Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year Resolutions

 ... Or meandering time for a procrastinating procrastinator

Here we go again - another New Year; another list of well intended resolutions; another December 31st when reflection struggles to recall the failed resolutions made a year ago; another day spent stoking the fire of motivation and ambition, tempered only by the nagging doubt that yet again you'll find yourself unable to follow through, you'll leave the fire unattended, return to find barely glowing embers and kick them in frustration into the dust: another precious year will slip through your fingers.

Am I generally a glass half empty or half full sort of person? - I'm definitely happiest when there is something in the glass - but regarding the subject of making and breaking resolutions, I'm definitely glass half empty ... or drained of every last, hope giving drop.But bear with me a little longer in this procrastinating monologue, while I stop to consider if it might be in my power to change this ... could this year be different? Can I keep the flame burning? Can I succeed where before I have always, always failed? How could this be done?

For starters, these are the resolutions I would like to make -

Eat less - too obvious, too predictable, far too common and unless you are a gym-bunny or anxious re-tread, far too likely to fail. Goes hand in miserable hand with Get fitter and Lose weight

Write!!!!!!! and Submit - yes! yes! yes!

Keep a cleaner, tidier house - this may involve killing the felonious kleptosquaters first (you'll have to search previous blogs to find out who they are) and may therefore be messy ... or impossible, given that I suspect they are a figment of my imagination dreamt up to define my disorganisation and forgetfulness and general tardiness and perennial state of procrastination

Cook from fresh more and strive to eat five a day - or if we believe the Americans is it eight or even ten a day, and apart from broccoli and peas how do you get kids to eat their greens? Chocolate coated sprouts anyone?

Be happier, more confident, more relaxed - think this might require a lottery win, so perhaps I should resolve to purchase a lottery ticket every week, although I expect that resolving to stop buying lottery tickets and stop wasting hours planning exactly how to divide the winnings between family, friends, good causes, cars, presents, another dog and holidays might be a better, more noble resolution

Clear the mess that is the fruit cage - this might upset Four-legged-friend who transmutates from gooseberry, to strawberry, to raspberry thief through the summer, but he'll thank me in the long term if it's healthier and tidier

... What a terribly selfish, resolving person I am ... what happened to -

Give more to charity


Be generous with my time

Keep in better contact with family and friends

Walk the dog more

Are these better? Well yes! ... more achievable? - maybe.

So which resolutions really matter? What are yours?

Perhaps, we need to limit ourselves to a couple from each list - the achievable things we want to do for ourselves and the selfless, character enhancing things we do for others.

 I think the secret might be to choose things that are achievable, affordable and ambitious - the first, because we might just succeed, the second because we have to be realistic, and the third because we need to be stretched a little or else it will all be too easy and what's the point of a New Year's Resolution if at the end of the day we don't feel good about it?

So, after all this meandering, here are my New Year Resolutions -

Actually, I'm keeping them to myself. That way I'll enjoy the satisfaction of succeeding. Or won't have to admit to anyone if I fail - I can just crawl into my shell and berate myself. All over again.

Have a very Happy New Year. Good luck with your resolutions.

And thank you for reading.

Walking the dog at year's end

The cutest picture of the year:

Last walk of the year: mud + puddle + freedom off the lead + the odd festering cow pat = lab heaven

Last sniffing-around-for-rabbit-droppings-foxes-and-other-unmentionables session of the year:

Last sun set of the year:

Best picture of the year: profile pic for 2012  ... ?

The sun sets on 2011

Tomorrow - new dawn; new day; new year. Have a good one.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

"Tiny, teeny, absolutely weeny bit" stuffed

Christmas ... Such fun! : from the mince pies and mulled wine after carols, to the meals shared with friends, to the exuberant jig of joy from Littlest when she realised it was time for bed on Christmas Eve, to the plate left out for Father Christmas, to the late night but peacefully alone preparation of turkey and last minute wrapping, to the unexpected internet chat with distant pre-dram brother in law and friends/mums also wrapping or preparing food in the wee small hours, to the early morning tea prepared by Littlest and sister before they woke us (it apparently took the grown ups an hour to make the tea and light the fire before assembling for stocking opening last year - far quicker to do it on their own!), to the wonderful, insightful letter to Littlest from the big man himself which made her feel very special and is now with other treasures in her jewellery case, to Littlest's request for pudding - just a "tiny, teeny, absolutely weeny bit please", to sharing the kitchen with many helping hands, to walking the dog on the warmest Christmas Day any of us could remember, to marvelling at the movement in his hips when presented with the biggest marrow bone he had ever seen (how to keep a Four-legged-friend happy in one easy lesson), to spending Christmas with family, relatives and friends, to watching the sometimes edgy but mostly joyful dynamic at the dinner table - even the risqué chatter seemed not to bother the most formality prone, manner fancying, elderly relative (but I suspect he has never sat at a dinner where the word 'penis' was tossed up the table - as Littlest's eyes popped, everyone else just giggled, and elderly in law manfully continued to munch his "over al-dente'd sprouts"), to the table that kept us eating and drinking for over five hours (truly stuffed!) - with interludes for singing, barber shop, piano playing, and finally, to the games, the laughs, the hugs at home time. And the quiet satisfaction of a day well done.

Happy stompers all.

Except Littlest who found an easier way to travel -

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Festive conversations

'Tis the season to be jolly, to sit round a fire with friends, to meet strangers over drinks, to search the vacant plot of conversational ideas in our minds, and panic while wearing an equally vacant smile. And then ... discuss the weather.

Alternatively, we could in advance consider a list of possible topics:

  • While the global/European financial situation could be considered the perfect recipe for inducing sleep after a substantial feast, it also has the advantage of being a topic with no correct answers; one which will generate as many opinions for its solution as there are people sat round your table and one that unless any of your guests happens to be a government financial adviser, no one will have any chance of influencing anyway, so basically everyone can safely say exactly what they want, no matter how extreme. 

  • Children - we as a family fall into all three of the broad topics on the subject of childhood - the nappies, teething soother, pre-school, childcare, nursery, primary school, nativity play, reading tree, times tables, take to after school activities to assuage the guilt of parents surrounded by parents who take their darlings to after school activities era; closely followed by the senior school choosing, how to cope with teen smoking and booze at parties and the parents who condone said activities and to whose homes all our children flock, GCSE selection era; and finally the impossible to solve maze that is UCAS (university) applications, the dilemma of whether to helicopter- parent one's child to University Open Days ( which now bizarrely cater for visiting parent consumers) or let them sort it out for themselves and the comfortable knowledge having been there that in the long term it is easier and a whole lot safer to let them choose for themselves and watch a little smuggly while other parents make the mistake of pushing their child into a "better" university where they will last a term, tops, before dropping out, or switching to a different course.

  • There is another topic concerning children which should only be embarked upon in the presence of very good friends who share your views on child rearing and that is childhood ambition - NOT the ambition of the child, but the ambition of the parent FOR the child. We all know at least one "tiger" parent and unless we are in the habit of happily receiving exocet missiles, would not dream of criticising their competitive, rudely intense child rearing skills.Some of them will no doubt have successful children - quite probably ones with hang-ups of never being good enough - but others will have kids who at some point crack, rebel and go completely off the rails i.e. the children they have truly spoilt and deserve. Then, there are the children we all really want to hate, but have to admit that we love - the bright, polite, clever, sporty, musical all rounders, who sail through life picking up prizes, win places at the best universities and then either disappear without trace into motherhood, or a career, or the rare ones who against so many odds becomes a  household name - at least two of my children's contemporaries thrill with potential to someday brighten everyone's life; they and many, many others, I am proud to say I have known. But beware discussing this ambition with anyone you do not know well, as you risk sparking petty jealousies and hurting feelings terribly.

  • Pets - I could and have spent many a conversation with near strangers about my Four-legged-friend and their F-l-f, comparing where we walk, bemoaning the dirty refusing-to-pick-up-poo habits of other dog owners, comparing the cost of pet insurance and vets and generally bonding over something we have in common. Just as conversations about nappies and lack of sleep tend to fall flat with the childless, talking about one's pet marks you out as a little mad among the non-animal-loving. So this subject has to be embarked upon with care and with an easy to deploy back up plan. 

  • Cars - this can range wildly from who is driving what car, speculation about how so and so can afford the car he's just bought, the trouble you had the last time you had yours serviced. All wildly boring and best left to the men. Also leave anything about football, golf, rugby, the cost of heating oil, any route anywhere that involves the actual discussion of road numbers or names of roundabouts or distances in point anything of a mile, to the chaps.

  • What you have watched recently on TV - just how good were Maggie Smith and Dan Stevens in Downton Abbey; what you think of Jamie's last minute Christmas tips - yes, I will be trying the home made pork stuffing along with his brilliant mulled wine from last year, the recipe for which is forever stuck inside one of our kitchen cupboard doors; how much you are looking forward to the ab fab return of Ab Fab and Outnumbered!

  • Higgs Boson and all things godly - does the god particle exist. And God ... What does it mean? What might it mean? Are we bothered. How much in awe of Prof  Brian Cox are we? And could I invent some way of bottling his voice and for that matter Liam Neeson's and selling them to people who want warm treacle in their ears when their phone alarm rings?

  • New Year resolutions - this deserves a whole blog to itself. Just imagine the conversational possibilities for now.

  • Dream dinner party guests: what about George Clooney, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Colin Firth, Robert Downey Jnr, Jude Law, Alfie Boe, Jack Black, Prof Cox, Stephen Fry and a bit of Jazz from Hugh Laurie and Michael Buble - think this is a  conversation for the girls?

  • Best film of 2011. Oscar tips for 2012 - Streep as Thatcher (mamma mia! got to see that one!) Have we seen Stephen Fry naked yet? 

  • Who is our favourite comedienne? Where has Miranda gone? Please bring her back, very soon, before I fall over with the strain of waiting.

Or if any of the above seem too controversial, or are met with a wall of stunned silence, you can always rely on the weather. As long as you are talking to another Brit this is the safest bet. Always.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Life as bramble thicket

Life passing in a fairly content fog of gift wrapping (mild panic - omg, have I got enough for everyone; will they like it; have I got the right bridge pads for mother-in-law?); cooking (friends all being extremely helpful with offers of puddings, mains and starters - apart from the big event, may not have to actually cook much at all); decorating (post fire, post building work); planning of meals with friends; entertaining (music recitals already being rehearsed by Littlest and sister); feeding the dog; ordering startlingly expensive turkey; walking the dog; feeding hungry mouths (eating me out of house and home - realise just how significant a role the school catering staff play in their lives); gardening with dog; and shopping (again ...), when unexpectedly hit by devastating question of what mark if any will I leave on the planet (assuming that I want to leave a mark, which I think I do, because there has to be more to life than working hard, otherwise what is the point of anything except satisfying self? And what would be the point of that?)

This thought struck while Four-legged-friend and I were outside this morning venting angst on a hapless bramble thicket (me) and poking our noses down rabbit holes (F-l-f).

I definitely won't be remembered for this - all evidence of labour gone in a mere few months. Even Four-legged-friend recognises the futility of my endeavours - rabbit droppings are far more interesting. And less prickly.

Distressingly, I attacked the same thicket in the spring and here I was again clipping madly at branches at least twice as long as they were before - perhaps the humble bramble is not so humble after all and when pruned responds with defiant exponential growth (could the world economy perhaps be encouraged to do the same: slash and grow, slash and grow) - the relationship between bramble and hedgerow being a bit like me ( the choked shrub beneath the bramble) and the thorn-laden branches (all the irritations, time wasting  but necessary chores of a mother and housewife, missed opportunities, people that get in the way, bore and are rude, jobs that I need to do but put off again and again) What I and all of us need are some shears to slice through the tangled web we weave for ourselves, the thorny branches that clutch at our dreams and ambitions, smothering them and strangling hope out of us.

Of course, this pruning will have to be repeated at regular intervals, maybe once a year - what about New Year's resolutions: which irritation will I remove from my life first? Mmmm.....?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fairies, pixie dust and another fine mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Out of the mouth of Littlest:

"This is going to sound extreeeeeemly wierd but maybe the fairies use pixie dust and sort of throw it into the sky to make clouds look like Santa's sleigh. Maybe they want us to believe in Father Christmas."

Me: "So do you not believe in father Christmas, then? Do you think it's the fairies who do Christmas?"

Littlest: "NO! Of course I believe in Father Christmas! If the elves exist then of course he does too! And every single member of my family (except me) has seen elves - a hand, a foot, the top of a hat - you know; the ones who visit near Christmas and spy on children to make sure they are behaving themselves."

Oh dear. And we tell them not to lie ...

Felonious kleptosquaters: a plea for help

I have a message for our kleptosquaters - the hidden, uninvited residents of our home, who creep about in the dark helping themselves to odd socks; kitchen scissors; and every working pen or sharpened pencil - why not convert from felonious acts to ones of a more charitable hue?

For example, there are certain irritations I would love someone - other than the usual downtrodden and exhausted, clearing fairy - to deal with:

  • the hair that blocks the shower drain and makes it smell
  •  dog hairs everywhere
  • the long hairs, knotted into elastic hair-ties, that are draped over the edge of the bath (if you don't have long-haired girls, you won't have a clue what I mean!)
  • perhaps one of you could even be enticed to lick up the toothpaste that looks as if the ghost of Jack the Dripper has practised modern art in the sink
  • spiders' webs
  • the detritus of Littlest's latest "making" project - piles of pencil sharpenings, confetti-like bits of paper, sticky ends of sellotape, and glue sticks (never married to their lids)
  • biscuit wrappers
  • loo roll cylinders
  • tangerine/satsuma/mandarin peelings down the side of sofa cushions, on bedside tables, and on the floor and yoghurt pot lids on the desk
  • fairy dust - whose daft idea was that: to give little girls tubes of coloured sand and glitter to scatter all over the house as they make wishes and practice casting spells?

With New Year just around the corner, perhaps your kleptomania could be redirected and I could have a tidier house - all be it one with missing socks.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Bliss is not having to choose between the sticky toffee pudding and the apple crumble and instead being allowed a liberal helping of both. With vanilla ice cream.

Bliss is also finding five minutes in a hectic day of painting kitchen cupboards, supermarket shopping, preparing roast dinner, and the inevitable washing and ironing and other daily motherly duties, to sit at my netbook, wine glass close to hand and write.

Bliss is mostly four, hotly whispered words, while little arms are wrapped around your neck, "I love you too."

But at this time of year there is an extra bliss to observe:

Homemade decorations on the tree

And when the lights are switched on, bliss is the reflection in Littlest's eye

And lastly, bliss is also looking forward to Christmas with children who still believe the magic, not having to work too hard, family all at home and sharing time with friends.

... 5 minutes well and truly spent. Time to get back to chores.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Hard wired to worry

I have a theory, honed during a chilly walk with Four-legged-friend,  that somewhere in the intricate and vastly complex knitting that is the genetic make up of a woman there is a strong consistent thread that carries the code for worry.  In most men, the thread is absent or at least partially deleted.

Why do I think this? - isn't it obvious? Three scenarios to persuade you:

You're invited out to dinner - people you don't know very well, so there has already been some anxiety over which dress to wear, how smart to be - but at the time given on the invitation, your man is still in the bath, or worse, has just decided that he needs to measure the bathroom wall ready for the shelves he plans to put up tomorrow before he gets into the bath. You have already apologised to the babysitter for getting her round too early (this is of course nonsensical, as she doesn't care: you are still here, sorting out your child, and she is being paid for watching you). You have changed shoes twice already and fretted about your earings. And now, he says he has to make a quick phone call before you leave! Should you phone your hosts to warn them you will be late? Should you sulk and glare at your man all evening as he relaxes, ignores you - he didn't appreciate you voicing your worries about being late in the car - and give in to your worry-genes by being up tight and stressed and not enjoying the evening at all, or should you take a leaf out of his book, fail to notice the faint aroma of burnt over dinner and eat, drink and be merry? No ... I'd probably be too worried about giving the wrong impression!

Or consider man and woman, together with their children, on a skiing holiday (and I know I'm not alone in suffering from this particular worry). Man and children career down ski slopes that look like the precipices plunging off mountainous skyscrapers sketched by an artist with a distinctly masculine mean streak, which everyone assures you are 'easy reds' but you know are actually double blacks. There was a day, pre-children, when your knees would have behaved with a little more elasticity than the terrified, frozen rictus that afflicts them now, but the problem is, if you don't get to the bottom of the slope in one piece, then who is going to pick up all the sweaty clothes at the end of the day, hang them up to dry, empty the snow out of boots, feed the children, prepare the packed lunches for tomorrow, stick plasters on blisters and kiss bumps and bruises better, read the bedtime story and find the cuddly pink rabbit that has fallen under the bed? While man sleeps off his exposure to the mountain air and wakes just in time for dinner.

And who but mothers the world over worry about their sons and daughters let loose behind the wheel of a killing machine when they first pass their driving test? Men just see it as an irritation because insurance companies charge such an extortionate amount to cover young drivers, and as a massive convenience because the new driver can now share the taxiing of younger siblings  - which of course just sends mothers' worry into the stratosphere!

So I reckon I have a convincing theory;  should I worry about whether or not you agree? - guess that depends on whether you are man or woman.