Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas is for big kids too.

I bloody love Christmas! I'm the biggest child going at this time of year and always run the risk of peaking too soon. Take the presents: The real kids in the house know not to leave mummy's presents lying around as I will hunt them down and find them. I cannot be trusted. It's not the present(s) per se, but I get overexcited and cannot bear knowing a surprise is coming. When they were little I used to prise out of them what they'd seen FH buy. (Prise? Who am I kidding, it was like taking candy canes from a baby.)  The FH used to use techniques not unlike the SAS to keep them away from me, even resorting to storing them in the garden shed one year. Rookie mistake. He finally took to hiding them at his parents' house, only for me to realise if I wanted to know what I had to look forward to I just needed to find the receipts in his wallet... Yes, I know. I am very bad. So now they are wise to it, my children think it's hilarious to give me false clues. D1 "Sssh, don't tell mum about the orange plastic apron we got her... Oh, hi mum, didn't see you there".

Of course, I LOVE the whole festive thing for the girls too. When I was a kid my brother, sister and I used to drag mum and dad out of bed at 5am to check out the bootie under the tree. When my two were younger, I used to be lying there wide awake waiting for them to get up . One year, it got to 7am and I was beside myself with excitement. I started crashing around on the landing, turning the light on and exclaiming in a loud voice "ooh, I wonder if Santa has been yet?". Eventually they woke up but I can't say I wasn't a bit disappointed that I had raised such Christmas amateurs.

This week we've had D2's school Christmas Fayre and Carol Concert. I sang my not insubstantial lungs out to everything, peaking with the 'Gloria's'. D1 was mortified but I didn't let that stop me. It was a lovely service and I still felt uplifted by it when I woke up. In the shower, I gave an encore of all of the previous nights ditties, and a smattering of my personal favourites. When I turned the shower off, I heard D1 and D2 singing too - they'd been accompanying me all along.

But I must admit I had been a tiny bit worried that my yuletide enthusiasm had left me after the disaster that was last Christmas. It was, without a doubt, the worst I've ever had. In the run up I had a major upset, I was facing the hardest and final part of some huge life changing challenges and to compound it all I ended up with flu. I spent most of Christmas week wading through boxes of tissues and alternating between Beechams and Quality Street (generally whilst lying on the new Wii Fit mat. Glad to see it was good for something.). So I was more than a little relieved when I could feel the familiar excitement welling this year. I'd not lost it.

And as for the presents, I genuinely don't care what I have or haven't got. No, I mean it. I've not even tried to find out from the girls. (Well, just once, but that was more for their benefit than mine.) Because after everything we've been through this year, I realise that  I already have everything I need.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Making a meal of it

I think it's fair to say that I'm not the world's most talented cook. I learnt to make a mean spag bol at Poly, testing the spaghetti the student way - by chucking it at the ceiling. (I can't remember if it's done when it sticks, or vice versa.) And then there were the 15 vegetarian years, when Linda McCartney was my best friend. Lentil bake? Yum. The unfortunate residual effect of my years as a veggie mean that any meat I now cook isn't allowed out of the oven until we start singing 'Jerusalem'. As proof that my talents lie elsewhere, I even have a fridge magnet which declares "I kiss better than I cook" which is probably a bit more information than is necessary here...

But what tiny amount of skill I had in the kitchen has had the heart and soul ripped out of it by the two gorgeous creatures who share my house, to the point where I now absolutely dread mealtimes. D2 has always been a fussy little horror. She will not touch anything with a sauce (which rules out said spag bol, lasagne, chilli, curry, pie of the shepherd or fish variety, meatballs, pasta bake.... the list goes on).  D1, who used to eat everything on the planet except broccoli, has now declared that she's "never liked" all the things she ate as a small child, even jacket potatoes. I mean, who doesn't like jacket potatoes?

It gets worse. With chips as the only exception to the rule, everything that one daughter likes the other professes to hate. Whilst D2 is a tiny carnivore who demolishes any meat put in front of her with the fervour of a sabre tooth tiger regardless of how incinerated her mother makes it (and broccoli), D1 is a wannabe veggie, if she would only give up KFC, bacon and pepperoni pizza.

So my repertoire of meals they will both eat with no or minor variation extends to just four:
 - Risotto
- Toad in the hole
- Chicken wrapped in bacon with pesto (omit pesto for D2)
 - Roast (D1 has the meat soaked in gravy, D2 - bone dry)

Most nights I cook two options to keep everyone happy. And I rarely experiment. What's the point? I could spend an hour pottering about at the stove, a bit of this, a bit of that, and only have a 50% chance of one of them eating it. To keep my sanity, I've just introduced one night of the week where we have 'freezer surprise'.  They choose, I 'cook'. You've got to love Captain Birds Eye.

If you are reading this and thinking "well, she should have been stricter when they were little" I don't blame you, I would say the same. Except I was! They ate a huge variety of foods. D2 doesn't believe me when I tell her she used to eat such outrageous things as butternut squash and sweet potato puree. They both point blank refuse to believe they ate, and liked, marmite. I've always been in the 'love it' camp, so it was only natural they should eat it too. Besides, watching your baby's face contort with a "what the **** was that???" when they try it for the first time is sweet payback for the sleepless nights. Pretty much whatever I used to spoon into their open mouths they'd love. I just wish I knew when it all changed.

But for now I have to sit back and envy friends who decide what they want to cook and prepare just one meal for the whole family. Or perhaps I should just experiment with the one area of my cooking which is always a success and guaranteed to put a smile on their faces, leaving them wanting more. Broccoli and marmite cupcakes anyone?

Footnote: D1 read this and said "I keep meaning to say, I've gone right off that bacon and chicken pesto thing". 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

A sorry tale.

I'm going to massively generalise here. Why is it that we women on the whole feel compelled to apologise, even when it's not our fault? And I do mean genuinely not our fault before any blokes reading this start rolling their eyes and saying "it's never your fault".

One afternoon this week, I was in a narrow one-way street with cars parked on both sides, waiting patiently for the car in front of the car in front to parallel park. There was a queue of traffic behind me and the deed was almost done when <CRUNCH> the car behind went straight into the back of me. I muttered something like 'oh, goodness, what can have happened?' (ok, so there were a few biological and biblical words in there too) and we dutifully pulled into the bus stop to examine the damage. The other driver -  yes, it was a woman - jumped out of the car and starting apologising over and over. Now I know you're not supposed to do that in an accident but it did diffuse the situation instantly. Turns out she thought I'd moved off (?). We went to inspect the damage.

Let's just talk cars here for a second - they were both the same colour. Kidding! I know what models they are. I have a dreaded 4x4 though in my defence, it's a very compact and bijou one, while she was driving a Ford Focus. Her car hit mine under the spare wheel on the back. Both of us were rubbing the wheel casing to see if there was any damage and what I thought was a scrape turned out to be dirt. Phew. (Note to self, get the car washed!) Then we turned to look at her car. At the crumpled, dented, paint-chipped bonnet...

As we exchanged details just to be on the safe side she laughed slightly hysterically saying "I can't believe there's not a mark on yours but mine's all bashed up". The bizzare thing is, at this point I went to say "sorry" even though I'd done nothing wrong! Maybe I meant, I'm sorry for your lack of concentration. Or for the fact that my spare wheel was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or for your pain. Or for the pain you'll feel if there's a Mr Ford Focus at home to explain it to (yes, massively generalising again). I just think maybe the reason I felt compelled to apologise was to try and make her feel better plus the fact that I was so relieved  my car lived to tell the tale. So  maybe sorry wouldn't have been out of place after all. I didn't actually say it though - are you mad? It wasn't my fault!!

Monday, 15 November 2010

For grown up readers only!

With Christmas only 5 weeks away, I am especially aware this year that it will be like no other. For a start, we are in our new home. This is a novelty for all of us. The girls had both only ever known the previous house and 11 years was the longest I've ever stayed in one place, so we are very excited about finding new places for the tree and the decorations. And of course this home will be the start of a whole new bunch of memories with just the three of us.

The other major change this year came about one rainy Wednesday morning back in February. D1 was putting her breakfast things in the dishwasher (hallelujah!), D2 was sitting at the kitchen table eating her Cheerios and I was sipping a cup of tea and writing yet another cheque to the school for some trip or other. It was oddly calm for a school day.

Until D2 lifted her head from her bowl. "Muuummy...? Tell me the truth. You are really Santa, aren't you?". D1, who was already privy to the truth about the man in red, gawped at me with a mixture of horror and 'where the heck did that come from' which kind of reflected my own thoughts. I tried pretending I'd not heard to see if she'd move on, but she didn't so I then did what can only be described as an impression of a guppy fish. I opened my mouth and closed it. Twice. She asked me again. "You are, aren't you?".

Now awful as it seems, it wasn't a big deal when D1 found out. She didn't seem overly bothered and besides she was then under threat of withdrawal of all future booty if she told her little sister so she was happy to continue the secret. In fact, we'd had some fun with it that year when D2 was trying to leave a Bournville square on Santa's tray (yuk) and D1 said 'oh, he'd much prefer a purple caramel nut'  mouthing behind her back "you owe me". But here was my baby virtually begging me to come clean and I was completely torn. So I played for time: "What do you think, darling?" says I. She then listed several reasons why she thought it was me and eventually, I just slowly nodded. To which she burst into horrified tears and threw her head down on the table sobbing. It turned out she wanted to be wrong. She's howling "but you lied to me, mummy!", I'm apologising (?) and her big sister is saying "mum's only joking, she's not really".

I took the righteous route at this point and said something to the effect that perhaps it's best that she knows the truth and that mummy was only lying for fun and that all parents were basically liars but only about that one magical thing (safety in numbers, I'm thinking). Then we had a bit of a giggle as she listed all the things 'Santa' had done over the years - snowy foot prints "which made you really cross", thank you's for the mince pies and Baileys (I'm not daft) written in red crayon with my left hand. And the time I refused to buy her a Bratz doll, but 'naughty Santa' brought one anyway, basically absolving myself of any responsibility in the decision to buy my then six year old a pert plastic hooker. So, after she calmed down, she went off to finish getting ready for school leaving me completely washed out. As she was putting on her shoes, she looked up at me with her enormous brown eyes and said "I'm just glad you're not the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy too".

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Sock it to 'em

I have to admit to being a teeny bit OCD about keeping my house tidy. This has always been the case to a degree, but now that it's only my name on the mortgage, I'm just a little bit more so. I'm not totally obsessed but I'm forever reminded of my mum's call of 'a place for everything and everything in it's place'. This works well everywhere except two rooms. Yup, the daughters' bedrooms. I only really venture in their rooms at bedtime - what can I say, they both still like me to tuck them in - but then I find the day ending on a sour note as I survey the clothes strewn on the floor, tissues, sweet wrappers, plates (even with the no-food-in-the-bedroom rule), price tags, old plasters (eugh) and that's before we got to the hundred weight of teddies and toys in one room, and guitars, toiletries and accessories in the other.

I decided this week that enough was enough. I called a family conference and announced I was increasing their pocket money. Delight from less cynical D2 and thinly veiled suspicion from D1 (can't think where she gets her skepticism at such a young age). Then I explained the catch: We were spending Saturday morning gutting their bedrooms, throwing out all the crubbish they've outgrown to make way for more crubbish at Christmas (Crubbish is a word I developed when the girls were little and repeating everything. I'd go to say 'Look at the this bedroom'... ). Once the rooms were organised, they were to be kept that way, the penalty being the reduction of their filthy bribe (oops) pocket money. Cue rolling of eyes from both. I think my money is safe.

But they attacked the job with unusual enthusiasm and though it spread into the afternoon, four black sacks, several boxes in the loft, Cheryl Cole and Eliza Dolittle for support and a bacon sandwich or two for sustenance later and we were done. As the day progressed I had been vaguely aware of the increasing number of socks hitting the laundry basket from every crevice and bag uncovered. After they'd gone to their dads, I counted the socks coming out of the washing machine (hmm... not sure I've quite got the hang of this single, child-free evening thing.) There were 74 of the little devils in varying shade, size and length, most of them odd. I know the fashion is for mis-matched socks but how can my children have 74 socks they can afford to lose?!

I took a photo of the whole big heap and texted it to D1. She sent back "that is sooo coool!" I'm so happy she liked it, because when she and D2 get back tonight the first thing they will be doing is sorting out the 'soooo coool' heap. I only wish I could be sure the very same socks won't  be cropping up in the dark recesses of their rooms in the next pre-Christmas cull.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Say 'cheese'!

As if my life isn't busy enough as well as a couple of two-legged creatures requiring my constant attention, I also have a matching set of four-legged sisters too.

My moggies are almost 16 and 17 and are doing really well for a couple of OAPs. They have a love/hate relationship with each other and though I suspect underneath they adore each other, they are like their human counterparts in that they too fight like cat and well, cat. But the youngest one had a massive increase in appetite lately, yet her waistline was diminishing shockingly. Sherlock Holmes here Googled her symptoms and came to the conclusion she was either sticking her paw down her throat when left alone or she had a thyroid issue.

£375 later - various blood tests and "we'd just better check fors" - and the vet confirmed my DIY diagnosis: my feline has a problem that I'm ashamed to admit I'd love to have: hyperthyroidism. Basically, however much she stuffs into her furry face, she keeps losing weight. Oh, the cruel irony as I fight my own battle of the bulge. Without the magic pills which cost a hefty £1.50 a day for the rest of her life she could have a heart attack at any minute. Ok, so not coveting the condition so much now.

But would she take the pills? Oh, no. I tried a contraption that catapulted (no pun intended) them down her little throat which worked for one time only til she got wise to it then clamped her jaws shut and no amount of gently squeezing and coaxing would convince her to open up. (For a moment I was worried the potential heart attack would happen there and then on my lap in the course of me trying to improve her life expectancy). I had to work out how to administer the tablets every single day without drama.

Fortunately, Miss B loves cheese. She goes wild for a bit of good old fashioned cheddar. So now, in my house, 5pm every day is known as 'cheese o'clock'. It goes like this: cut three bite size pieces of cheese whilst cat is pawing your leg and miaowing off the scale with excitement. Press tablets into two of them. Then with lightening speed so she doesn't get a chance to a) notice the tablets b) spit out the tablets, deliver first the starter, then the main course. Dessert in the form of the final piece of cheese is vital in case one of the tablets is being saved up for regurgitation. The swift delivery ensures that everything is gulped down greedily. I then scan the area as on two occasions I've found a tiny little discarded pink pill despite my best efforts. Usually, it works a treat. One time I was in the middle of a baking session when cheese o'clock came round. For that day only, it became 'butter icing o'clock'. Oh, how she loved her mummy then.

The trouble is, I think she's playing on it. I mean, the vet tells me she's putting on weight and doing really well. Which is great news. She is a valued member of our family and I don't mind the expense. Much.  But knowing what my love of all things fromage does to my own hips and to my general well-being, I can't help but wonder: if I still gave her the pound of cheese a week without the tablets, would we have the same results?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Just a regular Monday morning.

As any busy working mum knows, the mornings spent deliberating over the perfect accessory for your outfit and a leisurely breakfast whilst catching up on the world news, went out of the window in the delivery room. More than likely we are to be found grabbing the nearest items of clothing that vaguely go together then pushing the hoover round, whilst mentally writing a shopping list for the lunchtime supermarket sweep.

So, not unusually on a sunny Monday morning, I was dressed and ready for work and about to hang two loads of washing on the line. With eldest child already packed off to school, I shouted up to youngest child to hurry up and brush teeth, hair, find shoes and get school bag together while I made my way to the washing line at the end of the garden. After an almost enjoyable fifteen minutes in the morning sunshine hanging out the smalls, I called upstairs to find out how the preparations were going. I could hear hysterical crying getting louder as I ran upstairs. The sound was coming from my bedroom, but when I pushed the door it was locked shut. Except I don't have a lock on my bedroom door. The little voice inside had obviously been calling and calling and sobbing for ages while I was outside and she explained how she'd gone in to use my hairbrush, pushed the door extra tightly shut to keep the cat off my bed (good girl) but in the process it had jammed solid.

Telling little one to stand back, don't worry, mummy will get you out (yeah, right), I first tried a screwdriver to prise the ball on the lock. No joy. I then put my not inconsiderable weight into it by slamming my shoulder against the door but it would not budge. Whilst the thought of firemen having to be called to get her out was not the most unpleasant prospect, being late for work was, so I had to come up with a plan. And fast.

I have a scared, trapped child and the clock is ticking...  there was nothing for it. Taking off my heels, I sat down on a low chest of draws on the landing, and putting all my faith in my gluteus maximus, used both feet to kick the door in. The look on little one's face when the door flew open and I was still in the prone position was hilarious. Her fear disappeared immediately and she burst out laughing. I hugged her and established she was ok, then hurried her off to finish getting ready - she'd not even brushed her hair whilst trapped in there, of course.

As I adjusted clothing and got ready to leave for work again, she turned to me and said "mummy, you looked just like kung-fu panda." Not bad for 8.30 in the morning.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

No, this isn't a DIY blog...

...which might seem strange given the title. I wanted to write about the daily madness and new experiences that come from setting up a home on your own, sans partner, with two kids. Now though I fit into the bracket of  'single mother' I feel a bit old to hold such a title. I mean, I'm just about middle aged now, so my kids tell me.

No, the reason for the title, is that despite the fact I was always an independent kind of gal/wife, I have never, ever, picked up a drill. It just seemed to be one of those gadgets that categorically WAS. NOT. FOR. ME. I mean, I could wield a hammer, paint stripping gun, a lawnmower (actually, that's a lie. I promise, that was the only other thing in my previous incarnation I didn't use. Well, and an electric saw, but now we're talking very big boy toys so I think that's excused...) Anyway, you get the idea. But the time came when I realised if I could only get half of the things propped against walls UP on the walls I'd actually have a kind of unpacked and sorted new house.

Like any good grown up, I researched the best one, looking at power levels and number of attachments and in the end bought one that fitted my criteria perfectly - I could get in Argos on the way home and had enough Nectar points to pay for it. There was a slight anti-climax when I got home and slightly breathelessly plopped open the very professional looking box, only to find I had to charge the damn thing for hours before I could use it. Pah.

Anyway, I won't bore you with the intricate details of what I did (suffice to say my first job was to hang a hand carved wooden 'dove from above' that my lovely friend's hubby had made me for my birthday months and months ago and had just been sitting on the floor waiting to soar). Within about 3 minutes of taking aim and a deep breathe, my beautiful dove was flying high on my porch wall exactly as it should be. And I burst into tears. Such liberation and pride! Or silly bugger, whichever way you want to look at it.