Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Fascinating Facts about Me (Courtesy of the RA Award)

It’s nice to be appreciated.  The lovely Older Mum and Bod for Tea have both recently bestowed the Reader Appreciation Award on me as a thank you for reading and commenting on their blogs.  Both write superbly and their blogs are always an enjoyable read.  Do check them out if you haven’t come across them.  As is customary with these things, one accepts the award graciously, answers a few questions about themselves and then passes the baton onward to some other worthy recipients. 

So, dear readers, here are some hitherto unknown gems about me:

Where do you do most of your writing/ blogging?
I’m a mother; of course it’s in the kitchen.  Most of my posts are written at the kitchen table, with my bottom perched on an IKEA chair. Whatever time of day it is (usually morning when I’ve dropped Pip off at pre-school) I need to have the light on. The kitchen at Faulty Towers is long and dark and the back of it receives very little natural light.  Post renovation it will be an uber modern glass cube, so possibly I might find I have the opposite problem and will be a purchasing an ‘anti - glare’ screen for my laptop.

This is my view from the kitchen table. The previous owners incorporated a dresser into an old chimney breast. I hate this dresser with a passion, the plate rack is useless, so I use it for Pip’s books, in case he needs encouragement staying at the table to eat his tea.  The rest of it, aside from housing some rarely used recipe books, is just a magnet for attracting rubbish 24/7.  However often I tidy it, a) it still looks messy b) it attracts more stuff.  As I say, I can’t wait for my new kitchen.

If I’m not writing in the kitchen, you can sometimes find me indulging myself in a coffee shop like this one.  
Today whilst writing this I have supped a decaf Cappuccino and scoffed a chocolate and vanilla muffin.  I am ashamed to say, I have now completely given in to late pregnancy gluttony.

What is your favourite time of day and why?
Weekday mornings, post 9.15am.  I find getting Pip to pre-school on time a massive effort. Even if we’re up and breakfasted by 8am, we still seem to get to pre-school after the doors have opened.  Something always happens in those last precious ten minutes to delay us; Pip suddenly decides he needs a poo, or MUST take a certain toy with him that we then can’t find, or the traffic is bad.  Mornings are always a rush, rush, rush.  When I return home around 9.30am, I exhale deeply, make myself a cup of tea and take half and hour to relax after the mania of the previous hour. I love my own company and this is the time of day that for half an hour I’ll spend some quiet time reading/ blogging and taking stock of what needs to be done that day.

Have you ever googled yourself and been surprised at what you’ve found?

Thanks largely to my surname, I’m lost in a sea of google obscurity with lots of other people that share my moniker.  Funnily enough, I don’t mind this, in fact I quite like it. My maiden name was more unusual, and I didn’t like the fact people could google stalk find me. I’m a very private person, being one of many makes it easier to hide - if I want to. 

One material possession you could not live without?
My 11 inch MacBook Air.  A present from my husband.  I LOVE it.

What is your dream car?
I’m actually a bit of a petrol head. I love cars. I'm also very lucky, I have owned my dream car.  A BMW Z4 coupe, in metallic black and a real head turner. I called him Rocky, as in Rocket rather than the Sylvester Stallone film.  Sadly when I reached seven months pregnant with Pip, he had to go to make way for a more family friendly vehicle.  I have some very fond motoring memories of my little rocket though; pre-children I definitely fancied myself as a modern day Penelope Pitstop.

Who would play you in a movie of your life?
Jennifer Aniston.  People have commented on the similarity of my hair to hers on numerous occasions, and I guess I am quite ‘girl next door’ like she is.  My dress sense is not dissimilar to hers,  I like her effortlessly casual style, but the way in which she also can scrub up for an awards ceremony without looking overdone.  Plus, I'd like to think any movie about my life would be lighthearted and full of laughs.

Do you have any siblings?
Two younger brothers.  Despite the spats of childhood, we all get along well.  My younger brother is particularly fabulous at helping me out around the house with all the DIY tasks my husband is not so gifted at.   He's also the only person I know that may be slightly more partial to a slice of cake than I am.

What’s your Star Sign?
Aries; the first of the fire signs.  I’m not sure how typical I am of Aries, all in all I’m a pretty laid back kind of person, but that said, when something flares the inner embers within, there’s no stopping me.

Do you have any pets?
No.  Although in a series of recent hormonal pregnancy moments, I have been toying with the idea of giving a home to a Bengal kitten named Dorian Grey. He’s a beautiful chap, spotted grey and with darker grey markings, like a leopard. Currently, I am trying to see sense and not give in.  I grew up in a house with two cats, and much as I love them, I think the cat hair would drive me mad these days, plus, trying to manage a cat and a new baby might just be too much.  What do you think?

Any guilty pleasures?

Cake. Come afternoon; 2.30 - 3pm I just love a nice sit down with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Pip does too; I’ve created a partner in cake crime.

You can't beat a good Victoria Sponge
My blog - I feel guilty about the amount of time I spend on it, sometimes taking the time out to blog feels very self-indulgent.  Added to this, is also the fact that it’s a secret from family and friends (but, that’s the subject of another *probably lengthly* blog post.)  Anyway, as the lovely Julia at Julia Writes says; writing is cheaper than therapy.  In the madness of being a mum we all need something to keep us sane. This is mine.

And now to show my appreciation for some of my lovely readers. I honestly appreciate each and every person that visits my blog and reads my ramblings, and in that sense, picking individuals out makes me uneasy, as I don’t want anyone to feel unappreciated. So, to all the wonderful readers and commenters that have supported Mummy Plum over the past 15 months, thank you.  If you'd like to pick up the baton and tag someone, please do.

Finally, if you are a regular reader of my blog and have never commented, I'd love it if you said hello,  I do love to know who's reading and it means I can pop over and say hello to you too. x

Friday, 23 November 2012

Mother Food

I learnt a new word this week.  Galactagogue.  I rather like it.  It means ‘leading to milk’ and comes from the ancient greek words, glacta (milk) and gogos (to lead).  This fascinating discovery came courtesy of a great book I have been reading; Mother Food - a book of wisdom for breastfeeding mothers.  This book is about the benefits of a lactogenic diet and how eating the right foods (galactagogues) can have a significant effect on the production of a mother’s milk and her health.

Books on such a subject aren’t normally ‘me’.  It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that I find I’ll buy them and then never read them, despite my best intentions.  My journey to this book however, started with another.

A few weeks ago, I attended a second time mum’s group.  One of the other (very lovely) mums in the group had kindly bought along some books to share.  On the table was a book; ‘Contented Calf’ - Nourishing recipes for breast feeding mums.’

I picked it up and flicked through it.  In day to day life, it’s very rare that I cook anything from a recipe book these days (despite owning many), so the irony that as a breastfeeding mother of a newborn I would find time to explore a new recipe book was not lost on me.   As I continued to peruse the book with a wry smile, my mindset changed, I found myself drawn in, the premise of a lactogenic diet interested me, as did the idea of foods specifically to nourish breastfeeding mothers.  I recalled how, after breastfeeding Pip exclusively for a year, I felt physically depleted, despite eating a relatively ‘healthy’ diet. I recalled how, by the time he reached his first birthday, I felt and looked run down and was experiencing a number of health problems, particularly with my teeth and gums.  I felt drained, a husk of my former self.

And so it was, that I ended up bringing that cook book home and embarking on a marathon batch making exercise.  One of the key factors that inspired me was the fact that many of the recipes in the book were things I would normally cook; spaghetti bolognese, beef stew, chicken soup.  This meant that it didn’t feel hard work making and preparing them.  The ingredients were virtually the same anyway, with the addition of  a new item, such as a herb or vegetable, here or there.

The author of the 'Contented Calf' recipe book credited another book; 'Mother Food' with being a key source of inspiration and a font of information on the subject of a lactogenic diet. With my interest well and truly piqued, I decided to order a copy from Amazon.  For once in my life, the book arrived and didn’t sit on the shelf. I read it, and I really enjoyed it.

Mother Food is written in simple layman’s terms and easy to understand. I found the first two chapters on the history and origins of ‘Mother Food’ and the basics of a lactogenic diet particularly enjoyable.   There's some interesting advice in the section; ‘Keeping your health the best it can be’, on how to deal with sweet cravings and losing baby weight whilst breastfeeding as well as balancing the use of caffeine in the zombie period of those first few months. It also looks at how adjusting certain elements of a breastfeeding mother’s diet might help with colicky or particularly sensitive babies. 

What I particularly liked about this book is the author’s voice.  Whilst it is a pro-breastfeeding book, it doesn’t appear to be written by a breast feeding militant. It does not preach about how much ‘better’ it might be for a woman to breastfeed, but instead, is written from the viewpoint of a woman who recognises that breast feeding successfully can be a challenging journey for a mother; one that can require a lot of support and looks at a number of ways in which a woman can help herself on that journey.

Whilst I found the whole book interesting, the most useful sections are the later chapters of the book which discuss lactogenic foods. Some of these are also listed in the Contented Calf book too.  I thought I’d share some of the foods and suggested meals that I plan to try and include in my post-baby diet.

Porridge - Oats are heralded as very beneficial to breast feeding mothers.  A good bowl of porridge can set you up for the day; oats are well known for the benefit of slow releasing energy.  Dried fruit: figs, dates and apricots are also supposed to be particularly good for lactating mothers so I plan to add these to my porridge (or muesli), or eat them on their own as snacks.

Snacks - Houmous with pitta bread. Chickpeas are another superfood for breastfeeding mums. It’s easy to buy a pot of houmous and leave it in the fridge.  With some wholemeal bread or toast it’s a great, easy snack, or can be eaten as part of a bigger meal to make a more substantial lunch.  

Whole grain breads and crackers - Turkey, mozzarella and tomato, Houmous, carrot and sesame seed are just some of the recommended sandwich fillings in the recipe book. Particularly good to know with Christmas coming up and all that left over turkey to eat.

Nuts and Seeds - Sunflower Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Almonds (the most lactogenic nut) Cashews, Pecans.  I'm not much of a seed person normally, but if I’m feeling up to it, I might try making Multilayer Mummy’s 'Tasty power energy snack,' easily made and stored in the fridge.  Bowls of nuts are always abundant in our house in the festive season, so this year I'm going to make sure we have almonds and cashews in ours.

Fresh Fruit and Berries - Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Plums are recommended. I plan to try and make some smoothies -  a great way of incorporating fruit into my diet easily.

Meat - Chicken, Turkey, Venison.  The author of Mother Food was a vegetarian for many years, and she does not make as many suggestions for red meat meal solutions as found in the ‘Contented Calf’.   However, from the ‘Contented Calf’ book, I’ve batch cooked some great beef recipes for the freezer.  These include:

Spaghetti Bolognese, Beef Lasagne, Beef & Venison Stew and also Chicken, Almond and Apricot Casserole and Fish Pie.

Vegetables - Dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, potato (sweet and normal) asparagus, green beans, peas, carrot.    Soups are a great and easy way of getting a good intake of vegetables, and don’t take long to make either. I’ve also experimented with a new recipe, Butternut squash and Kale Lasagne (again, from the Contended Calf) to go in the freezer.

There are lots more suggestions than the ones I’ve listed here, however these are things that I am most likely to eat and have therefore cooked.  I don’t for one moment expect that I’m  going to have time to recook these things in the first few months after baby arrives, but in the short term, having a well stocked freezer full of nutritious food will hopefully help.  

If this all looks a bit 'worthy', rest assured, I'm also planning to indulge in a good few slices of cake too; all new mums deserve some benefits.  Now all I have to hope is that EB is able to step up to my engorged ‘galacta-gogos’ without too many problems.  

*All opinions expressed here are my own. I am not trained to give nutritional advice. I was not sent these books to review, but merely wrote this post to share my interest.*

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Preparing to be a Big Brother

We spent a lovely day with Pip on Sunday; we went to the local farmer’s market and then to the nearby adventure playground by the river. Afterwards, we walked up to a local beauty spot for tea and cake, and then wandered aimlessly through the muddy grounds and fallen leaves.  Pip insisted on holding both of our hands, only letting go to climb the odd tree.  He looked so sweet, dressed in green, bright red and blue with his co-ordinating wellies, and he still seemed so young to me.  It was a special day, appreciating him, and being together just the three of us.  I wondered if it would be our last weekend alone together before three become four.

He understands that EB will soon be arriving in this world.  In odd moments, I detect a hint of apprehension or insecurity. He has asked me a lot recently, "Do you love me,  Mummy?", "Am I your best friend, Mummy?". I have done my utmost to assure him my love for him knows no bounds.  In other moments, I can tell from the questions that he asks, or the little things that he does, that he is looking forward to EB’s arrival and being a big brother.

I have tried not to underestimate what a significant change having a sibling will be for him; he has had us completely to himself for the past three and a half years.  In preparation for the arrival, I’ve tried to take a few steps to prepare him for what’s about to come, and to also ensure he doesn’t think EB is going to be able to merrily go off on a bike ride from day one. (Something that has been mentioned more than once, although he has declared that EB’s bike is going to have ‘super slow wheels’.)

Reading : Books about Babies
We’ve been given a couple of lovely books to help young children understand pregnancy and becoming a sibling.  Our favourite is ‘There’s a House inside my Mummy’.  The book tells the story of a little boy who is about to become a big brother, and explains what is happening to his Mummy and her body.  It is written in rhyming prose, and has prompted some wonderful questions and conversations with Pip.

At one point the book explains that it’s like a giant warm bathtub inside Mummy’s tummy. Which prompted my son to ask; "Do you have taps in there?”.  I guess you can’t fault his logic.  The description of Mummy’s bellybutton as a 'tummy telephone' with which to communicate with baby has also been very well received.  And I confess, I have been guilty of ‘faking’ some kicks as Pip talks through it to EB (or at least pushing my belly out quickly) which has met with great delight.

The other book we’ve been reading, is ‘The World is Full of Babies.’ If your child likes animals as mine does, this is a good book as it looks at how different animals are born and nurtured in comparison to babies.  It also shows images of a mother breastfeeding her newborn which can be difficult to find in books for children this age.


Looking Back 
We’ve also spent some time looking together at photos and videos of Pip on the computer when he was a baby.  He loves doing this and hearing stories of what he was like as a baby, and I’m hoping this has helped crystallise in his own mind what EB will be like, and just how little he’ll be able to do at first.  “No darling, he won’t be able to make an ENORMOUS Lego tower straight away”.

Preparing for the Home Arrival
I’ve read on a number of occasions that children can feel insecure when new siblings arrive home, and that it is best for Dad or another relative to hold the baby when they are first introduced to the older child.  You can never predict how things will happen in the moment, but I’ll try to bear this in mind when the time comes.

Many people have suggested that it is a good idea to have a gift from baby to give to their older sibling, so a long hankered after hunk of Octonauts plastic, complete with 'slime pellets’, has duly been purchased. Pip also loves balloons, so depending on how things go, and if the babysitting Grandparents are up to it, we thought we would let him decorate the house with a few of them prior to EB’s homecoming.  I know this will make him extraordinarily happy.  

Entertaining Pip whilst Breast Feeding
The reality of this is what worries me most about EB's arrival.  Regular readers will know that Pip formed a strong attachment to my breasts, and I am still not sure how he will feel about EB being allowed to step up to the milky bar.  One suggestion that was shared with me and which I plan to try is the introduction of a Breastfeeding Box.

The premise behind this idea is that the box is filled with different activities to do daily. Sticker sheets/ a new book/ crayons and a colouring sheets/ a cheap toy.  It comes out when mother is breastfeeding and is put away after each feed.  I don’t know how Pip will respond to this, but today we sat down and decorated our box together.

I’ve picked up a variety of bits and pieces to fill it with; Thomas the Tank Engine sticker books, colour your own Christmas cards, cheap 99p packs of crayons, plus some other small activities and toys.  Thomas the Tank Engine books or Ladybird first readers also fit nicely inside our box; I am hopeful that during a breast feed there will be good opportunity to sit and read with Pip. One shop I found especially good for filling our box with these bits and pieces is Tiger. Danish by origin, it stocks some great stocking fillers/ craft items at rock bottom prices, but with better quality than you’d find in the £ shop. I also picked up a few bigger craft activities which hopefully will be useful on those dark, cold winter afternoons when we are house bound and need an activity to occupy us.

Other than these simple steps, I can’t think of much more I can do. I just hope the integration of a fourth person into our family is smooth. The above is all good in theory, I guess only time will tell what happens in practice.  

How did you prepare your older child for the arrival of a sibling? What worked for you? Do you have any do’s or don’ts to share? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Autumn for Boys

Autumn; season of Mother waking and peeking around the curtain, praying she won’t find rain.  Like puppy dogs, small boys still need to run free, whatever the weather.  Thermal under layers are worn, hats, gloves, and down filled coats are found and fitted. "He’ll be too hot,” says Daddy, but Mother won’t hear of it. Hearing the constant repetition of the words “I’m cold” is as painful as wind whistling through her ears; she decrees that even the scooter must wear ear muffs.  

Autumn; season of den making and adventure. Of forays into dark woodland, possibly inhabited by Gruffalos, searching for fallen sticks and branches, with which to make secret hideaway houses.  Cold bark peeling from damp, branches reveals bugs underneath, met with bravery and the words; ‘I'm not scared’. An industrious spirit fills the cool air as big sticks, middle sized sticks and small sticks are lined up, perhaps against an old tree, in a lean-to fashion and first attempts at a bivouac are made. Later, proud faces look on admiring the rickety handiwork of a family effort. It’s not big enough for a grown up but splendid abode for a three year old miniature person.  ‘It’s perfect’ he says, satisfied.

Autumn; season for treasure hunting. Round, brown mahogany conkers grace the ground, with a patina so rich they appear to have been polished.  "Honkers" are the new best thing, filling every pocket, then magically reappearing in the drum of the washing machine.  A collection with no apparent purpose, other than the satisfying end result of being brought together en-masse; a conquest of conkers - filling a whole bucket.

Autumn, season of muddy wellies. Squelch, squelch, squelch. Ooops.  "Where’s my welly gone?"  Ah.  Stuck. In. The. Mud.  A cry from the observant mother bird; "Don’t put your foot do...w...n".  Too late.  Now, two muddy wellies, and one muddy sock.  "Let’s try and find a muddy puddle; wash the wellies off."  Hmmm. That puddle looks more like a lake, a swamp. “Watch out....”  Sp..l..a..s..h!  Oh no.

Autumn; season when mother tries to remember a plastic sheet for the boot of the car, minimising the damage of mud splattered footwear and raincoats. The time of year when little boys find themselves sitting in their underpants in the car on the way home, the heating set to full blast, because they’re just too filthy for Mother to allow them to do anything else.

Autumn; as a red button nosed, exhausted boy defrosts on the sofa late afternoon, Mother sneaks into the kitchen and savours the joy of warming her hands around the hot cup of tea she has looked forward to all day.  Never has a hot cuppa tasted so good.

Linking up for the final time, with the highly eloquent Older Mum in a Muddle and her fabulous #One Week meme.  Click on the badge below to discover wonderful descriptions and photographs of other people's autumn experiences and for information on how to join in during the 'winter' week.
one week

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Autumn Blessings #R2BC

Mother Goose like
I’m 38 weeks pregnant today and in full nesting mode. It feels great,  I feel great.  Finally, some order seems to be creeping into the chaos, thanks to the efforts of my wonderful parents who visited last week and helped us to build the cot, assemble the pram and hang curtain rails amongst numerous other tasks, in order to help us get ready for EB’s arrival.  The hospital bag is still only half packed, but if a sudden dash to the hospital is required, I can cobble the necessaries together at the last minute.  The big remaining question on my mind now is; can I complete a washathon and get to the bottom of my always full laundry basket before baby arrives?

A Positive in the Negative

As a Group B Strep carrier there was a chance that GBS would be active as I approached EB’s birth. Last week, I had a private test done to ascertain if it was present, and thankfully the result came back negative.  I am so pleased, not only for the elimination of potential risks to EB, but also for myself.  This result means that I do not now need to have IV antibiotics during labour and will also be eligible to give birth at the hospital birthing centre rather than on the labour ward, which is something I really wanted to try and achieve. What will be, will be, but I feel so much more positive about EB’s forthcoming birth on the back of this news.

Snapshots of a Moment in Time
The proofs of the photographs that Pip and I had done recently by a professional photographer came through this week. I’m really pleased with them. I had hoped to have lots of pictures of us together in the autumn leaves, but alas, drizzling rain meant it was not to be.  As it turns out, maybe it was for the best.  The ongoing precipitation meant that we did most of the shoot indoors, and towards the end had some fun with Pip decorating my bump with painted hand prints. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of the end result, but the photographer captured Pip and I and the relationship between us beautifully.  No-one knows we had this shoot done so hopefully these pictures will make a great surprise Christmas present for my husband and family members.

Autumn - My favourite season
Yesterday was a perfect autumn day, as I walked about in peace, getting my jobs done whilst Pip was at nursery, I allowed myself to slow down and enjoy the carpet of yellow, brown and red leaves strewn over the pavements and the wonderful colours on the trees.  It felt good to slow down and appreciate the canvas of the world around me.   I reflected on how different life is now to this time a year ago, how we never know, with the passing cycle of the seasons what life will bring.  This time last year, I felt stagnant, now I have life blossoming within me.  I feel blessed.

I'm linking this post up to Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart.

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

Monday, 12 November 2012

Autumn Traditions

    Autumn; my favourite season.  The colour palette of the world changes from green to russet and conker brown hues;  rich warm tones surround us, reminding us that we can find warmth even in declining temperatures and that it is time to drag woollen jumpers, hats and scarves from the back of cupboards.

    Autumn; season of preparation, of busyness.  Nights become longer, days become shorter,  I always have the feeling that there is much to do.  Events crowd the autumn calendar, defining months. Halloween, Bonfire Night and amidst it all, preparations for Christmas.   Harvest festival reminds us that we should store for the cold months ahead. Root vegetables are evicted from the garden. Apples are picked from October trees and mixed with blackberries from the hedgerows to become mouthwatering pies. We forage for sweet chestnuts in woodland near my parent's house, to roast on the fire, or make into stuffing. Sloes are picked and left to ferment in gin; to become a welcome festive winter warmer.  We bake, we make, cooking in batches.  One pot stews simmer gently for hours and are then frozen for colder days. Knitting needles click into action with a sense of purpose, knowing that what they create will be worn and well received. 

    Winds start to blow, trees shed their leaves, they whirl and swirl, jumping about fields and pavements.  Mother nature is blowing her nose, ridding herself of what she does not want, sweeping out, cleansing, to guard against stagnancy and rot. Finally, tree branches stand bare and frozen, and we are in winter, cold, slow, season of stillness; we hunker down and wait for life to spring again. 

    Winter holds little appeal for me.  The cold light of January dulls my spirit. The start of the year drags.  Yet, autumn I love.  I like the feeling of a long ‘to do’ list that the season gives me. I like it’s rich colours, the blowing of the breeze, the sense of wrapping up, of people, of presents.   My feelings for Autumn are deep rooted in family tradition.   This is the time that we make Christmas puddings, and have done every year, ever since I can remember.

    In the October half term, my mother’s dogeared, handwritten recipe book would be pulled from the bottom drawer in the kitchen, an orange checked, battered affair, illustrated with deep purple grapes. Inside, pages and pages of handwritten recipes in cursive hand and sometimes my own childlike scrawl. Sellotaped towards the back, in my grandfather’s looped handwriting, a recipe passed through the family from my mother's great aunt Alice, given to her when she was a kitchen maid, at a country house.  At the top of the page, written in a different, unknown hand, the title;  ‘Super Christmas Pudding’. 

    Our family tradition upholds one rule for making Christmas puddings. Every member of the family must be present in the household during the making of the pudding.  Pudding making therefore always happened in the early evening, when darkness had already closed in, shortly before my Dad returned from work.  We made in bulk, usually with enough mixture for two puddings, in a huge bowl. 

    Making Christmas puddings was a sensory experience.  First, we’d add raisins, sultanas, currants and mixed peel; dried fruits from sunnier seasons to add warmth and zest to the pudding. Next, chopped almonds, for texture and sweetness.  Nutmeg, which we cradled in our hands like a small birds egg, was grated gently, exuding an exotic fragrant aroma into the kitchen.  Tiny pieces of carrot and apple were added to the bowl too, bringing vibrant, joyful colour to the dark fruity mixture. We crumbled any lumps in our small fingers as we added the remaining dry ingredients:  flour, breadcrumbs, suet, rich dark, brown sugar sometimes in pieces that seemed as hard as stones - stones that must be crushed.  Then, a squeeze of lemon; performed on a special lemon juicer. How we loved to twist and turn the lemon round and round on that speared head, trying to squeeze out every last drop.   When the time came for the important business of stirring, it was all done by our small hands; sifting dry ingredients, letting small pieces of fruit drop like precious gems through fingers.  All the time, tasting, testing, exclaiming, proclaiming. ‘This is going to be the best Christmas pudding EVER’.  Finally, the wet stuff; our strategy never changed.  Small hands piling the ingredients high to the side of the bowl, making a volcano like hole in the centre. A drop of vanilla, eggs.  Gooey now.  Barley wine, a strange alien taste, foaming up inside the hole, and then the final flourish, the brandy. One of us would hold the tablespoon, whilst Mum poured out the measures,  we’d marvel at the strong, vapours from the golden brown liquid glistening on the spoon, whilst afterwards daring each other to lick it.

    The solemn matter of the ceremonial stirring came last, sealing the magic into our pudding. Each and every one of us would be called to the kitchen table in turn, a large wooden spoon passed along the line. We all enjoyed our own separate moment. Stirring clockwise, using all our miniature might to move the spoon through the thick fruity, fragrant mixture, eyes shut tight, we each made a wish.  We never told, we never talked about our wishes, pudding wishes were sacred.

    Into the bowls, tops wrapped in muslin and string, boiled to sterilise. Then placed on a shelf, in the small room at the back of the house to mature, sometimes for Christmas that same year, but usually for Christmas the year after, to be watered at three monthly intervals until then, with liberal sprinklings of more brandy.  A sense of specialness, even when we were young. Family puddings, made to the secret recipe; different to everyone else's.

    This autumn we made Christmas puddings with Pip.   Another descendant in the generational line, sharing the recipe, placing hands in the bowl, shovelling dried fruit into his mouth in greedy handfuls, just as I did when I was a girl.  Aunt Alice’s recipe on the table, Mum, Pip and I, stirring, each making a wish. Just as my family have done for years and years.  A sense of tradition and belonging, a sense of continuity.  A sense that  however much things change in the world around you, some things, will always be preserved if they are precious enough.

    The ceremonial making of the Christmas puddings, just one of the reasons why I love autumn.

    I'm linking this post up to the fabulous 'One Week' meme over at Older Mum in a Muddle.  For more details click on the badge below.


    Tuesday, 6 November 2012

    I'm not a Housewife

    The physiotherapist was rattling through the questions on the piece of paper in front of her at breakneck speed.  In a matter of seconds her quick fire technique had established my age, marital status and number of children.   Next up; employment.

    “Are you working?”
    “Have you been working?”
    “So, you’re a Housewife?”

    Hmmmm. I paused.  Housewife. Not a word I hear everyday. Certainly not a word I usually use to describe myself.  But clearly one that the NHS uses to bucket it’s patients when classifying their occupation (or lack thereof).


    “Well, I guess that would be one way of describing me”  I conceded, allowing rationality to get the better of me. She smiled.  Suddenly I felt more aware of her relative youthfulness, her efficiency, the fact that her badge had the word ‘senior’ on it. The familiar shadow of feeling lost as a woman without a defined work occupation crept over me.

    The ‘Housewife’ comment niggled for longer than the intermediate discomfort that came as she tried to ‘level’ my hips and pulled at my legs.  As I drove home from the hospital later, I tried to determine why it bothered me so much.   In the strictest definition of the term, I am a housewife.  So, why did it wrangle so? And if I didn’t want to be referred to as a housewife, what did I want to be called?

    For me, the word Housewife sounds old fashioned. It conjours up images of a woman in a time warp; a 1950’s post war woman, delighting in trialling and purchasing new consumer goods for the home, a woman who truly marvelled at the invention of the washing machine and how it would revolutionise her life.  A woman, who after years of rationing and austerity, enjoyed experimenting to now make more indulgent recipes, or making her own clothes.  The media of the day, women’s magazines particularly, propagated the fact that women enjoyed this role (even if in reality some wore false smiles to hide their gritted teeth.)
    She looks happy with her lot in life.

    If a modern day equivalent of this woman exists; (Anthea Turner and her series ‘The Perfect Housewife’ springs to mind,) then I’m nothing like her.  In one small snippet I saw of this series, Anthea was organising her linen cupboard; neatly folded white duvet and pillowcase sets were colour coded with tied ribbons to indicate the size of the sheets; which were pressed to perfection and folded with meticulous precision.  In contrast, my linen cupboard is chaotic and unorganised. I never know if the sheet I select is going to fit the bed, and if I’m honest, nine times out of ten I’m rooting through the wash basket on the day guests arrive to find a fitted sheet to wash and dry on a quick cycle before they get here.  Likewise, the advent of a revolutionary invention for accomplishing household chores is never going to get my party started; I’m just not the kind of girl that gets excited about the fact that Mr Dyson has launched a cordless hoover.  

    Perhaps that’s the issue; I have no desire to be the best housewife on the block.  Before I give the wrong impression; that I have slatternly like habits and reside in some slovenly dive, I should say that I do have standards.  I like my home to be clean, neat and tidy.  I like the bed linen to be pressed and not creased.  But I don’t enjoy doing all these tasks myself, day after day. I confess, I pay a cleaner to come once a week to keep on top of it.   I then dip in and out of the additional things that need doing; the necessary ‘deep cleans’. Tasks such as performing a proper limescale cleanse on the toilet are much more likely to get me animated.  Using a Harpic toilet bomb, observing the cautionary ‘must wear gloves warning’ and watching it all fizz up, feels more like an exciting high school chemistry experiment than a household chore.

    Maybe my aversion to the word housewife is because I feel a certain element of guilt that I’m not doing everything in the domestic sphere myself, that I pay someone else to do the things I don’t enjoy, whilst I sneak off and do something more enjoyable. (Play with my son, do something to enrich my own mind.) Perhaps there is a subconscious shame niggling away at me that I don’t personally have any desire to excel at what I deem to be the mundane chores of domesticity.  If the title were ‘House Manager’ instead, perhaps I’d feel the cap fits a little better. But that's me all over; far happier to direct than execute.  Or perhaps it's deeper rooted than that, that after nearly four years out of the workplace, I still struggle to accept my new role, struggle with the fact that people are oblivious that I once worked hard, added value and made a contribution to the workplace too.  Work can define us in more ways than we ever realise.

    The more modern title of ‘Stay at Home Mum’ is slightly more palatable to me than 'Housewife.'  At least that implies that I am occupying myself with the important task of looking after my children, and investing my time and energy in them.  Experience has taught me that being a stay at home mum is not a soft option, but it is something I absolutely want to do my best at.  It’s a choice I’ve made (for the medium term) and as such, I do feel a sense of responsibility comes with this choice; for me to try and do it ‘properly’; to help Pip learn as much and do as much as possible in these years that I am with him.

    They’re both labels at the end of the day.  One, slightly better in my mind in the other, but if I’m honest, the real crux of the issue is, I’d rather I wasn’t labelled singularly as either of these things.  I accept for the purpose of form filling and bureaucracy I need to be defined as something; the NHS, insurance firms, have their boxes to tick.  But in these, the years where I give myself to family, I do feel the need to remind myself that I am not just defined by the title of 'Housewife'.  (Not easy when you even have to request your husband to gift aid on your behalf.)

    I am more than a housewife,  I am more than a stay at home mum.  I’m a woman of many hats, even if some of them are invisible to others.  I’m a multitasking professional plate spinner, a project manager, an interior designer, a cook, a playmate, a writer, a style icon (ok, maybe not that one). I am a multifaceted woman.  People can refer to me as a ‘housewife’ if they like, but I know I’m so much more than that.

    If you don't work, what do you refer to yourself as? Does being called a housewife bother you? Am I getting my feather dusters ruffled up over nothing?