The last day of Nursery

The clue’s in the title really. Today was Anna’s last day at nursery – we now have seven weeks of summer holidays before she starts ‘big school’ in September.

She is nothing but excited. She has absolutely loved nursery, to the extent that when she’s been too poorly to go in we’ve had tantrums, but she’s now undoubtedly ready to move on, and is really looking forward to school. That’s great, and a testimony to how well the nursery teachers have done their job. The one in emotional crisis is me.

It only seems like five minutes since we were preparing for her to start nursery; the year’s gone so quickly – it’s only when I saw the photo nursery took of her on her first day that I realised how much she has grown up and changed during the time. This has been the year that she’s taken her first steps to living a life independent of me. And that’s been ok, I’ve been so proud of how well she’s done, how friendly and sociable she is, her voracious curiosity about how the world works, her enthusiasm for ‘learning time’.

And the thing is, 15 hours a week has been about the right length of time – I’ve had some writing time, some cleaning time and even, occasionally, some me-time, but I’ve also had afternoons where we can potter around at home, bake cakes, go to the park, see friends, visit museums and just generally hang out together. Come September, those afternoons are going to vanish, as I suspect, at first, I’ll probably have a very tired and consequently grumpy little girl to collect at 3pm.

I almost held it together at pick-up time today, but being presented with her elephant undid me. Anna is in, sorry, has been in, Elephant Group, and every morning her first task on arrival at nursery is to find her elephant – a small cut out with her name on it velcro’d to the wall – and place it in the Elephant Group envelope. Every morning for a year I’ve followed in the wake of a small whirlwind who just wanted to get on with the important business of playing, reminding her ‘go and do your elephant’ – sometimes in honeyed tones, sometimes practically screeching, depending on what kind of a morning I’d had. Today we took permanent custody of a now redundant elephant. I gave up any attempt at a cool, calm demeanour and sobbed openly. I was far from being the only one – most of the teachers and several of the mums were in a similar state.

The last four and a half years as the stay-at-home mum to a pre-schooler have been exhausting, exhilarating, demanding, exciting, boring, fulfilling, frustrating and, above all, blissfully happy. Anna is undoubtedly ready to move on to the next stage of her life, but I’m not yet sure that I am.

Having kittens

Regular readers will know all about my mouse problem. It’s now over a year since they made their presence felt, and during that time we’ve tried traps, poison, blocking up all holes, nooks and crannies, and electronic bleepy things which emit a high-pitched bleep audible to rodents but not humans and which is meant to deter them. It doesn’t. We obviously have deaf mice, as opposed to the traditional blind ones. Actually, come to think of it, cutting off their tails with a carving knife is one strategy I haven’t yet tried.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that, sick of endless scuttling and sinister black specks on the kitchen worktops, we finally came to the decision to get a cat. It was the subject of much debate – I was more enthusiastic than my husband, but worried that the feline presence would scare off my highly-allergic-to-cats-sister-in-law, as well as the bloomin’ rodents. However, we reached our decision, and then serendipitously, a mere 48 hours later, a friend I did antenatal classes with but haven’t seen for a while, posted on Facebook that she had taken in a stray cat which had promptly given birth to four kittens, and she was looking for homes for them.

It seemed like it was all meant to be, and so, come September, we will be proud owners of two brand new kittens. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.

Anna and I went to see them yesterday. They’re a week old, and so haven’t even opened their eyes yet, and are just adorable little bundles of fluff, wriggling around, and almost permanently latched on to their mother. Two of them are black, and two tabby, and we’ve decided to have one of each (maximising the chances of telling them apart). We can’t even work out what sex they are at this point, so thinking of names is a bit tricky, but I daresay will provide hours of fun over the summer. Anna is beside herself with excitement, and wanted to tell everyone we met that we were getting kittens. And then had imaginary phone conversations with the entire cast of Peppa Pig and The Octonauts to let them know her big news as well.

Fortuitously, the kittens should be ready to leave their mother when they’re about eight or nine weeks old, which coincides exactly with Anna starting school, so I’m hoping that an additional benefit will be that they ease the trauma of my baby being grown up enough to start school, and give me a project to focus on in case I get withdrawal symptoms from having a small dependent creature to feed and clean up after and cuddle.

And my sister-in-law, thankfully, has promised she won’t eschew us completely, but warned that I might have to do some extra hoovering prior to her visits in future.

Summer Lovin’

wild flowersI’m British, and obviously that means that every so often I am the helpless victim of a compulsive urge to blog about the weather. The unusual occurrence of a week of consistent sunshine has set me thinking about the slightly love-hate relationship I have with hot weather.

Ten things I love about Summer

1) The ease of getting dressed – knickers, bra, dress, Birkenstocks, done.

2) The ease of getting my daughter dressed – knickers, dress, sandals, done.

3) The delicious smells of grass and flowers, heightened by warmth.

4) The drowsy sound of a bumble bee buzzing in the afternoon sunshine.

5) The feeling that eating a daily ice cream is practically a duty.

6) The bright colours and prints people wear -I’m writing this in a cafe, and from my seat I can see blue and white stripes, aqua and white dots, pink and white flowers, blue and coral flowers, white and yellow flowers, green and white leaf print and turquoise paisley. And that’s without mentioning the t-shirts in turquoise, lemon, lilac and Wedgewood blue.

7) The evocative scent of suncream.

8) Strawberries, raspberries, salad, homemade lemonade, homemade potato salad, crab sandwiches – ok, you can eat all of those in the rain, but it’s not really the same.

9) That delicious feeling when you’re really hot and tired and sticky, and you step into a cool shower.

10) The security of being able to plan a picnic or al fresco dinner with confidence.

Ten things I hate about Summer

1) The increased personal grooming – suddenly leg shaving, body brushing, foot filing and toenail painting seems as de rigeur as teeth cleaning.

2) Trying, and failing, many, many times a day, to persuade my daughter to wear her sunhat. And then retrieving it from all the places where it has been carelessly discarded.

3) The not so delicious smell of the food waste bin in the kitchen when it hasn’t been emptied for two days.

4) The aggressive whine of a mosquito somewhere in the bedroom, just as you’re dropping off to sleep.

5) The contradiction inherent in the fact that eating a daily ice cream is practically a duty, but at some point I might be expected to wear a bikini in public.

6) The direct correlation between the likelihood of a man going topless on a crowded bus with the chances of him having a weight and personal hygiene problem.

7) The conflict of wills every time I, as a responsible mother, feel the need to apply suncream to my daughter, but she is equally determined not to have it applied.

8) That the kitchen goes from being my favourite place to be to one of my least favourites, as even making a simple pasta dish feels like slaving over a hot stove.

9) The horrible feeling as you toss and turn, trying in vain to find a cool spot of sheet, compelled by the heat to have the window fully open, but realising that your little urban village isn’t quite as blissfully quiet as it seems when there’s a layer of double glazing between you and it.

10) The tedium of looking for the mythical ‘perfect’ picnic place when the requirements of the group are: full sun, total shade, space to spread a picnic rug, a bench to sit on, a comfortable distance from other families (still British), near the playground. And all to the accompaniment of a little voice which shares all the persistency of the mosquito’s whine, but with a great deal more volume, saying “I’m hungry, Mummy. I’m hungry. When are we going to eat? I’m hungry.”

But still, it’s a rare novelty, and we should make the most of it, so really mustn’t grumble.

Weighing up the issue

I’m thrilled to have been asked to guest blog for the Huffington Post. This is my latest post for them:

Like many women, my attitude to my weight and body shape is fairly complicated. There are many factors influencing it – health, feminism, the desire to be attractive, the desire to eat cake, whether or not I’m about to meet up with someone I haven’t seen for a few years – but really it comes down to a constant tension between two polar opposite ethoses which play out in my head thus:

Day One – I pull on my jeans. They feel a bit tight. I reflect regretfully on last night’s pizza, half bottle of wine and half tub of Ben & Jerry’s. I am seized with a conviction that this is not the way to treat my body. My body is a temple. You are what you eat. The way to happiness (and slimness) is suddenly blindingly apparent. I should cut down on sugar, alcohol and other refined carbs. I should increase the amount of fish, seafood, fruit and vegetables I eat. I should avoid heavily processed, salty food. I should exercise regularly. My energy levels will increase, my skin will glow, my jeans will fit, and I won’t get Type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s or CHD. What’s not to like about that?

Days Two, Three, Four and Five – Wow, this really works; I’m so glad I’m the kind of woman who takes care of herself. What delicious recipes I’m discovering. My stomach is flatter, my skin is clear and my energy levels really are soaring. There can be nothing tastier than fresh grilled fish and a huge salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. And that endorphin rush after going for a run or a swim, it’s unbeatable.

Day Six – Yuk, it’s cold and rainy today. What I need is an afternoon in the comfort of my own warm kitchen. I’ll bake cupcakes with my daughter. I’ll put a delicious beef and red wine casserole on to simmer, and serve it later with mounds of buttery mashed potato. Syrup sponge and custard would go down a treat after that as well. Yummy. Oh, but hang on a minute. What about the that healthy living malarkey? The reasons for thinking that was a good idea are suddenly obscure. I’m not one of these health food fascists. I am a cook and a foodie. I am a woman with curves. I’m not a whinging calorie counter, I’m a live life to the full kinda gal. And I’m definitely not going to become anaemic through iron deficiency, or get osteoporosis through calcium deficiency. Bring on the pudding!

Days Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten – I’m so glad I’m not one of those women who obsess about their weight all the time. What amazing recipes there are in the world. Hmm, should I make chilli or risotto for dinner tonight? There can be nothing tastier than organic bacon from our local butcher, nestled between two slices of homemade white bread, slathered with butter and a smear of brown sauce. And the endorphin rush of sinking into a hot bubble bath with a good book and a glass of wine, it’s unbeatable.

Day Nine – I pull on my jeans. They feel a bit tight…*and repeat, ad infinitum*

The thing is, when a lot of people fall off the healthy eating wagon, they do it consciously. “Oh, I really shouldn’t have this slice of chocolate cake, I’m trying to be good. Never mind, salad for supper.”, whereas I manage somehow to convince myself that not eating the chocolate cake would be tantamount to denying my whole personality, and so I should eat it with relish, and then enjoy steak frites for dinner into the bargain. Then a few days later, I genuinely feel that fresh fruit is all I want for pudding, I know that anything else will make me sluggish and lethargic all afternoon, and that seems genuinely undesirable.

And this internal debate is inextricably linked with my vision of femininity, how I perceive myself as a woman, and how I want the world to react to me. I have my Gwyneth moments (well, sort of) of feeling I exude a healthy glow, that I am setting a positive example of healthy living to my daughter, that I am enabling myself to get the most out of life by looking after my body. But I also have my Nigella moments (well, sort of) of feeling that I am healthily voluptuous, that I am setting a positive example of joie de vivre for my daughter, that I am enabling myself to get the most out of life by wholeheartedly embracing the sensual pleasure of amazing food.

One of the quotes which I always think of when I reflect on this issue is from Jennifer Weiner’s fabulous debut novel Good In Bed, when her heroine Cannie is finally able to accept her body shape:

“I will love myself, and my body, for what it can do- because it is strong enough to lift, to walk, to ride a bicyle up a hill, to embrace the people I love and hold them fully, and to nurture a new life. I will love myself because I am sturdy. Because I did not -will not- break.”

Which, funnily enough, seems to work whatever mindset I find myself in that day.

I’m still wishing, however, that I’d bought the sign I saw in a gift shop recently “Never trust a skinny cook’.

Epic Ebay Fail

Sometimes I have the gravest doubts about my ability to operate successfully in the modern world. Take Ebay. I’ve had  a moderate degree of success in buying on Ebay – a vintage silver mirror for my mum’s 50th birthday present, a pile of maternity clothes which saw me through my pregnancy with very little cash outlay and an enormous bundle of Peppa Pig figures and toys for my daughter’s most recent Christmas present, for example. I’d never really gone in for selling, though.

Partly it’s just that I can never believe people will want to spend good money on things I’m throwing away, so I tend either to donate to a charity shop or Freecycle. And partly it’s just that I was scared of it. It seemed like so much hassle. Take photos, upload photos, describe item, post item – surely it couldn’t be worth it?

However, a chance conversation with my best friend last month persuaded me to reconsider. She had spring cleaned her wardrobe, and gone through everything her baby boy had outgrown, and not only did she feel masses better for having got organised and created so much free space, she had also made around £300 selling things on Ebay. But wasn’t it really stressful?  She claimed not, and so I decided to get brave and give it a go.

Sorting out my wardrobe didn’t go particularly well. My aim was to get rid of all the size 10 clothes which just make me feel guilty and depressed, but also to lose the size 14 clothes which provide me with a comfort blanket – they’ve allowed me to feel it doesn’t matter if I put a few pounds on here or there, because I can still fit into something. The problem is that since turning 30 those few pounds don’t seem to vanish quite as easily as they once did, and I don’t want to have an entire section of my wardrobe giving them permission to stick around. However, after what I thought was an extremely rigorous cull, I realised that I’d only actually got about 15 items on the ‘to go’ pile, and several of those were in no condition to sell on.

Undaunted, I decided I’d give it a go with what I had. I took photos, and painstakingly uploaded them. I spent over an hour trying to resurrect my Paypal account – since last using it I’d changed name, address, phone number and bank, so I suppose you can hardly blame their systems for being a little sceptical that I was still me. I was beginning to wonder myself by this stage. Finally, I got my items posted.

It went really well for a few days – it was fun checking the number of ‘watches’ and bids coming in. Unfortunately, realisation then struck me. My seven day posting was due to end on the second day of my week’s holiday in Cornwall. Oops. You’d think I might have counted forward when I set it up, but you’d be wrong.

Never mind, I thought. Lots of people can’t get to the post office during the working week. As long as I send them as soon as I get back it’ll be fine. So when we came home, before I’d even unpacked my suitcase, I was getting the sold items ready to parcel up. Then I realised my second mistake. My friend had strongly recommended that I purchase a bulk lot of plastic post bags before my sale came to an end. Of course,being in Cornwall all week, I hadn’t. So there was lots of running round the house hunting out stray jiffy bags and bits of brown paper, which it then took me most of the evening to fashion into acceptable parcels.

I got there in the end, however. Bright and early the next morning I set off to the post office, only to get there and find it closed. I looked from the locked door to the opening hours in bewilderment. It should have been open. I pushed at the solid oak, tentatively at first, and then harder and harder, until I realised I was attracting the attention of passers-by. It was at that point I noticed the small sign saying that this branch was closed due to strike action. It listed ‘nearby’ branches which were open. None of them even remotely qualified as near for someone without a car carrying an enormous and bulky bag of items to be posted.

I went home. I tried, and failed, to send messages to my buyers explaining the situation. Then messages from them started to arrive asking, very nicely, where their items were. After nursery drop-off on Tuesday I set off to distant post office, and finally, after spending 20 minutes queuing (don’t get me started) I got them posted. The relief. It only took another 15 minutes to work out how I changed the status on Ebay to ‘dispatched’, and then I felt I could wash my hands of the whole thing. At that point I worked out that I’d made a grand total of £16 – given that this represented about 7 hours input on my part it was so far below the minimum wage as to be laughable. And even that was counting my chickens too soon.

I’ve since had a message from one of my buyers to say that the shoes were the wrong size – I’d advertised them as 6, and they were actually a 7. I hadn’t even checked. I’m always a size 6, Except, I recalled a little too late, on the very rare occasions where sizes seem to come up small and I buy a 7…

So I’ve wasted another ten minutes this morning composing a grovelling email. I will have to refund the money and the postage, which means that my profit goes down to £8, and I have to try and work out how to refund money on Paypal. I could cry.

The only silver lining is that, although I expect my seller ratings are going to be rather poor – after all, they received the wrong item, inexpertly packaged and late – it doesn’t much matter because in future, if I ever get round to clearing out the rest of my wardrobe, it’s back to Freecycle and the charity shops for me.