Thursday, 19 April 2012

#Reasons to be Cheerful

Today I’m joining in with ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ at Mummy from the Heart. I’ve been reading fellow bloggers posts on this for the past couple of weeks now, and have found them uplifting and inspiring.

Here are my reasons to be cheerful for this week:

I had the winning horse on the Grand National at the weekend.  I had been thinking about Neptune, God of the sea, so that was the reason I selected the horse I did. The prize money was a welcome windfall.  I’ve used it to buy some new sparkly shoes; they haven’t come yet, but I’m really looking forward to getting them in the post.  Bye bye heavy winter boots, hello ladylike flats.

We’ve had some great days and evenings out recently courtesy of Christmas / Birthday gifts from friends and family. We had a hilarious night at the theatre last week watching ‘Noises Off’, and we also finally got to attend the ‘wine school day’ I bought my husband for Christmas. It was a fantastic event in some atmospheric 16th cellars in London, followed by a delicious 4 course meal. My husband really enjoyed the day and I was really glad I bought it for him. 

Plans for our house renovation project are gathering pace; a second set of planning applications have been submitted to the council and we should now be able to start work in September.  We will need to move out for 10 months and there are still a lot of decisions that need to be made, which does feel rather daunting, but I’m trying to enjoy planning the renovations and looking for a house to rent, rather than feeling stressed out by it.

Pip did really well at swimming this week and even his teacher commented on how he has improved. Using goggles for underwater swimming really seems to have helped his confidence.  He also finally seems to have got to grips with his colours, which have confused him for ages. Now when he tells me he’s seen a blue’s actually blue!

Today I received a cheque from the liquidators with a dividend for money I lost on the ill fated degree course that collapsed 15 months ago.  The dividend is 10% of the fees that I paid to the college, which still represents a huge financial loss for me, but at one stage, I didn’t think I’d get anything back at all, so looking on the bright side, it’s much better than nothing.

I found some fabulous notebooks at knockdown prices in my favourite discount emporium this week. (TK Maxx if you're interested.) I especially liked this one, with the quote on the front from Benjamin Franklin. 

‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing’.   I think I might make that my blogging ethos.

Head over to Mummy from the Heart to read more fantastic Reasons to be Cheerful. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A Spring In My Step

I approached the start of this year with some trepidation. Wary, I looked over my shoulder in those dark winter months, suspicious that Jack Frost would surprise me with his stealth,  place his long wintery fingers around my heart, and seize me as he had the year before. Thankfully, he never came.  The odd shadow lingered, but I staved off the wintery blues and made it through to the warmth of spring.

Despite my aversion to the winter months at the start of the year, I love the seasonality of British weather.  Life in a constant climate would not be for me. I enjoy the russet reds, ochres and ambers of woody autumn, blowing and blustering us into watery winter; grey and white, with it's icy blasts causing us to hibernate away and eat warming comfort food.  I love the gentle thaw of spring, the growth of new buds, the celebration of new life, and the way it passes through to a fiery pinnacle of hot summer sun.

Of all the seasons, Spring is the one I like the best.  I find it energising and invigorating. I come over all Zebedee like.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve possessed a renewed energy, it’s swept upon me, like a morning dawn, warmed me up and got me moving.

Since then, I’ve been scrubbing and cleaning with a zeal I didn’t know I had. Sticky fingerprints unnoticed in the months of limited northern winter light have been removed with purpose from walls and paintwork. Clutter has been cleared out.  Books are now standing to attention on shelves, and toy cupboards have been reorganised and tidied.   I’ve also found that my palette has been awakened too.  I’ve blown the dust from the recipe books and have found myself with an appetite for new culinary dishes and a desire to widen the family meals repertoire.  Even the garden has not escaped my new found enthusiasm.  The bald patch left from the eviction of an overgrown bush has been laid with turf. Bright green grass, as vivid as if the blades had been coloured with felt tip pen, makes me feel cheerful every time I look out of the kitchen window.  Pots of newly planted pink, orange and purple pansies flutter gently in the breeze, and Pip’s planter of strawberries fills me with hope of fruitful things to come.

Quite by surprise, I’ve found myself with a spring in my step.  To celebrate, I’ve ordered myself some lovely new shoes.  Ruby red, glittery shoes, rather like Dorothy’s slippers in the Wizard of Oz.   A little bit bling? Possibly, but fancy feet appeal to me right now.  Hopefully they’ll keep me heel clicking through spring all the way along the road towards summer.

I’m linking this post up to #groovymums, a supportive network to help women make positive changes in their life, large or small. Visit Kate on Thin Ice for more information.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Mother's Work

I’ve been tagged by Polly at Caught Writing to complete the #amotherswork meme.  So without further ado, here I go, posting the obligatory rules along the way...

  • Post the Rules
  • Answer the Questions in as much or as little detail as suits you
  • Leave a comment on MotherWifeMe so we can keep track of the meme
  • Tag three people and link them on your blog
  • Let them know you tagged them
  • Tweet loudly about taking part using #amothersworkmeme

Did you work before becoming a mum?

Yes.  Prior to having Pip I worked for a large, well known American company.

What is your current situation?

I am currently a SAHM to Pip. He will be 3 in June.  I decided not to return to work after maternity leave.   A few factors informed this decision:
1) I only wanted to return to work 3 days a week and that was a definite ‘no no’ as far as my old employers were concerned. Interestingly, every mother I knew of at my old company worked full time. 

2) If I had returned to work, due to the nature of my husband’s job, I would have had complete responsibility for drop off and pick up from any nursery, and this would have been very difficult when combined with the travelling and commuting demands of my job.  Pip would have been the first child in the nursery door each day and the last one to leave or, alternatively would have spent all his waking hours with a nanny. I didn’t want that to be the case.

3) Being really honest with myself, after 13 fabulous years of working in my chosen field, the veneer had worn thin, and that meant, I wasn’t prepared to come home put my baby to bed, have dinner and then get the laptop out again (which realistically I would have needed to do on occasion).  My priorities had changed.

4)The most important factor - I just wanted to be with Pip.

When Pip was 16months old, I decided on a change of career; something that would allow me to eventually allow me to become self-employed and tailor work around the commitments of family life. I signed up to do a part-time degree course (accredited by a university) at a well established private college.  The course time commitment was 6 days per month which meant I had some external mental stimulus but got to spend lots of time with Pip too.  I felt that I’d really struck the right balance and everything was going swimmingly, until 5 weeks in, I turned up one day to find the doors locked and a notice saying that the college had gone into liquidation.
Loosing out on the course teaching (which was fantastic) and a years worth of tuition fees was a big blow, but the bigger blow was actually finding that there wasn’t really anywhere else that allowed the flexibility of studying part -time in the same way. All other avenues would require a bigger time commitment or a much longer commute than I was,and still am prepared to make right now. So, at the moment, that road is closed.  I may return that way, I may not.
In August last year I started blogging - it’s helped fill the mental void and get my brain working again.  Plus, I’ve rediscovered something I love. Writing.

Freestyle - a chance to get across your own point of view on the subject.

SAHM - Retraining to get back into the workplace.

 I feel blessed that I am able to spend these precious early years with Pip. I have a choice, I am able to stay at home, and I know not everyone has that.  That said, once he goes to school I don’t just want to be sitting at home, baking cakes waiting for his return each day.  I want to work in some capacity, do something useful, or feel like I’m adding ‘value‘ in some way.  It can be hard not to let ‘The Fear’ grip you in moments of self doubt.  Will I still be employable? Will anyone want me? Will a job exist for me that I can juggle around the commitments of family life?  To my mind, this is where being your own boss does pay dividends.  If there is a sudden need to run off and buy a fancy dress outfit, then you can do it.  
Retraining is time consuming and expensive, and for people like me who have a first degree and are already regarded as ‘skilled’ workers, there is no financial help available to do it.  I wish the government would consider making some small concessions to help mums back into the workplace.  For example, even allowing me to have a student loan as a way of funding course fees for retraining would be a start.* As it is, retraining to do something new, even in the short time since my last course collapsed is becoming less and less of an option, due to rising tuition fees, and the fact that the doors of financial assistance are largely closed to help people like me train to do something new.

* If you’ve got a first degree you are not eligible.

Pensions and the SAHM - A nagging thought.

We can and do manage on one income, and that luckily affords me the opportunity to be a SAHM.  But, managing on one pension is a completely different scenario.  From the first day I started work, I paid into my company pension, and continued to do so, throughout my maternity leave, until the day I left. In the last 3 years, I haven’t paid a bean.  A short pension holiday won’t probably hurt, but should I have an extended period of time at home, it does nag away at me how I can continue to make adequate pension provision for myself. 
Well, that’s my two penneths worth.  I’m now tagging the following super bloggers to pick up the baton if they’d like to as I’d love to know what they did pre-children, and I also think they would both have some valuable insights to offer on this subject.
Lynsey the MotherDuck

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Birthday Girl

It was my birthday last week;  I’ve now reached the ripe old age of 37.  Birthdays have always been a big thing for me.  Maybe it’s because my birthday always fell in the school holidays when I was a child, so it meant that unlike many other children, I had the benefit of being spoilt for the whole day on my actual birthday.  I usually got taken out for the day as a ‘treat’ or we would do something nice at home. Mum was great at creating a fantastic homemade birthday cake and birthday tea; I cherish the memories of my childhood birthdays.  When I left education and entered the world of work, I decided that I couldn’t possibly countenance working on my special day. So,  I continued the tradition of well,...pleasing myself.. and each year on my birthday, would take the day as holiday and treat myself or do something special.  37 years on, I’m still sticking with it.

The appeal of birthdays hasn’t waned for me as I’ve got older, if anything I look forward to them more.  Over the years I have also managed to get my husband to embrace my idea of birthday specialness.  To his credit, he has done this very well, even announcing the introduction around the anniversary of his own birth last year, of some new celebratory days; ‘Birthday Eve, Birthday Boxing Day, and Birthday Bank Holiday, thereby extending the specialness of his own day to a four day event.  (After humouring him for one birthday I decreed we should go back to it just being one special day. I was exhausted by the end of his self - approved extravaganza.)

This year I spent my birthday with my two boys,  and it struck me, that in some ways, things hadn’t really changed all that much over the years.  On my birthday morning, I had a lie in and then the boys came upstairs with cards, and presents and a cup of tea, singing a semi-tuneful ‘Happy Birthday’.  And, as I’ve done for so many years, I opened them in bed, it’s just that in these later years it’s my bed, rather than my parents.

I’ve got a bit of a thing about birthday cards. I love looking at them; buying them. In another life, I might have been a birthday card designer.  I can happily waste a good twenty minutes in Paperchase.  I have a brightly coloured tin box full of birthday cards with no specific recipient in mind, ‘just in case’ I get caught short;  cards I’ve seen on trips out or bought at shops I might not visit again, that are too special to leave behind.   I love receiving cards on my birthday, the slow drip feed of them through the letter box a few days prior.  The arrival of those brightly coloured, joyful envelopes all contribute to the anticipation of the big day.  I try to guess who they’re from, analysing the handwriting on the envelopes.  I appreciate each and every one, and the fact that my friends, have taken the time to go to the shop, choose a card and buy a stamp, and generally get their act together enough to find a post box in time for my birthday.   Each year, I always particularly look forward to opening my card from my friend V, who I first met at playgroup at the age of 2, who always includes a wonderful letter, in elegantly written handwriting with all her news.  I soak up those beautifully ink formed words from the page like a sponge, drinking it all in; not just because I love hearing from her but also because receiving a handwritten letter is such a rarity these days.

As I get older, I want for less in the way of gifts; the fact that people even remember my birthday and send a card or text is enough. When I get asked, prior to the big day; ‘What would you like for your birthday’? I find it hard to think of anything I want.  Occasionally I’ll come up with something inspired, such as the title of a book I’d like to read, but for the most part, I just don’t want anything.  In answer to this year’s request for birthday present ideas, I said to my husband; ‘Well, we need a new dustpan and brush..’  As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I silently wailed to myself;  ‘What has become of me? Is this what being a SAHM has reduced me to? A woman who lusts after kitchen cleaning tools?’. I wept into my feather duster as I envisaged an Addis grey number being presented to me. I wondered if I could make a retraction...‘ ‘Actually darling, perhaps some nice jewellery instead?’  I needn’t have worried.  The gifted stripy ‘Lobby set’ ( with tall broom and pan handle so you can sweep standing up) was most tasteful and thankfully was accompanied by some other ladylike gifts unassociated with household chores.  Clearly I am still considered worthy of gifts outside the confines of domestic drudgery. Phew.

It was a lovely birthday, husband had thoughtfully taken the day off work, and we made our way to Hyde Park, had pizza at the cafe by the Serpentine for lunch and then, walked through the park to visit the newly reopened Kensington Palace, stopping off at The Princess Diana Playground along the way.  We ate birthday cake with thick buttercream for late afternoon tea before I was treated to dinner out that night at my favourite restaurant.  Aside for the nagging doubt about being old before my time on the ‘Lobby set’ front, it was all rather super. 

Do you have any birthday traditions?  Or am I alone in my birthday self - indulgence? Do you like or loathe your birthday? I’d love to hear.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Daily Bread

It surely must be one of the oldest recipes in the world.  Jesus ate it, even the ancient Greeks and Egyptians are known to have baked it; not only baked it, but offered it up to the Gods.   Bread; a staple part of the human diet for thousands and thousands of years.  It’s quite remarkable really.

There are lots of things I love about bread. I love the smell of it freshly baked, I love eating it slightly warm, when the butter starts to melt before you even finish the slice. I love eating fresh crusty, bread with strawberry jam - it’s the only time I really like strawberry jam.  I love it cut into hot, buttered soldiers, dipped into a runny, boiled egg, and the way they come out looking as if they’ve been coated in bright yellow paint.  Or, my favourite, simply toasted, with some salted butter and a thin layer of tangy orange marmalade, accompanied by a cup of steaming hot tea. 

The artisan bakery down the road from me does a roaring trade in speciality breads. It seems West Londoners have a penchant for something more than your average loaf.  Walnut and Raisin, Potato and Rosemary Focaccia,  Spelt and Sunflower. The locals round here love them. And they’re happy to pay a premium for them too; put the word ‘artisan’ in front of it, and it seems you can charge what you want.  At the other end of the scale, there’s your bog standard, supermarket sliced loaf.  47p for a loaf of medium, sliced white bread in Tesco or JS.  I hate the supermarket bread shelves. Too much choice, too much confusion.  In the supermarket, I pick up some loaves and immediately put them back, because they weigh a ton. I can’t imagine eating something that weighs so much. What do they put in it? 

Once Pip was born and we started to think about weaning, I developed a bit of a bread obsession.  I became fixated with the media reports of bread containing chemical preservatives (used amongst other things, to elongate shelf life.). So I decided to try and make my own. I figured it might even be money saving too. A winning plan, I thought.   Bread maker duly purchased I set about making my own bread, with ambitions to branch out, add a few raisins here, some seeds there, and create my own little artisan breads at home.  In my rose tinted mind, it was the picture of home spun bliss.

It was a disaster. The problem was not in the bread rising, but with the paddle in the machine. It would constantly get stuck inside the loaf. By the time I had jemmied it out of the cooled loaf, it had a massive hole running through it.  Then, when I went to cut the loaf, aside from the great hole in the middle, I found that the outside was too crusty and the middle too soft.  Crumbs - everywhere. Added to which my freestyle bread slicing skills created slices that were more door wedge than door stop; I once made my mother a sandwich so large she couldn’t get her mouth around it.  Eventually I decided it was a false economy. For every loaf of bread I baked, I was throwing more than half of it away, either due gaping volcanic holes inside the loaf, or as a result of my ridiculously poor efforts wielding the bread knife.

And so, like the vast majority of the UK population, we consume week in week out, bog standard supermarket bread (albeit a nice golden, wholemeal one.) It’s easy, and highly convenient,  and as a mother, I don’t know where I would be without it.  But, here’s the problem.  I eat too much of it.  And I’m bored of it.  I eat it because it’s easy.  Whilst I insist that my son has wholesome porridge for breakfast each morning, and I go to the trouble of making it for him, I don’t eat it myself.  No. I eat a couple of pieces of toast inbetween unstacking the dishwasher, getting Pip breakfasted and dressed, and doing all the jobs that need doing of a morning.    That’s not so bad. But then lunchtime arrives.  As mealtime occasions go, lunchtime is my least favourite.   It was far easier when I worked, when all I had to do was walk into the staff restaurant and survey the choices before me. But now at home, I struggle to know what to have for lunch. Lunchtime does not inspire me.  So what do I usually eat?  Yes, more bread.  A sandwich or something ‘on toast’.  Even if I eat soup, what do I have with it? Bread.

Enough is enough. I don't want to turn into a dough girl;  I've decided I need to widen the palette of my lunchtime horizons.  So, dear readers, I’m asking for some helpful suggestions.  Quick, lunchtime solutions that are not bread based.   What do you eat for lunch?  Inspire me...