She’s making a list…

Of course I’m up to my eyes in Christmas preparation, but thought I would take a little time out to blog, not least because it is a job which does involve sitting down but which doesn’t involve sellotape, and, frankly, jobs like that are gold dust at the moment.

Santa Claus’ list is an unmissable part of the Christmas fairy tale – the names of all the boys and girls, whether they’re naughty or nice (most children, in my experience, are both in equal measure), and, of course, what they want for Christmas. We’ve done that bit – Anna wrote to Father Christmas and has requested a cycle helmet with penguins on it (even though she doesn’t yet have a bike), a towel with a hood, and a train. She was worryingly non-specific on the type of train required, so we’re really hoping we manage to meet expectations on that one, but all that now remains is to actually get them into the stocking tomorrow night. Tips on how to fit the cycle helmet in, anyone?

The list which is uppermost in my mind at the moment, however, is my To Do list. It’s a work in progress, but so far looks like this:

Pre-Christmas Eve

Buy crackers

Buy brandy

Amend Sainsbury’s order (include leeks, satsumas, more milk, maple syrup, bread flour, potatoes & grapes)

Make bread to go stale for stuffing

Make bread to go stale for bread sauce

Make cranberry sauce

Buy ham, sausages and bacon

Tidy and clean studio

Bring in and clean outside table (only way we can seat the numbers expected on Boxing Day!)

Tidy and clean spare room

Make up bed in spare room

– Fix table (don’t ask)

Wrap presents

Write and post cards for neighbours

Buy cheese

Dust and hoover everywhere

Put Xmas cards up

– Return Boden dress to Post Office (Yes,  I know I’m not a Size 1o, but there was a 60% off sale and I got over-excited)

Sweep up leaves from front path

Do flower arrangements 

Clean bathroom

– Buy and fit new toilet seat (again, don’t ask)

I have to say that given it’s now only 4pm, I think it’s all going pretty well. Especially as husband is, as we speak, battling through the storm to post parcel and buy toilet seat. Plus buy ice cream and bin bags which were the other things I missed off my Sainsbury’s order. Delegation is always the key to success.

Part two deals with the jobs for tomorrow:

Christmas Eve

– Make yule log

– Make stuffing

– Ice Christmas cake

– Cook ham

– Make gratin dauphinoise

– Prep veg

– Set table

– Make bread sauce

– Collect turkey

The Christmas Day list doesn’t exist yet. That will be an extravaganza. No back of an envelope here, this will have pride of place on the chalk board in the kitchen, and every task will be accompanied by a timing. Of course it doesn’t compare with the multiple copies of the highlighted and synchronised list of minute by minute timings for bride, groom, chief bridesmaid, best man, parents of bride and groom, brother and sister-in-law which was the indispensable tool for organising my wedding day, but it’s still a tour de force.

And there are very few things as satisfying as crossing completed tasks off your list. To give myself a momentary high I have been known to write down completed tasks just so that I can immediately cross them out again.

I hope all your preparations for Christmas are going well, and that you have a relaxing and peaceful time celebrating.

Merry Christmas!


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Since I last blogged, almost a fortnight ago, December madness has taken over. We put up the decorations early for us – first week in December – and since then keeping the kittens from eating, climbing or systematically dismantling the Christmas tree has become a pretty much full-time occupation in itself.

We’ve been pretty organised with present-buying this year, so much so that we don’t really believe it – we’re just waiting for 3pm on Christmas Eve to either a) remember an entire branch of the family we haven’t bought for, or b) for Anna to change her mind about what she wants from Father Christmas. Present wrapping, luckily, is a Husband Job. I’m hopelessly inartistic, not to mention impatient, and so having to go ten rounds with the sellotape and wrapping paper usually results in extremely bad language at the very least, and, depending on the alignment of the stars, how much sleep I’ve had and where I am in my menstrual cycle, can escalate into outright violence at worst. As a result of this, the divide up of marital workload means that for the past few years I’ve only had to manage to wrap my husband’s. Which, if sufficient chocolate is consumed before and during, is just about manageable.

I’ve been doing large amounts of Christmas baking as well – cranberry mince pies for us, brownies to take as a party gift, reindeer cookies for Anna’s school party, Christmas Rocky Road for husband’s colleagues, Christmas cake which was a bit late in the making but is now wrapped up in layers of foil awaiting its first feed of brandy. There’s even more planned for later this week as Anna is having a little Christmas tea party with a few of her friends from school. I did something similar last year, but hadn’t been planning to repeat it until Anna happened to mention casually that it had been her favourite part of last Christmas. Cue maternal guilt trip and some hasty texting to arrange a suitable day.

In between baking, shopping, wrapping, kitten disciplining and party planning I’ve been looking after a poorly daughter, and existing on very little sleep as I have to keep getting up to administer probably-more-than-the-legal-limit of cough mixture several times a night. She’s loads better now, but I feel like I’m engaged in permanent anti-germ warfare. There’s so many treats we’re all looking forward to in the run up to Christmas, not to mention the day itself, and it seems like everyone we know is ill, probably with different bugs. I was so thankful last week that Anna had (just about) recovered enough to go into school for the day of her Christmas Show. She was a reindeer, and had been avidly practising her songs for weeks – including my top tip for Christmas Number One, the Reindeer Hokey Cokey. Of course, inevitably, I welled up as soon as the plinky plonk school piano struck up the first notes and the nursery children started singing, only managing to pull myself together briefly to return the kiss blown to me by a certain little reindeer. John Lewis really don’t need to spend a small fortune and employ a top director to tug our heartstrings in their Christmas ad – footage from any Reception parent’s camcorder would do the trick just as well.

And tonight, after juggling taking daughter to a playdate and picking up post-neutered kittens from the vets, it’s time to let my hair down with fellow labourers at the coalface of modern motherhood, aka my NCT group. Nearly five years on we’ve all survived, as have our children (in fact all the others have done the whole thing again in the meantime). The weekly five hour long meet ups where we discussed every last detail of feeding, sleeping and pooing are a thing of the past now, and our lives have gone in different directions – some back at work full-time, some part-time, some stay-at-home mums and one new business start-up, not to mention the women who won’t be there tonight because they’ve defected from London living entirely, but it will be great to have a glass or three of wine and a proper catch up. One of the big disadvantages for me of being a stay-at-home mum and writer is the lack of colleagues and office gossip, so tonight is my alternative Christmas works night out.

Get set, go

Well, you can’t deny that I have a nice sense of irony – writing a post entitled ‘procrastination’ and then not producing anything else for best part of two weeks.

Reader, I have been indisposed. I had a minor operation last Monday and it hurt a lot more than I thought it was going to. Granted, the fact that I was told at my pre-op assessment that I would take a week to recover, and the fact that my friend who’s had similar surgery warned me that she could barely walk for a week afterwards should probably have given me a heads up, but it didn’t really.  I spent most of last week in bed bleating feebly at husband/mum/dad/MIL who were all taking turns to look after me (and Anna). By Friday I’d managed to get dressed. True, it was in leggings and a loose dress, so arguably not that different to pyjamas, but still. Since then I’ve been feeling better every day, and I’m very grateful to my family and friends for their help and support. And patience.

I have learnt three lessons from my experiences, which I will share in case anyone else can benefit from them.

One, is that anaesthetists have access to some seriously good drugs. People of a squeamish disposition may want to look away now, but for the rest of you…I have terribly coy veins, which retreat completely as soon as they see someone wearing a white coat and brandishing a needle, and so inserting a cannula into my hand was not particularly easy. After a few attempts I became hysterical distressed, and the lovely, lovely anaesthetist took pity on me, and gave me a shot of something which gave the effect of, as he put it, ‘downing two large glasses of wine in two minutes’. Wonderful stuff. If  you know any anaesthetists then I would strongly suggest they warrant an invitation to your Christmas party.

Secondly, if you have an operation as a day case in a hospital in Paddington, West London and need to get a taxi home to Walthamstow, East London a few hours later, then it’s probably a good idea to take any painkillers you can get your hands on before setting off. And preferably have had the foresight to marry an anaesthetist. There are a LOT of speed bumps in London.

Thirdly, the medical term for a big bruise is a haematoma. That is helpful because when people ask how I am, giving a brave smile and saying that I’m fine apart, from the post-operative haematoma, tends to elicit what I feel to be an appropriate degree of sympathy, whereas saying I’ve got a big bruise probably wouldn’t.

I hope that this painfully acquired knowledge helps someone out.

But now, bravely soldiering on, despite my haematoma, I am very excited to be putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) with my third book today. I’ve heard from my editor at Hodder, and she is very happy with my second novel, To Have and to Hold, so that will be published as an e-book on 8 May 2014, and then as a paperback on 19 June 2014. I’m sure I’ll be cursing over edits and corrections at some point, but for now I feel ready for the next challenge. I’ve had the plot all worked out for a while, and the characters have been simmering away at the back of my mind, but now seems the time to to bite the bullet and start writing. Cos, you know, it’s not like there’s going to be anything else for me to do in December, is there?