Eleven questions

I felt very honoured this week, because for the first time ever, I was tagged in a meme by Single Married Mum. The challenge was to answer her 11 thought-provoking questions, and then think up 11 of my own for 11 more bloggers. It’s an interesting one for me, because although I blog a lot about what’s going on with my children, I don’t think I give much away about myself. So, here I am, in 11 random facts…

What word or phrase would you ban?
It has to be, ‘What can I do now?’ as uttered a squillion times a day by The Boy. You have not just a roomful of toys and books, but also an imagination. Why don’t *you* decide? Once upon a time, driven to the brink of insanity, I wrote up a list of 50 ‘things he could do now,’ including tidying his bedroom, dusting the lounge and doing his homework. Strangely, he found something to do then… Continue reading

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Summer loving

I always know it’s going to be a good day when I wake up in the morning and open the curtains to blue skies. Because everything is easier on a sunny day.

Getting out of bed at 6.15am – the default time at which my little 16-month-old alarm clock goes off – is easier. In the winter months, when it’s still pitch black, it feels like that wake-up call is coming in the dead of night. While I never relish the thought of being dragged from my sleep, it’s less painful in summer, when the sky is light and the birds are singing. Continue reading

So long, Facebook…

I have big news.

No, I’m not pregnant (shudder). But it’s almost as major. I’m taking a Facebook break.

It’s a big deal for me. I *love* Facebook. I love keeping in touch with people, hearing about what’s going on in their lives, looking at their photos. I love posting my own updates, chatting, sharing my own photos. I love the interesting articles I wouldn’t have read unless I’d seen them pop up on someone else’s Facebook feed, the blogs I’ve discovered, and the Kindle recommendations. I love that when I’m logged in, I’m never alone.

So, taking a break is going to be a challenge, but I’m determined to do it. For a start, I waste far too much time on Facebook. Time I should be spending doing this:

Housework

Or this:

Work

Or playing with these:

Children playing

I could be reading, cooking, filling in The Baby’s first year scrapbook (she’s 15 months old, and I’m up to, ooh, about three months), touting for more work… I could go on, but suffice to say I’d have an awful lot more hours in the day if I dragged myself away from the computer.

I’m also finding myself getting increasingly wound-up by Facebook at the moment. I’ll admit that I’m terrible for taking offence where none is intended, misunderstanding people’s intentions, and (while I’m being honest) feeling more than a little paranoid from time to time, and Facebook is fuelling all those things just now. I’m finding myself getting prickly about other people’s posts, taking things the wrong way, and being somewhat over-sensitive and petulant. In short, Facebook is making me more irritable/neurotic/stressed than happy, so it’s time to take a breather.

I’m not sure how long I’ll last. I’m aiming for a week, but it might be more (unlikely) or less (probable). I’m not going to be on total black-out; messages and notifications get delivered to my phone, so I’ll see the things that matter, but what I *won’t* see are the status updates that have me gritting my teeth, or the group discussions that I can’t help getting drawn into, and getting cross about. But I’m determined to see what difference a Facebook amnesty will make to my life. I’m hoping for a cleaner house, fulfilled children, an empty laundry basket and less deadline stress. Optimistic, eh?

I’ll be back, of course. And when I am, I hope it’ll be with a healthier attitude towards Facebook that lets me dip in and out without getting addicted or agitated.

Like I said, optimistic…

Creases? What creases?

It’s fair to say that I’m not much of a housewife. I blame it on all sorts of things (lack of storage space, two kids, muddy-pawed cat), but the truth of the matter is that while I love a sparkling clean and tidy home, I’m not actually very good at achieving it. Frankly, at any given point, I can think of at least 37 different things that I’d rather be doing than housework.

In an attempt to devote less time to chores and more time to more exciting exploits (in other words, just about anything that doesn’t involve a duster or dishcloth), I’ve become a pro at cutting corners. And one of those corners is ironing. Yes, to my mother-in-law’s horror, I don’t iron. Anything. Ever.

We’ve lived in this house for nearly three years, and in that time, not once have I got the ironing board out. I don’t actually know where it is, come to think of it. Presumably in shed – where it will stay. Memorably, the boy once picked up a toy iron at some toddler group or other, and came to the conclusion that it was a ship. It was a reasonable guess, given that he’d never seen an iron in action before.

I’d like to think that even though I don’t iron, we don’t in general look like a bag of ragamuffins – although I’m prepared to be corrected on that front, if anyone is brave enough to tell me. Okay, so The Boy doesn’t have sharp creases down the front of his school trousers, but really, who cares? I’ve developed a tried and tested technique whereby everything gets a vigorous shake as it comes out of the washing machine, and then gets hung straight away, and it seems to eliminate the need for ironing. Which must save me a good couple of hours a week: time that can instead be spent reading, surfing or drinking wine.

There are a few golden rules that I live by (or shop by). Nothing linen comes into this house, and all work shirts, school trousers and polos must be of the Easycare variety. And on the whole, we seem to get away with a relatively uncrumpled existence.

Recently, though, I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion. It would appear that, now I have a baby girl, my iron-free days are numbered. Contemplating the rows of pretty little cotton dresses and cardis on the washing line, I have to admit that they’d all look a darn sight better for a brief encounter with the ironing board. As the end of summer approaches, it’s going to be even more of an issue: much as I hate to say it, fine needlecord – the stuff of which most baby girls’ winter dresses seem to be made – really can’t be decrumpled with a swift shake.

There is an alternative, of course. I could, as of now, add 100 per cent cotton and corduroy to my household’s list of banned substances, and instead dress the baby entirely in manmade, non-iron fabrics. But that would mean passing on so many beautiful little outfits (including more or less everything in Monsoon and Boden), and I do hate to miss a shopping opportunity. So unless I can find a surefire way to get the creases out of baby clothes without the means of heat and steam, it looks very much like I’m condemned to joining the legion of oppressed housewives, scaling the ironing mountain on a nightly basis.

Now, is there such a thing as an ironing board with an in-built wine glass holder?

Burning money

I’ve just spent the best part of £150 in a little under two hours. And disappointingly, it didn’t involve a trip to the Cath Kidston shop.

£37 went to Clarks for a new pair of school shoes for The Boy. Thankfully he has slow-growing feet, so they should see out the year. I hope.

£60 was on petrol. Petrol that will last, ooh, about a month. I’m lucky if I get 300 miles out of a tank in my gas-guzzler, which is somewhat galling, given that it’s a Ford Focus, for heaven’s sake, not a Range Rover.

£45 was eaten up by buying disposable plates, glasses, cutlery and napkins for The Baby’s baptism.

So, of the £142 I’ve just spent, £60-worth will go up in smoke, and £45 will go in the bin.

Ouch.

Not so long ago, £150 felt like a lot of money. Pre-kids, hubby and I used to be able to holiday for not much more than that. But – at the risk of sounding prematurely geriatric – everything is so expensive these days. We easily spend £100 a week on groceries, and that’s not including hubby’s lunches at work. It doesn’t seem that long since petrol strikes brought the country to a standstill, as the price of fuel threatened to reach £1 per litre. Now  I’m chuffed if I can find a petrol station selling unleaded for 131.9p per litre.

Hubby and I are fortunate to be above-average earners, but while we don’t worry about money, we never feel well-off. We have a very modest three-bed terraced house (ex-council), drive very boring cars (the aforementioned Ford and a company Skoda), and take very ordinary holidays (the Isle of Wight beckons this summer, and even that is thanks to a gift from my parents). We’d struggle to afford a foreign holiday, especially now term-time trips are out of the question, and unless we move out of the South East, we can only dream of a house with a spare room or no attached neighbours.

Now we have two children, life is going to be even more expensive. A lot more expensive, unless I manage to curb my addiction to Monsoon baby clothes. The best things in life may be free, but school shoes and extracurricular clubs certainly aren’t. I’m already having to think twice about signing The Baby up for activities like swimming lessons and music classes. The Boy used to do them, but our incomes haven’t gone up as fast as the cost of living.

In general, we have a very comfortable lifestyle, but every now and then, the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head. In the past week, I’ve seen pictures from Turkey, Greece, the States and the Maldives on my friends’ Facebook profiles. How do they do it? Does everyone else earn way more than me, or have they given their credit cards a bashing? I’m no big spender, and feel guilty buying something at full price when there’s a sale rail in the shop, but when filling the car with petrol costs £60+, the cash doesn’t stretch very far.

But then I stop and think, and give myself a virtual shake. Having watched that BBC programme on child poverty a few months ago, I know just how lucky I am. What got me was the little lad who had nothing but two cards and a haircut for his 12th birthday. The Boy was incredulous when I told him that; after all, barely a week goes by without him getting a new book or a coveted Lego model.

So while I reserve the right to moan about the cost of filling up my car, the fact that energy bills are going up (again) and the price of children’s shoes, I’ll also count my blessings. My children are growing up in a warm, safe home in a lovely area. They have clothes that fit them and are kept clean (although not ironed – but that’s another post). They eat healthily, and while The Boy might go on (and on, and on) about how unfair it is that he doesn’t have a DS, he’s had more experiences in his five-and-three-quarter years than some children will in a lifetime. Money can’t buy you happiness, but it definitely makes life easier.

Still, though; £60 for a tank of petrol? I might as well burn money!

In praise of distant friends

Yesterday, The Boy, The Baby and I got together with my three best friends from school. One of these lovely girls has a son, Luke, who is the same age as The Boy, and despite the fact that it’s a year since they saw each other, they had an absolute ball playing together. It’s one of those friendships where it doesn’t matter that they don’t often get to spend time together; when they do, it’s like they’ve never been apart.

And it’s much like that for me and my friends. We’ve all known each other since the age of 11, when we were thrown together in the same tutor group at secondary school, all shiny shoes and sparkling new uniform. Jill and Ali had been to primary school together, and I vaguely knew Lou through orchestra, but I don’t remember how or why we ended up becoming a unit of four. Were we all seated together at the same table, or did we seek each other out as like-minded people? I honestly have no idea, but the friendship that we formed during those first weeks of high school has endured.

During our teenage years, we shared all the usual rites of passage. We were each other’s first drinking buddies, went on church camp together, whispered about boys and sobbed on each other’s shoulders when those oh-so-important first flings didn’t work out. We had wild parties when our parents were on holiday, glammed up for the sixth form ball, plastered ourselves in black make-up during our goth phase and toasted each other with perry when we passed our GCSEs.

Then our lives went different ways. We all went off to university, but in four different directions. And we’ve never really gone back. Jill and Lou qualified as teachers, Ali as a nurse, and me as a journalist. Lou spent a year in Cambodia. Jill and I coincidentally spent a year living within a few miles of each other – 100 miles from where we grew up – but then she moved back nearer home. Christmas Eve, when we’d all ‘go home’ and gather in the local Wetherspoons before heading off to The Pig – the indie club we’d been going to since we were rather younger than we should have been – became the glue that held us together.

It’s now 21 years since Jill, Ali, Lou and I first met. Twenty-one years. Between us, we’ve shared three weddings and one incredibly sad funeral, and have produced two five-year-olds, two toddlers, two babies and one bump. It’s hard to think back to a time when we were brand new Year Sevens with our neatly pressed uniforms and neatly sharpened pencils. Our lives have all taken very different courses, and we routinely go 12 months without seeing each other, but whenever we do, it’s like no time at all has elapsed. We all have newer friends who we see more often and, no doubt, confide in more regularly, but the four of us have shared so many experiences – happy, sad, downright heartbreaking – that we’ll always have a special bond.

So when I saw Luke and The Boy playing happily together with no regard for the year that has elapsed since they last played, it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Because a true friendship doesn’t depend on daily phone calls or weekly get-togethers; it’s something that can spring back to life despite 12 months of neglect, and be just as good as it ever was. Wherever our lives take us, we’ll always have those shared experiences, and we’ll always – I hope – be able to turn to each other in both happy and sad times.

Here’s to you, my lovelies, and to another 21 years of friendship – at least.

Help! I’ve got nothing to wear

I have lost my shopping mojo, and it’s all The Baby’s fault. It’s not for want of trying; you just have to look at my bank statement for proof of that. But I’ve racked up more shopping fails in the four and half months since The Baby was born than in the entire rest of my adult life.

I love clothes. I wouldn’t say I love fashion, but I know what I like, and I know what suits me. Or at least, I used to. I’m not, and never have been, a jeans and t-shirt person. No, I’m a dress girl, all year round. I wear them with tights, boots and a boyfriend cardi in the winter, and flip flops in summer. Easy.

After nine months of pregnancy, I was looking forward to getting back into normal clothes again. Some women look fantastic with a bump, but while I stayed (reasonably) trim, I never felt comfortable with my pregnant image, mainly because it was so different from my normal look. By the time my due date rolled around, I was thoroughly sick of living in jeans and stretchy tops, and couldn’t wait to wear something more feminine again.

Problem is, it turns out my usual style isn’t baby compatible. Let’s face it, breastfeeding in a dress isn’t easy, unless you want the whole world to see your knickers. So, ever since The Baby was born, I’ve been on a mission to find some nice clothes that provide easy boob access but also make me feel like the old me. I breastfed The Boy until he was 20 months old, and can imagine doing the same this time round, so I feel I deserve some pretty new things to tide me over until I can get back into my dresses. Even hubby has commented on me wearing the same few outfits, over and over again – and this from the man who is blind to fashion.

But can I find anything? Can I heck.

I decided, rather than giving in and joining the jeans brigade, that skirts would be the way to go. All well and good in theory, but it turns out that post-partum, my body is a completely different shape. I’m back to my pre-baby clothes size, but there’s a squishy roll of blubber where my waist used to be, and I’m constantly stressing about having a VMT (Visible Muffin Top). And finding tops to fit my ginormous (well, they feel it to me) breastfeeding boobs is no mean feat either – really, there’s a limit to how much cleavage one should expose on the school run.

To complicate matters further, The Baby doesn’t like shopping. She complains about being in the pram, and carrying her in a sling is not conducive to trying things on. Shopping has become a smash-and-grab raid where I race around frantically, trying to find something that looks like it will fit/suit before The Baby has a strop.

As a result, the shoe rack in my hall is now overflowing with carrier bags from my favourite stores, all full of garments waiting to be returned on the grounds that they make me look like a sack of spuds. Worse still, more often than not, I forget to return them within the required 28 days and so forfeit my refund. I might as well just burn money, really.

Fortunately (or not, as the case may be), I have no such difficulties shopping for The Baby. She looks beautiful in everything. But me? Well, I despair of ever looking nice again. Perhaps I should admit defeat right now, resign myself to living in jeans for the rest of my life and satisfy my lust for pretty things among the racks of baby clothes. Clearly, shopping for myself is a lost cause.

Then again, there’s always shoes…