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.

be-kind

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…

scales

The longest month

Just three weeks ago I blogged about how January wasn’t too bad after all. Clearly I was too smug, too soon, because I am now suffering from January blues along with the rest of the Western world. It is such a long month! Christmas already feels several lifetimes ago, and there is still another week of January left!

It is dark when I drag myself out of bed in the morning, and getting dark by the time we get home from school pick up. When it’s wet playtime at school Anna comes home a bundle of frustrated energy, and it is just too cold and gloomy to face taking her to the park to run it off (it’s not me who doesn’t want to stand around in the freezing cold twilight, you understand, it is because I have to consider what is best for Sophia), so she comes home and runs it off in the house instead.

I’ve had a mini flare up of a long-term health condition, which isn’t at all serious, but has left me feeling completely run-down and exhausted – not helped by a teething baby waking up several times each night. Anna came down with a cold last week, which she has now passed on to me, and, judging from the amount of baby sneezes this morning, to her little sister as well.

The fact that I spent half my housekeeping budget for the month in the first few days of it as we entertained friends and treated ourselves to celebration meals (and bottles of fizz) over New Year is now coming back to haunt me now, and we’re definitely going to be living off the contents of the freezer and the store cupboard for the next week. I will be googling imaginative things to do with lentils, tinned kidney beans and corned beef shortly.

I’ve been trying to keep positive and optimistic, because there were still good things going on: Sophia has started walking, which is exciting, and we have booked a home exchange holiday to Paris and Marseille at Easter which I am looking forward to soooo much, although it seems light years away at the S walkingmoment. This morning, though, my husband had a meeting with his accountants to finalise his tax return, and they casually informed him that his employer have been using the wrong tax code all year, and so he owes an extra £3,000 in tax, payable right now. That was the moment when I had to put up my hands and concede defeat. I’ve fought it, but January has got me.

So roll on February. Not everyone’s favourite month, I admit, but I like it. My birthday is in February, it’s Pancake Day, Valentine’s Day and half term – lots of little treats to look forward to – and the mornings and evenings should be getting lighter all the time. The level of hibernation I’d really like to go right now for isn’t possible with a six year old who needs to go to school each day and an energetic almost-toddler, both of whom insist on a certain amount of feeding, washing and entertainment,  but please excuse me if I spend as much time as humanly possible for the rest of this month in my pyjamas, wrapped in a blanket or duvet, eating the last of the Christmas chocolate and moaning to anyone unwise enough to attempt to engage me in conversation.

2016 Reading Challenge

As I have blogged about many times before, books and reading are absolutely fundamental to my life. Recently, however, I feel I have lost my reading mojo. I still read a lot, but more often than not I am re-reading an old favourite, or reading blogs or recipe books.Nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but I am starting to feel a little bit stale.

There are a few barriers to reading new things. The first is time. The reading I do do is in snatched moments – a couple of pages when Anna is watching telly and Sophia is happily occupied with one her toys, another sneaky glance when I’m waiting for the pasta to cook, and then as much as I can manage (normally not much) before I fall asleep at night. It is quite difficult to accommodate anything that needs much concentration or brain power in these tiny windows.

The second is my unruly emotions. Since having Anna I have found that I can’t cope with sad, poignant, violent or traumatic events very well, either in art of life. Since having Sophia, that has worsened. I spend far too much time silently panicking about all the misery and pain in the world, all the illnesses and accidents and senseless violence, and how they could affect my precious girls. In the little time I have for reading I want escapism, not powerfully crafted reminders of the vulnerability and fragility of life.And many books provide this escapism. The problem is, it’s hard to predict. A few years ago I read an utterly charming and heartwarming book about a single mother starting up a knitting shop in New York, and through the classes she taught meeting a wonderful group of friends who enriched her life. It was absolutely delightful until, without much warning, she died of ovarian cancer in the penultimate chapter, leaving her friends bereft and her young daughter heartbroken and motherless. I haven’t quite got over that yet.

The third problem is my addiction. I don’t want to be flippant, but, rather as people who have issues with alcohol or tobacco learn that they can’t be social drinkers or have ‘just one’ fag at a party without sending themselves spirally back into damaging addiction, so I worry a bit about me with books. When I am reading a new book I love I tend to lose myself to the world completely. And I do mean completely. I have missed my stop on trains and buses countless times. I have been late for work. I have sat in a busy public place in floods of tears, utterly oblivious to the consternation of those around me, because I am so absorbed in the world of my book. The thing is, I can’t afford to do that now. I genuinely am a little worried that if I read too much my compulsion will grow and my children will spend too much time in front of the telly  in dirty clothes eating cheese sandwiches because I am too absorbed to play or wash or cook.

So, three good reasons for me not to read. But the overwhelming case in favour is that reading is so much a part of who I am that if I don’t read I will be losing myself.

bokcaseLocal libraries set a summer reading challenge for school children – to read and rate six new books over the course of the summer holidays. In other words, six books in six weeks. So it occurred to me that if they can do that, so can I. Only to make it a more sustained effort I am challenging myself to 52 books in 2016. I was very sceptical that I could achieve my Advent blog challenge, but I managed it, so to incentivise myself with this I am also going to blog monthly about what I have been reading. The aim is not that these books are all great literature. I am going to read what I love, and so I expect that chick lit, detective fiction and the odd cookery book will make up a large part of the list.

I am doing pretty well so far. We are half way through January, and I am right on target having read 2.5 new books so far this month. And so far Anna and Sophia remain (reasonably) clean, well-fed and contented. Early in February I will be reporting back on them – watch this space!

Happy January!

No, the title of this blog isn’t a contradiction in terms. I admit that January isn’t always the easiest month to love, but, if you persevere then you will discover its good points.

I am still basking in a warm glow created by the happiest Christmas I have had for years. Possibly since I was a child myself. It was perfect. No-one was ill, no-one argued, no-one cried. The presents I had chosen for others were well-received, and the presents chosen for me were delightful. We saw family and friends, sang carols round the Christmas tree, went to the circus, snuggled up with new books or DVDs, ate a ridiculously huge amount of delicious food, drank fizz at lunchtime (not every day) and I even got a couple of lie-ins.

I was worried that such a lovely Christmas would make the return to normal this week particularly painful, but it really hasn’t. I think the secret of a contented January is to be nice to yourself. It is a mystery to me why people choose this month to start an extreme diet or a gruelling exercise regime or to dip a toe into teetotalism. I mean, seriously. This is already a month where finances and waistlines are likely to be tight, which involves getting up in the dark every single day, and which is a long, long way from the next holiday. Please don’t make things more unpleasant for yourself.

I admit that I am trying to cut back on eating chocolate with every single meal and several times in between as well. Twice a day is probably sufficient. And we’re all going vegetarian for the week this week, but that is mainly because that is the food I fancy right now, after eating goodness knows how many pigs’ worth of bacon, sausage and ham over the last few weeks. My Christmas dinner contained processed pork in no less than four different forms – sausage meat stuffing, crispy bacon over the top of the turkey, sausages to accompany the turkey and pancetta with the sprouts. But the veggie food this week is about comfort rather than self-denial. On Monday I made a potato, mushroom and parmesan gratin which we had with tomato and avocado salad. Last night was big bowls of warming lentil and spinach daal. Tonight is Turkish style baked eggs, and tomorrow veggie chilli with homemade guacamole. When I’ve run out of energy and inspiration on Friday we’ll probably have pasta with some kind of tomatoey sauce containing any veg still left in the fridge. And cheese. And garlic bread.

The house looked a little bit bare after the decorations came down, so I treated myself to some fresh flowers, and decided to try a little de-cluttering.flowers Anna was off school for an inset day on Monday, so we spent the day clearing and sorting. After a successful cake sale in the autumn to raise money to help refugees, Anna’s next project (decided on by her) is to hold a jumble sale in our front garden in the spring. We’ve already filled four nappy boxes with outgrown toys and clothes and unloved books and knickknacks, and it has never been easier to persuade Anna to part with things she never plays with but develops a sudden violent affection for when I tentatively suggest they should go. Much to my delight, Anna then decided she wanted to play at being a cleaner, so I gave her a duster and off she went.

Yesterday I spent two hours doing an extremely tedious but necessary financial spring clean, which was soul-destroying at the time, but gives me a great feeling of self-satisfaction now it’s done.

I’ve also given my blog a little New Year makeover. I needed to take the Christmas theme down, and much as I love the cupcakes I had previously, it suddenly didn’t feel quite right to go back to, and I tried to find something slightly fresher and crisper – what do you think?

ancient houseFinally, although I know I won’t be saying this by March, I am rather enjoying the colder weather for now. It’s still not really cold for January, but at least I can now justify one of the snuggly cashmere cardis I smugly purchased in the spring sales and which have been sitting, loved but unneeded, in my drawer ever since. Walking through Walthamstow Village this morning also reminded me just how beautiful January can be. Just as long as you don’t try to give up chocolate!