Sunday, 26 August 2012

good day

And this is the second half. It's much nicer.

After the stress and emotions of Friday, I had a very much needed day out in London with one of my best friends yesterday. I've been meaning to see "Wicked" for years now and finally got round to seeing it - and my goodness, it was worth the wait.

Wicked!

Fantastic songs, great acting, and the two main leads had phenomenal voices. Just magical and wonderful and all the things you want when you escape to the theatre. I stood and applauded with all my might at the end.

We headed to Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford to do something else I've been meaning to do for ages - have a meal at Wahaca, a Mexican cantina style restaurant co-founded by MasterChef winner Thomasina Meyers. I love a good Mexican meal (my only remotely authentic experience of it has always been in San Diego) which is very hard to come by in England. Wahaca's food surpassed expectations. We went for a sharing selection and for £19.95 (for both of us), we were amazed at the amount of food we got. All of it was fresh, bursting with flavour, and cooked beautifully. We had black bean tostadas, pork tacos, chicken tacos, broad bean and feta quesadillas, fried tortillas filled with new potatoes, and coleslaw. Devouring my meal with dripping hands, I "mmmmmed" my way through the whole thing. Not a pretty sight, but I couldn't care less. I also had a classic margarita made with the smoothest tequila I've ever tasted. For dessert, we both had a hotcake (a thin pancake) topped with ice cream, dolce de leche sauce, and a peanut praline. If no one was watching, we would have licked our plates clean.

Wahaca, Westfield Stratford

At the end of the meal, I was surprised to see a book of matches - I didn't think they gave those out anymore. I opened the book to find sticks of chilli seeds:

Wahaca

Very clever and such a great idea. Service was friendly, efficient, and attentive. All totalled, our bill came to £43. A bargain for the quantity and quality of the food we ate, especially for London.

I didn't realise that Westfield was right next to the Olympic Park, so it was a delight to see it as we rounded a corner to get to the restaurant. I never got a chance to see any of the events, so being this close to the park was fantastic. To top it off, we kept passing by Paralympic athletes and officials from all over the world. Such a brilliant experience. It was an amazing, much needed day.

Just one question, though: why are our mascots so angry?

London 2012: Our Mascots Hate You

bad day

This is a blog post of two halves. Here's the first half...

On Friday, Jack, Mia and I headed off to the cinema. We were stopped in traffic but the older guy behind us failed to stop. I don't think he was going very fast, but it was a complete shock, a very loud bang, and Jack was distraught and in pain. I've never been in an accident in this country before, and had no idea what to do. The guy who hit us was no help; he seemed disoriented (and we all thought he'd been drinking, but the breathalyser proved otherwise) and was more concerned about his car than anything or anyone else. Thankfully the guy in front of us, who I actually hit because of the force of the shunt, was on the ball and called the police and ambulance.

Jack was very shaken but calmed down as time went on. The paramedics and policemen were fantastic with us, but were particularly great with Jack. Paul came to take Mia home (who really wasn't fazed by any of this and found it all rather exciting) and I went off in the ambulance with Jack - an experience I really don't want to repeat ever again. They had to strap him in and keep him in a neck brace until they could x-ray him, so the poor little guy was stuck like this for over 2 hours in total:

Happy chap in the hospital

But as you can see, he wasn't very traumatised by this point. Mostly he was bored and hungry. I joked around with him, told him stories about when he was in my belly and we had to spend time in hospital, and talked about when he was born. Hospital staff were all amazing with him and we were sent home after his x-ray came back normal.

The most difficult part for me was not only seeing my child in distress and being worried sick about him, but it was also very hard to be back in the A&E for the first time since I miscarried. I caught a glimpse of the nurse who looked after me and walked the same back corridor to the x-ray area that I was wheeled down to ultrasound. I always find going to this hospital distressing, but revisiting these particular memories was especially hard.

After we finally got home, got everyone fed and in bed, I lost it. Holding it together for all those hours took a lot of energy. Kids are strong, mummies not so much.

Two days on and we're all okay. Jack's neck is still sore and my back, neck, and shoulders are sore as well. I'm nervous about driving again and have to go all the way down to Kent on Tuesday, but I need to get back on the horse again. Mostly, I'm very, very grateful that we're all okay.

Monday, 16 July 2012

wet wet wet

It's been raining here for weeks, I'm not exaggerating. I do the school run in the rain. I grocery shop in the rain. I do the after school activities run in the rain. We stood in the rain for 3 hours to see the Olympic torch. I walked in a parade in the rain for 2 hours with the kids. We sat in a friend's backyard under a gazebo in the rain for his birthday party.

Sodding, stupid, relentless, miserable, soul-destroying rain.

The kids finish school this week, and the thought of being cooped up with them for 6 weeks is more than a little bit terrifying. When it rains and they can't go outdoors, they go mental. They've been mental pretty much every day since the middle of May. My wine consumption has increased accordingly.

Every week, the forecast looks like this:

 It's going to be a long summer.

Sometimes there's a brief break in the rain, like that hour we got on Saturday at 4pm, but mostly it's permanently soggy outside. Actually, we did get another sunny break last week that lasted for an entire afternoon, and it was glorious. We sat outside, basking in the sun, relishing the warm air on our faces. We ate our supper on the deck and sat out there until the kids went to bed. It was a happy, happy day. Then it started raining again.

Anglia Water had us on a hosepipe ban, which meant that we weren't allowed to use hoses in any capacity (e.g. to fill paddling pools, water plants, or wash cars.) Why? Because apparently we were in drought. They claimed that it would take weeks and weeks of torrential rain to even begin to fill our reservoirs back up again, and hahahahaha that was never going to happen! WHAT WERE THEY SMOKING? Needless to say, we're no longer under a hosepipe ban. Idiots.

People back home have been complaining about the heat and lack of rain and to be honest, I can sympathise with that. When it's too hot, you can't really go outdoors (or at least, not for long) and I never had air conditioning in any apartment I lived in once I left home. I remember hopping in a friend's car at 11pm and doing a tour of every store that was open 24 hours a day, wandering around these air conditioned havens in a state of bliss. It was something like 40C even at midnight.

So many events have been cancelled this "summer". We're off to Cornwall again in August for a week, and I'm losing hope of getting any beach time. Last year, it rained for the last 2 or 3 days, and that was miserable enough. A week in the rain would be hideous. There are only so many times you can see a movie and go to the soft play centre.

I just want to see the sun. Doesn't have to be hot outside, just sunny. And not even for the whole day - maybe just for an afternoon and evening. Please. For the sake of my liver.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

then and now

I met up with one old friend (Alison) and one old online friend (Vero) last night for a very delicious curry at Pipasha in Cambridge. That's it, I'm going to stop putting links in this post now. Thank you for staying with me.

I haven't seen Alison in a very long time - probably since our friends Jack and Heather moved back to New Zealand in 2005 - but we've been chatting via Twitter. Vero is a longtime blog reader/fellow blogger who's "known" me since Paul and I started dating. We had a great time over great food and it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We talked about work (past and present), mutual friends, knitting, pets, houses, trips, and very little about kids, mostly because I'm the only one who has small humans in the house. I was reminded of people and places I hadn't thought of in years, in my life before motherhood. I'd completely forgotten about the stuffed squirrel in my cottage in Willingham.

What struck me is how much of myself is now defined by being a mum. I don't think anyone else is defining me as such; it's just down to how I see my life now. There are things that I wouldn't consider doing now and interests that have gone far, far on the back burner.

Vero talked about going to the south of France on a knitting workshop and my first thought was tinged with jealousy over my loss of freedom. As I think about it now, why the hell couldn't I go to the south of France on a knitting workshop for a few days? Okay, apart from the fact that I have no money. Let's pretend that I've managed to secure several lucrative contracts and squirrelled away a big lump of cash in my current account. Money issues aside, there is no reason why I couldn't get away to focus on something I'm interested in.

I've never been one to feel huge amounts of mummy guilt about being away. I have absolutely no qualms about getting a babysitter and enjoying a rare night out with Paul, and I'm pretty sure my sanity would do a runner if I didn't have these nights. My brain is about 80% occupied with things related to the kids, though. (The other 20% involves cooking, tidying, laundry, and wine.) I very rarely think of myself and it often simply doesn't occur to me to do something on my own.

So now I'm thinking about it. I have no idea what I'd like to do, but the point is that I should keep my mind open to the concept. Maybe I'll start with Fibre East on Sunday and ogle lovely yarns. Maybe I'll buy something and actually take the time to knit something again. Gosh, the possibilities.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

there's a torch in my house!

So, we've got an Olympic torch in our house right now. No, seriously. We know one of the torch bearers through work, and she's a very lovely, personable, 16-year-old water skiing champion called Charlotte Wharton. She came in to give a talk to our school this morning and had to go straight off to train at the lake, and asked if she could leave the torch with us and return it to her mum tomorrow at work. Well okay, if you insist.

Call me cheesy, but it's been a huge thrill to have it here and to have held it in my hot little hands. We waited in the pouring rain on Sunday to catch a glimpse of the torch as it passed through our neighbouring town, but the closest I got to it was about 10 feet with a wall of people in front of me.

I've held it. I've photographed it. I can confirm that it does feel a little bit like a Microplane grater. It's quite heavy and I can't imagine holding it aloft for 400 meters while jogging along with it. It's nearly as tall as my 3-year-old. It's shiny. It smells like lighter fluid.

The kids are beyond excited about having it here and being able to hold it. I love that we've been able to have this bit of Olympic history right here with us, and that our older two will be able to remember it. Just have to put it in a safe place, or else it'll get filled with Playdoh and Babybels.

We're having an Olympic torch for a sleepover tonight

Monday, 9 July 2012

that time i pretended that i was a real writer

I went to My First Press Conference (by Fisher Price) on Saturday evening. I was working on an article about the Olympic torch visit to the Huntingdon gymnastics club, and was invited to the press conference by one of the coaches I interviewed. I knew the conference would be presented by the gym, but had no idea the athletes would actually be there along with their coach, and that it would be solely about the Olympics. I assumed it would be PR people and possibly the coach I spoke to, and that they would give us a brief presentation about the torch stop at the gym the following day.

This might seem really, really idiotic, but I didn't think I'd actually have to ask any questions. I thought I could sit quietly at the back, take some notes while they spoke to us, and surreptitiously snap photos on my sad little camera without the pros with huge Nikons noticing. As it happened, I was one of four journalists in the room, along with two photographers and a guy filming. One chairman spoke for around 2 minutes about the Olympic team selection, then passed the floor over to us. Holy crap.

My brain frantically searched its dusty dark corners for questions. It's not that I was obligated to say anything, but with so few people in the room, it would seem really odd not to. I let the people who knew what they were doing go first. There was a guy from BBC radio and two writers from the local papers, but strangely the two writers seemed as hesitant as I was. Radio Guy asked questions first, and followed up with quite a few more. He'd obviously done this sort of thing before - he had a big microphone and everything. Local Paper Guy 1 asked one question then Local Paper Guy 2 asked a few more, with awkward silences in between. 

As interesting as this all was, I wasn't writing about the Olympics and I'm not the sporty type at all. I do love gymnastics and was looking forward to watching them in a few weeks time on television, but I have absolutely nothing intelligent to say or ask about the topic at all. The only question I could think of was whether or not it would be an advantage to compete on home turf, but Local Paper Guy 2 beat me to it. The bastard.

Things were coming to an end. At this point, I thought, "Sod it. I need to say something." What held me back wasn't just nerves about speaking, it was about having to say my name and who I was writing for before asking my question. Okay fine, the local papers aren't anything to get excited about but whenever I mention the site I write for, everyone says "Who?" I realised that I had to go for it and who cares if the other people in the room haven't a clue who I write for? It's not like I'm ever going to see these people again.

GB Olympic gymnastics team press conference
"Yes, lady in the back who looks clueless?"
"What's your involvement in the torch stop tomorrow at the gym?", I asked. The coach Paul Hall gave a brief overview about events going on during the day and mentioned a gymnastics display. I asked if any of the team would participate in the display or if they would be "kept out of harm's way" and they all shook their heads wide-eyed and smiled. Louis Smith said, "We're doing a display in four weeks!" to which I replied, "Yes, but I don't have tickets for that one!!" "Who does?!" joked the photographer sitting behind me. Laughs all round and thank god that was over with.

The press conference wrapped up and Local Paper Guy 1 snapped a pic on his iPhone, making me feel better about my little aim-and-shoot Panasonic camera. I went over to thank the PR Lady for having us, and Lewis Smith was standing with her, so I chatted with him. I told him that Jack was in awe of him but was terrified to meet him because he's so famous, he told me that he's shy and has trouble chatting to girls, and we talked about the torch event. Just like that. Then I gathered my things and headed home, chuffed to the gills. 

The older I get, the less confident I become and the more self-conscious I get about appearing foolish. Back in the old days, I sincerely didn't give a rat's ass about how stupid I looked (anyone who knew me in high school and university can vouch for this.) These days I worry far, far too much. My only saving grace is that there's a small part of my subconscious that still doesn't give a rat's ass, and sometimes it gives me a slap on the back of the head. 

I am also falling prey to the "I'm too old for that" attitude, which deserves another slap to the back of the head every now and then. Writing for anyone other than myself (or technical writing) was something that lurked in the back of my mind and I kept holding myself back from giving it a go. I'm still far from a success and if it wasn't for this one gig I wouldn't be doing any paid (I use that term VERY loosely) writing at all, but the experience has been really fantastic and it's boosted my confidence. 

I'm still on a high after the press conference experience and I'm very proud of the article I've written. I almost feel like a proper journalist now. (But without the fancy microphone and a shittier camera.)
 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

the important stuff

Jack's rugby team had a hog roast last Sunday, much to the delight of my husband. What a Father's Day treat - binging on pork and drinking cider! To be honest, I wasn't really looking forward to it. I wouldn't know many people there (the downside to missing most of Jack's rugby games due to horrible weather and two little sisters who really wouldn't have enjoyed standing in the pouring rain for 2 1/2 hours) and I was the designated driver.

As it happened, it turned out to be a wonderful day. Not only was there an abundance of succulent roasted pork (with the crunchiest crackling), but I really enjoyed chatting with the parents. The kids had a blast, running around in open fields and going down the bouncy slide one hundred times. The sun finally came out after weeks of rain and misery.

Isla started getting bored so I took her away from the chaos on a little walk around the grounds.  She spied some sheep and immediately wanted to go over to say hello. We sat together on a stile, watching the sheep munching on the grass. "Look at the little sheep!" she said. "What he called?" We stayed there for ages gazing across the fields, swatting away flies, counting sheep, enjoying the quiet.

We left the sheep to explore the grounds. We came across a Celtic knotwork garden, tucked away behind an iron gate and brick walls. We admired the carefully manicured shrubs and returned to get Mia to share our discovery.

Photo 17-06-2012 04 43 24 PM

A kind woman from the church explained what the different plants were and the significance of the pomegranate mosaic. It was the personal symbol of Queen Katherine, AKA Catherine of Aragon, who lived here for one year.

 Photo 17-06-2012 04 59 49 PM

We returned to the rugby celebrations and spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on the grass. It was chilled and fantastic. Exactly what was needed, and a very good reminder of what is actually important.

The copious amount of pork also contributed to my happiness, obviously.

Friday, 15 June 2012

"SHHHH SHE'LL HEAR US!"

You know when you were a kid and you were constantly shocked by your mother's ability to know what you were up to, despite being as quiet as a mouse in another room? It's not because she was superhuman, it's because you were way, WAY louder than you thought.

My kids have no sense of volume control.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

clueless

Toddler Girl (talking about what she wants on her birthday cake): "I want fairies. And bingles."
Me: "Bagels?"
Toddler Girl: "Bingles!"
Me: "Pringles?!"
Toddler Girl: "BIN-GLES! PINK BINGLES!"
Me: "Oh, sprinkles!"
Toddler Girl: "An' a wan."
Me: "A one?"
Toddler Girl: "WAN. WAAAN!"
4-year-old interpreter: "She says she wants a wand, mummy."

Under 5s should come with subtitles, for goodness sake.



Tuesday, 12 June 2012

what's the opposite of hipster?

Someone sent me a request from Klout the other day, so I checked it out. I cannot figure out what purpose it serves, and I don't mean that in a "Pfffft what a pile of piffle!" kind of way. I really, honestly, have no clue what it does. Now, I consider myself to be an Internet-savvy kinda gal and as a tech writer, I'm pretty good at figuring out how stuff works - but I'm stumped.

Klout seems completely unintuitive to me and the site's a bit laggy, unless it just doesn't play nicely with Chrome. From what I can gather, it illustrates how active and popular you are online. For what purpose, I have no idea. I can't say I was comfortable "connecting" Klout to everything I do online, and the skeptical side of me thinks this has to do with marketing/information harvesting.

The only amusing thing about Klout is the list of topics I am supposedly "influential" about. This list includes: family, Facebook, food, music, cookies, chocolate, and bacon. I think their algorithms might need a little fine tuning.

So what is it all about? Do I need it? Will my online life be better as a result? Will I ever become influential about firemen and Hendrick's gin?

Friday, 8 June 2012

coming to you live from my dining room

My friend Vero asked if I was going to do anything for the Jubilee weekend because someone from the CBC had been in touch with her about it. She wasn't doing anything so she couldn't participate in an interview, and passed my details along to the producer. They wanted to get an ex-pat's perspective on the festivities and I thought it would be good fun to participate.

I spoke to a couple of producers a few times to set things up and send over some photos. I was to do the interview via Skype. LIVE. Suffice it to say, I spent the day of the interview oscillating between blind panic and delirium. This was going to air live across my home nation, on one of our major networks - it's our equivalent of the BBC. With a very large G&T in my belly, I was ready to do the interview. Sort of.

10 minutes before the interview, a man's voice came over Skype asking if I could do an audio test and move my camera around. Oh and I should mention that 15 minutes before the interview, our Internet connection decided to stop working. That was hilarious. I think I was a bit stressed and was very likely quite rude to Paul about it all. Sorry, honey. And thanks for fixing it.

I could hear the anchor on the other end doing her news report and the commercials in between. The man came back to inform me that I was about to go live, and I think my stomach dropped to the floor at that point. I don't actually remember much about the whole thing, so seeing the interview for the first time was very much what it was like for those watching at home. It didn't come across as badly as I expected and now that it's all over, I did enjoy the experience.

I'm glad that I did it and was so appreciative of the positive comments from friends and family back home. The producer sent a copy of the clip to me, so I've got a keepsake I can bore my friends and children with until I'm old and senile and won't shut up about that day I was on the talking box.

So here it is. Watch and laugh at my strangely mutated accent:


 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

a monster moved in next door

I knew that my elderly neighbour had been in hospital, but I kept neglecting to sort out a visit. For two solid weeks at various points, we all had a stomach virus and I really didn't want to pass anything along. I finally saw my neighbour's husband today and I asked how she was doing. "She has bowel cancer", he said. "She has a long recovery ahead of her."

It was a complete shock to everyone; she went in with stomach complaints and was diagnosed with a twisted bowel. Upon further investigation, they found the cancer. Just like that.

The husband was a stocky man with a booming voice, shouting greetings at me from his driveway (mostly because he's hard of hearing). Today he looked so old, so tired, so small. He looked like he hadn't slept well in a while and had a fretful, confused look in his eyes. When he told me the news, I didn't know what to say except that I was so very sorry and that he could call on us to help however we could. I wanted to ask what the prognosis was, but didn't feel like it was the right thing to say.

My neighbour treats my kids like they're her own grandkids (of which she has several). We speak regularly over the fence; she fills me in on her family and she fills them in on us. I've only met her daughter a couple of times, but she greets me like an old friend and knows everything about my children.

My neighbour was one of the first people to learn that I'd miscarried and held me tight while I sobbed in her arms. She whispered in my ear that she went through the same thing. She looked after Jack while I was in hospital without a second thought. I will always, always remember this and hold it dear in my heart.

I will take over some food and repeat my offer of help, but really, what else can I do?

Fuck cancer. Fuck it.

Monday, 28 May 2012

tally ho, pip pip, bob's your uncle

I'm going to my very first street party on Monday to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee, and I cannot wait. As a Canadian we grew up with all things British (mostly because we're populated by a lot of ex-pats) and we like to think of ourselves as British at heart - which is why when we're told we're no different than the Americans, we get a bit glum. You can buy HP sauce, Marmite, and Twinings tea in the supermarkets, you know. Plus, we like to stick the letter u in words and it's "zed", not "zee".

We had a tea party at our house for the royal wedding last year, and I went a bit nuts with it. I was a little disappointed that the tackiest thing I could find in all of the discount and pound shops was this slightly hideous tea towel:

Klassy Royal Tea Towel

We had crustless sandwiches, scones, mini Victoria sponge cakes, lemon drizzle cake, tea, and Pimm's. If the government continues to insist that people take a test to demonstrate their knowledge of Britain to obtain citizenship, they should take stuff like this into account. Look at how British this is! I even bought royal cake stands for the occasion and bunting!

  Royal Wedding Tea Party

So it's with unmitigated and unabashed glee that I look forward to the Jubilee festivities. We were asked to bring a dish and one of the ladies organising the party mentioned that a cheesecake would be nice. "It's not terribly British", I said. "But then again, neither am I."

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

notes from neverland

When Jack lost his first tooth, he wanted to leave a note for the tooth fairy. He wanted to ask if the tooth fairy was a boy or a girl, what his/her name was, and if he could please keep his first lost tooth. I thought this was just about the cutest thing ever, and I dug out some paper the kids hadn't seen before to use as tooth fairy stationery (from my Big Box of Scrapbooking Stuff That Never Made It Into a Scrapbook Because I Never Got Around to Doing the Kids' Scrapbooks.)

The tooth fairy told Jack that he's a boy called Terrence and that he could indeed keep his tooth. Fabulous, Jack was very pleased, and didn't send notes to Terrence for the next few lost teeth. But when he lost a tooth a couple of weeks ago, he had a plan. A complicated plan. A plan that made me go, oh. Crap.

He was determined not only to get a letter back from Terrence but to SEE him. Jack was desperate to know what his tooth fairy looked like. He made a bed for Terrence out of a small plastic box with a cloth in it, and a tiny pillow from Mia's doll's house. He wrote him a note to let him know that the bed was his, and could he please stay the night? He also wanted to set up a video camera (I drew the line at that one) and spent the night waking up every few hours to put his hand in the bed to see if Terrence was there.

The first thought to cross my mind was to take a photo of Jack sleeping and Photoshop in a little fairy. As the night went on and doubts about my Photoshop skills surfaced (Jack is a very clever boy and the photo would have to be flawless), I decided to write a note back to Jack.

Jack was a little disappointed, but he liked the note. He told me that he thought I had been writing Terrence's notes, but now he knows Terrence is real because he's never seen this notepaper before - and "It looks like fairy paper!" The bed is still there next to his, along with the note.

Long may these days of magic and belief last.
Terrence the Tooth Fairy's response to Jack's letter by Lisa Durbin

Monday, 21 May 2012

i love meatballs, too

Whoever found this blog by searching for "damn i love meatballs", I salute you.

it's the little things

When I finished my weekly shop in Hell (AKA Tesco), I pushed my trolley up on the pavement by the parent/child parking instead of putting it back in the bay. It only occurred to me today that I've been doing this ritual weekly for years now for the following reason: to announce to the next parent "Here is one of the four trolleys at Tesco that isn't wonky and has a child seat. You're welcome." I have no idea if that's why other people do it or if anyone knows this secret code, but I keep doing it just the same.

Today I went through a dozen trolleys before I found one that had four working wheels, an intact child seat, and that wasn't permanently attached to four other trolleys. Every single trolley at my local Tesco forces you to drag it to the right if you want it to move forward or anything resembling a straight line, so despite all the effort you go to finding a decent trolley, it's still going to be wonky.

It's not like Waitrose where every trolley is solid gold and gives your child a mild tranquilliser, lulling them into a happy dreamlike state whilst you get your shopping done in peace.* I never have to go on a trolley hunt; they're all lined up, gleaming and ready for me. Of course the downside is that my weekly shop costs about 1/3 more at Waitrose, but this is the price you pay for buying tomatoes amongst the beautiful people.

*(I'm possibly exaggerating. But my word, Waitrose is fantastic.) 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

this woman's work (part 2)

My mother never had a job outside of the home, which back in the 70s was the norm. I used to envy my friends with working parents because my mother was around all the time. There was no fun in that! However because I didn't grow up with a working mother, I never really appreciated how difficult it could be to have a career and a family. I never thought about things like school holidays because my mother was simply always there.

I've spent the past 15 years writing technical documentation, far predating my life as a mother. Despite my company generously agreeing to reduced hours and a flexible schedule after I had children, it wasn't something easily done on a part time basis and I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with my work at the office and my role as a mother to three small children, particularly once they started at primary school. Permission forms were forgotten, clean uniforms weren't in the wardrobes in the morning, and I actually neglected to pick up my son after school. THREE times. Arguably those three times weren't entirely my fault, but still - I wasn't exactly a prime candidate for Mum of the Year.

With motherhood comes great guilt, so after the third time I was met by the sad, disappointed face of my 6-year-old, I knew I had to give up my day job. The compromise just wasn't worth it anymore and more importantly, what on earth was I going to do with my children for 6 weeks out of the year during summer holidays? The out of school club only ran for the first two weeks of the summer and we have no family locally (I'm Canadian and my in-laws live 100 miles away.) With sadness but relief, I handed in my notice and began life as a full time mum.

My "retirement" was never meant to be permanent and I knew I wanted to get back into writing. The great thing about the modern world is that fact that anyone can get "published" and put their work out there, whether that's on a blog, a tweet, or a self-published e-book. I started a food blog (The Test Kitchen) in addition to this one, then an editor friend of mine with a family food site asked me to be a weekly contributor. I got addicted to Twitter, dabbled in the world of Google+, and spent a lot of time being pithy and sarcastic on Facebook to about 500 family and friends who insisted that I should write articles for a living, and suddenly I had a regular "audience".

Through social media, I got to know to friends of friends, some of whom are journalists and editors. I started blogging again and posting links to Twitter, and got positive feedback from the "pros". People started looking out for writing opportunities for me and giving me endless valuable advice. People I hadn't actually met got to know me well through 140 characters and some blog posts, to the point that they had confidence in my writing - that felt pretty darn good and made me a lot more hopeful about being a working, writing mummy.

I've been hitting the virtual pavement hard, but there is no budget for freelancers these days. There is little motivation for publications to pay a freelance writer when their in-house writers can pen the same article. I've been looking for other part time homeworking roles, with little success. Although there is a trend for remote working in IT (it can save companies a lot of money), part time work is very difficult to come by. There is also the issue of childcare - most mothers simply can't afford to return to work due to high nursery and childminder costs. At my local nursery, a full day for one child costs £37. The challenge is to find a job that pays enough to cover the childcare and actually give you some income to take home.

I'm writing as much as I can, getting a bit of paid work, but mostly just trying to get my words out there. I write in the evenings and on some school days, then I close the lid on my MacBook and head off to be Mummy. So far, so good, and I seem to have most of my sanity intact. Plus, I haven't abandoned my son or my daughter (who is now in reception) at school once.

Note: I came across a call for bloggers for the Working Mums site, which is a resource I've just discovered in my pursuit of flexible work. The brief was to write a blog post about being a working mum (as the site name suggests). Fittingly, I'd recently written a post about this very subject. So, this is a continuation of that post. With a lot less swearing.)

Monday, 14 May 2012

i'm not ready for this

Jack: "Whatcha knitting?"
Me: "A boob."
Jack: "Why?"
Me: "We use it to show mummies how to get their babies to drink the milk, if they're having problems."
Jack: "Are there any pictures?"
Me: "No."
Jack: "Aww." [walks away, hugely disappointed]

He's seven. SEVEN.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

read the fine print

You know when you win an eBay auction for a really cute lobster trap for your (newly) nautical-themed bathroom and you have plans to use it for storage or a bin? And despite having read the dimensions carefully, your brain doesn't fully calculate its actual size until it arrives?

Yeah. That.



So far, I've discovered that it's big enough to hold two tubes of toothpaste.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

a mother's day

I've had a really hideous stomach bug for the past couple of days. I think it was Lynette on "Desperate Housewives" who said "Moms don't get sick days - we're like ER doctors!" Thankfully, I did get a sick day thanks to Isla going into nursery for an extra day and Paul coming home for the school run. I slept and slept and slept and started to feel a little more human yesterday.

I was on the sofa still feeling a bit ropey. Isla came up to me and asked, "All better?" I said no, my head hurts. "Awwww", she said. "Poor mummy," and pat my head. Mia rubbed my belly and Jack...well. He ran into the room wearing nothing but his Star Wars underwear and a cape shouting, "I'M CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS." Which did help me feel better, to be honest.

And then the next day, I was making school lunches, cooking supper, doing the dishes, putting dishes away, clearing up messes and back to business despite still being under the weather. I wasn't incapable, but not really up to it - but that's just what we do. I don't know any mother who can ignore all the jobs that need to be done, who doesn't have a persistent (unending) mental "to do" list, and who can ignore the screaming fights. We plod down the stairs with a head full of stabbing pain, in clothes we haven't had time to change out of for two days, mumbling something to the effect of "Please stop fighting because mummy's head is about to explode."

Paul always tells me to stop doing stuff when I'm unwell; just leave things for another time. But I can't. Once you've produced a child, some dormant gene switches on that forces you to do all the shit that pre-children you would have left until absolutely necessary. I remember resorting to eating off paper towels because I couldn't be arsed to do the dishes.

So tomorrow, give your old mother a break, will ya? Cook a meal, do the dishes, let her sleep past 6:00am. We don't want cards and flowers (okay, maybe a homemade card from the kids - they rock). I know some mothers are big on gifts and a Coach bag or two wouldn't go amiss, but me, I just want a day off and a bit of sleep. And quite a lot of wine.

(Of course all of this is moot because UK Mother's Day was in March. I've campaigned for 7 years to get both, however claiming cultural oppression hasn't worked so far.)

Monday, 7 May 2012

cutting words

On Friday I wrote an article about friends of mine whose baby was born at only 28 weeks (he's turning 1 tomorrow.) It was a tough story to write and a tough interview to review. There were things that I hadn't thought about for a while, things I never knew, and things that made me weep. I spent the day writing and editing and writing and editing and the article ended up being 1,600 words long - I needed it to be 800, maximum. After a very long, exhausting couple of hours, I got it down to 860 and the editor ran it.

I never appreciated how difficult it is to edit your own work when it's so personal. I didn't think I could cut anything out; there was so much I wanted to say. It was such an emotional story and I didn't want it to sound "clinical". This story had been told (relatively briefly) in two of the local papers, but I wanted to tell it from a slightly different angle. I don't know if I really managed to do that, but I'm pretty happy with it.

I just wish I could stick those 800 words back in there.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

dress you up

A friend of ours is having an 80s-themed birthday party next month, and I'm trying to come up with costume ideas. Do I wear what I wore back then, or the stereotype like puffy skirts, legwarmers, and neon?

I went through about ten different fashion phases in high school. I started in 1982 (egad) and graduated in 1986, and went through an arty period in university for the next few years. First it was New Romantic (lots of lace, big curly hair that spilled down my face, tons of jewellery/pearls/dangly earrings, puffy shirts, many items from Le Chateau), then it was Mod/Ska (60s inspired, clam diggers, cardigans, plimsoles, miniskirts with turtlenecks), then it was sorta punk/arty (everything came from Salvation Army or the army surplus shop, Doc Martens, trenchcoats, safety pins everywhere), then it was Goth (lots of black. Um...yeah and more black.)

And the hair. Oh, the things I did to my hair. I'm amazed I still have any. I did so many home dye and bleach jobs, my scalp should have melted away by now. The crimping, the blow drying (while hanging upside down for the most volume), spraying my hair with hairspray then frying it on a curling iron, using supermega hair gel/wax/spray and backcombing it until it stood on end. DIY haircuts in the university dorm bathroom at 3am.

My eyebrows were tweezed within an inch of their lives (until it became fashionable again to have eyebrows - or at least draw them in with pencil.) Blindingly bright eyeshadow and in fact, I remember using bright yellow lipstick (!) as eyeshadow at one point. Lots of eyeliner and layer upon layer of mascara. "Laser wound" blush, as my friend Michael used to say (blush that looked like you'd been struck with a laser beam.) I used the palest foundation colour I could get, topped with even paler powder. And why was heavy make up on men not an issue back then? We loved guys in eyeliner, blush, and eyeshadow, and even a little lipstick (or a lot of lipstick if you were Robert Smith.)

I was never much into the neon and legwarmers, actually. Although having said that, I did go through a very brief phase of wearing my dancewear to school (including my jazz oxfords.) So I dunno. So many ideas to choose from. So much of it completely hideous and will look ridiculous on a 43 year old. Maybe I'll just come as Alexis from Dynasty.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

cut to the chase

Food bloggers: you don't need to photograph every single step of your recipe. Or if you can't resist doing this, please just put the full recipe at the bottom of the post. Because I really hate it when recipes are like:

First, bring the butter to room temperature.
[Photo of butter being removed from the refrigerator.]
And now I'm going to prattle on about butter and insert a witty quip about butter here. Woooooweeee I love butter! Don't you? It's like bacon! I LOVE BACON!! Next, put the butter and sugar in a bowl.
[Eagle eye view of sugar being tipped into a bowl.]
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Hey, did I ever tell you this lengthy story about my little girl and that time she ate an entire 2kg bag of castor sugar? Well, it was back in June and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...
...three paragraphs later...
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
[Arty shot of flour wafting through the air into a Williams and Sonoma ceramic bowl.]
Add the flour mixture to the butter, and add the eggs, vanilla, and milk.
[Obligatory shot of an egg being cracked, with shells scattered about in a seemingly random manner. May also contain added wooden spoon.]
[Photo of batter being mixed. Just in case you forgot how to use a spoon.]
[Photo of the batter being tipped into cake tins. Just in case you couldn't figure out how to get it from point A to point B.]
More hilarious anecdotes, possibly unrelated to cake.
[Highly stylised photo of finished cake, wildflowers cascading down the side.]

JUST GIVE ME THE DAMN RECIPE.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

this woman's work

I've now been "out of work" for one year now. I put that in quotation marks because if anyone thinks that what stay at home mums do isn't work, you're greatly mistaken. I've seen a few articles and jokes circulating lately about all the nothing we do when we're not at "work", and although they've been funny and made me nod my head knowingly, do we really need to point this out? I've been amazed at the number of people - including other stay at home mothers - who ask me what I do with myself all day long, now that I'm not "working".

What. The. Fucking. Fuck.

I have three children under the age of 8, two of whom are in school and the third is with me for the majority of the week (she does go to nursery two days a week. More on that later.) Little people require quite a lot of tending. Surprised? Then you're an idiot. I don't need or want to detail every little thing I do on a typical day because I don't want to make it sound like my life is miserable. I chose to have kids. I chose to quit my paying job. I love my kids to pieces and think they're the best things since chocolate-covered Pirate cookies. But yes, life's busy. This should not be news.

I quit my job to spend more time with the kids and because I felt like I was missing out on a lot. I couldn't go to assemblies, I missed out on Sports Day, and I couldn't help out in the classroom on special occasions like Christmas decoration day. I wanted to spend more time with them while they're still little. And now, one year on, I'm starting to go a little batshit crazy.

So I'm hitting the virtual pavement, looking for writing gigs that I can do in my spare time. And spare time I do actually have - Isla's in nursery on Mondays and Fridays, and I can increase her hours in September when she gets her grant sessions. Although my background is in technical writing (which I love, despite people thinking it's desperately boring), I'd like to branch out into writing that's...erm...not technical. I've been writing a weekly piece on a friend's site and a weekly blog on a commercial site, and it's been good to get back into the habit of writing regularly.

Now, if I could just find a part time job I can do from home that doesn't involve selling things or phone sex.

Monday, 30 April 2012

it's scary out there

You know, I think the whole reason why I lost the will to blog is due to the fact that the Internet is now filled with SuperMegaBloggers. Bloggers who have books. Bestselling books. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. Thousands of comments on each post. Bloggers who are sponsored and have dozens of flashy ads in their sidebars. Bloggers who have things for sale on Cafe Press. Slick design and squeaky clean templates. Photos taken with SLR cameras way out of my price range.

Which isn't to say that this is something I want for myself. I can't handle the pressure or the trolls*. It's just that it makes blogging for us little people a little more harrowing. How do you get read these days? Back in the olden days, people linked to you and you linked to other people and so on until everyone on the Internet knew each other and got together for gatherings in pubs. This little blog is lost in a sea of SuperMegaBloggers. No one knows who you are unless you become Big.

On the flipside, the other reason why I stopped blogging was because I was getting a lot readers. The pressure of trying to think of hilarious and interesting things to say was wearing. I kept having children. I got more tired by the day. My brain ran out of ideas.

So now that I'm getting a little more sleep and trying to get into the habit of writing regularly, I can do it without anyone really noticing. Maybe one day the readers will come back (how?), but I'm actually pretty much okay with wittering away to myself for the time being.

*(That would be Internet trolls, or people who are deliberately nasty to gain attention. Not trolls of the Harry Potter variety, because they're not real. Sorry.)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

bleah

Horrible, horrible, grotty grey day out there today. I am so fed up with doing the school run in the pouring rain, particularly with a toddler girl who prefers to take her sweet time in inclement weather. But then when I'm feeling a little down and stressed, I think about that guy I saw today who spends the day spinning the stop/go sign around by the roadworks in town. That must really suck.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

memories

Had one of my sleepless nights last night, and stayed up far too late reading old blog posts. Don't worry, I'm not having some sort of mental breakdown; I was working on the site and couldn't remember when I started blogging (on Blogger. I used to use Notepad and vanilla HTML because I'm hardcore, dudes.) I looked back to the very first post written over 10 years ago, and just kept going.

It's funny because it felt like I was reading someone else's diary. I talked about places I can no longer remember and people I've completely forgotten about. Some names weren't even familiar at all - I think they were other bloggers from many moons ago. What struck me most is how I used to blog. I blogged like no one was watching, which ten years ago was probably the case. I didn't really care if it was mundane or silly (mostly the latter), or how it compared to other blogs and conscious of maintaining some specific level of writing.

It was life before marriage and kids, when Paul and I first started dating and then when we started looking for a house. We went out a lot with friends and together as a couple, I was woken up by kisses instead of an alarm clock, we travelled. Paul cooked for me and we spent lazy days on his sofa in Northampton. I bought my first car. It feels like a lifetime ago, and not entirely my own.

The last post I read before going to bed was about securing our current house. Goodness, look how far we've come. Life changes, we grow up, the daily routine is something else entirely now, but what I want to get back again is the ability to blog like no one's watching. I don't think my life was particularly more exciting then compared to now, but there was a lightness and ease in the way I wrote that makes me think I've become too self-conscious. Self-conscious about what people will think, and about the quality of my writing. It's not really me anymore, and maybe that's why I stopped blogging regularly.

So yeah, I'm back - filling the Internet with drivel like it's 2002!