Thursday, 11 December 2014

Fab at Forty - am I?

So, forty finally arrived.  It looks alien on the screen to me. Me, 40!  It sounds so mature.  Grown up. Like I should be able to knit.  Or at least sew a button on.

I know you want to know whether I was indeed Fab at Forty.  Well of course I couldn’t say…but I can say that after ten months of counting and pointing and shaking my thang at Zumba, I’ve managed to knock a couple of stone and a couple of dress sizes off.  Never got to my holy grail 12 though, so at least I’ve still got something I can put on my New Year list.

After not knowing what to do, I decided to have a party, where enough people duly oohed and aahed about my reinvention to have made it worthwhile.  Three generations of family raised a glass, and friends old and new put on their gladrags and helped me have a lovely time.  But now what?  I’ve been planning for months, buying shimmery and glimmery doo-dahs to put some fab in the very functional function room.  I’ve glittered up invitations, sourced the perfect dress, found a mini-me version for Daughter, made paper pom poms…and now it’s done and dusted.  I’m without project.  I am suffering list-less-ness.  Well of course there’s a list of kinds – it’s Christmas time for goodness sakes, who operates without a list?!  But there’s no overriding list, no pressing project…and I don’t like it.  I’ve got plenty to do, with some list potential – no Christmas cards written, no presents wrapped (not even all bought – eek!), and no comprehensive outfit plans for me and Daughter, not a morsel planned for the Boxing Day Buffet (that probably won’t be a buffet this year – too much pastry and clock watching for all those little mini fancies that pretty much all taste the same!) – but no next project.  

So what should it be?  My wise friend J would tell me to just be.  Be present in the moment.  Good advice.  But I do like a plan.  So until it’s time to start on the summer holiday plans, I’m going to have to stretch out my mini lists.  But I might just get a brochure…

Thursday, 24 July 2014


When I was discharged from hospital after having Daughter six years ago, I was sent home with painkillers, blood pressure and water tablets and a rather large dose of maternal guilt. The drugs were for a week or so, but the guilt was to be taken liberally several times a day.

The guilt is largely about two things. The first is not being there.  Not for the school drop off. Or pick up. Or to be a 'helper' in her class. Or to take one of her friends home from school for tea, and 'everyone else has someone for tea all the time'. I should get a different job she said, so I can be there to do that.

The second is about not giving her a sister (or a dog, because I'm allergic). We tried, we succeeded, but it wasn't to be. We have tried to explain that you can't guarantee a sister, but that falls on deaf ears. And really, she doesn't want a baby sister, she wants a ready made five year old sister to play with right now.

So, in order to compensate for my epic fails, I try to really step up where I can. And the last opportunity I had to do this was for the big 6th birthday.

The first chance I had to put a shed load of extra work in was sourcing the invitations. Barbie, she'd decided. No problem, I thought. But it turns out that she's not quite as easy to get hold of as you might think. But it gave me the chance to put plenty of time in sourcing them and medicating my guilt.

(Some of you will disapprove of Barbie.  I get your concern. Is she a suitable role model?  We'll let me tell you we now have the Dream House mansion thing in our dining room and I personally think the girl's done good. But each to their own.)

But the big chance came when I got the idea to make her a Barbie cake. No nipping down to Asda for a ready made version for me. I mightn't be able to pick her up from school, but I could stay up half the night making one to show her how much I love her. Mother made our birthday cakes every year, still does and they still look the same. When someone makes you a cake, it's like a message of love on a plate. So, if a cake says 'I love you', what would my Barbie extravaganza say? Probably 'I love you and you have me wrapped around your perfectly formed little finger'.

So, I'd seen a hard could it be?

The first hurdle was what to cook it in. Option one was apparently to bake a number of sponge cakes, stack them and then then carve them into shape. Hmm. Sounded a bit trickier than I'd anticipated, but of course did give plenty of scope for assuaging guilt and stepping up.  However, I decided there was nothing gained from giving Barbie a hideous deformity and so had to look further afield. Option two was to buy a tin. Having exhausted my borrowing options quite quickly ( there's only Z that embraces home baking in my circle of friends, and the Head of Catering at work drew a blank), it became clear I was going to have another opportunity to demonstrate dedication  by researching and then buying said tin.

Then there was the decorating to think about. A lunchtime abandoned to comparing edible diamonds, sugar roses and pink balls (if in doubt, buy all) and I was ready to roll (not the icing, it bought that ready-rolled, ha ha)

So, the big bake began. Half way through I realised I'd underestimated the size of the tin and had to suspend the proceedings for an emergency dash to the nearest shop. That done, I metaphorically sat back and waited for it to cook. And waited. And waited. Eventually it appeared to be done and my job was done for the night.

The next day was all about the decorating. And I also discovered that loom bands make excellent Barbie bobbles. To be fair, I quite enjoyed the decorating so it didn't have the guilt repayment value it should have. Anyway, Barbie eventually looked like this:

Then this:

(And then eventually like this...)

Did she say 'I'm tastier than a brother or sister and quite frankly people will be more impressed?' She did say 'please ignore the icing in my hair' though.

So eventually it was party day. The many surrendered lunchtimes culminated in bags and bags of stuff to make the party look pretty and help 30 odd six year olds have fun. Did I see the fun? No. I spent most of the party willing heat resistant fries to cook to accompany their very accommodating and quick cooking hot dog buddies, accompanied as always by Mother, who surely has no mother guilt to pay for having been ever-present.

Did Daughter miss me at the party? I don't think so. Did she have a brill time and tell me it was her best birthday ever? Yep. Will I ever not feel guilty? I doubt it. All I can do is try and make the big (and little) things count. Oh, and keep doing the lottery...

Friday, 23 May 2014

All Change

Every morning, when I’m performing my morning ablutions, I hear a small child be dropped off at his grandmother’s house round the corner from us (they’re not really loud, we’re on the corner!) and every morning, he cries.  Now I’ve seen this child, who must be about two, with his grandmother, and he’s happy as Larry (lucky old Larry, always cheerful).  What he doesn’t want is for his mummy to leave him.  I hear his nanny placate him with their plans, and I’ve seen his mummy extricate herself and drive off.  And every time I hear or see it all, it takes me back to when Daughter was little little (considering her to be just little now that she is nearly 6).

I went back to work when Daughter was six months old, and as I’ve mentioned before, it was all very traumatic for me.  And probably for Father, who was her primary daytime carer and used to present me with a record of nappies changed, ounces of milk taken and slop ingested.  Strangely there was no record of the Starbucks muffin eaten when she was about 8 months old and in the joint care of Father and Sister for the day.  Sister thought little of what she called my food regime and decided it was high time her precious niece lived a little. How she laughed a few months later when I anxiously asked Mother if she thought it was ok to give Daughter a little bit of fairy cake! That was when I discovered the treachery, now known as Muffin Gate.  Fast forward over five years and I’m the one with the child who tries to exist solely on chocolate and she’s the one with the child who chooses an apple over chocolate as a pudding (apple for pudding? Does not compute!) and is a regular at their local curry house.

I digress.  Dropping her off as a baby was hard, but not on her.  It wasn’t till she was one, and we’d spent the entire summer holiday together that she took a bit of umbrage at being abandoned.  Poor Mother, who was still working at this time, had to try and coax her away and entice her with the fun she’d be having with Granddad that day.  And they did have fun, and I used to struggle to get her out of there come home time, but by god were the mornings hard.

Eventually it all became easier, but she still had her moments.  It wasn’t about where she was or who she was with but rather about the fact she wasn’t with me.  What she failed to realise is that wonderful Nanny and Granddad did far more exciting stuff with her than I ever would have done (I’m finding the years between absolute dependence and leaving home independence a bit of a challenge…) and never in a million years would I have been creative enough to build her an obstacle course of boxes and furniture when she started to walk to keep her away from the radiator and give her enough places to hold on to when she wobbled (good old Granddad), or taken her out to the front gate every day at the same time to talk to the man with the dog that she liked.  Or probably a load of things they did with her that I can’t remember now.

But it’s all different now.  She can’t get to Nanny and Granddad’s fast enough if there’s the chance.  She asked could she phone them the other day so that she could ask if she could go round.  Or if it’s not going there, it’s can she have a friend round.  And no longer do I have to go and snuggle her before she gets up and play a set routine of games before she’ll get up (grabber – where I pretend to be one of those machines and try and grab her belly, tickle – if she doesn’t laugh she wins, cuddle round 1, rock, paper, scissors and then cuddle round 2).  No, now I have to put the TV on and come back when I’m all ready.  And it’s not CBeebies, it’s CBBC.  I fear I’m becoming surplus to requirements.  That’s the thanks I get for holding her non-stop for six months and giving in to her every whim because ‘she’s only a baby’.

So what I want to do each morning is open the window and shout on to the family experiencing the morning trauma:  ‘this too shall pass!’ – and you might be sorry when it does.

Friday, 25 April 2014

I would go out tonight, but I haven't got a stitch to wear...

Fooled by a few cheery sunny and warm days over the last couple of weeks, I have unearthed the summer clothes.  There is quite a rigmarole to the change of seasons in our house, as limited wardrobe space has always required clothes to be boxed up and stored in the loft.  This is what happened in the parental home, with poor Father being required to get in the loft and unearth unlabelled bin bags for me, Sister and Mother, and always be sent up for a rogue sandal (or boot).  Sister and I always had a pile ‘em high attitude to clothes, so we’re talking a lot of bags.  I think that was probably the first thing they did when I left home (last to leave) – teary eyed wave and then up the stairs at record speed to use all the now vacant wardrobe and drawer space!  No more seasonal change loft jaunts for Father now.

I sent Husband up for the summer boxes, also for the last time due to the wise purchase of some nice furniture for the spare room, and he was very surprised to only find one fairly light box.  And it all came back to me.  I’d had a cull, a clear-out,  a declutter the summer before.  I’d Trinny and Susannah’ed and Gok’ed myself.  Made me feel frumpy?  Out.  Too big (ha ha as if)?  Out .  Pre-baby clothes (ahem, pre-nearly six year old clothes)?  Out.  And what survived will see me staying in a lot over the summer.  Three strappy maxi dresses (but not the shrug things I wore with them), three skirts I wear for summer work, all of which are all too big, but no tops.  Two chiffony type maxi dresses that I still love but have practically thermal slip dresses attached to protect modesty and make my hair curl with over-heating.  And that was about it.  I’d held some linen trousers and some chinos back in case of an unexpected heat wave (ha! No catching me out sunshine!) and that is the sum total of my summer wardrobe.

What to do?  I’m trying to lose weight (and take what you will from the fact I haven’t updated you with my Fab at Forty efforts lately…) and so didn’t want to buy until I was looking at smaller sizes, but all that’s happened is I’m in between sizes at this crucial shopping time.  Because we all know that if you haven’t completed your summer clothes shop within the next couple of weeks you’ll be stood looking at woolly hats and boots in the shops.

So while I’m belting things in and working double time to get things washed and ironed, what’s happening with Daughter’s wardrobe?  I did the same with her clothes, and generated eight bags for the charity shop (they do keep growing!) and then declared a state of emergency shopping trip and kitted her out.  I’m having to try hard to remember she’s not a baby and shop accordingly.  I’d still have her in frilly knickers and hats with elastic under the chin if I could.  Wasn’t quite expecting her to have inherited my fondness for leopard print though.  She was given the choice between identical gladiator style sandals (which aren’t the nice sturdy leather Clark’s I would buy if left to my own devices!), which had some frilly flower type embellishment on the front, one in a pinky hued vintage floral design, and one in a gold leopard print design.  You guessed it.  Hear her roar.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Ready, Steady, Lunch!

Friday’s packed lunches are always depressingly sparse.  One of us does the food shop (also known as The Big Shop)on a Friday, which means by Thursday night when I make the lunches for the next day (really, who has time to make it in the morning?), there are slim pickings.  Not for Daughter, of course.  She has the same every day – sandwich (egg or ham on strict rotation, and the exotica of egg has been a fairly recent addition), bear crisps, a mini chocolate bar that is apparently approved by mums due to the high milk content, apple juice and until recently a well-travelled pot of grapes.  It was well travelled in that she very rarely ate them and they went back and forth.  The lunch-box police would probably take me away, but they want to try living with a fussy eater.  So of course there is always everything that she wants, and let’s face it, I’d do a midnight run to the supermarket in my slippers if I discovered something missing for her.  Substitutes will not be tolerated!

But for me, it’s like a much scaled down version of Ready Steady Cook.  I empty the fridge of potential lunch fare and try and put something together.  Last night revealed a serious lack of salad and fruit, but at least there was enough to make a sandwich.  I was drooling during a text to L before, who was having a jacket potato with beans and salad.  The food of kings!  I have no access to a kitchen at work and so I’m pretty limited to sandwiches and sophisticated pots of noodles that you can make with water.  Not those!  I’ve got a degree, thank you very much.  My noodles come in cardboard containers for that extra bit of sophistication.

When I lived with my parents (or ‘at home’ as I still call it occasionally), my very wonderful Mother made my packed lunch for work.  Yes, work.  Those were the days.  There was never two days the same, and there was never a make-do day.  How?  She worked full time and did everything (more appreciated now than at the time, I think) and yet still had enough sandwich filling on a Friday.  And I’m no stranger to having discovered ham, soft cheese and grapes in between my granary.  The imagination!  The effort!

I don’t think Daughter will look back as fondly on her lunches.  How misty-eyed can you get over a boiled egg sandwich?!  To be fair to myself though, I do cut them into a heart shape.  I do hope she will entertain a ham, soft cheese and grape sandwich at some point, but I think I will be resigning my packed lunch maker role the day she leaves school.  Primary school.  No?  Grr.

I’m off to pester L with texts now while she has her jacket and beans. Ha ha!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Just Another Can on the Shelf

I have 24 cans/bottles/sprays etc of hair product on my shelf in our bedroom, so this of course doesn’t include the ‘wet’ hair products that crowd the bathroom (at least 9 that I can think of from the top of my head, pardon the pun).

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re imagining me with a different hairstyle every day, all carried off with that ‘just stepped out of the salon’ shine and gloss.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I wear my hair the same EVERY DAY.  Loose and straightened for work, palm tree style with fetching fringe clip when I get home.  So what’s with all the stuff? 

I’ve got nice hair, if it’s not too big headed (there’s another one!) to say.  But I live with the desire to have nicer hair.  Glossier, fuller, straighter, curlier, more defined…and clearly those 24 products have promised me a variety of those desires at some point.  And have they?  Mostly, no.  Do I keep falling for the promises?  Yes.  I am a marketing team’s dream.  Put a picture of Cat Deeley in a magazine and use words like ‘repair’, ‘softer’, ‘glossier’ and I’m sold.  I will peruse the hair product aisles of large chemists at least once a week.  I’ve been firm with myself lately and am taking a ‘Just Say No’ stance, but like any kind of addict, I’m tempted.  It doesn’t help that Sister, with whom I usually peruse the aisles, has an even worse case of product addiction.

Now don’t tell Husband, who has a more minimal stance to this kind of thing, but on any given day, I use two of the bedroom shelf products.  Two!  That’s 22 unloved (and dusty) products on the shelf.  But I can’t throw them away.  I might need them!  The fact that some of them have actually survived a house move four years ago means nothing.  I’m bound to forget why I’ve stopped using some of them at some point and no doubt be overwhelmed by a horrible gone-off hair product smell (apart from those that are really old and from the days when our products were loaded with stuff to keep it tip-top for a century).

It’s not just my head that has all the extra stuff.  I counted 11 body creams/butters/lotions on the go in the bathroom this morning.  And I have two vanity cases full of extras, although I did unearth my last Christmas body wash this morning.  It must have been a slow year.

It’s probably time to admit it.  My name is Joanne and I’m a product-holic.  But I have no plans to reform.  I’m going to chuck or use the hair stuff, I think, but life can be hard enough without just one body spray to choose from.  I’m anxious to build up the body wash collection as we speak.  And if I ever do run out, I can always cross the landing to Daughter’s room.  At five and a half, she’s already building up a collection of perfume (because who doesn’t want to smell like a Disney Princess?! Obviously not Daughter, who never touches the stuff!) and gooey lipgloss.  Like Mother like Daughter I suppose!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Retail Therapy

Daughter and I enjoyed a bit of retail therapy this weekend.  Well, when I say enjoyed, perhaps I should say 'participated in with only minor levels of discomfort' . First stop, Primark. I'd forgotten our sunglasses and it was a glorious day in Liverpool today, so in we went to splurge a couple of quid on some sunnies.  Despite having promised myself I wouldn't buy any clothes until I've lost some weight and saved some money, I don't get into Liverpool very often and the lure of city centre shopping was too much for me, and I had the clearly ludicrous idea of having a quick look. And quick it was, because Daughter was keen for me to know she didn't really want to be there. I'm used to her moaning, so I could have put up with that, but she tried to wander, and there's nothing to send my stress levels rocket higher than Daughter being more than about 10cm away from me. My fear isn't that she'll fall over or get lost, it's that she'll be stolen. She's so beautiful, you see. I know the statistics suggest it's highly unlikely, but I can't concentrate unless she's right in front of me. So, browsing for me was abandoned and we schlepped up to children's wear.  She tried four styles of sunglasses on, picked a bag and some jewellery and then was a pain when I was looking for things for her, so all she got was a pair of neon pink jeans. Her loss.

It's understandable that she was fed up, but the real reason was that there was 30 quid burning a hole in my purse that she had from Other Grandad (so called to distinguish him from Nanny's Grandad!) and Aunty T, who had come to visit, and a promise of another tenner from me, all to spend in Build A Bear.

We'd managed to get her to five and a half without ever building a bear. I'd let her spend birthday money on an outfit for a rabbit she'd got as a christening gift, but we'd never chosen one of the slightly alarming empty bodies and joined the queue.  There was no choosing, she knew what she wanted (Treasure, an eye-wateringly orange cat, who is Princess Ariel's pet, presumably obtained after her move to dry land) and we encountered the attempt to get us to include a scent and sound (no thanks!) and then joined the filling queue. Our helper, Alice, was so good and I hope she's enjoying a well deserved vodka (or whatever youngsters drink these days!) tonight. Watching Daughter work the foot pump with such conviction that she was filling Treasure was so lovely, but the heart ceremony choked me up. I appreciate that sentence alone could cost me readers, because it might sound like I'm overly sentimental and have bought into the saccharine ploys of cutesy emporiums designed to hike up pester power to the max (surely I'm not the only one that cringes at being called a Guest in another well known place high up on the pester power list? And, on that note, do they really need a character name? The middle aged grump that attended to us in another (not local) outlet was so far removed from her character ( can't remember who, but one of the Big Five Princesses) that I nearly sniggered). Anyway, I digress. The heart ceremony. Daughter selected her heart, and then performed a series of actions with it, the last one being to kiss it and make a wish. Her eyes were screwed up so tight with thinking and wishing so hard, and she didn't move that heart from her kiss until she was all wished out. And it's a secret, you know, so I don't know what it is. But I couldn't tell you if I did, it's a secret!

And of course Treasure needed clothes. And accessories. What self respecting cuddly cat doesn't accessorise? So we added our dress, tiara, necklace and tail flower. Daughter did make a bid for the shoes, but they only come in pairs and Treasure's got four shoeable feet, so point to Mummy.  Not buying shoes enabled us to go over to Cafe Thorntons, hurrah! Not for the delicious and restorative hot chocolate I had, you understand, but just so we could get Treasure out and dress her. What I did discover was that cats on four legs and bears/rabbits on two legs don't really share any physical similarities but are supposed to wear the same clothes, and consequently poor old Treasure's dress is a bit of a poor fit.

Fast forward a few years, and will we be firm shopping buddies or will it be a punishment for both of us? I suppose it depends how long I'm willing to buy things for her! I can't imagine future shopping being so cute as watching my little girl wishing on a heart though. I'm so soft!