Being Kind

Last week was not a good week. It kicked off with Sophia ill with a high temperature and a cough. The cough was worst at night, so we were getting woken up every couple of hours by  distressed little girl. Then I discovered Anna had nits (again), and so we had to add daily assaults with the nitty gritty comb into our daily routine, which was popular with everyone. The weather was cold, grey, foggy and, it turns out, poisonous. Air quality in London hit a record low, and it felt impossible to get properly warm. Then Anna fell off the climbing frame at school and hit her head, and then vomited, and then complained her vision was blurry, so we ended up at the GP and then being sent off to A&E. She only had a mild concussion, and is fine now, but it was fun at the time. Then Sophia fell downstairs, top to bottom – she was totally unharmed, but this was the morning after the night in A&E, so my nerves were pretty shattered. The week was rounded off by Sophia falling off the bouncy castle at a party on Sunday and having one of her seizures. And this is before even thinking about the terrifying and depressing political developments in America.

But yesterday, even though it was Monday, and (still) January and (still) cold things suddenly felt better. I had a text message telling me that some friends of ours had had a baby daughter at the weekend, and baby news always makes me happy. I took Anna out for a hot chocolate and some quality mother and daughter time whilst my MIL looked after Sophia, and was reminded how lucky I am to have this bright, funny, imaginative girl. I went out for dinner with my closest friend from those early, blurry, sleep-deprived first baby days and we had a proper catch-up and marvelled at the passing of time which means we are now parents to nearly-eight-year-olds. And after pre-school, Sophia asked if she could sit on my knee to have lunch instead of going in her high chair. I agreed, and she leant back into me, snuggling her head against my chest, and said contentedly “Love you” for the very first time.

Someone I know from years back posted on Facebook this morning that protests against Trump’s policies or against Brexit, are utterly pointless, and instead we should be directing our efforts to loving our friends and family, volunteering at church, supporting colleagues at work and taking the time to be nice to people who we come across in daily life. I couldn’t agree, or disagree, more.

Being kind to the people around us is what we should be doing anyway, and all the more so when there seems to be such a dearth of kindness in high places. And the only way to get though these dark political times is to take time to appreciate and value the little things – sharing a meal with someone you love, the sleepy weight of a child on your lap, a conversation with a friend. But right now I also think those of us who believe in hope not hate should try to do a little more, go a little further, and make our voices heard just as clearly as those I firmly believe are far fewer in number but shout much louder.

This morning I have followed More United‘s advice as to what we can do to fight the horrendous ban on Muslims from certain countries entering the US – a ban which is going to tear families and friends apart. I donated some money to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the ban. I posted a supportive message on my MP’s Facebook page, as Stella Creasy is being very vocal in encouraging the British Government to speak out, and MPs who are taking this stance need our support, just as those who are not speaking out need to know that this is something their constituents care about. And I co-signed the letter which Hope Not Hate are sending to Theresa May, asking her to unequivocally condemn Trump’s actions.

None of this took very long out of my day, and none of it stops me also continuing to try  (even though I don’t always succeed) to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, neighbour and friend. Love and hope are stronger than hatred and fear, and we can, and must, prove that.

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Fat chance

 

I am always adamant that January is no time to start a punishing diet or fitness regime, no matter what the scales might be telling us. It is cold, it is dark, there is an inevitable crash after the excitement of Christmas, and spring is still a long way off. This year, for good measure, Donald Trump has just become leader of the free world. Seriously, this is not a good time to give up chocolate, cake and wine – they may be the only things which get us through. I love my blogger pal Mostly Yummy Mummy’s latest post on how to take care of yourself and create your own sunshine this January –  wise words indeed.

However. Despite all this sensible advice I give myself, diets, dieting, fitness regimes and weightloss plans are everywhere in January, and and it is very hard not to be drawn into feelings of panic and insecurity. Especially when you managed to lose half a stone slowly and painfully over the autumn before putting it all back on again in December.

I’ve blogged about my relationship with my weight before. I’m not hugely over-weight, but I put on a gargantuan 4.5 stone when I was pregnant with Sophia and now, shortly after her second birthday, I’m still 1.5 stone heavier than I was when I got pregnant. I have no desire to conform to media expectations of what women should look like, and I know that realistically I am far too greedy to ever make it to a size 10 or below. But this extra weight pushes my BMI into the borders of the ‘overweight’ category, and takes my waist measurement to dangerously near what the NHS considers to be the ‘at risk’ zone for health problems. I’ve also got some really nice clothes which no longer quite fit. Losing that extra baby-weight (I’m sticking to this definition, rather than the possibly more accurate ‘chocolate brownie’ weight), would take me from my current top end of a size 14 to my former comfortable size 12, and I would prefer that for lots of reasons. Not least being that if I continue to put on half a stone every Christmas and fail to lose it, it won’t be long before I have a very big problem indeed.

So what do I do? One half of my brain is telling me to bite the bullet, enrol in Slimming World or Weightwatchers, endure three months of restricted eating to lose 2lbs a week, and then job done. The other, possibly more sensible part, is telling me that I am nearly thirty-six and I need to grow up and make peace with my relationship with food.

Apparently something like 95% of diets don’t work, in the sense of losing weight and keeping it off long term. That’s not a very encouraging statistic. If you told me a new washing machine had only a 5% chance of still working in three years time I very much doubt I’d buy it.

I no longer believe that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, in fact I think that’s an unhelpful distinction to make. Obviously there is more nutritional value in a tomato than a Creme Egg, but a sugary chocolate egg doesn’t have a moral value. Eating it doesn’t make you bad, any more than resisting it makes you good. I’m sceptical about organised diet programmes which penalise eating avocado or olive oil and promote sugar-free jelly or FryLight spray.

What I do believe is that I eat for positive reasons – because I’m hungry, because it tastes nice, because it’s fun to share a meal with friends or family, because I want to give my body fuel and energy, but also for negative ones – because I am lonely, bored, angry, tired, stressed or miserable. One of the reasons I have struggled to lose  weight recently is that I have spent quite a lot of time in the past couple of years being lonely, bored, angry, tired, stressed or miserable. Sometimes all simultaneously.

Hopefully things are improving. Sophia settling into pre-school gives me a better balance between full-time mothering and some time and space for myself. After a series of sessions with a psychologist I am coping much better with the PTSD and anxiety I was suffering from. And by and large (fingers crossed) Sophia is sleeping pretty well, ergo so am I. We won’t talk about the recent cold which caused her to wake up pretty much every hour on the hour screaming “Mummmeeee, where are youuuuu?”.

I don’t really want to ‘do a diet’. Partly because I’m not convinced it’s the best route, for me, to what I want, which is long-term good health and healthy habits. Partly because young girls are very vulnerable to developing poor body image, and at nearly eight Anna is extremely shrewd and observant, and I don’t think that watching mummy weigh out her Special K every morning sends a particularly positive message. And partly because I am feeding a family which includes a growing toddler, an energetic school girl and a husband with a metabolism the speed of light who has a tendency to lose weight if he gets stressed, something which happens a fair amount when you’re starting a new business. Just because I have the metabolism of a depressed slug and a tendency to eat family sized bars of Dairy Milk when I get stressed is no reason they should all suffer, and I certainly can’t be bothered cooking endless separate meals, or watching them tuck into homemade sausage and mash while I munch away on a low-cal ready meal.

But equally not being ‘on a diet’ can’t be a carte blanche to eat everything I want. Unfortunately I just want to eat too much of lots of things! I don’t want to calorie count or weigh food or ban entire food groups, but I can’t eat as many sweet treats as I would like to and avoid putting on weight and becoming unhealthy. So my plan is something like this:

  1. Eat three balanced meals a day.
  2. Watch the amount of carbs, especially high GI ones like white pasta and potatoes.
  3. Limit sweet snacks between meals to once a day. I know a lot of people would say once a week, but I’m trying to be realistic.
  4. Wait until I’m hungry, don’t eat for the sake of eating or because it’s expected.
  5. Get a pedometer and walk as much as possible, at least the recommended 10,000 steps a day, but more whenever possible.
  6. If I fall off the wagon, don’t write the whole day off and think that because I had a pain au chocolat for breakfast this is now a reason to think sod it all and have chips for lunch, pizza for dinner and an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s as an afternoon snack.
  7. Give myself 6 months doing this, and if I’m gradually losing weight, great, and if not then think again.
  8. Put these aims on my blog so that I can’t wiggle out of them.

Oh, and maybe not start until February…

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My top books of 2016

I planned to write this post last week, but somehow it didn’t happen. However, although time is going at snail’s pace this cold, wet January, it’s still only the 16th day of 2017, so I don’t think it’s too late to come up with my favourites of the sixty odd books I read for the first time last year.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I’m not normally much of a non-fiction reader, but this memoir of a British journalist’s move to Denmark and what she learnt about the Danish culture and way of life was absolutely fascinating. Apart from the cold and dark, it all sounded pretty idyllic and made me want to up sticks and move to Copenhagen pronto. Failing that I’ll just make another batch of cinnamon buns.

The Cazalet Chronicles Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is actually five books, but I couldn’t possibly choose between them. I found this epic saga of four generations of a large upper-middle-class family’s experiences of the sweeping changes of the 20th century simply mesmerising. The characters continue to live in my head nearly a year after I finished reading, and I know they will be books I return to again and again as well as recommending ad nauseum to anyone and everyone I think might listen.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop  by Veronica Henry

You know when you go into a restaurant and there’s a dish the menu which combines all your favourite foods? For me this is on the brunch menu at Bill’s and it’s their veggie special – mushroom, and guacamole, and houmous, and tomato, and chilli, and toast, with poached eggs to top it off. Anyway, this book was the literary equivalent. A small town, a variety of people with secrets, problems, heartache, all finding comfort and resolution through the books they read and the friends they make in the local independent bookshop. Heaven!

Who Do You Love by  Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner writes sharp, funny, observant and moving novels. She’s one of my absolute favourite authors, and this was one of her best novels in my opinion. A bit like One Day in its theme but *whispers* far, far better.

The Girls by Lisa Jewell

Another favourite author of mine, and the kind of writer I aspire to be when I grow up. The Girls is a darker subject matter than many of her other novels, and it was absolutely gripping. She writes with such vivid immediacy, taking you straight into the head of the character she’s describing. This was absolutely unputdownable.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

This was the first novel I’ve read by Liane Moriarty, and if they’re all this good I’m so looking forward to reading some of the rest in 2017. This story of a woman who loses her memory after a head injury and wakes up believing she is 28 and happily expecting her first child with her husband when in actual fact she is nearly forty and a soon-to-be divorced mum of three, is totally compelling. It’s a really thought-provoking read, forcing you to consider how the tiny niggles or compromises that affect you every day can actually end up ruining your life if you allow them to.

So there’s my round-up of the year. I’ve decided to carry on with my monthly book reviews on the blog, with a rough aim of reading around fifty new books again this year. That feels like a realistic number, stretching me to try new things, but at the same time allowing me plenty of time to enjoy my favourite comfort reads when I feel the need.

 

 

Roots and wings

Sophia started pre-school last week, and after a few days of settling her in, today is the first day I’ve left her on her own. I’m huddled in the nearest cafe to pre-school (a good three minute walk away), watching the snow fall outside, and wondering how my tiny little baby is suddenly big enough to cope for two hours without me. At least, I hope she is.

Sophia is an independent, feisty, determined little girl, who rushes headlong to meet life and new experiences, so I think she’s going to be fine. So far she’s seemed to love it, and when Nanna and Grandad came to visit she was excitedly telling them about the ‘yide’ (slide), ‘beep beep car’, ‘yand’ (sand) and ‘tiny house’ she’s been playing with. She is going to benefit so much from the play and socialisation opportunities which pre-school can offer. And to be honest, I’m going to benefit so much from three mornings a week to have a little break from 24/7 childcare and a chance to do some more writing, maybe a little exercise, and remind myself I’m a person as well as a mother.

But, but but. It brings to the fore the contradiction inherent in parenting. My job is to create two independent adults who can go out and make a place for themselves in the big wide world. We celebrate every little step along this path – holding their heads up, rolling over, sitting up, eating solid food, standing, walking, running, talking, feeding themselves, coming out of nappies, getting themselves dressed, holding a pencil, learning to read and write, making friends, starting school, singing in the school Christmas concert, making their own snacks for themselves, and many, many more. We teach and encourage and nag and cajole and bribe and praise. We are so proud of every tiny yet enormous achievement that our hearts burst with it. And yet they also break a little. Because every one of these milestones, necessary and celebrated though they are, is a step along the road to them not needing mummy any more. To mummy and daddy not being the lodestar of their lives. To interests and loves and experiences and mistakes that we will not, cannot, should not share.

If I do my job properly, one day Anna and Sophia won’t need me anymore. All my efforts are directed towards this end, and I would be devastated if I failed, and yet when I succeed I will grieve bitterly for the little girls whose every need from milk to cuddles to comfort to company I could provide for. At nearly eight Anna is already at a stage where she has problems that I can’t necessarily solve, but I still know what the problems are, and a cuddle still makes her feel better at least. In a few years there will be issues with friendships, crushes, schoolwork which she won’t even want to tell me about.

I visualise my love for the children as a very soft, very warm, invisible blanket which surrounds them at all times. They might not be with me, and they might be having problems I can’t solve, but I can’t shake the sentimental belief that my love is so strong that it will enfold them and protect them wherever they are, and that our unconditional love and acceptance will make them strong enough to cope with whatever life throws at them.

And, of course, if they’re anything like me, and they have babies of their own one day, I will suddenly be needed again. “Mum, is this normal?”, “Mum, what do I do?”, “Mum, can you babysit for me?, “Mum – help!”

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Beautiful bespoke lino print created by Free the Birds

 

Happy (Nothing) New Year

Towards the end of last year I blogged that I was thinking about making 2017 a ‘buy nothing new’ year for me and the girls. I got masses of enthusiastic support from friends both online and in real life, and so I have decided to go for it. One of the most enthusiastic supporters has been my husband – I think he may be suffering from the delusion that by sticking to vintage and pre-loved I’m going to spend less money. Bless him.

Seriously, though, cutting down on the amount I spend on clothes and shoes and frippery bits we don’t really need is one of my objectives. Another is to reduce my carbon footprint and the amount we are contributing to landfill. Another is to make me appreciate the things I already have rather than constantly seeking something new. Another is to spend the money I do have to spare on experiences rather than things. And the final is to cut down the amount of time I waste in browsing, online and in shops, for things I don’t really want or need. I am hoping to be able to fill that time with more productive or relaxing activities – baking, reading, hot baths, keeping in touch with friends – rather than moaning I have no time and then frittering the brief windows I do have on the Boden website.

So what are the rules? I’m not being super strict, because I don’t think I need to be to achieve those objectives, but I do need a framework to stick to.

  1. I won’t buy any new clothes or for me or the children, with the exception of underwear.
  2. I won’t buy any new shoes, bags or accessories for me, but the children will get properly fitted new shoes as and when they need them.
  3. Food and household products like washing powder etc are not included in the challenge.
  4. Basic toiletries – cleanser, moisturiser, cotton wool, nappies, body lotion, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel – are not included in the challenge. However, I won’t buy any new make-up or nail polish, with the exception of mascara. You’re meant to change your mascara every 3 months to avoid eye infections, and I can’t manage without mascara or with permanent conjunctivitis.
  5. If I run out of my two Clinique must-haves (CC cream and Happy perfume) I will replace, but only if I have managed to save enough money from things which I have sold myself.
  6. I will not buy any new books for me or the children, but e-books are an exception (no waste or carbon footprint!).
  7. I will not buy any new toys for the children, with the exception of specific and reasonable requests for birthday or Christmas presents which I cannot source secondhand. I will replace art/craft items such as paper, card, glue, felt tips and paint as they run out, but I won’t buy new for the sake of it.
  8. Presents for other people are not included in the challenge, because the most important thing to me is that I give gifts my family and friends want to receive. However, I will challenge myself to consider vintage/pre-loved/hand-made/experiential items as a starting point, rather than heading straight to the high street shops.
  9. Presents for us are not included – we will be very happy and grateful to receive anything anyone is kind enough to get us!
  10. I won’t buy anything new for the house, other than like for like replacements of essential equipment (think cooker, kettle etc) if they break.

There might have to be exceptions within the year – for example items required by Anna for a school play costume which I can’t track down second-hand in the time available. Any exceptions like this will be recorded, exactly what I bought and why, so that when I look back at the year I can see how well I managed!

I will be using charity shops, Facebook selling/freegan groups, and Ebay for specific items we need.

Anna has decided that she does not want to join in the challenge with her own pocket money, so she will be free to spend her £1.50 a week on whatever her heart desires.

I’ve got off to a flying start, getting a pile of free tights and some t-shirts for Sophia, and a beautiful, barely worn, pure merino wool Cos sweater for myself for just £15 via the wonderful Walthamstow Sell or Swap.

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Really interested to hear your thoughts, and see whether anyone wants to join me. I’ll be blogging regular updates on how I get on and my pre-loved bargains. Oh, and a very Happy New Year!