Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Waiting Game

It is funny, the whole infertility thing - but not very amusing. In your twenties it never crosses your mind, birth control seeming more relevant. Now it seems to be socially acceptable to chatter about conception tips, vitamins and supplements and even compare notes on consultants.

 I think it is great now that infertility is no longer a taboo subject. However, I still struggled to find sympathy for Mylene Klass when she bemoaned her 18 month wait to conceive. 18 months? The Pickle is 4 and we have never not been trying! I feel a bitch, but fertility and hormones are bound in together, and even if I am pleased that she is now expecting I can't empathise with her wait.
I am amazed by the attitudes to it. I was in casualty one long night recently and chatting to a consultant; he was talking about his training and the different jobs he had done. He revealed how the one job he could not do is fertility. He looked at me, saying how unfair it was the people like us struggled to conceive then others had issues over how to control their families - by implication talking about who deserves children. I don't subscribe to that way of thinking, there are no undeserving Mums, just a range of stories from triumph the tragedy about struggling to do our best (or just to cope). But, even then it is still loaded; someone I care about is undergoing IVF for a first child - I find it hard not to consider that maybe she really deserves the luck more than me.

It is certainly, for me, so different second time around. Before the Pickle every period was difficult, another month of hopes dashed. When we finally got to see the consultant I was told to loose weight and then they would see me in a few months time. So I did a major detox and sure enough I got pregnant. Was it the detox? I am not sure, we got more strategic about when we tried, I was taking vitamin supplements and going to a homeopath - so it may have been any of a number of reasons, or just Mother Nature kicking in.

This time around I have found the detox more difficult, in fact my effort could be described as best as half hearted. When I last checked, many months ago, I was at the same weight as when the Pickle was conceived. I have given up caffeine and since being a Mum my drinking is not what it used to be. It is only recently when the medical intervention has really started that I have got religious about my folic acid.

So where are we now? Mildly hopeless but hopeful (I don't think think that is an oxymoron or a Jane Austen title 'Sense and Sensibility'/'Pride and Prejudice/'Hopeless but Hopeful'?). The medical intervention? That is a story for another day. 

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Dear Father Christmas

What should I do? I just had a horrible conversation with my Big Bruv and I am in pieces. You see, Big Bruv has been a rock for me, as my relationship with the Mumster has floundered, when I suffered miscarriages and when life has seemed cruel you have always been there. He offered us whatever support we needed when my FiL died, so why now is he laying down the law?

It is all about where we spend Christmas. My family verses the in-laws.

There has always been something magical about being at 'home' with you over Christmas. The house holds a lifetime of special memories drenched in tradition. Each year barely deviating from the minute by minute agenda set at birth, the the walls all echoing to the sound of past Christmases. Just coming through the doors and smelling the two large Christmas trees transports me back to the time when Christmas was the focal point of the year, when cynicism had not set in, and when Christmas was just uncomplicated joy. But this year, things are not so simple - and now that I have my own family is your house still really my home?

Things got tougher when Daddy got ill - but we stuck together. The Hubster and his family never questioned that he should be with me, and my family, both in Daddy's last Christmas and the next few years after that.

Now I find that I am the hopes, and more pertinently, the fears of my generation of the family. The Hubster's Dad has just died and I thought that what was right for one family was right for another and I volunteered to change plans to be with his family. This Mum had asked politely on numerous occasions if we may be available, and wanting to support an 80 year old widow we had said that we would spend Christmas with her.

Now Big Bruv has said that there will be (to quote) "a nuclear explosion" if I do that. Citing the fact that the Hubster is one of five and they have a big family and could cope without us. I do understand that it may be a bit dull just Big Bruv, the Mumster and the Maiden Aunt (particularly the Maiden Aunt) but still I feel it would be the right thing to be there for my MiL.

What should I do, Father Christmas? Give in to Big Bruv's threats or risk a family schism? If I do that I will devastate the Hubster's family by dragging him away from them. If Big Bruv was married this may not be so critical, but should I be forced to compensate for that? I have spent the last 24 hours in tears and vacillate wildly between anger and capitulation.

By the way, as I am writing to you anyway, here is the Pickle's Christmas Wish list:
Sunflower seeds
A pair of scissors
A pair of wellies
A Hello Kitty Sticker Machine
A crash helmet with a Daisy on it (okay I may have subconsciously implanted that one as I know that we are giving her a bike).

A sage response to my quandary would be greatly appreciated!
As ever,

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I am

While writing the last post I was reminded how I have not linked up to the Sleep is for the Weak writing workshop for a while. So I have decided to take Josie's advice and just take the plunge - and I am seemed a pertinent follow on from the last two posts.

I am...
... individual. I don't mean to but I do things my own way and this can make me unconventional at times.
...creative.  This is not a boast, but it is just who I am. I am not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg with the creative / individual comment.
...a wife and mother as well as being a feminist. I wonder at times if there is any conflict between these but as they are all so much part of me I accept and enjoy!
... kind. I have foot in mouth disease, but I genuinely think that despite some of the outrageous things I say (by accident) I always try to find the good in everyone and everything. I try never to pre-judge, and give loads of benefit of the doubt.
...40 but I still feel that I have loads of life and new beginnings to come. need of a bit of a kick up the bum! I need to loose some weight and refocus after this year of hell.
...ethical. I believe that all my actions have impact in the world at large. I have no expectations for friends and family, I love them as they are, but I won't be serving Nestle coffee and fois gras in my house.! At 40 I realise I have strength and weaknesses, sometimes my looks would frighten a small child but I can scrub up. I have had great times, sad times, done things I am proud of and things that I would prefer to gloss over. Good and bad, I'm me and really quite happy with who I am - just give me that kick to remind me to make the most of this life.

Good Grief

 I don't think that there is a good way to die, but at times I think that my Dad's was the worst. He had early on set dementia (like Alzheimer's for younger people) and it took years to watch him slide towards death. It is hard to say when charm turned to eccentricity and eccentricity to inappropriate behaviour, and likewise his stuttering became aphasia and then he just forgot how to talk.

As he got more ill I decided to give up my job and study for a Masters as I could study from my parents home and be around when I was needed. As his health deteriorated by personal life seemed to be on the up. I met the Provite and two years later he asked me to marry him.  It has great to have something positive to think about to distract from the illness - and  I realise how important it is for me to know that the two men I love the most got to meet while my Dad could still just communicate.

We could not really predict the trajectory of the illness so we set the wedding date for two weeks after I handed in my long study for my Masters in September and the planning began.  Sadly my Dad did not make it,  he died six months before our wedding.

It was great as we had something positive to focus on after the funeral, we had the reading that included 'A time to weep, a time to laugh' at both funeral and wedding as a poignant reminder of the tumultuous year.

But maybe we focused two much on seeing the good side and glossed over the need to weep. I remember after the funeral everybody came back to the house; I was walking in after the private family burial and being accosted by someone who was insistent that we talked as his son was getting married in September - I remember repeating calmly to him that I wanted to put down my coat before talking, time after time when he did not listen until I finally just fled upstairs. That seemed to set the tone for the mourning. 

All seemed to be going well and it is now eight years since his death. This year my usual calm has been shaken, as readers of the blog may have noticed. After reading 'They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life' by Oliver James I was determined to unpick my past so that I could be a better parent to the Pickle.

This dredged up so much! My parents had a simple facade - if there was a duff decision, it was my Mum's fault and if anything was cool that was because of my Dad. Nobody presented it that way, but folklore is often based on prejudice and this myth was built up. I do have a rocky relationship with my Mum but I have been forced to accept that it may have been a little unfair.

Then my Father in Law died...he was the most amazing man and his death came as quite a shock even though we knew that he had terminal cancer. He just seemed so strong and indestructible. My first concern was the Hubster, then his Mum and my step children. But why was I finding it so hard to keep it together?

I was crying when walking the dog, crying at my desk, generally crying when the Hubster was not around to see me! I felt like an Oscar Wilde character "To lose one father, Ms Dawnay, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness". I was not sure if I was crying for my Dad, for Leon, for the miscarriage, depression that was settling on me from general life  - but I was sad and I was crying!

I survived the funeral - thanks to my amazing sister in law's gentle comforting. I was not a soggy mess, just a few appropriate tears (although what is appropriate is any body's guess) and I was strong enough to be there for the Hubster.

I am now feeling strangely free - I have cried away so much past hurt. I feel as if I am starting to move ahead and can look more clearly to my future. After a year of feeling blocked in my issues beyond my control, I can now start to plan again. I appreciate that this is the resolution of over ten year's grief.

As I feel stronger this weekend was a stark reminder. Our lovely friend Rob was building us some gorgeous book cases (that we originally commissioned about 3 or 4 years ago). I was thinking of Leon as previously he has done built all our amazing furniture, I realised how hard it must have been for the Hubster. As my grieving comes to an end, I hope I can be truly strong for the Hubster - as trust me, it is shit, but sooner or later it does get better!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Getting it out

This one is dedicated to Dawn AKA The Moiderer . I owned up to not being able to blog when I am on emotion overload and she has encouraged me to work through things. I have read her blog and it is always honest ranging from the laugh out loud to posts that have had me sobbing - I hope to take her honesty as inspiration.

So I am going to start off by giving an assessment of ME - what my blockers are and then I would love your feedback on what to unpick first.

Here is a school report of the factors affecting me. Which one should I unpack first on this blog?

Subject: General Well Being
Grade: A-
Summary: Sarah is generally very happy with a clear grasp of the issues that really matter.

Subject: Grief
Grade: B+
Summary: Sarah's husband recently lost his father, which meant that Sarah needed to take on a caring role, supporting her husband. This role was somewhat hampered by Sarah's residual grief for her own father who died eight years ago.

Subject: Motherhood
Grade: A
Summary: This grade is primarily for the joy that Sarah received from being a mother. She tries hard to strike a balance between being a fun Mum who always listens and a firm operator who keeps in check her daughters determined streak. She loves sharing the simple things in life from cooking and the garden to exploring science and world cuisine with the Pickle.

Subject: Fertility
Grade: C-
Summary: Sarah would dearly love another child and a sibling for the Pickle. Somehow she fails to remain totally focused on the task, aware that diet and fitness would greatly enhance her chances. After initially pursuing alternative therapies she is being cared for at the RBH fertility unit and has a few more months of chemical enhancement before IVF remains the only option.

Subject: Business
Grade: D
Summary: It has been a tough waiting year for Sarah as she has been unable to optimise the potential of her great idea through factors beyond their control. She is not complaining and has stayed sane, which may have been beyond many in her shoes.

Subject: Material wealth
Grade: B-
Summary: Sarah does not lack any of the basics, she has food an shelter and a wonderful home with potential. Everything in Sarah's material life seems to offer potential that she has yet to capitalise on. She has started the renovations in every room of the house pending more time and finance and the business growth has stalled pending the new version of the site going live. Six years on she is still grateful for heating, hot water and an inside loo - that we had to work so hard to install.

Please let me know and I will try my best to be honest and open in my response in my quest to tackle my fuddle.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Always and forever

I did not mean to say those words, but maternal love is a funny thing. The Pickle just woke up and could not find me wondered downstairs in tears, so I scooped her up and told her how I loved her and was here for her, always and forever.

The irony could not be more acute - I am downstairs unable to sleep because the Hubster is away comforting his mother as his father died yesterday. Always and forever? My father in law was an amazing man, and I do think that his impact - and love - will be around always and forever. He was a Dad of five who could combine grit with tenderness, and the strength of presence that was an inspiration. But always and forever? Yes, certainly. He is the Hubster's role model and he is reflected in so many of his best qualities.

We can't promise to live forever, but I sincerely hope that, like Leon, my love for the Pickle throughout my life will give her the strength of character to support her through good times and bad, always and forever.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Good and Bad Parenting

Frank Field was in the new yesterday with his talk of Tough Love parenting in  his capacity

"An increasing number of British parents have moved from the tried and tested 'tough love' approach to parenting to more informal and casual arrangements," said Mr Field. "The losers from this move have been children, and particularly poorer children.
"A number of research reports show that children are more likely to thrive if they come from homes where parents lay down clear boundaries for behaviour but who, within these boundaries, nurture their children with love, affection and interest. What might seem to some people little-valued activities, such as reading with their child and talking with them to improve their vocabulary, pays huge dividends when their children start school."
Mr Field said it was "distressing, not to say horrifying" that it was possible by the age of five to predict accurately how much children will have achieved by the time they are in their 20s. Inequality in cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills at five "determines life's outcomes", and action to tackle poverty must be targeted at improving acquisition of these abilities in the crucial early years, he said.

So many people have different views of being a parent. We all do the best we can, but their are so many approaches - from birth you can do Gina Ford routines or baby led schedules and just about everything in between, whether you breastfeed or not becomes a political statement and things get more complicated from there.

A recent holiday brought this into sharp focus by the reaction of two friends. they are the most lovely couple, I have known N since school and she is a powerhouse of enthusiasm for life and P her -ologist husband. They have recently become the doting parents to a lovely little girl and are still at the stage of reading books and checking everything with their clinic and friends to reinforce their actions are best.

They are lovely parents, but they are not the Pickle's - and do not know her so well. Their individual responses to me as a Mum were amazing in their difference. P seemed furious/angry/annoyed/dismissive (I must get to know him better so I can understand his comments better) and told me that I should be taking packed lunches for the Pickle with me where ever I went as I was wasting money on her. Why? On one occasion she did not eat a full portion of a veggy sausage roll (when there were no child sizes) and the next day she did the double crime of turning her nose up at a sandwich when it was incorrectly labelled (we bought what we thought was her favourite but turned out to be a spicy version) then later she poured out too much cereal into her bowl. I did not force her to eat up as I do not want to make meals a battlefield.  I see his rationale for repeating things that she liked, but then he saw her eat fish fingers once and when shopping the next day he took the initiative to buy her fish fingers for a second consecutive supper. I do see his logic and maybe he was trying to help me, but my grand plan has to promote an inclusive approach to eating, getting her to try as as many foods as possible and to see meal times as a great chance to share food, thoughts and conversation. It does not always work, the first time I took her for a Lebanese meal was a messy nightmare but since falafel have been renamed chickpea balls and they are a firm favourite. Food has been a journey we have enjoyed together - from baked beans to sushi!

P's approach (helpful/disdainful/angry - I am not sure) is by marked contrast to N's - who so often says what a good Mummy I am. Obviously I take it as a compliment, feel smug etc but part of me does not know how to respond. I do have a fabulous relationship with the Pickle, I rarely need to so much as to raise my voice and she knows what is acceptable and what is not - and more importantly I love her and she makes me smile just thinking of her. But, in the same way as I am a complex human, with strengths and quirks: the way that I parent will be a mix of how I translate a lifetime's actions into every day interactions. I am not perfect, but I know myself and am secure in who I am - likewise as a parent I do my best and I am happy with my efforts. I will always listen to advice - I can always learn but in my grand scheme I refuse to feed fish fingers to the Pickle every night as I am still ready for adventures and both the highs and lows that they bring.

Let's be careful about judging other people's parenting. I used N&P's responses to highlight differing responses. SavyMum4 wrote the most heart wrenching piece on her experience. I'd be interested in whether you have had a similar experience. Let me know. xx

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Amazing Grace

Grace was the Pickle's first best friend - we was the smiliest little baby you could imagine. It is hard to believe that she died aged just 13months old of chickenpox. This is more a story of sadness - it is about Grace's memory. After their loss the Bradburn's did two things, they continued to give Grace's older brother a loving family and they resolved to keep Grace's memory alive through fund raising for Cosmic, the unit at Paddington Hospital that did so much to try to save Grace.

They have raised over £50,000! Amongst the amazing things that the family have done is a bike ride to Paris. While Grace's Mum did not go Paris, preferring to stay at home to look after her son, she done many other rides and sponsored events. Even now it is wonderful to see that she had had another child (now a healthy 10 month old) and still cycling away - now with Grace's little brother tucked safely into his little seat behind her.

Here is a video with Natalie - see if you can watch it without crying.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Yummy Spinach!

I am away at the moment so I can't take pictures - so forgive me. Here are a few quick and easy spinach ideas that I often make.

Boshka's Spinach Pie

Boshka is a lovely Bosnian friend of mine and this is one of her family recipes. She often does it in a greased over dish, but as it is my standard veggy option as any party I tend to make it look special by preparing it in a ring shape.

1 standard size pack of cream cheese (low fat is fine)
1/2 to a full pack of feta
A small tub of cottage cheese
One egg
Spinach - cooked drained and chopped. One large bag should do.
Filo pastry
Flaked chilli's are optional
Melted butter

Take the filo out of the fridge to allow to get to room temperature but keep it sealed. Mix together all the ingredients (except the filo and butter), if it looks too dry you can add an extra egg. If you are making it in a ring sometimes I drain a little of the liquid off the cottage cheese to make it firmer. Take out the filo, brushing the melted butter between layers - work out the base area you want for the shape of pie you want and layer up 2 layers (if you like pastry you can add more) with plenty of spare filo to fold up onto the top.  Carefully spoon on the mixture and fold the pastry up and over. The easiest shape is an oblong but rings look pretty. If you do not have quite enough filo to cover the top you can just layer addition sheets of buttered filo on top. Pop into a medium oven and cook for about 25 mins, or until set.

Recipe 2 - Instant food!

Take a pack of washed spinach and microwave with feta, tuna and lemon juice. Eat with a dollop of sweet chilli sauce and loads of ground pepper. Like I said, instant food! I don't eat much tuna now so this is a rare treat - maybe I could try it with mackerel or braised tofu?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Chelle's Cinnamon Club Entry: Curry

I love food! I used to go out in serious way, ticking off the Michelin stars and generally being a little pretentious. Being a Mum has cured me of that affliction but now I seemed to spend a disproportionate amount of time cooking. A little person does not appreciate you forgetting meals, or being too knackered to cook. As a consequence of all this cooking a new cook book is a source of great excitement - I read them, put them down, forget them and then make up things from what I remember; if they are particularly good I may even follow the ingredients, if not the quantities.

Now take a bow Mr Rick Stein - I salute your Far Easter Odyssey as it has transformed Friday nights. So after contemplating Chelle's prompt for Cinnamon and considering all kinds of sweet offerings from my yummy blackberry and apple crumble to pancakes I settled on curry.

If you are Rick Stein now please look away, your precise measurements get thrown to the wind (15g garlic? I have never weighed garlic, and rarely use measuring spoons). Anyway, as I did the transition from gourmet to cottage cook the coffee grinder got relegated/promoted to spice grinder (and actually makes really good spicy coffee too if ever called upon).

First make your curry powder:
1 tbsp rice
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp each cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, cloves, peppercorns, turmeric. Missing out any you don't have and ad libbing as you feel fit.
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds (this are a pig to find, so don't worry if you can't find them)
A few cardamon pods
1 -3 dried chillies
Grind together into a power - and put in a screw top jar as you will not use all of it at once and it can last for a month or so.

Tomato Curry
This is quite unusual but really fresh tasting and quick and easy to do. It serves 4-6 people.

Gently fry a 5cm cinnamon stock with a few cardamon pods and cloves for a minute then add up to 6 cloves of garlic, grated ginger (about 2inches or a thumb size piece) about 3 medium onions halved and thinly sliced and fry until soft. Add 2tsp of your home made curry powder and chili powder to taste (Rick says 2 tsp) and fry a little more. Next add  a sliced medium green chili (or in our case 1/2 a b****d hot one), about 1lb finely chopped tomatoes, 150ml water and simmer for 5 mins.
Add another 1lb of tomatoes, this time cut into wedges and a glug of coconut milk and 1tsp of sugar (ideally palm sugar or jaggery) and salt (if you cook with it - I don't) and cook for about 3 mins longer.

I served this with rice, a chili spiced cabbage salad, raita and potato, paneer and cheese curry. My excellent step son says that my paneer curry is the best he has ever tasted even better than going out - so maybe I ought to share that too. Or just say that the Hubster is still gaining brownie points for buying me the Rick Stein book for Christmas last year - so it maybe worth a hint to anyone stuck for a present for you.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Hurrah for holidays!

We are back, we have got over the jet lag, unpacked, sorted out all our foreign currency and life is back to normal(ish).  Well, we did spend the weekend at a gorgeous wedding in the Welsh Borders.

We swam, we played and we drank good beer - a pretty good recipe for a fun holiday and it really was! It started off a little shakily with a visit to the Lands End Pub . We are always told that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything. So I guess I should compliment them on their dexterity with the deep fat fryer, their imagination to call deep fried sloppy potato a fish cake and ambition when it comes to prices. So after a glorious, if interesting,  cycle to the pub (with two adults, a toddler and an enthusiastic border collie on a lead you can imagine that it was not straight forward) the destination did not quite live up to the journey. The bill became the running joke for the rest of the week proving that everything else must be, by comparison, great value.

The next day we hit Bracknell. Yes, I know, you often think of Bracknell as a metropolis on a par with London, Paris, New York and we were that lucky!  They are pretty child focused. First, virtual cutlass in hand we attacked the Pirate Ship at the Coral Reef  (shit website, but not unexpected from a council). Surprisingly despite being thoroughly dunked when we went a little too fast down the anaconda slide she decided that the gentle currents were scary as we swooped gently around an island carried by the 'tides'. When we had turned all 'pruney' (technical term) we decided to head across the road to the Bracknell Lookout Discovery Centre .

The Bracknell Lookout is FAB. Loads of woodland walks, some archaeological remains (if that floats your boat) and a great playground. All for free. If you want to go into the Science Discovery centre there is a charge, but it was well worth it. It is compact but full of hands on science fun. The Pickle was far to young to appreciate any learning but just had a good play with water and the ball pool. The day we were there they had free face painting too.

(The Pickle has her own sense of style and who am I to interfere?)

The next day we did something that we would only ever do if we were new to an area and went into town. The Pickle loves making and loves her teddies so we took her along the Build a Bear Workshop. If you know me you will appreciate that this is normally the last thing that I would do, as it is so commercial, but you have to hand it to the clever marketeers, they know what they are doing and the Pickle LOVED it. She chose the biggest Hello Kitty, begged her Daddy for a matching chair and was generally spoilt rotten. The only thing that made us giggle, in a dark kind of a way, was that at least it was not deep fried like our last ruinous waste of money at the Land's End. So with daughter happy, we set off to please the Big Daddy. He is simple soul and a range of beers and Ethiopian food from Tutu's Kitchen at RISC was all that was needed.

We have discovered so many places to go for free - from the garden centres on the A4 for their free play areas to the long walks in the country parks and even visiting the field of llamas on Beggar's Hill Road. The Wyevale on the A4 gets our vote for their mini soft play area in an airy cafe - despite normally being regulars at the Sheeplands centre across the road. We had the best walks, play and picnic at Dinton Pastures and even found time to visit the fun but delightfully ramshackle Monkey Mates soft play centre for a birthday party (you could not do that if you had gone away!). So much fun, and none of it deep fried.

We had to have a big splash highlight and where better for that then Lego Land. Armed with supermarket loyalty points and discount vouchers we approached early and with trepidation (we are the last family in our area to be initiated it would seem). The dawn raid approach seemed to pay off. We hurtled around, got soaked, splashed and generally flung about before it got too crowded to be fun. I really did hear someone on a mobile phone giving directions saying 'We are here by the big lego thing'. DOH!

Just as we realised that we were never going to tick off every activity on Sarita's holiday list we escaped to the Welsh boarders for one of the most beautiful weddings ever. Between staying at home and discovering the amazing town of Bishop's Castle in Shropshire my wanderlust has been abated for another year.

Even though I live in Berkshire there are so many hidden gems, or clever approaches to popular attractions, that local knowledge unlocked. A few weeks of chatting to people in shop and at the nursery gave us some worthwhile tips - I think I have now passed them on to you too. P.S. Writing about the Land's End was not a recommendation! xx

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Mummies in the Playground.

It is funny how you end up by not altogether choosing your friends, but if you are hurled together with enough of a maelstrom some friendships stick. I am thinking about work colleagues or more specifically 'Mummy Friends'. You know the ones, you go to the same playgroup, same antenatal classes etc.

I joined a great gang on our antenatal classes, but it was only weeks into motherhood the cracks appeared. A relationship ended and one Mum disappeared, and then there were 5. So we bumbled along, meeting randomly. I did my thing and then one of the others joined me in a set of classes. So I saw this other Mum weekly and our little darlings played beautifully together so a friendship developed. This Mum seemed to be the natural leader of our pack, as she wanted to see everybody individually as well as en masse and it seemed to fit with everybody's plans. She was driven and we were laid back.

This particular Mum had become a friend as she was highly entertaining, with real drive and joie to vivre. When motherhood and lack of sleep hit her, I was there with a chocolate cake. When her hubby failed to live up to ideals, I listened. It has been heartbreaking to see her life ebb away. She has aged a decade and the trendy fly away hair cut has been replaced by a severe bob - verging on the pudding bowl; the hair seemed to my a metaphor for her outlook.
Then the last year things started to go a little pear shaped. Around about the time I miscarried things started to unravel. We were planning a joint party and then suddenly all my ideas were inappropriate - I had the audacity to suggest pass the parcel. Then the dagger went in "I don't want to do presents as I will give and receive presents to my real friends" came the comment from the other Mum who I had been seeing weekly.

Of course I was hurt, hormones were raging and the 'mutual' support that I had shown was a little lacking. Every time we met up since there have been strange comments and mildly bazaar behaviour from that very Mum, but I'm secure enough to dismiss or rise about pettiness - besides who knows if any slight was meant. I don't believe in biting back, being nasty is just not my style - I was born with my foot in my mouth so I have to contend with collateral damage without seeking to be cruel.

Fast forward a year and on Tuesday evening we all met up. I thought the evening was going well, we were all chatting. She was included in the conversation, but to be fair she was not the focus. Suddenly she got up, burst into tears and fled. Apparently, she had felt excluded. I have phoned and texted but somehow feel that whatever made her upset was far beyond anything we said or did not.

What is a girl to do? I wish her well, but I don't think that I can help her sort out whatever is going on.  Some relationships run their course - and I hope that she can find some one support her through the next stage. I hope that in 10 years time I see her image smiling back out of a magazine, seeing her have found happiness again and achieved her potential. As for me, I will be bimbling along in my own happy world, hoping my happiness can rub off - after all it need not be that hard!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Exciting Holiday

We have booked the holiday, tomorrow evening the Hubster leaves the office behind for a week and I'll try to control my twitter habit for the duration. We have our plans for loads of things to do, the Pickle is so excited I have to scoop her off the ceiling.

We have a great deal, and it is all so convenient. Door to door it takes negligible time to get there and it is a beautiful cottage with all the mod cons. It even has a well stocked larder so I don't need to go through the usual holiday cottage rigmarole of decanting bottles of oil and buying extra boxes of detergent only to forget my toothbrush.

The cottage is within easy reach of Legoland, London, loads of parks and we even know some out of the way cafes and pubs in the area. The Hubster is most excited by going swimming every day and has booked a special week pass at the local pool for just £7 per person - bargain!

We know from past experience that the cottage has bump free mattresses, soft cotton bedlinen and piles of soft pillows. There are loving touches around the cottage to remind you that is filled to the brim with love. While the floors and bath are clean and the rooms generally tidy somebody could tell the owner that she should de-clutter, and maybe the toys in the main reception room could be kept a little under control. But, at least if the dog comes in muddy I know I will not get any complaints.

The best thing about this place is that it has access to so many places and things that we would never do in our usual day-to-day lives but it is such good value! At the end of the week I will not even need to pack everything up to take home, because that is where it will already be.

Yes, we are having a staycation and I can't wait. I'll tell you all about it soon!

Monday, 23 August 2010

The last taboo

So many things are described as the last taboo. I remember at college having to help an actor on stage who wearing nothing but a straight jacket and a ghetto blaster on a skate board attached to his only unencumbered appendage (ahem) - all in the name of tackling taboos. Well, this weekend I read another article called Miscarriage: A mother's last taboo and wondered, is it really?

I had a couple of early miscarriages last year and it was strange that while it knocked me sideways I could not always say why I was exhausted / under the weather / emotional. As you may have guessed by the way I write I don't mind challenging convention - and I will talk about almost anything to any one - but utter the word miscarriage and people recoil. It is as if mentioning the M word is a social faux pas.

If you have the flu you mention it and get sympathy, but if you have a miscarriage you are a fruit loop for mentioning it. I exaggerate a little, but people are not comfortable hearing about miscarriage?

They say that 50 years ago cancer was never discussed, it was not considered to be appropriate and it was viewed with disdain, even prejudice. Similarly, when miscarriage is so common, up to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, why do people feel uncomfortable hearing about it. I won't burst into tears on you, I will share in your joy if you are blessed with a baby and it is not contageous, so why don't you feel comfortable hearing about my miscarriage? Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that I was offering news of my miscarriage as a random conversation opener, but was not adverse to being honest about it if asked or if it was pertinent to a discussion. I just think that if we found it easier to confront it as a subject it would make it easier to recover.

On a positive note, part of the reason I want to have another babe is to give the Pickle a sibling around her age (I have two lovely, but much older step children). I love my relationship with my big Bro! We are SO different with totally different politics / friends / jobs and outlooks, but as we both admit that on the real matters in life we agree. He has been a real strength when I have been low, I know that it can not be an easy subject for a confirmed bachelor, but he has just been the best big bro ever, knowing the right thing to say and do to make me feel better. Here's still hoping that the Pickle gets a sibling as great as my big Bro!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Trouble with Lidl

We have been watching it for months, from a hole in the ground the building has gone up. Loads of fascinating machines have been used and they have even been kind enough liven the facade with splashes of yellow. The Pickle has been asking daily when the new shop would open.

Today was the day. I have never seen so many men in badly fitting - rushing about slapping themselves on the back. The best thing, obviously, was the yellow helium balloons that enticed us in.

I looked hard for British produce, anything organic or even free range. It seems ridiculous to import so much of the produce when it is in season in Blighty. Does that make me a middle class yummy Mummy?

Worse was to come, I had told the Pickle that she could choose her own supper. Serious negotiation had to take place as they cleverly position the biscuits to be at toddler eye view (and I was not going to pay a quid for a shopping trolley, so now I am a tight, middle class yummy Mummy). We finally agreed on a lasagne verde, it seemed the easiest way to get out of the hell hole. Opening day at the supermarket is not my idea of a glamorous soiree!

I got back home and the Pickle said that she loved the lasagne. She was most emphatic that she lived it, but in reality she only had about 4 mouthfuls. I checked the back of the pack for the nutritional content (paranoid, tight, middle class...) and all them seem to include was the same basic information in about seven languages (where was this stuff made?). No information about nutrition, so goodness knows how much salt and general cack was squeezed into it.

The Hubster came home from work and went for his usual early evening hoover - and said that it tasted fishy. Fishy? It allegedly was pork.

Will I go again? Will the my Scrooge like tendencies over power the yummy Mummy? I can't resist a bargain but when my whole family only manage a third of a lasagne, it may be cheap but that is not value.

So I made up for it by making a delicious veggy moussaka that everyone loved, from the remainders last week's veg box.
Left over Quorn mince with chopped roast peppers (I frazzle them over the naked flame, very satisfying for a would be pyromaniac); I microwaved the last dregs of the 1/2 fat creme fraiche with chopped cheddar then poured over; layer on some cooked thin sliced aubergine and top with Mozzarella (left over from the weekend's home made pizza) and a little Partisan cheese. Pop in the oven, finishing under the grill (as I was too hungry to wait for it to oven cook). Yummy, a meal from left overs! No e-numbers, limited salt and even cheaper than Lidl as it was cook or compost time for most of the ingredients.

The Lucky Gene

I did not marry for money, but maybe the lucky gene helped our relationship. You can't buy it, it is not for sale, it is a Sprite family heirloom passed down through to the most fortunate of the generation. Yes, Matt is the beneficiary of the family luck gene.

He warned me about it when we first met and about the Sprite rule number one: be happy. It seemed so uncool. After all I was chasing an artistic career and we all seemed to have far higher aspirations that just to be content. In fact, his whole approach to life seemed a little different: he did not find wild private views in the East End cool, he found them a little dull; he thought critical appraisal was people being pretentious and was baffled that there was never any agreement and shock, horror, he was not ashamed by being part of a mass market.

Maybe it was the luck gene, but I stuck around and he even learnt to be a fair (if to the point) theatre critic. It is strange, but his life did seem charmed. He was not rich, had a dive for a house and his car was clapped out - but he was happy. Being around him everything seemed so simple. I did not want to, I did not mean to, but I was falling in love.

He was nothing like the mythical man of my dreams. My ex was an actor/writer/poet and he was (don't hyperventilate) an engineer and worse, he did not read. But, I was falling in love.

So, over ten years later and we are happily married. My pad in central London has gone and I live in this tumbledown cottage but things are working out. I think of the lucky gene, and I think it has rubbed off on me.

Has life been a bed of roses? Well, maybe, considering how my roses lacerate my arms when I prune them. We have had ups and downs, family illness and deaths, redundancy, debt and infertility - but that lucky gene has always pulled us through.

The lucky gene is not a double headed coin, it is no panacea but it is a lens through which to see life. Like the Sprite rule number 1 - be happy. Shit happens, but it isn't about to get me down. Now that is what I call a lucky life!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Perfect Day

We had the perfect day today, the Pickle and I. We did not do much but it was perfect. I cleaned the floors while we also played. We met Daddy for lunch at the Global Cafe then spent a ridiculous amount of time shopping for a few bits and pieces - but we chatted and giggled and agreed that the Pickle could not buy everything that was coloured pink. I had to do some food shopping and managed to get stuck in traffic and then get lost on a short cut, but we were busy singing "Baa, Baa Black sheep 'Have you and wool?' No sir, no sir....' and other random songs. We could not find what we wanted and had no food in the house and arrived home late for supper. We were then late into bed and still wired up with energy. But it was, as I mentioned, a perfect day, we were together.

I remember at my old work chatting to a colleague who was also a Mum. I said in an unguarded moment that we had had a perfect day and asked if she knew what I meant. She looked at me with mild loathing and said she had never had a perfect day. Motherhood seemed to be one long trauma for her, she loved her kids but that did not make her happy.

Sometimes when I am chatting to friends I have to remember to not go on about feeling happy. Don't get me wrong, I have shit days, the Pickle still plays havoc with my sleep (coming in for a cuddle in the middle of night) and sometimes the red mist can rise. BUT I love being a Mum!

I don't want to whinge about my other half, I don't want to complain that I feel tired (okay maybe) I realise that being skint and being happy are not correlated. I don't want to think about the pile of laundry or reduction in my social life. I want to smile about my happy, simple life.

Have you had one of those days when you know that you ought to go to the supermarket, post office and endless other chores? Of course you have, if you are a Mum. The day starts to go pear shaped when the toddler wants one more book, refuses to put on her shoes and generally is making you late. The moment you realise that half the jobs can be postponed and you slow down to toddler speed the day starts to get better. An issue is only a problem when you make it one, change your perspective it can be an opportunity.

What I really mean is I do have my ups and downs, but I always go to sleep with a smile and wake up with a smile and a cuddle. Whatever else is going on in life that may be shit, who cares because I LOVE BEING A MUM! I really hope that we share the same perspective. xx

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Rules...

Every year around about the Pickle's birthday she starts to forget her usual manners and test the boundaries. I am not sure why it happens yearly, but it does and as she is now 4 it is definitely a pattern.

She is normally so easy going and responsive I have never had to institute a 'naughty step' instead the power of three has always been enough to strike fear into her. Yes, counting to 3, I have never got beyond 2 and I am not sure what I would do if I did. She was once reduced to a soggy mess when one of our friends did not realise the rules and counted fast and flipantly, actually getting to 3.

This year we needed further amunition. She started to lash out when she got cross and she responded to any request with 'I'm just....' if she responded at all. So we created THE RULES:

1. Loads of smiles
2. No hitting or hurting
3. Loads of cuddles
4. Do whatever Mummy says, when she says it.

The combination of tough and fun rules works a treat. A week or so in and we have had no tantrums just a marked improvement in behaviour. I got my Pickle back. Hooray!

Party, Party

Sorry, I have been stuck in party world for too long while. There has been a lot to organise. Firstly we had our 90th Birthday. Matt is 50 and I am 40 this year so we had to celebrate, and we have not had a party for a while. My mind had been really made up when I decided on a theme, a vintage (1940s/1950s) Garden Party. It was Pimms, marquees and a new frock for me (glam or what?).

I love a good project and trying to organise a stylish party for 100 on a very tight budget was a challenge. It was complicated as I decided it would start at 2.30 (after lunch) and would go on as long as anyone was standing. I saw happy tides of people drifting in and out through out the day. I found really cheap florists ribbons and almost got RSI making endless bunting and cross costed and budgeted feverishly.

Printed invitations were out but if we were going to email /facebook it had to be done with style. With a free copy of GIMP (the open source photoshop type software) I played around to get the picture you can see.

It is amazing what you can find online - without the online resources I would have had no idea of quantities for catering etc. there was even a great site that collated all the supermarket wine review - essential if you want to serve rose for under £4 and for it not to taste like a student party. As you can tell, I love organising parties and I could go on too long.

Just about everybody we wanted to come could, with loads of long lost friends making star appearances. Yes, it was a party not This is Your Life but there was parallels (minus the saccharine).

As soon as that was over and it was onto the Pickle's 4th Birthday party. We booked loads of toys from the toy library and our usual format. Play, pass the parcel, tea, a treasure trail then parcel them off home. Everything had to be Peppa pig - but then when you can get personalised icing toppers for cakes from ebay it was achieved with minimal effort. It all passed off without a glitch, 12 toddlers, perfect manners and loads of giggles.

The thing I loved most was that the Pickle loved her party, but owned up to having even more fun the day before on her real birthday. The two of us had a quite 'Mummy Day' playing together and going to her fave restaurant for lunch (a toastie at the local coffee shop). If only life was always so simple!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Vegan Ice Cream

To distract me from how busy I should be on my site - I have been planning a 90th Birthday Party - mine. True, I don't look 90, and indeed I'm not it is a joint thing: DH is 50 and I make up the difference. I got given an ice cream maker for Christmas so I am plotting a lovely buffet with a huge array of ice creams. I started with flavours in keeping with the 1950s theme and made brown bread ice cream and then went off piste.

So in return for GonzoMamas amazing vegan chocolate cake recipe here is my vegan ice cream.
BTW the best vegan chocolate I have found in the UK is Plamil, if you know a better source I would love to hear about it.

Mango and Coconut Ice cream

1 can of coconut milk
A few large spoons of coconut cream
Rice milk
Palm sugar (but ordinary brown sugar would work as well)
One ripe mango

Optional Crunch
Sugar (palm or soft brown)
Cashew nuts (or Boomerangs as Sarita would say)

Whisk the coconut milk in with the sugar then add the coconut milk. Stir in the rice milk slowly until the mixture is looser, similar to single cream. Add to the ice cream machine - if you don't have one pop into the freezer for about an hour. After an hour in the freezer or when the mixture in the ice machine is almost frozen add the chopped mango and stir it all in together.
While you were waiting for the ice cream to freeze put a large handful of cashew nuts into a food processor and blitz until they look like large crumbs. In a pan stir the cashew nut crumbs with a similar quantity of sugar and heat slowly until it starts to melt, slowly increasing the heat - but always keeping control so that you don't burn it. Keep stirring until it is all well combined then pour onto a lightly greased baking tray. Cool then crumble the nut brittle into small pieces.
Add to the ice cream once you have added the mango. This gives the ice cream a lovely crunch.
Eat, enjoy!

If you are out and about on a walk you will notice the elder trees are blossoming. Walking back across the fields with my hands full of elder flowers was glorious, smelling their sweet and slightly earth scent the whole way. I have added the recipe for Elderflower Cordial to my recipes - if you want to join me in making a toast to our wonderful hedgerows.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Summer Butterflies

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you" Nathaniel Hawthorne

I remember yearning endless days of summer, the smell of fresh cut grass and the promise of fun and adventure. A childhood summer should be so ideal, time off school and no pressure or grown up concerns. Why is it that I also remember a feeling of hollowness; looking around to find something that was missing?

I can remember loads of happy events, many of them centred on my French exchange. She was known as 'The Cabbage' so her beauty, vitality and intelligence may have come as a surprise. Boundaries and structure could not confine her, she egged me on to become the seditious spirit that I had never really dared to be. She had the most supreme generosity of spirit to almost convince me that I was the beauty and we bonded into a powerful team. But ultimately we were just visitors into each others worlds and that hollowness was never far away.

As I lay on the grass this weekend I sighed and tried to remember that feeling. Strangely I could not quite access that void that had been my constant companion. Is it growing up (or worse growing old)? Either way I don't care, between the birdsong, the garden and my wonderful family I have finally found contentment.

One thing that makes this even more poignant is that after a few years of distance The Cabbage is coming over to see us. Even though you could probably say about us both that we 'have a great future behind us', she is embarking on a new phase of her life with a new man and new career projects (when she finds a job). My one hope for this summer is that contentment is truly contagious.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

From Designer shoes to Muddy Boots

I loved my flat in London - it was zone 1 and I could get cigarettes and a decent bottle of red at any time day or night. It was Victorian but its high ceilings were a perfect backdrop to my contemporary commissions - and as a curator in a contemporary craft gallery I had great assess to some great artists and designers. I could go out wearing my Parisian pink stetson or my electric blue leopard print trilby and appear stylish but unremarkable.

Then came the relationship - first the cigarettes went (blame that on the theatre - but that is a whole different story) then I - gasp - started to plan to to have the occasional night in. After a while I realised I had a problem - I had serious jaw ache. On closer consideration of my symptoms I realised that I had not stopped grinning for weeks - I was terminally happy.

I was an independent career woman with friends, a flat and a credit card and a relationship was not going to change me. But, my father was terminally ill and working for a gallery was not helping me support my Mum, with long hours and constant the private views in evenings and weekends. So, I had a great idea - why not do and MA. So, two weeks after the decision was made I was still working and enrolling onto a full time course in Arts Criticism.

So now the career was on hold and the independence was slipping away too. 'I will' soon became 'I do' and my happy ever after was waiting. Meanwhile, Matt's work gave us an offer we could not refuse. It was basically redundancy or be paid handsomely to move to Reading.

He brought home the Reading property pages and nonchalantly suggested I take a look. I scoured the thick tome, the only variant on the homes seemed to be the price as they all looked the same and I had no idea as to why one should cost more than another. I had passed Reading on the M4 but there my local knowledge stopped. Hidden amongst the endless smart, but dull, new houses was one tiny cottage that called out to me: 'buy me, or I will be bulldozed'. After one whole day of house hunting we put in the offer. True, it was not every one's cup of tea - the estate agent almost put on rubber gloves to get through the front door and she was assiduously careful not to brush against the walls for fear of contamination.

A few weeks later we were the proud owners of a tiny seventeenth century cottage. It was pretty but with no heating, hot water or inside loo or any other creature comforts that may have crept in during the twentieth century. Even walking up stairs was a hazard - the old lead electric wiring was short circuiting and if you stepped on certain stairs it would cause the hall light to flicker on.

As I ploughed on with my dissertation, however, the cottage offered a sanctuary away from my London social life. The worst distraction was a dove who sat atop of the chimney cooing and her call was amplified as it echoed down into my room.

Then we got the first of our animals and I was totally and contentedly trapped. I was getting used to stoking up a Rayburn all day for a few inches of bath water. I survived by using my imagination - I remembered a wonderful holiday on a croft in western Ireland and if I wallowed in the historical romance I could cope with the day to day trials .

Rather than rushing headlong into renovations we slowly, researching historical homes. Slowly we brought our faded beauty of a home back from the brink. I can no longer get away with the extravagant hats, but I do admire them as I pull on my muddy boots and beany when go to walk the dog. However, I have every intention of growing old disgracefully, to in a few years time when I am going grey I'll dye my hair bright blue, embarrass the kids, pick up those hats again and go out in style!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A Strange 40th Birthday...

It started off so well, Sarita scrambled into bed early in the morning not clutching her customary teddy but a card that she had made for me then slept with so that she could give it to me first thing.

Next came a wonderful breakfast and presents (it was year of the silly but BRILLIANT handbag), and loads of lovely messages with friends calling me from around the world - then the day could begin...and my birthday end?

We decided to go up onto the Moor and I booked a pub for lunch - and all was well until a volley of strange comments and oversights. Sarita and I were playing and chatting when my Mum, the Mumster, told us to be quiet (from a lady who renders telephones unnecessary for all but long distance?). So we were quickly moved on and on and on.

As tension rises so does the humour. Sarita takes after her Dad and has the perfect comic timing - as were were crammed in the back of the car, lunch lurching inside us we went on and on and on. 'Up and down, up and down I don't think that Granny knows where we are going, Up and down over the hill....up and down.' Only Sarita could have highlighted the farce so well until the only audible signs were of the Mumster's grinding teeth and our muffled giggles.

Muffled titters turned into full on classroom giggles as the Mumster tried to be relaxed 'I don't mind where I drive - Richard will tell me where to go.' Er, we had just picked up Uncle Richard from the station he had stood up on a crowded train for two hours, he was doing a passable nodding dog impersonation and would have been happy to have been anywhere provided he did not have to contribute to any decisions - so the car sick, the toddler and the birthday girl were over ruled.

We did finally get a cafe - and after a few minutes we were on the move...NO! It was my birthday and I would finish my tea if I wanted to. If absolutely pushed I can out-strop the stroppy. We sat in stunned silence as I overruled the Mumster and finished my tea.

The journey back home was in a similar vein - with the giggles getting more hysterical as the Mumster's attempts at polite conversation misfired and every time resulted in low level insults about my intelligence, plans for my home and general outlook.

I did discover that Birthdays were important, as while mine was being ignored I was being detailed on how to organise the Mumster's 70th next year. Hubby was by now incensed as truly nothing had been organised or was going to be pulled from out of magical hat to acknowledge my 40th - and I was just totally perplexed.

The Mumster is not a nasty person, she has issues about the place of children. They best seen (in photos) and never heard. We even have to take all of Sarita's suppers to here house as she does not seem to find the need to feed children seriously - but then she once 'kindly' offered me a pot of unopened creme fraiche four months after the best before date as she bought it and did not like the stuff - so my catering for Sarita is probably for the best under the food hygiene circumstances.

Just as I sat down to write this I got a cheery phone call from her asking if I was upset with her. When I explained that she ignored my 40th, she did acknowledge (again cheerily) that yes, she had missed it but that so much was going on.

We have a second birthday planned to make up for the first misfire - the Mumster is just that, a complex misfiring blend of outrageous optimism, insensitivity and general surprise - like a human foot in mouth of a parent. There is nothing that I can do about her, I should not be surprised at my great age. There is a myth that if you can't beat them then join them - well that is bullshit. But, I can do my best to ensure that Sarita never writes a similar blog about me - you see I love her unconditionally, for all that she says and all that she does - in busy times and in quite, in pubs and at home.

I love being a Mum and I feel if the Mumster had ever allowed herself the time to explore motherhood and what it has to offer she may have discovered the real rewards, but that is her journey - but just don't expect me to take that journey over the Moor, post 'birthday' lunch, with her ever again!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Releasing to move forward

Deep breathe and write - this is a loaded subject from Keep Calm Eat Cake for the Sleep is for the Weak workshop.

My earlier blog I talked about reading Oliver James' book about Families called appropriately The F*** You up. In the interests of being a diligent reader I have followed his steps to help me 're-write my script', as he would call it.

Okay, here goes... I am releasing my Mother's negative influence over me. I don't need to go on trying to impress every strong willed and superior women in the knowledge it will get me nowhere and will ultimately result in me getting upset.

It is not that I dislike my Mum, far from it I love her and she is an amazing woman - she just was an absent Mum in the early years and her encouragement was to point out my faults before I got hurt (er, there is logic in that, I'm sure). I was lucky that when she went off the change the world and do great things she left me with an amazing Nanny, who I am still really close to now. I never lacked love, hence coming to these conclusions is not too heartbreaking.

It is simple - you notice it and suddenly so much becomes apparent. Funny though, just writing it brings a tears to my eyes, but it is true and it is time to move on. Now I've written it down now, so there is no going back.

Bye bye heart ache and a few unhealthy friendships!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Hello Again

I read Deer Baby's heart-breaking blog to inspire me to write to someone you have lost contact with explore what I would say. That blog was beautiful so it has inspired a reverential and alternative approach!

I can think of three people, Chou Chou, Jo and Jenny. Chou Chou was like a French sister, really like a sister. She is still on my horizon and we text occasionally. Jo was a good friend until she turned and, boy, was that nasty and Jenny was a work colleague and friend whose life just took her in another direction. What would I say to them?

Exactly! Blogging has taught me so much. If I am not listening I have nothing really to say. Time to stop filling the silences with noise, time to think rather than trying to create comfort with sounds (and in so doing make Bridget Jones seem coherent and considered) - time to listen. Yes, I am happy, I love my life, but what about you? I want to really hear about you, your life and where destiny has taken you.

This morning I was up for a 7.30 networking breakfast and it was truly rewarding. I did not push my wares at all I sat back and listened. I got back to my desk and asked to hear more. I can share with you the poem that I was offered.

The Hundred Languages Of Children
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marvelling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Loris Malaguzzi
(translated by Lella Gandini)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

I should have listened to the warning

For writing workshop 16: Under Pressure and Parallel Worlds inspired by New Day New Lesson's 'Document your Parents life story before it is too late'

I should have heeded the warning signs earlier, but I was young and life went on. The collective family memory seemed to rest with Great Uncle George, the token member of the older generation. Looking at family pictures we were always assured that if no one there know then Uncle George would, he was the sage.

I remember just one particular anecdote: after the war he was billeted to a large house in Berlin and the owner came to him, pleading with him that he and his men would not damage the house and be kind. She said how she had lots of English friends who could vouch for her good character - and when asked to name just one she replied with the name of my Grandmother, MB. Happy coincidence in the face of post war chaos! I seem to remember even then asking myself, who would remember all these things and more when George was gone.

Next there was Dagi, or Dagmar Von Lewinski to give her her full name. She had been MB's best friend and she had to England for her final days. I knew my Grandmother (MB) but everyone said how alike we were and so I had always felt a special bond with her, despite her having died before I was born. Dagi was a grand lady who had spent all her life flitting between countries, cutting a somewhat sad path; alone and struggling in adult life in a way that she could never have anticipated as a wealthy child in turn of the century Berlin.

I really got to know Dagi, just before she died, when she moved to Twickenham and I would do her shopping and visit her most weeks. We talked about all sorts of things, almost as if she recognised a spirit of MB in me. She seemed to pick up streams of conversation that she had started decades before with MB. We discussed ancient Greece, philosophy and random musings of a German in London.

Occasionally she dipped into her personal history. She had fled Berlin for Cairo, with her husband, when she was publicly opposed to Hitler. She talked about the deceit of her husband, spying back to Berlin on her activities there. The years had enabled her to talk about it in a matter of fact way, but nothing could disguise the fact that once trust is broken it is hard to ever build that bond again.

Her death came as a surprise, I was even out of the country for her funeral. As if to taunt me further, it was just as the film, 'The English Patient' came out. I knew that she was there in Cairo at the same time as it was set, she would have had the inner story on the intrigue and the real history of that era. I have never been interested in dates and wars and the patriarchal histories, I love the details, the people, what it would feel like to there - and that is what I lost with Dagi.

Since then there has been a roll call of deaths. I miss my Mum's parents horribly, although I did listen to certain key lessons. Grandpa never really talked, he listened - leaving the talking to Granny as she did it so well and so freely. She was a historian, teaching adult education classes until she was in her Eighties. She has a real gift for imparting knowledge, neither taking anything forgranted nor assuming that anything was beyond you. Hence, on meeting DH starting with 'I came from Glasgow, do you know where that is?' and still being able to softly chastise me when I got the date of some chairs in the stately home mis-dated by 60 years (I was amazed I was in the right century, but unabashed she continued about how the chair backs had some important function in the way that the ladies had ornate wigs of that decade). She managed to do this with charm but never superiority.

It is through Granny that I gained that delight in historical context; looking into paintings to see how the 'real' people dressed behind the bejewelled statesmen and woman, imagining the effect of the costumes on the way they moved or danced. How to forget about prices, market values or reputation but to look and enjoy. The lesson I still failed to learn was to ask the right questions of her while she was still here, such as what was it like being loosing her father when she was so young and then going to University in the days before it was the social norm for girls to do so.

As Susie says in 'Document your Parents life story before it is too late', you never know when life is going to be cut short. With my father a degenerative illness just gradually stole his power to communicate; to start with we thought he was just getting progressively eccentric with age, then we thought that he was just having difficulty explaining himself. Then it was too painfully clear that it was an illness that would even steal from his the capacity to breathe. Daddy told such vivid stories, about him and his mother and Aunts - who were larger than life (and as Great Aunt Gertrude reputedly had vital statistics 40'40'40' it follows that they had BIG characters). I remember that Gertrude's wartime letters resembled confetti after the censors had checked them and his epic trips to London, but what else did I forget?

So that leaves my Mum. Her family moved to Berlin after the war and only left during the Airlift. What must this have been like for a seven year old? This time I must listen to the warning, nobody lives for ever, but through stories their memory can. Watch this space for another blog about my mother's war time experiences.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

And the Award goes to...

Josie's blog Can you see me? made me think. Looking at the comments it is easy to see that I am not the only person who values her blogs and her amazing writing work shop. I started to consider other people who have touched my life and who will never really know how I have valued them.

Michael, my postman. He is the only postman who knows when I am out walking the dog and will go away, to do the rest of his round, and then come back a second time.

Gemma, at nursery. It was tough going back to work after Sarita was born (I thought could go back full time after only one board meeting away: WRONG) but Gemma made it easier. I went to visit some other nurseries and it was clear that they read and adhered to every bit of regulation but something was still missing. With Gemma, at the end of the day would greet us with a delighted smile, breathlessly telling us the amazing thing that Sarita had day. Yes, it was her job but it was clear that it was also much more, she loved it being there.

Debbie, at pre-school. Debbie has immense patience with kids (the parents rather bore her). Just watching her and her belief in the abilities the children is amazing - she does not talk down to them, but she does not tolerate anything but good behaviour. I have seen her quell a volcanic toddler mid flow without resorting to raising her voice. When my blood pressure rises and Sarita is doing a public display of her toddler temperament I just channel Debbie.

A Random Doctor. I never seen her before or since, but this lady was a healer. I went in to see why I was not conceived yet (one year on) and she somehow managed to manipulate the situation. I was becoming a bit disillusioned by conventional medicine and was expecting a patronising pat on the head followed by a letter to a consultant that would be answered sometime in the next few years - instead she made me cry. Let me explain, my Dad had died a while earlier, his funeral had been anything other than a private affair. I remember after the ceremony trying to take my coat off while a guest/mourner just wanted to make small talk with me and just trying, in vain, to have a few moments to myself. There was no time for mourning as after the very public funeral as I seemed to move onto finishing my Masters and our wedding (an irony of timings) at great speed. The Doctor seemed to know this and just asked me a few pointed and pertinent questions then just let me cry: I finally could sob about the death of my Dad. It did not help me conceive but it was such a healing moment. It helped me grieve properly which, in time, helped me move on.

The man with muscles - once when I was living in London I ordered a 1/4 tonne of lovely white pebbles for my tiny garden (a alternative to decking or paving) and the **** delivery arrived a few hours early and so just dumped in unceremoniously on my doorstep. I just looked down and in my wisdom thought that I should take the first sack in with me as I unlocked the door. It must have the sight of a strange girl in 1920s style tight tweed skirt and some ridiculous pony skin high heeled boots getting to grips with a leaden sack - but a total stranger stepped in a volunteered to help. He carried the whole lot through the house into the garden. As he approached the last few sacks I started to consider the possible quid pro quo nervously; but he dropped the last sack and with barely a wave off he went.

My saviour - the time when I was saved from possible death. How may times have Londoners heard 'Mind the Gap' well, this time I didn't! I raced down the steps, a little too fast, to catch the tube and went flying. Thank goodness for my womanly derriere, my feet and legs disappeared into the gap and my bottom wedged my on the platform between the train and the abyss. Oops! Suddenly I felt two arms under mine and with one great heave I was standing into the carriage safe and sound.
Here comes reality check: I had just extricated myself from a long term relationship and as I turned around I was alive, whole heartedly relieved and a little bit hopeful. Well, he saved me, I want to show my eternal gratitude BUT (on catching a glimpse at him) that was certainly going to be our last physical contact...ever.

People are amazing, random strangers can do the most extraordinary things. Just don't expect fairy tales!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Inspired Reading!*

I swore that I would not read parenting manuals. There are so many amazing books in the world and I wanted to experience motherhood first hand rather than through a veil of dogma. Then I was challenged to read Gina Ford by someone declaring I was too much of a hippy to do so. Hippy? Moi? Just because I was planning to use reusable nappies! Anyway after that I really had to, and in the interest of balance I also read the Baby Whisperer too.

As a Mum-to-be with previous experience running to...well, holding a friend's baby the right way up...once...cautiously...So why did I want to throw these books across the room with such violence. After all, if I followed their sage advise by the minute, I would have a baby that slept through the night, fed perfectly and no doubt genuflect at the alter of these parenting Saints.

Then suddenly there was a book worth going to bed early for: Debra Jackson's Baby Wisdom. It looks at how different groups around the world raise their children for the first year as well as the history of looking after babies. It was fascinating and the antidote to prescriptive parenting. I could forget about looking at my maternal stop watch and dream of the Kalahari instead. Sure, it did have recommendations and to be a true acolyte of the approach I would have thrown away the cot and buggy. It may not be practical but it certainly was a stimulating read.

Also there is nothing like a contrast to help you view things more clearly - or for the philosophers amongst us I had found my dialectic!

Eureka! It is clear - we keep on reading advice until we find something that reinforces our own prejudice. If you need routine, stick with Gina... if you are a free spirit, go for Deborah.

Then enter @VivGroskop who recently wrote an amazing review of Nurtureshock, the latest book of parenting wisdom to be imported from the States. She recommended Oliver James, 'The F*** you up' amongst others as more credible alternatives.

This book is another compulsive read, it has found me turning on the light again after DH has started snoring. This morning (while the three of us had breakfast in bed together) I was reading a psychological profile of George W Bush based on the parenting he endured. Let's get the criticism out of the way, Oliver James is impressed by his own opinions, very impressed, and he is out to convince you beyond any doubt (reasonable or not) that not only is his theory right, but there is no room for deviation. All behaviour is 100% incontrovertibly nurture rather than nature - and if you don't agree then you should read his book again.

Does the negative out weigh the positive? No, way. I thoroughly recommend it. It is a serious eye opener! It is not aimed so much as a parenting manual but as a guide for all children, to understand the messages of our upbringing and how not to become over burdened by the negative messages that still subconsciously affect us.

The Oliver James book has clarified so much - we need to look at ourselves as people before we take the next step to thinking about how we behave as parents and, by extension, the skills we need to be a parent. Being a good parent is immeasurably helped by having a clear state of mind.

All I want for my little girl is to be happy and fulfilled, I need to be strong enough to guide her firmly but with true kindness, take the time to listen and the effort to empathise. Even though he may be too mighty to appreciate my gratitude, I wholeheartedly thank Oliver James for giving me a rewarding context for all other advice I receive, be it from books, blogs or Mummy friends.

* Inspired by Josie's blog about A Book that Changes your life

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dear Floor!*

When I first saw you I knew that we had to live together. You were beautiful, simple and a modern take on classic flagstones. You took my breath away - and that was just your price.

We had been living with rough concrete for too long while we finished the rest of the renovations - sweeping resulted in clouds of dust and the same dingy, dusty appearance. When I saw you, you seemed to be the perfect antidote. Clean fresh limestone that could be cared for and would make my home sparkle.

You did not come cheap, but I wanted you and knew that I must follow my heart. I had to juggle, to re prioritise and to plead but I got you. You arrived and eventually you went down (when has anything ever happened quickly in this household).

There you were in pristine sparkling form for A's 21st, and somehow our young guest failed to appreciate your magnificence. D liberally pebble dashed you with his excess red wine (no details here, it was messy and I don't want to remind you of your baser moments).

I wonder if you think of all the other more glamorous homes that you could have found. In stead of a castle or designer condominium, I secured you for my tiny tumbledown seventeenth century cottage.

I do my best to keep you in the condition to which you would like to become accustomed, but no matter how often I mop an enthusiastic border collie is never going to appreciate the merits of a saintly sparkle. In fact the only sparkle that is constant is the glitter that misses S's craft desk and that you seem to cunningly save for me and hide from my sweeping.

I appreciate that you do your best to show off your natural good looks and sophistication. It must be a tough job and I am sure that you feel under appreciated. You have to believe me when I say that knowing that you are there, even under the veneer of puppy paw prints, I maintain my conviction that you are beautiful!

I may walk all over you (sorry, that line had to surface) but I still respect you.

*Inspired by and the Sleep is for the Weak writing workshop

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Toxin Awareness

On the Ellen show, Sheryl Crow said that this is what caused her breast cancer.
It has been identified as the most common cause of the high levels of dioxin in breast cancer tissue.

Sheryl Crow's oncologist told her women should not drink bottled water that has been left in a car.
The heat reacts with the chemicals in the plastic of the bottle which releases dioxin into the water. Dioxin is a toxin increasingly found in breast cancer tissue. So please be careful and do not drink bottled water that has been left in a car.

Pass this on to all the women in your life. This information is the kind we need to know that just might save us! Use a stainless steel canteen or a glass bottle instead of plastic!

No plastic containers in microwave. No water bottles in freezer. No plastic wrap in microwave. A dioxin chemical causes cancer, especially breast cancer. Dioxins are highly poisonous to the cells of our bodies. Don't freeze your plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic. Recently, Edward Fujimoto , Wellness Program Manager at Castle Hospital, was on a TV program to explain this health hazard. He talked about dioxins and how bad they are for us. He said that we should not be heating our food in the microwave using plastic containers. This especially applies to foods that contain fat.
He said that the combination of fat, high heat and plastic releases dioxin into the body.
Instead, he recommends using glass, such as Corning Ware, Pyrex or ceramic containers for heating food. You get the same results, only without the dioxin. So, such things as T V dinners instant soups, etc., should be removed from the container and heated in something else.

Paper isn't bad but
you don't know what is in the paper. It's just safer to use tempered glass, Corning Ware, etc.

reminded us that a while ago some of the fast food restaurants moved away from the foam containers to paper. The dioxin problem is one of the reasons...

Also, he pointed out that plastic wrap, such as Saran wrap or Cling film,
is just as dangerous when placed over foods to be cooked in the microwave. As the food is nuked, the highheat causes poisonous toxins to actually melt out of the plastic wrap and drip into the food. Cover food with a paper towel instead.

One year older, but am I wiser?

It is hard to believe that I have been tweeting for almost a year. I was very dubious about the whole thing until I went to a seminar entitled 'Organic PR'; Twitter seemed a fairly harmless, even potentially mercenary, way to fill in the hours.

My preconceptions have undergone a major reversal. I developed a severe Twitter habit: Initially I needed to get my first ten followers, then thought that I would be happy when I got a hundred ... and then I grew up!

I am still in the throws of a Twitter affair - but it is so different from imagined. It is so much more about what I can hear, contribute towards and learn rather than how I can sell. I am not interested in numbers, but in the people behind the numbers.

I have also learnt about the personal rewards of blogging. Finding this 'Sleep is for the Weak' writing workshop has been a highlight. I had never imagined so many witty, thought provoking and times heart wrenching blogs were out there, so many inspired by this workshop.

I have had personal and professional ups and downs - when the site got amazing national press coverage, when the sales failed to flood in, when we shared amazing recipes, and when I miscarried, when rediscovered my love of books. Yes, the on-line community has been a catalyst, a comfort and an eye opener.

There is so much to do, so much to learn but if what I have learnt over the past year is anything to go by, I'll be sharing it with you!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Which Mole Waddles?

Inspired by Raising my Boychick I thought I should untangle my conflicting female role models (or 'mole waddles' as I once said in a drunken debate - note to self: I have no head for alcohol since becoming a Mum).

Don't you just love a woman just responds to winning a Nobel prize with 'Oh, Christ'. Yes, Doris Lessing has balls to spare. This video of her hearing about the Nobel prize always raises a smile.

I love Doris Lessing, she has incisive intelligence, she fights for her ideals, bites the hands that feed her, she is rude, she is articulate and she is brilliant. She writes what she believes in and, boy, does she do it well!

Hold on, you may ask, didn't she abandon her kids when she left Southern Africa? Yes, and she has never apologised or sought to justify her decision. How can this woman be a role model? As a parent she definitely is not!

Let me explain my other role model. Frances is not famous, she does not aspire to be. She is just a friend of mine who I have not seen for a few years since she went to live in a deserted part of Kerry in rural Ireland. She is, however, my other role model. Just seeing her and her son together just made me realise how rewarding parenting could be.

What is so special about Frances as a Mum? Like Doris, she worked things out for herself. She read and she read, not baby manuals but about human development about psychology and about the things that underpin how we really work, then she got stuck in and enjoyed! I have never seen such joy at parenthood; she took the time to explore life afresh through her son's eyes.

My role models are conflicting and I don't aspire to fully emulate either. I do hope that I emulate their clarity and intelligence, I hope that I can blow raspberries in the face of convention when it runs counter to my family's best interests. I hope to have integrity at all times, to see beauty and to realise that there is always something to learn. Yes, I seem to have problems with conventional role models/ mole waddles but I can be inspired by, and celebrate, the diversity of amazing women out there (in my own way).

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

How do you feel about 40?

Do you realise that you are going to be 40 in April?

Yes, that is what the diary says.

Does it bother you?

Not really, you are as old as the man you feel.

Well that makes you 50!

Okay, back track. I still feel as if I am embarking on adult life, but what I see in the mirror does indicate that I may be ageing. Make-up has become good manners rather than creative expression and the last time I visited a University I was shocked that they were letting in kids rather than contemporaries.

Do you mind being 40?

They say age is just a number, but being 40 has come as a bit of surprise.

By 40 weren't you meant to have achieved life's goals?

I remember saying to my first boss that I wanted to own a flat in London and a palace in Venice while running a large business.

Exactly what have you achieved?

I have a tumble down cottage that one day may be comfortable, I am setting up a business that has yet to break even and I can almost afford a holiday every other year. But, I am happy!

Er, happiness was not on your original wish list. Do you have any concerns?

Of course, I have concerns. I would love Sarita to have a brother or a sister but I am having a few miscarriage issues. Also I would love my business to be a huge success as I fundamentally believe in it.

Are you worried about failing on either of these counts?

Failure is quite an emotive word, besides both are a work in progress. I need a bit of TLC on the medical front, as I am fed up of feeling like shit, and some better time management skills on the business front; they are not critical factors in my happiness.

So how are you really feeling about turning 40?

Surprised that it has come around so quickly, but I think that with age I must be working out what really matters. This morning Sarita clambered into bed just a few minutes ahead of our alarm and we had a gentle family cuddle - that is worth more than a Palace in Venice to me! Let's start organising the party!