February half term

February half term was only last week, but actually feels like ages ago as it’s been a really busy week since we got back.

We had all sorts of plans for the first few days, most of which were cancelled as Sophia was poorly, and just wanted to sit on my lap and have cuddles and stories, which is of course what she got. Husband did take Anna out for a long walk across the Walthamstow Marshes and along the River Lea to blow their cobwebs away – the highlight of which for Anna appears to have been walking through a puddle that went up to her shins!

Then we went off to Liverpool to stay with my parents for a few days, and had a lovely time. Sophia was much better – albeit with a cough which got so bad on the first night we were there that my long-suffering dad ended up driving off to the all-night supermarket at 4am in search of cough mixture!

The next day the adults may have been a bit bleary, but the children were full of beans, and we headed off to one of my favourite parts of Liverpool, the Albert Docks. In slightly more clement weather I love a walk along the river front, but that day it was blowing winds of 45mph, so we headed straight indoors. I took Sophia to Mattel Play, which is basically 3 year old paradise – a soft play and imaginary play centre themed around Thomas the Tank and Bob the Builder. She had an amazing time, and although soft play is not my preferred way of spending time, this one is actually very civilised. Very clean, everything in great condition, friendly staff, and not over-crowded, even in the middle of half term.

bob the builder

Meanwhile my parents took Anna to one of my childhood favourites, the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The age gap between my girls means that it can be difficult to find activities they both enjoy, especially in cold/wet weather when running around at the park or on the beach is less of an option. This was great because Anna got to explore to her heart’s content with Nanna and Grandad, long after her sister’s boredom threshold would have been surpassed.

That evening I got to hang out with four of my oldest and loveliest friends – three of whom still live in Liverpool and another of whom was also up for half term visiting her parents. We basically did what we’ve been doing since we were 13, and sat around eating  pizza, crisps and chocolate and chatting about anything and everything. There was more prosecco at 37 than there was at 13, and the conversation was a bit heavier – pregnancy, breastfeeding, children, schools, careers, house renovations, sadly the serious illness of one friend’s mum – but there was plenty of random silliness too and I was reminded again of just how much I love these girls, and how lucky I am to have them in my life.

The next day we met up at the park with a selection of sproglets aged between 8 weeks and 5 years in tow, and huddled in the playground trying to keep warm while our offspring ran around.yellow shoes I also took the children to get their feet measured (they’d both grown, of course), and although the trip left me about £70 poorer, it did mean I could justify buying Sophia a pair of sunshine yellow patent shoes, which makes me very happy.

Saturday was the surprise success of the visit. My parents are very involved with helping to run their church’s food bank and community coffee shop, both of which take place on a Saturday morning. They suggested I brought the children along for a drink and some homemade cake, and then took them home when they got bored. To be honest, I expected that to happen sooner rather than later, as I didn’t think there would be much for them to do. I dramatically under-estimated the allure of a large, empty, carpeted space in the church hall! They spent the whole morning (other than a short break for bacon butties and delicious home-made chocolate eclairs) doing ‘exercises’, basically a random selection of incredibly energetic gymnastics and chasing games in the space. They got me to join in too, so I got a good workout. It is such a useful reminder that, although it is nice for children to have toys and to be taken on interesting trips, sometimes they are equally happy with some time and space to make their own fun.

As always when I go home, I feel like I have had a complete break, and come back with loads more energy and enthusiasm. Unfortunately this time also with Sophia’s lurgy, but that is par for the course parenting small children in winter!

I have a hugely exciting weekend trip by myself this weekend – a bread and patisserie course at a cookery school in Devon, which was my Christmas present from my husband. Feeling a bit nervous about leaving Sophia for pretty much the first time, and being apart from both girls for three days, which I think is the longest ever, but I’m looking forward to it too, and will hopefully blog next week about how I get on.

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Avoiding Festive Fatigue

carols by candlelight

We’re back at that time of year where, if you’re not careful, life can feel like one long to-do list. My own list is epic. Finish writing cards. Post cards. Get daughter to write her cards. Make shortbread as present for class eldest’s class teacher. Take teacher presents into preschool. Make cranberry sauce to put in freezer. Post presents that need posting. Wrap other presents. Pay credit card bill (gulp). Update Ocado order. Finalise stocking fillers. Make mince pies. Water Christmas tree. Do all the things I need to do every day which don’t stop just because its Christmas.

But I want to stop and hit pause, so that I’m not so shattered by Christmas I don’t enjoy it. And ideally, so that I enjoy the last few days before Christmas, as in many ways they are the best bit. Here are my top five ways to avoid festive fatigue.

1 Go and sing some carols

For me, Christmas without a church service or two is like icing without cake. All the surrounding frippery can be beautifully sweet, but without the cake itself it can feel sickly and cloying. I’m not particularly religious, but the Christmas message of love, peace and joy never fails to uplift and inspire me. And taking time out to sing beautiful carols in a lovely place imbues me with a sense of peace and calm which lasts far longer than the service itself. One of our most beloved family traditions is going to the service of crib blessing in Trafalgar Square every Advent. Sadly we missed it this year as Anna was ill, and we missed the local carols in the village square for the same reason. However, yesterday evening I made a last-minute decision that Anna could have a slightly late bedtime, and we whizzed off to the carols by candlelight service in our local parish church. I had been feeling overwrought and overwhelmed all day, but I ended it feeling peaceful, loving and festive.

2 Do something you like 

A lot of Christmas is for children, and as parents we bend over backwards to ensure that they have the most perfect and memorable time possible. But they won’t enjoy any of that nearly so much with a grumpy, snappy mummy. I hope that making the time to go for a Christmas drink with a friend, lighting a scented candle and snuggling in whilst listening to some carols with my favourite Christmassy books to read, and going to that carol service will help me keep my cool and my patience as the children’s Pre-Christmas Tension rises.

3. Don’t try and do everything

There is so much to do at this time of year. Parties, drinks, Christmas fairs, grottoes, carol singing, lights, meals out, pantomimes, films, shopping , festive family craft sessions and so on and so on. If you try and do everything that comes your way you will be exhausted and frazzled. Take a moment to think about your family, and what you actually enjoy doing, and concentrate on a few activities that will feel really special and meaningful (even if that’s just watching a favourite Christmas film together whilst drinking hot chocolate) rather than squeezing everything in to what will end up feeling like a giant, sparkly, headache inducing blur. You won’t enjoy it, and your children probably won’t enjoy it either.

4. Cut corners and delegate

I am not going to send cards to children at my toddler’s preschool, because she barely remembers any of her little friends’ names, and can’t write.  When my friend brings her children round for a pre-Christmas catch-up/play date they will get frozen pizza for tea (maybe with some cherry tomatoes and cucumber on the side), because the point is that we all spend time together, rather than me being stuck in the kitchen trying to rustle up some home-made delight that at least half the children will probably reject on sight anyway. My husband is in charge of wrapping presents (although I still haven’t found a way of getting someone else to wrap his presents!), doing the decorations and setting the festive tables, and although I don’t cut many corners on Christmas Day cooking because I love doing (and easting!) the whole shebang, I am more than happy for my mother-in-law to contribute her delicious bread-sauce, brandy butter and ham for the festive feast.

5. Remember the bigger picture

Will anyone really look back and say “oh, Christmas 2017 was a big disappointment – mum forgot the maple glaze for the parsnips”? A piece of advice I read of this year and try (though often fail) to heed, is when something goes wrong or causes you anxiety, stop and think whether it will still bother you in five years time. If the answer is no, then stop fretting. I think this advice applies more than ever at Christmas. Children, and indeed everyone, will remember an atmosphere of warmth and love and a sense of magical anticipation. That doesn’t need you to work yourself into the ground, or spend more money than you can really afford – in fact probably the exact opposite.

Oh, and a final thought – this is a horrible, germy time of year. Force feed everyone a good multivitamin, get out in the fresh air when you can, and stock up on the Dettol spray to try and contain things if the bugs do strike!

 

 

On the Jumble Trail

I have always loved shopping. As a child it was a real treat to go into town with my mum on a Saturday, just the two of us while my dad and brother did ‘boy’ things. She’d treat me to a fry-up in the C&A cafe (showing my age now), or delicious cakes in our favourite little cafe on a side street. My favourite shops then, aged about ten were good ol’ C&A and Tammy Girl.

Then when I was into my teens I’d still spend Saturdays hanging out in town with my girl friends. A Spicy Bean burger and a milkshake in Burger King, and longing looks at the clothes we couldn’t afford in TopShop, River Island and Miss Selfridge, before buying a new brightly coloured nail varnish and getting the bus home.

When I had my own pay check to spend and was working in Central London I could sneak out at lunchtime or after work to browse the shops and Oxford Street, and I had the money to treat myself sometimes. I will fit into that much-beloved size 10 leather pencil skirt again one day…

After having children, actually going to the shops could be less pleasurable. Tantrums and sticky fingers and cramped (or, heaven forbid, communal) changing rooms made it more chore than pleasure. Luckily for me I became a mum in the age of internet shopping. It’s a great way to pass the time when you’re pinioned to the sofa under a breastfeeding baby, and you can try the clothes on in the privacy of your own bedroom. Preferably by candlelight for that flattering glow. I also discovered some new favourite brands for my dress-like-a-mum style – hello Boden!

yellow dressFor me, though, there is no shopping experience more pleasurable than hunting down that elusive bargain. I’ve blogged before about my fabulous local Sell or Swap group, and how much I love combining local community with the chance to acquire some lovely new treats. Yesterday was one better than that with a local Jumble Trail. Around one hundred local people put a stall outside their house, selling off their unwanted goods, and the rest of us enjoyed the very British experience of a jumble sale in the pouring rain. I took the money I’d recently made on Sell or Swap to spend, and for the grand total of about £30 managed to get Anna a huge pile of books in the Rainbow Magic series which she is obsessed with at present, a beautiful turquoise gravy jug which looks lovely on my dresser and can even be called in to service for gravy dispension as required, a yellow chiffon dress, a White Stuff skirt with a cute bright pink bird print, an Orla Kiely scarf and a stunning navy blue silk top embellished with silver sequins for me, two pretty dresses for Anna, and a gorgeous wooden rocking horse for Sophia. rocking horseOh, and some home-made cakes, of course! I was on a total high at my lovely haul of stuff, but also at the chance to catch up with local friends, and meet some more. My idea of a perfect Sunday!

Twenty-Fourth Day of Advent: Christmas

xmas cakeWell, I had to end with Christmas, didn’t I? Regular readers of this blog and my Advent posts in particular will probably have picked up that I absolutely adore Christmas. I don’t want anything Christmassy to intrude until December because I feel it spoils it, but from 1 December, bring it on. I love the carols, the candles, the cooking, the eating, the choosing gifts and receiving them, the little family rituals, the cheesy Christmas tunes, Anna’s palpable excitement (which is about to shoot off the scale). Everything.

I also love the message of Christmas. I blogged before about my ambivalent relationship with Christianity, but equally how can I not warm to the message of Peace on Earth? One of my absolute favourite carols is It Came Upon the Midnight Clear and I can’t hear it without crying. Partly because it was my Nanna’s favourite and so reminds me of her, and partly because of the verse

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

Somehow Christmas brings alive the possibility that we might hush our noise and listen to the angel song. There is so much redolent symbolism. Stars and candles giving light, angels giving messages of peace and love, the evergreens with which we decorate our home reminding us even though the days are the shortest and darkest new life will return.

I love spending time with family and friends. Of course that isn’t, and shouldn’t, be confined to Christmas. But life can get so busy that it’s great when Christmas forces us to pause and take time away from work and day to day responsibilities and worries. In fact, Christmas brings together almost everything that makes me happy which I’ve blogged about this Advent. Family, friends, husband, daughters, food, home, baking are all crucial to making my Christmas special.

Thank you for reading my blog this Advent. I’ve been so touched by all your comments and the positive feedback I’ve had. I’ll be back after Christmas, but in the meantime I and going to turn on the TV for Carols From Kings, and wish you and your families a very happy Christmas however you are celebrating.