of huge corporations feel when they retire?  I have, effectively, been the CEO of my little family unit for 17 years and, as is the case with many of my friends, have run it much the same as I run my career.  So when a third of the firm breaks free to start up alone it shakes the dynamic a bit.

It is not empty nest syndrome, there are few years ahead before that, thank God.  It’s like the peri-menopause of empty nest, a little warning shot over the bows of things to come.

Of course, I still have Teen 2 at my disposal and you will be forgiven for feeling a bit sorry for her as she now bears the full brunt of my control freakery. Endless trips to and from ballet and gymnastics used to be silent affairs as she scrolled through Snapchat and I inwardly cliched about being an unpaid taxi.

Now I am relishing each trip, aware that soon these too will be things of the past.  I’m chatting merrily like a proper Stepford mum, enjoying the time that I am still needed behind the wheel.  Teen 2 is still scrolling through Snapchat in silence but to be fair, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

So, on the agenda for this month – (1) stop obsessing about the myriad of potential road traffic accidents that could occur on any given journey and (2) fill any new found time with productive activities of the novel writing/stair hoovering ilk.

Just let me check the BBC Live Travel Incidents website first.

Man Flu

Man FluThis week I have had Man Flu.

Not a trans gender announcement or, in fact, actual flu.  Just a heavy cold and sore throat blown up beyond all proportion.

I have quite enjoyed it.  I have spent the days dragging my listless body from A to B leaving a trail of tissues behind me.

I have lain on the sofa declaring myself too ill to eat before downing a family sized fruit and nut without removing the wrapper.

I have sneezed all over everything and everyone and had regular, prolonged coughing fits.

When I have managed to bravely string a sentence together it has been uttered entirely through my nasal passages like the chap from the Tunes advert circa 1985.

All strangely satisfying.

The only man flu essential missing has been a willing servant to attend to my every whim.  You know, make tea, serve food, make endless sympathetic moue and offer to phone the surgery for an emergency appointment.

My then husband once rang me from his man flu bed pit to ask (in a weak and lamb like quiver) could he please have some hot honey and lemon?

I was in the kitchen at the time and we were talking a two bed cottage not Downton Abbey.

Maybe I should advertise for a man flu partner.  Like a dating profile but with added phlegm.

Single Man Flu Female Seeks Slave Partner

Must have endless patience and no other calls on their time

Chicken soup and sweet tea skills essential

Good level of fitness required as many trips up and down stairs involved

Anyone who thinks they have ever been equally unwell need not apply (as it is patently obvious that NO ON has EVER been as ill as this)

What do you think? Any takers?

 

 

 

 

Conversations With My Teen. #Clothes

What are you going to wear to the party on Saturday?

OK, sorry, what are you going to wear to the gathering on Saturday?

I didn’t say gathering in a funny way

I didn’t! it’s just that in my day a large group of teenagers in a garage with music and cider was a party

No I don’t think you are 5 years old

No I don’t imagine there will be balloons and jelly and ice cream

OK, I will stop calling it a party then.

What do I think you should wear?

What about that blue dress?

Well just because no one else is wearing a dress doesn’t mean that you can’t

It wouldn’t make you a weirdo

What is everyone else wearing then?

But if you don’t know what everyone else is wearing how do you know they won’t be wearing dresses?

I am not being deliberately annoying

I am not

If I am an old lady with no fashion sense then why did you ask my opinion?

Yes you actually did ask my opinion

Try the black jeans

No, they do not make you look fat

Because you are not fat you are beautiful

Yes I am your mother but I would still say that even if I wasn’t

Yes, I would

Wear the cord skirt, that really suits you

I’m sure no one will remember that you wore it to Emma’s

Well you can’t wear a brand new outfit every time you go out

Because we are not millionaires

I am not useless, you just don’t like any of my suggestions

Please don’t slam the…

…door

Conversations With My Teen. #Food

You’re hungry?  OK, well dinner is ready in about an hour so have a snack to keep you going

It’s spaghetti bolognese

Please don’t make vomit sounds, you like pasta

Yes the sauce has tomatoes in it

No I didn’t know you hate tomatoes

OK, sorry, I didn’t know you hate cooked tomatoes

Well I don’t remember you telling me that a million times

I do listen to what you say, I just don’t remember everything

I am not a deaf old crone, please don’t be rude

Fine, just have the pasta on its own then

Well, if you are so hungry that you can’t wait then have an apple

Or a piece of bread

Maybe you are thirsty?  Have a glass of water

No, I didn’t know that you hate water

What would you have if you could choose anything in the world right now?

Well if you don’t know then nothing I suggest will appeal will it?

No, that is not true, there is plenty of food in this house

No, I don’t have any chocolate

Or crisps

No you can’t go to MacDonalds

Because dinner is in less than an hour

What do you mean you don’t want any dinner?

I thought you were starving

Please don’t slam the…

…door.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year. Bonne année.  Ein glückliches neues Jahr.  Godt NytÅr.  Hauoli Makahiki hou.

Etc.

It is not because I am so behind on blogging that this post is a month late.  It is because I have decided that from now on 1 February is my New Year.

My loathing of January is well documented but it has taken me 47 years to realize that it is futile to fight it.

Up to now I have embraced Jan with the best of them.  New diet, new fitness regime, green smoothies, Facebook ban, pelvic floor exercises, gratitude diary – the whole self-help shebang.

I have even jumped on the Dry January wagon in the past.

And without exception I have spectacularly failed at everything every single year.

So on top of being cold, deprived of sunlight and vitamin D, and stony broke from Christmas; I have also been starving, muscle sore and guilt ridden for the large glass of Sauvignon I inhaled at 6.01pm on the first Friday of January.

2017 brought an epiphany.  I DO NOT NEED TO DO ALL THAT!

It is only 31 days after all.  The world will not end if I hibernate for 31 days.

So that is exactly what I have done.  Since the last firework died over the Thames on New Year’s Eve I have officially been in January purdah.

Eat, sleep, work, watch catch up TV, repeat.

That has been my month.

I have not been running since 2016, my sugar and alcohol levels almost remain at their Christmas levels, I am fully up to date on all the TV series and box sets on my list and I haven’t had a whiff of anything remotely resembling a Kale smoothie.

And I have made it through to February.

I am emerging, five pounds heavier but triumphant, ready to tackle 2017 and all it throws at me.

Bring it on.

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Rock Choir

Regular readers will know that I do not do well in the bleak months of winter.   Given the choice I would probably go to bed on New Year’s Eve and set the alarm for somewhere around the 1st March but as this is a bit impractical I have to find some other coping strategies.

My January mission this year was to try something new that is not connected to either work or parenthood.  I hate the expression but, for want of something better, let’s call it the dreaded ‘Me-Time’.

Option one was the new Clubercise class at the gym.  Leaping around to dance tracks in a dark room waving glow sticks?  Yes please.  Only problem is that all the super keen January gym bunnies have taken the spaces and it is fully booked for weeks ahead.

Option two was Rock Choir.

If you are not familiar with Rock Choir it is the current extra-curricular activity du jour for the Great British public.  Six or seven years ago the menopausal masses were flocking to Zumba classes, evangelical about the new found freedom of shaking their cellulite to the Latin beat.  These days it’s Rock Choir that commands the attention.  You can barely walk down a UK high street without having to fight your way through a flash mob belting out a tune in perfect harmony.

I am not a big fan of Gareth-patron-saint-of-all-choirs-Malone (irrelevant really as he has absolutely no connection to Rock Choir) and this, combined with the general flash mobbiness had put me off having a go in the past, but over 20,000 members can’t be wrong.  Right?

Also, and not to be sniffed at, is the well documented research that shows singing in a choir lifts you mood, creates a sense of well being and even strengthens your immune system. 

So off I trotted to a taster session at my local group.

Masses of people!  Everyone was very focused on finding their chair and this made sense when someone explained that you sit according to your voice range from bass at one end of the room to high soprano and the other end.  I sat in soprano as I had a friend there but it was bit high for me in bits, think Barry Gibb on speed, so I think I’ll be moving down the hall.

The session was led by an amazing instructor who was so full of energy and smiles and enthusiasm that even cynical old me was totally swept up in it.  There is no music to read, all done by ear and by the end of the hour and a half session we were belting out the first half of UpTown Girl and sounding pretty good!

The hardest thing was remembering which part of the arrangement you are supposed to sing, I kept getting carried away and leaping in at the wrong bit.  You also need to focus on hearing your own voice; several times I was thinking “Blimey, someone is singing way out of tune” only to realise that it was actually me.  Bit awkward.

So I have signed up for the term.  I’ll report back at Easter and let you know if my mood is lifted, immune system strengthened, and if I have managed to sit in the right chair and stay in tune.

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Looking for Zoella

The teens have birthdays only three days apart which presents a few logistical issues.  For a start, everything has to be the same.  It’s not like one has a birthday in February and the other in November leaving eight long months for the November born to forget what happened on February born’s special day.  With only three days to separate the events are too fresh to even be memories and the pressure is on to make sure that the present pile is the same cubic dimension, the parties/celebrations are of the same calibre and the energy levels are maintained throughout.  It is terrifying singing happy birthday when you know that you are under a pair of beady eyes doing a thorough audit of your felicitation vigour.

When they were younger there was also the party situation to navigate but, as they have got older, we have chosen not to spend money on parties but to have a family treat instead (sorry, I know that sounds annoyingly twee but I can’t think of any other way to describe it!).

This year we decided on a couple of days in Brighton because (a) it is a great place (b) we love it and most importantly for Teen 2 (c) it the home of Zoella and Alfie.

I was forbidden from sending some sort of embarrassing mother communication to Zalfie (I know, they even have their own super-couple nickname) begging an audience for Teen 2.  We had to be content with lurking around The Lanes with our eyes peeled for a sighting.  Teen 2 was adamant that if she did spot one of them she would not make an approach, a combination of nerves and respect for their privacy.  I did point out that they make a living out of having no privacy but this was greeted with a ‘you don’t know what you are talking about’ stare but, that said, she did carry round her hardback copy of ‘Girl Online’ in her backpack the whole time just in case she could get it signed.

I know.  Bless.

We clearly do not have promising futures as celebrity stalkers as Zalfie remained well hidden, but we did have a lovely time walking the hallowed ground upon which they had walked.  We are now trying to persuade Teen 1 to apply for Brighton University so that we have plenty more reasons to go back.

Can’t go to Brighton without a wander on the pier.

 And the best fish and chips EVER.  Thanks to the graphicfoodie.co.uk for the review.

 Breakfast at Bill’s

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 Teen 2 and her BFSB (Best Friend Since Birth) ticking a visit to Photomatic off their wish list.

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Retail therapy – Halloween pumpkins because the display was too good to resist

and an early birthday present to me, the most fantastic bag from Sophia and Matt.

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This is my new favourite shop, gorgeous things everywhere.  Sophia sold me my bag and she was very lovely; I think products from their website are going to feature heavily on my Christmas list…

Sourdough pizza at Franco Manca (highly recommended – tasty, light, and amazing prices), and a trip to the Theatre Royal Brighton.

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Last morning of the trip.  Bacon bagels from Bagelman in Hove – right on Zoella’s doorstep!

Delish.

A Morning Snapshot


A bright, warm Saturday morning, the day stretching ahead ripe with the promise of sunshine and rest.  No work today and no household chores as we are in the final days of our summer break.

Trainers on and headphones in as I leave the teens in bed, groggily catching up on the social media juggernaut that has ploughed on through the night as they slept.

Outside, the village is waking too.  Bleary eyed fathers are already herding their broods down to the beach, their silhouette a peculiar seaside monster made of crabbing nets, buckets, sun tents and all-terrain buggies.

Around the corner I side step a couple of Boden clad mummies furtively vaping with big, deep drags, sipping on takeaway coffees as they try to banish the taste of Sauvignon from the night before.

Down the hill to the town beach where the sea, glassy smooth, glints and shines in the morning sun.  I glance over to the mainland where I left the everyday niggles of normal life a few days ago, and try not to think that soon we will be back on the ferry to pick up where we left off.

I follow the sweep of the bay and slow my pace as I come up behind a few of the elder states people of the community.  Soft, washed out chambray caps sitting on pillows of white hair.  Nut brown, weather worn faces a physiological log of a lifetime of sailing.

On past the sailing club and down to the beach.  There is no sail training on today but plenty of fresh-faced children pulling dinghies out to the water’s edge, buoyancy aids flapping in the breeze, shouting to each other across the sand as they anticipate another day on the water.

Up ahead there is a gathering along the sea wall, a gang of families have erected a temporary cook out and breakfast buns are being dished out and handed down the line in a sort of bacon buttie relay.  No-one makes space for me to pass and as I cross to the other side to get by I am reminded that the ‘Down from London’ contingent often seem to leave their manners at home in Clapham but always pack their huge egos and sense of entitlement into their Musto kit bags .

Homeward bound now and I make a loop heading inland to the village.  This road is wide and tree-lined, big, moneyed houses all with their own collection of shiny four by fours lined up in the drives.  Propped up against one of the gates are the remnants of last night,  a burnt out bbq, a half full plastic pint glass, all the curtains in that house are still closed tight, it must have been a good party.

Up the hill and nearly home, the cafe on the corner  is spilling onto the pavement with morning service.  The little shop that sells everything has set out its street display of nets, painted rocks, beach balls and paperbacks.  As I put my key in the front door I spy the vaping mummies again, this time hair brushed and lipstick on as they head down to the beach to play parenting tag and relieve the dads who have completed the early morning shift.

Time to rouse the teens into action.  Let the day begin.

 

Best Summer Ever

It’s official, as of yesterday Teen 1 is no longer a uniform wearing school pupil.  She has put the last full stop on the last GCSE and emerged dazed but triumphant into what is officially the Best Summer Ever.

I did helpfully point out that it is only the last GSCE If she passes them all and doesn’t have to re-take any which didn’t go down terribly well, TBH.

However, even my helpful parental musings couldn’t ruin the mood yesterday as she gleefully stacked all her books, flash cards, coloured charts and revision timetables into bags destined to moulder in the garage.  The dining table was restored to its rightful use as a place to eat rather than a place to study, sigh, text, sigh some more, scroll through Facebook, delete Facebook because something irritated you, re-install Facebook due to FOMO, study a bit more…you get the picture.

Once the public areas of the house were ‘de-examed’, we headed upstairs to the bedroom.  It would be easy here to write a trite paragraph about teenagers bedrooms being black pits of messy despair but, fortunately, Teen 1 does not generally conform to this stereotype (that honour goes to Teen 2 who wears the teenage pit badge with pride).  Teen 1 is generally a little bit OCD about having a tidy room, some friends have even been known to be too scared to stay over lest their overnight bag caused offence.

So the fact that a certain amount of post exam fumigation was required shows what kind of pressure Teen 1 has been feeling.  We liberated half a dozen glasses, numerous yoghurt pots in varying degrees of furriness, and a rubbish bag full of wrappers that explained why I thought there was  a hungry marmoset living in the biscuit tin demolishing the contents as soon as it was re-filled.

The stained and food encrusted hoodie and shorts that seemed to be the 24 hour uniform during study leave have gone on a boil wash, windows flung open and crisp fresh linen put on the bed.  In short, order has been restored.

Teen 1 now has ten glorious weeks of freedom stretching out ahead of her.  Many plans are afoot – days out, trips to the beach, festivals, and of course the obligatory school prom (when did our secondary schools morph into poor imitations of an American high school in a Disney movie?).  All scheduled around two Summer jobs which will go some way towards funding everything.

The first event is a big beach party rumoured to be taking place sometime next week.  When I pressed for more details I was told that they hadn’t been released yet by Party Admin.  What is Party Admin ? I ask. Apparently it is a self-appointed group of fellow 16 year olds hold that regular meetings, I don’t know where but I am suspecting Costa, to organise the details of the event.  WTF? I am pretty sure that in my day we just scammed a two litre bottle of cider and hung around the back of the station for an hour or two.

So, Teen 1, if you are reading this (and I know you do, if only to make sure I am not revealing anything too embarrassing), enjoy your Best Summer Ever.  You have earned it and I couldn’t be more proud of the tremendous effort you have put in to giving every exam your best shot.  Even maths, our mutual nemesis.

Play hard, have fun, and when Party Admin finally release a schedule can you let me know?

Best Summer Ever

The Mother Book from Selfish Mother

A lot of you reading this will already be well acquainted with Selfish Mother a fantastic blogzine on family life.  Social media at its very best, Selfish Mother is bursting full of honest accounts of day to day life from the parenting coal face.  Sometimes hilarious , sometimes moving, but always very genuine, Selfish Mother is the antithesis to the ‘shiny happy people yummy mummy’ take on life.  We don’t all have to be perfect and at the end of day we are all just doing the best we can – sipping a green juice on the way to yoga or sipping a sauv blanc as soon as the clock hits 7pm, there is no right or wrong way, just your way. Selfish Mother Logo

As well as the hundreds of blogs and vlogs available on the site there is also a shop which has raised over 75k for charity to date.

Signature sweatshirts and T  shirts are the order of the day with some great kids stuff available too.

One of the most recent additions to the range is ‘The Mother Book’ a collection of posts that have featured on Selfish Mother, all lovingly curated by site founder and editor, Molly Gunn.

The Mother Book

Packed full of posts on everything from pregnancy to teenagers (including an article from yours truly in the teen section), The Mother Book is perfect to dip in and out of.  Keep it by your bed, by the loo, tucked behind the toaster…have a flick through and you will straight away find a few posts that ring very true.

As if things couldn’t get any better, Selfish Mother are giving £2 profit from every book to the charity; mothers2mothers who believe in the power of mothers to end paediatric AIDS. M2M train, employ, and empower mothers living with HIV to bring health and hope to other mothers, their families, and communities.

So, what’s not to love – a great read and a warm charity glow in one hit.  Stock up on a few and keep them in your present drawer (oh wait, I don’t have one of those, I only aspire to having one), I’m sure we all know a parent or two who needs to be reminded that they are not alone and that, to quote Selfish Mother, we are all winging it.

 

 

 

 

The Reluctant Gardener

The joy of gardening has always been a total mystery to me.  It is hard work, never ending, and to see results of your labours you have to play the long game.

I am more of an instant gratification girl.  I used to like that TV programme with Alan Titchmarsh and the woman who had no need of a bra.  They used to sweep into someone’s garden and completely transform it from a barren wasteland to a decking clad, fully flowering paradise in about 72 hours. That is my kind of gardening.

Even having a mother who is literally OBSESSED with growing, digging, cutting back and planting, and a best friend who has made a career out of the soil (she has even opened her own nursery, well worth a visit if you find yourself on the Isle of Wight), I have still never been able to bring myself to have lively chats about hardy annuals.

Until now.

There is a chink in my horticultural armour.  I have grown something!  Actually, a few things.

In between Christmas and New Year I spent a grumbly 90 minutes in the freezing rain and howling wind stuffing onions (I think ‘bulbs’ might be the technical term) into pots of earth (compost?).

My fingers went numb, my hair went frizzy, and my pink Converse got muddy.  The whole experience confirmed that all my feelings towards gardens were truly justified.  I retreated to the kitchen and sat glowering at the earth buckets as I defrosted with a cup of coffee.

But then, something happened.  The onions stared to grow.   Against my better judgement, and even though it went against all my principals, I started to take an interest.  I made a good fist of pretending not to care.  I channelled my inner 14 year old and treated the tiny shoots like they were a boy I really fancied. i.e. strolled nonchalantly into the garden pretending to be just putting the bins out whilst furtively casting desperate glances at the object of my desire.

Week by week they grew, and week by week I felt more excited until one sunny day I was greeted by the most lovely, brassy, uncoordinated mish mash of flowers (it was a sale bag of bulbs, a lucky dip of colours and varieties) all standing tall and proud, chests puffed out doing the tulip equivalent of jazz hands.

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I am not saying that I am a convert.  I will not be weeding, digging over or mulching anytime soon.  But I did, just a tiny little bit, get it.  My next project is a mini lavender farm to attract bumble bees – my contribution to protecting the ecosystem.  I know they don’t look much at the moment but I’ve got high hopes.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Does Thin Equal Happy?

When I was about 12 years old my mum came home with a new recipe book called “Cooking to Make Kids Slim”.  The front cover was a photograph of an unhappy looking plump-ish child dressed in tight shorts and a straining t shirt, standing on a set of scales.  As the podgy girl who always got picked last in PE I completely identified with this picture, it sowed the seed that fat=sad and thin=happy and marked the beginning of my dieting journey.**

Thirty four years later and I am still trying to reach the thin=happy part of the equation.  I have been on some sort of diet for most of my adult life; from mad ones that precluded all foods apart from tomatoes and edam cheese, too good to be true ones that allowed cream, chocolate and wine, to highly expensive ones that involved weekly visits to a suspicious looking ‘clinic’ somewhere off Great Portland Street.

I have been a size 8, a size 18 and spent my entire adult life madly yo-yoing between the two.

The problem is twofold.  Firstly, I love food.  Not just because it is food – I am not gratuitously mainlining Dominos pizza and Krispy Kremes. I also love all the happy associations that come with the stuff on my plate.  Family mealtimes, great nights out with friends, new tastes in another country, or simply the comfort of a bar of Dairy Milk in front of a good film.  Definitely what you would call an emotional eater.

I am fully informed.  I know that to lose weight I have to put less in and expend more, there is no magic solution to shedding the pounds.  The only real value that the bonkers diet plans hold for me are the change in routine and break in habits and, with something like Weight Watchers, the weekly weigh in of shame – nothing like the disappointed sigh from your WW leader to focus the mind.

I know I am not alone, I don’t think I have a female friend who is not on perma-weight-alert, so why do we do it?  I don’t have a burning desire to look like a particular celebrity, I am not medically obese and in a ‘diet or die’ scenario.

Do I think that if I was my perfect weight then everything else in life would fall into place and be perfect?  To be honest?  Yes, probably a little bit.  Because the self-esteem demon that has a cosy home in my brain’s frontal lobe keeps telling me so.  If I was thinner I would be happier, more successful, more liked and loved.

I will never actually find out if this is true because I will never feel that I am thin enough.  I have a postcard that someone sent me once that says “I wish I was as fat as I was the first time I thought I was fat”.  This about sums it up.  If we took a straw poll of 100 women I wonder how many would answer yes to the question ‘are you at your ideal weight?’.  And of those who answered yes, would they also answer yes to ‘has it changed your life and made you happy?’.

So as I embark on a six week pre-summer diet jaunt (giving Slimming World another go, haven’t tried them for a few years) wish me luck and, if you have the answer to the thin=happy conundrum I would love to hear it.

**Disclaimer – this is not an exercise in maternal guilt, I’m pretty sure I nagged her to buy the book…

 

Good Riddance World Book Day

Today has been a momentous day.  A joyous day.  A milestone day.

After 13 years and 26 costumes today was my last EVER World Book Day.

Time for a happy dance.

As I slapped pink paint onto egg boxes at 11.30pm last night I was smiling.

As I punched holes in the egg boxes and threaded elastic at 7.00am this morning I was almost giddy with excitement because I never, ever, ever, have to do it again.

The tyranny of the World Book Day Costume is over for me.

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I wasn’t always this curmudgeonly.   My early WBD years were earnest affairs of heavily researched and lovingly assembled costumes.  I think we probably even actually sat down and read the books together which is, after all, what it is all about.

We travelled from the pre-school days of the Cinderella dress through Pippi Longstocking to Harry/Hermione and Catniss.  Alice in Wonderland, Tracy Beaker, Where’s Wally (I know, but it is still a book although, admittedly, one without any words) they have all appeared in our fancy dress lexicon.

This year was slightly more problematic.  Teen 2, being in the final year of middle school, has kind of outgrown the book day thing so her list of requirements for a costume included minimal dressing up, a character that can be linked with other characters so that she and her friends could all be sort of the same, and something that meant they could all wear their Topshop skinny jeans.  A tall order I think you will agree.

So we settled on The Three Little Pigs – aforementioned jeans, checked shirts and pig snouts made from the late night egg box painting session.

When interrogated in the car on the way home from school Teen 2 revealed that my porcine creations had only been worn for the first five minutes of the day before being binned, so I’m quite glad that I didn’t embark on a huge sentimental last hurrah of a costume.

Good riddance World Book Day.  Next year as I walk to work passing Just William, Cruella de Vil and Fantastic Mr Fox I will smile nostalgically and think back fondly to all our own WBD costumes of the past.  I will go home and lecture Teen 1 and Teen 2 about the joys of reading and the magic of the printed word.

But I will NOT make a costume.

Definitely time for a happy dance.

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling Overwhelmed

The past couple of weeks I have mostly been feeling overwhelmed.  Not overwhelmed in a good way (A surprise party!  You guys are amazing!  I don’t know what to say!) but in a suffocating, life-can-be-quite-hard-work-and-also-a-bit-shitty-sometimes sort of a way.

It feels like all the points on my many and various to do lists have merged together and risen up in one giant wave threatening to totally engulf me in a metaphorical wipe out.  This isn’t just a single parent rant, I am well aware that there are many happy couples out there who are feeling the stress just as keenly, but having to shoulder the responsibility of everything on my own is almost certainly a contributing factor.

The worst part about it is that, no matter how much I achieve there is always more to be done waiting around the corner; work, house, children, blog, self, there is never the opportunity to sit and reflect on tasks completed or problems conquered before gearing up to fight the next battle.

Teen 1 gets frequently exasperated and points out that I am, in fact, my own worst enemy.  There are many things that I struggle to fit in to a day that she views as unnecessary and, while our benchmarks of necessity are vastly different (when you are 16 years old cleaning the bathroom and running the hoover round do not feature highly on a priority list), I do know that I tend to fill every minute with activity in a slightly manic way.  Any self-help junkie worth her salt knows that occupation is the enemy of depression, time spent re-organising a kitchen cupboard is time that could otherwise be lost to dark thoughts and naval gazing.

The trick to getting a better balance whilst still keeping busy would be to master the art of filling vacant time pockets with things that benefit your mental state.  Swap weeding the garden for a yoga session, replace cleaning the oven with a twenty minute coffee break and a couple of chapters of a good book.  All very good in theory, and some people I know manage this very well – I am nothing but envious.  I have tried to emulate the method but the hairy guilt monster lurks so fiercely over me for the duration of the yoga/coffee/reading whatever session that any benefit is outweighed by the thoughts of all the other things I really should be doing.

So, in an effort to try and release some of the pressure I think the answer for someone like me is to try and ‘re-brand’ a few of the things that are on life’s to-do list.  Scrubbing the loo is always going to be a rotten chore so no point trying to alter those kind of duties, but there are other activities that have become a burden that need not to be.  Walking the dog always feels like a pain in the neck that eats into every day when, in fact, it is a fantastic opportunity to breathe fresh air, stretch muscles, and chew over thoughts and ideas uninterrupted.  Writing this blog should not be a task that hangs over me demanding attention but a brilliant hobby to be savoured and enjoyed.

I put this theory to the test this weekend.  Teens 1 and 2 are away and the prospect of two whole days with no meals to make or taxi duties to perform made me concoct a massive list of tasks that I wanted to get done.  Everything was on there from tidy and re-organise the garage to cleaning all the windows to spring cleaning the goldfish bowl.  I screwed my courage to the sticking post and chose one thing – shorten the pair of curtains I got on Ebay so that they actually fit the window.  I fired up the Iplayer and found a couple of engrossing plays on Radio 4 and got to work.  The job took longer than expected (don’t they always) and actually took all day but, do you know what?  It didn’t matter.  I had a happy and relaxing time pinning and sewing, lost myself in some radio drama and at the end of the day had completed a task that has been bugging me for months.

The re-branding experiment was a success.  It remains to be seen whether I can roll out the pilot scheme into everyday life, I suspect it might be a work in progress, but for now at least I have built a temporary dam in the fast flowing river of pressure that was threatening to sweep me away.

Feeling Overwhelmed

What (Not) To Wear

One of the pluses of your children getting older is that you have a little more opportunity to think about yourself.  Life is no less busy but in a different way – mother and toddler group replaced by late night pick-ups from parties or cinema, pre-primary ballet superseded by GSCE revision.  However, the days of staggering out of the house, bleary eyed from sleep deprivation, with baby sick and toddler Weetabix encrusted onto your sweatpants, are in the past.  The only downside is that when your children are three and six they still like you and greet every outfit with “Mummy, you look like a Princess!”.  Ten years on and my sartorial decisions are generally met with an eye roll, a sneer and the teenage equivalent of “you’re not going out dressed like that are you?”.

So, in the spirit of all self respecting magazine articles aimed at woman in their mid forties, I decided it was time to implement a bit of an image audit and try to regain some of the polish I think I must have had back the heady days before children.

This is obviously not going to be an overnight process.  In fact, it is a mission for 2016, so no pressure to be transformed in record time.  I don’t really want to be completely transformed, I would settle for marginally improved – set the bar quite low and anything else is a bonus is my theory.

Step one took place last week when I spent the morning having a ‘Colour Me Beautiful’ consultation.  Twenty years ago this system of colour analysis was all the rage.  People were flinging scarves on you at every opportunity and labelling you as Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter depending on your palette.  To be honest, I was always a bit sceptical and never took any of the opportunities to have my colours done – it all seemed a bit New Age and bonkers.  Then, a few years ago, I was out with a friend and we were idly browsing the rails in a clothes shop.  As we flicked through the hangers the friend dived into her bag and pulled out a little wallet filled with coloured bits of fabric which she proceeded to hold up against the clothes in the shop.  It turned out that she was a colour analysis devotee and would not entertain the thought of buying something that did not feature in her range of given colours.  As we were discussing this I realised that yes, she did always look lovely and always ‘right’.  Not because of the latest fashions or massively expensive purchases but because whatever she wears is entirely appropriate to her skin tone, hair colour, body shape and style.

I was prepared to be talked around and booked myself an appointment with the wonderfully monikered Fennella Flor (yes, it is her real name, I asked!  I love it, it makes her sound like a 1950s movie studio starlet), a Bournemouth based consultant for Colour Me Beautiful.  I had booked in for the full works, colour, make up and style – an approximately four hour session with a light lunch included.

Fennella sat me in front of a mirror in the window (natural light is key to the process) and created a blank canvas by covering my clothes in an off-white gown.  She then proceeded to drape different coloured squares over me holding them to my face to see what worked.  The funny thing was, it actually did make a difference.  Colours that I thought suited me such as dark navy and shocking pink actually sucked the life out of my skin whilst some shades of green and teal (yes, teal) made my skin tone glow and eyes shine.  I was instantly converted and we spent a happy couple of hours drilling down the exact colours that are right for me and loading them into my own personal wallet so that I too can be the person in the shop furtively comparing clothes to fabric swatches.  Interestingly Colour Me Beautiful no longer use the seasons to categorize clients, as a global company it did not make sense when the seasons invoke different colours depending where in the world you live.  Instead they use groupings of light, deep, warm, cool, clear and soft in varying combinations.  Turns out I am warm and soft with lots of tones of green, camel and lighter blues in my wallet.

Colours sorted it was onto style and make up.  The style section of the consultation is where you try and work out what style of clothes suit your body shape and lifestyle, it is a good opportunity to have a hard think about making some changes and stepping out of your comfort zone.  I finished the session with some homework – going home to my wardrobe and weeding out the wrong colours and shapes as well as items that are more the ‘old’ you than the ‘new’.  This posed a bit of a problem for me as one of the things that emerged from the session as that I should stop wearing stripes.  What, no stripes?  That is 85% of my wardrobe obliterated in one hit.  I’m not sure I’m ready to bin all the Bretons in one go, that will have to be a gradual withdrawl.

I came away from Fennella’s studio feeling fired up and ready to shed my mummy chrysalis.  I have my wallet of colour swatches and tons of great advice on ways to update and improve my look.  What I really need now is a Fennella Flor clone to be with me whenever I go shopping and every time I look in the wardrobe to choose what to wear.  I’m definitely converted to colour analysis and the whole experience was not only really good fun but a perfect springboard to my 2016 improvement mission.

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I think I need to join SA – Stripes Anonymous…

 

 

Why I Hate January

January2How is it possible that it is only the 12th January?  It feels like every January day lasts the equivalent of three days of any other month of the year.  It labours on, dragging its schoolbag and scuffing its toes, rolling its eyes and scowling.

It is not helped by the new beginnings and health kicks that millions of us embark upon as soon as the sun comes up on New Years Day.  If we were cavemen (woman/people/whatevs), we would be using January to keep warm, conserve fat and generally hunker down until life becomes a bit more bearable.  January in the modern age  is the exact opposite, and there are many reasons for it to be the most hated bully in the calendar playground.

  • Dry January. Seriously, who invented this? Of all the days that little glass of red is needed to take the edge off, the gloomy 31 at the start of each year are the most obvious. I have embarked on this for the past three years and only achieved it once so far. This year ended after a record one week! All power to those of you who stick it out but I am happy with my edited version of ‘not on a school night’. *
  • Spiralizers. Let it be known that I have not eaten, and never will eat, spaghetti made out of a courgette. No matter how much you preach at me with evangelical zeal, waving a Lakeland catalogue in my face as you list the virtues of the versatility of vegetabletini. I want carbs.
  • Nutribullets. Several times over the past couple of months I have found myself browsing the shopping pages for a Nutribullet. Why? Because of peer pressure from the juicing brigade. It is January, I feel that it is my duty to carry a cup of kaley green sludge to the office with me. It will make my hair shiny and my skin glow. I will become thin and fit. OR, I will be £100 odd pounds poorer and after two weeks will have to find space in the cupboard for yet another redundant gadget. This one could go either way, my finger is still hovering over the ‘add to cart’ button…
  • Resolutions. The list to end all lists. The list that contains 95% recycled points from every year that has gone before. The list that can only lead to self-flagellation, despair, reproach and depression. The warm glow generated by writing down all the changes you plan to make is soon cancelled out by the realization that you haven’t actually achieved any of them.
  • Money. Or lack of it. Since January often starts with a deficit (even my most carefully budgeted Christmases go awry at the last minute when the panic sets in) it can only go downhill. There really is nothing but bad news on the bank statement and, when you think it must be nearly payday, a glance at the calendar tells you there are still two weeks to go. There is a silver lining though, a proper cast iron excuse not to buy that nutribullet.

As I’m writing I realise that I could go on and on – celebrity fitness DVDs, grey and drying skin, rubbish weather and days where the sun never seems to rise before it sinks.  So I think I’ll make like a Neanderthal.  Snuggle down, carb up, put my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until February knocks on the door of my cave.

*for the trivia hounds among you the actual answer to that question is the charity Alcohol Concern as they trademarked the phrase in 2014, although the Finnish government spearheaded a similar campaign called ‘Sober January’ in 1942 as part of its war effort.

The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor

The Winter Children“Nothing seems to have any point if she can’t have Dan…”

Unrequited love, broken hearts, the pain of infertility, the pain of childbirth – both longed for and not wanted. The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor draws up all these topics into a neat and compelling bundle that had me engrossed from the first chapter.

Francesca and Dan have been friends for twenty years, since their shared time at Cambridge University. In that time Olivia has joined them as Dan’s wife and the three of them enjoy a seemingly happy and easy friendship. Such is the friendship that when Dan and Olivia are almost torn apart by their infertility Francesca steps up with a selfless offer that is their salvation.

A beautiful, happy family follows and, when Olivia and Dan find themselves in need of a new home Francesca is quick to offer them rent free luxury in a cottage in the grounds of her grand renovation project – the majestic but adandoned Renniston Hall.

As the story unfolds we are drawn in to the complex connections between characters past and present and it soon becomes clear that Francesca’s motives are not altruistic.

This book is a thriller and a tale of love, both contemporary and historical. It is a really enjoyable  story which twists and turns without being contrived, and the characters leap from the page to stay with you long after you have put the book down.

Fans of an ambiguous ending may be disappointed as the book has a fairly clear resolution but, for me, it worked well to finish the story this way.

The Winter Children is a book that you will want to read in one sitting, it sweeps you along and the story and characters were so vivid in my mind that I almost feel I have watched it as a TV drama in HD. I would highly recommend it and, in fact, have already done so to my mum who loved it and Teen 1 who has it in her holding pattern of books to be read. Tri-generational appeal and perfect if you are lucky enough to have a few more days of Christmas holidays left to play with.

My copy of The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor was given to me free of charge for the purposes of this review for Mumsnet Bloggers Network (thank you!). Opinions are all my own.