Changed Priorities Ahead

‘Changed Priorities Ahead’ has always been my favourite road sign. I dimly remember from my driving theory test that it has something to do with traffic lights, but since the first time I noticed it – getting a lift from my dad to my then-boyfriend’s house – it has always seemed far more significantly symbolic than that. 2430675363_f48e263e08_b

It happens to all of us. Maybe you’re chugging along quite happily through life, when suddenly, WHAM. A dramatic, life-changing event. You fall in love, get pregnant, get made redundant, get sick, receive an unexpected job offer, have an accident, someone dies. Your priorities all change radically, unfortunately without the benefit of a road sign warning you that this was coming. At other times you may be struggling with a problem, unsure which direction to take, and then, imperceptibly, you realise your priorities have changed. What you thought of as the problem has vanished, perhaps leaving a whole other set of challenges in its place, or you might be lucky enough to acquire a sense of calm certainty instead.

To an extent I have experienced the second of those scenarios recently. Since Sophia was born, in fact since before she was born, one level of my mind has been preoccupied with the issue of how I could carry on writing once I had a baby to look after. I’ve considered various options – a childcare swap with a friend with a similarly aged baby, a nanny or childminder for a couple of days a week, a pay-as-you-go creche. None of them seemed quite right. For a start, writing novels, certainly when you are still trying to get started and make a name for yourself, is far from being a lucrative profession, so whichever option I chose had to be a frugal one. For another thing I have had a guilty prickle in my conscience at using childcare for Sophia while she is still a baby when I didn’t do so for her sister, and when I don’t need to financially. With Sophia’s first birthday – the deadline I had given myself for returning to work – fast approaching I hadn’t taken any serious steps towards making any of these options happen.

Last week I realised why. I am not by nature a procrastinator. If there’s something needs doing my instinct is usually to do it and get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Except sometimes. Sometimes I find myself not doing the thing I should be doing, the thing I have decided needs to be done, and when I stop and analyse why the answer is invariably the same – I don’t actually think it is the right thing to do after all. I had this a couple of years ago when we planned to re-do our kitchen. I’d done some on-line research, allocated a budget, talked my husband into it, but I kept on failing to actually call companies to get a quote. When I made myself consider why I realised it was because I actually didn’t want to have a generic fitted kitchen. I didn’t want to spend that much money when our existing kitchen was functional, albeit shabby and dated, and the environmentalist in me was horrified at the idea of throwing out our existing units just because we didn’t like the colour of the wood. IMG_3874Once I’d realised the problem it took me only a few weeks and a couple of hundred pounds to get the cupboards sanded and painted pale duck egg blue, the walls a sunshiny yellow, a broken cupboard door replaced with a 1950s style curtain in pretty Cath Kidston fabric and a few choice accessories to transform it from shabby and gloomy to what I at least consider to be a cheerfully retro-chic space.

My eureka moment regarding writing and childcare came last week in Monkey Music class with Sophia. She was giggling away as she tried to make friends with two slightly older toddlers, and I was reflecting on how confident and sociable she is. It suddenly struck me that I have been framing my internal debate in terms of how I was as a first time mum and what Anna’s character and needs were at a similar age to Sophia. Because we didn’t feel Anna was ready for pre-school until she was three, I have been making the same assumption about Sophia, whereas actually I think nothing could be further from the truth. She is going to be desperate to get out into the world as early as she can. So I’ve put her name down to start pre-school when she turns two, and in the meantime I am going to enjoy the next precious year with her. Writing isn’t a time-limited career. My keyboard and my imagination will (hopefully) still be here this time next year, but my littlest girl will only be this little once. My priorities have changed without me really realising it.

I will carry on blogging when I can, in little windows like this when my MIL is happy to take both girls for an hour or two, or when that rarest of situations occurs – dinner is prepared, the house is clean and Sophia is still napping! I can continue to develop the characters and plot for my next novel in odd quiet moments, but I will not stress about resuming my writing career until Sophia is happily ensconced in pre-school a few mornings a week and I have the time and space to write properly, having had another year of space and time with my baby in the meantime.

I am also going to explore ways of changing, or extending, my blog slightly. Regular readers will know of my ongoing consternation with the Government’s austerity agenda, and while I would hate to lose sight of the original purpose of my blog – a record of the joys and anxieties and absurdities of everyday life – I am going to be doing some serious thinking about how I can also use it to make my small contribution to fighting a political agenda I absolutely abhor. Watch this space – changed priorities ahead!

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Curiouser and curiouser

Well, the three weeks since I last blogged has flown by in a blur. In fact the whole of February passed in a flash. One minute it was the end of January, next thing it’s practically mid-March, the trees are covered with blossom, daffodils are in the flower beds and it feels like Spring is very definitely here.

I had a lovely relaxing half term week staying in Liverpool with my parents – including dinner with two school friends, and a whole day of catch up with another, courtesy of Nanna and Grandad’s babysitting service.

When we got home again it was time to turn my attention to Anna’s 5th birthday. Her present was the first dilemma. We’d had a previously junk-filled space at the back of our garden completely cleared, and we really wanted Anna’s present to be something she could enjoy in the garden. A trampoline seemed the obvious choice, and my guesstimate measurements suggested we could fit one in. Luckily my husband, possibly with the wisdom which comes from 14 years experience of my guesstimates on anything related to spatial awareness, insisted we measured properly, and we discovered that there wasn’t room after all. Suddenly it was only 10 days to go, and we had no present and no ideas.

Then in a flash of inspiration I decided that I would turn the shed at the bottom of the garden into a playhouse for her. It’s a fairly large shed, and has nice big windows, light, electricity and even a heater, so it had always seemed a shame we only used it for random bits of storage, but we’d never got round to doing anything else. There’s nothing like an immutable deadline to encourage productivity. First I had to remove the built in desk and shelves which were already there. I got quite proficient with a screwdriver during that process, and my hands are covered in scabs from where I go impatient and just yanked. Then a very thorough clean to get rid of all traces of the spiders and snails who had clearly been making it their home. I painted the walls a pretty primrose yellow, and the window frames white for contrast, discovering as I did so that painting wooden panels is really irritating. I got a local carpet shop to fit a cheap and hopefully hardwearing carpet for half nothing, and then indulged (myself more than Anna) in the purchase of a child-sized armchair in a Cath Kidstonesque print. I sprayed one of the panels with blackboard paint so that there’s a permanent large chalkboard, and a kind friend-with-car took me to Ikea where I picked up a rug, some cushions and various other bits. Finally I was ready for the really fun bit – setting up Anna’s toy cooker, kettle, toaster and so on to make a home corner, arranging soft toys and books on the shelves, framing some Flower Fairies postcards I’d tracked down on Ebay, ransacking the house and loft for any undiscovered bits and bobs which could be called into service and generally creating my concept of the ideal space for a little girl to play, read, draw, pretend. I really enjoyed doing it, and Anna loves it, so it was worth all the effort, but it was incredibly time consuming and demanding. 

Toadstool cakeAnd that’s not including the party plans. Somehow a temporary insanity in January, when I let Anna choose her own guest list, had led to us expecting 24 children in addition to the birthday girl for a two hour party. This insanity also caused me to let her choose her own birthday cake, so I had a fairy toadstool to construct as well. I’d booked an entertainer for an hour, then the night before we were seized by overwhelming panic and booked her for another half hour. Best decision we ever made. The entertainer was fabulous, but the second she’d finished the children decimated their carefully packed ‘party picnic boxes’, mainly inhaling the hula hoops and chocolate mini muffins and ignoring the cheese sandwiches and raisins, and then they were on the rampage. A friend arriving to collect her son described my husband and me as looking shellshocked. That’s how it felt. None of them were naughty really, it’s just that there were so many of them. And they moved so fast. And our house suddenly felt so small. My husband had queried the cost of the entertainer originally; afterwards he said he felt she deserved every penny and more besides. I’ve always felt that primary school teachers should be canonised, and Sunday afternoon has totally re-enforced that. It’s fair to say that the bottle of wine we opened later that night was very much appreciated.

All these excitements meant that nothing else got done for ten days, and I’ve spent the last few days playing catch up. Oh yes, and a few manic moments this morning constructing an Alice in Wonderland costume for World Book Day. I’d originally told Anna she could go as a fairy or a cat (costumes we already have) and she’d opted to be Socks from Julia Donaldson’s ‘Tabby McTat’. However, over the past few weeks my mother-in-law has been reading Alice in Wonderland to Anna, and she loves it. Over half term my parents took her to an exhibition on magic and fantasy at Liverpool Museum, which included some Alice-related exhibits, and that made her even keener. Over breakfast this morning she was chatting nineteen to the dozen about Alice, all excited because Granny was picking her up today and so she’d get the latest instalment. It suddenly occurred to me that, of course, she should go as Alice. 7.55am on World Book Day is perhaps not the ideal time to change costume from cat to Alice in Wonderland, but Anna and I were undaunted. First I managed to cram her into an old summer dress (age 3-4!) which happens to have a sticky out net petticoat and a sash. Then I sacrificed a large white cotton napkin and cut it into something which vaguely approximated an apron shape. Obviously there was no time for hemming (what a shame), but I cut a small hole in either side and threaded the dress sash through to hold it on. I wrapped a ribbon around her red velvet Christmas Alice band, and then wrote ‘Drink Me’ on a luggage label and tied it round the neck of a small plastic bottle. The crowning glory as far as Anna was concerned was that she was allowed to take her favourite soft toy, Rosie the white rabbit, to school with her. It was a very long way from being the best costume at school today, not even in the top half probably, but I felt it was pretty good going for a 2o minute quick fix.

And I now feel that, having spent the past fortnight doing my best impression of a perfect mummy, I’m now granted a considerable period of putting Cbeebies on and my feet up. Aren’t I?

Stripping and toadstools

This is going to be a fairly short post, because the time I’d allocated to blog (daughter gone round to her friend’s for tea) has been eaten up with trying to source the correct size and shape cake tins to bake a magic fairy toadstool birthday cake, and some fairy figurines to decorate it. Lakeland has (hopefully) provided the cake tins, and I’m seeing them as an investment – surely there’ll be future igloos, ladybirds, hedgehogs etc which will make good use of them? The fairy figures are still elusive, although I am watching a couple of items on Ebay.

As you might have gathered, there’s a certain very important 5th birthday coming up and, although there’s over a month to go, Anna and I are both slightly obsessed with the party. I kid you not, my wedding didn’t take this much planning. I don’t think my husband has had a conversation with either of us in the past week which hasn’t reverted back to it. You see, the thing is, after last year’s party I vowed that this year would be a much simpler affair, a handful of children, at home, blah, blah, blah. Then Anna produced the list of 20 children she wanted to invite. I gulped a little, but decided to go with it. After all, 5 is a bit of a milestone birthday (isn’t it??), and I want to encourage her to make new friends in school, so a largeish party is probably a good thing. If nothing else, organising a 5th birthday extravaganza might divert my thoughts from my own 33rd birthday, which is a mere matter of weeks away.

The thought of 2o children to entertain for two hours caused major hyperventilation, so I decided to outsource that part of it, and have booked an entertainer. Now it’s just the invitations, decorations, food, cake, party bags and general co-ordination to worry about. When my brother and I were little, my mum had a cake decorating book, and before every birthday we were allowed to look through and choose the cake we wanted. She’s a very lovely mum, and this (insanely) generous gesture led to her having to produce, amongst other things, a tractors, a family of butterflies, and an elephant. I really wanted to do the same for my daughter, and so I bought the fab Australian Women’s Weekly book of children’s cakes. Anna has chosen a fairy toadstool. Wish me luck…I’m sure this cake is going to feature here again over coming weeks…

In between imitating Pippa Middleton (Well, kind of.She does party planning, doesn’t she?) I’ve been stripping. Our spare room is covered in fairly hideous woodchip paper which has clearly been there since 1972 and has been painted over several times. I was suddenly seized with an evangelical DIY fervour and decided it must be stripped and painted, and now, after two days of intensive stripping and only approximately 1/6 of the room woodchip free I’m starting to regret my decision slightly. However, it’s gone too far to stop now, so I just have to plough on. Guess that sorts my weekend plans out quite easily. And I’ve borrowed a steam thingie (the technical term) from a very kind friend, and that does make it easier, as well, as she pointed out, as giving me a free facial. Smooth walls and clear pores, it doesn’t get much better than that, surely?

The icing on the cake

As promised (threatened) last week, the subject of this week’s post is the production of a very large number of cupcakes for my book launch tomorrow night. Did I mention, by the way, that my first novel IS PUBLISHED TOMOROW!

It is Anna’s full day at nursery on a Wednesday (9am-3pm) and so when it became clear that my original carefully considered plan of making the cakes a few at a time and freezing them hadn’t worked out, then I decided to just blitz it today in the six hours I had to myself. When I woke up at 2am this morning I realised that I actually had no idea at all how long it would take to make, ice and decorate 12 batches of cupcakes. A long time, I can now confirm is the answer.Just looking at the pile of ingredients was a little daunting.ingredients

However, I set to work. I discovered with the first batch that my top oven emphatically does not work for sponge cakes. OK, fair enough, I would just have to stick to doing them two trays at a time. It was fine. Unfortunately I burnt the last twelve – rookie mistake of checking, deciding they needed a couple of minutes longer, not setting the timer and then…twenty minutes later, hmmm, what’s that funny smell?photo-3

I’d had a lot of fun deciding how to decorate the cakes. The convention with cupcakes at the moment seems to be for swirls of buttercream, which looks amazing, but I’m pretty terrified by piping bags, and decided icing 12o cupcakes like this would be several steps too far. I therefore got inspired by Nigella – in How to be a Domestic Goddess her fairy cakes are iced with fondant style icing, and they look fabulous. I also decided to follow Nigella’s advice on aesthetics; she suggests pale pistachio green with a pink rose, and as that chimes with the colours of my book cover, it seemed an obvious choice. I wanted two different styles for contrast, though, so eventually I decided on pale blush pink with white daisies.

pretty cakes

I got the last tray iced with just minutes to spare before going to pick Anna up, and when we got home we road-tested a couple as a post-nursery snack – funnily enough my daughter was far more willing to help mummy out with this than with tidy-up time -and feedback was extremely positive. lots of cakes