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.]


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.