Wednesday, 10 December 2014

An unexpected visit...

The call came midweek, out of the blue.

An old friend, who had long since departed for brighter lights and bigger cities, was briefly back in the neighbourhood.  En route to her parents' place, she wondered if she could stop by quickly and say hello.  She was about twenty minutes' away.

My initial reaction of surprised delight was almost immediately replaced by panic.  I glanced around our - ahem - comfortable family home.  The detritus of our busy lives was evident for all to see: Rucksacks dropped haphazardly in the front hall, odd pieces of Lego littering the living areas and the smell of our recent evening meal lingering in the air.

Help.  This is the friend whose chic city home features glass and chrome, polished to perfection.  The kitchen boasts all the latest high-tech appliances and genuinely gleams with satisfaction. On the couple of occasions I have visited, I've felt as though I've been transported to a boutique hotel with only the two of us as residents.  Fleetingly, I wondered if I should ring her back with an excuse to cancel.

Thankfully, I have learned that there is quite a lot one can achieve in 20 minutes (Jillian Michaels eat your heart out).  I know my children's habits and my home's hotspots pretty well, so I focused on the essentials:  Replace hand towel in downstairs loo/wipe toothpaste marks from sink/lob hallway clutter into cupboard/throw kitchen windows open/light scented candles/whizz around with hoover/change self out of faded trackie bottoms + fleece.

By the time she arrived, I was flushed but smiling.  I managed to produce some unbroken biscuits to accompany our tea and we sat down to catch up on two years' worth of news.

Even when people's lives and physical appearances seem polished and perfect, that doesn't mean they don't face struggles and challenges like the rest of us.  It turns out that my friend was at a bit of a career crossroads.  She was eager for advice - but most of all she just needed someone to hear her out.

And so she talked. And I listened.  Through sheer strength of will, I managed not to be overly distracted by the inexplicable green smudge that had appeared at an eight-year-old's height on the living room wall, nor by the layer of dust that rested smugly on the arm of the sofa.  (Think that 20-minute run around was going to make the place a palace? Think again.)

Having unburdened herself - and proving once again that our friendship could be picked up effortlessly  - it was time for my friend to depart with a hug.  

I was so pleased she had come.  And it seems she was too.

Just half an hour later, I received this text:  "Thanks so much for the chat - it meant the world to me."

And to think I might have missed it for the sake of an untidy house....

At this time of year, we all tend to have increasing numbers of visitors to our homes.  It's worth remembering that real friends come to spend time with us.  Not to inspect the state of our skirting boards.

Does your home suffer from CHAOS (can't have anyone over syndrome)? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Monday, 17 November 2014

The big four ohhhhhhhh: Celebration or calamity?

I'm putting it out there before anyone else does it for me: A certain milestone birthday is approaching all too fast.

Having witnessed many of my peer group endure/enjoy (delete as appropriate) the occasion of their 40th birthday, I have come to the conclusion that there are several ways in which to mark this occasion:

1. The big bash
For party-lovers, this is the obvious way to celebrate.  Hire the local hall, invite as many friends and family as possible, supply a substantial buffet and Bob's your uncle. This is the ultimate people-pleaser as it avoids leaving anyone out.  I have thoroughly enjoyed attending - and indeed organising - many such occasions for others.  Sadly, throwing one of my own is out of the question:  The thought of the obligatory speech is just too much.

2. The girly getaway
I'm thinking spa break/vintage teas/cocktails and clubbing or perhaps a combination of all of the above. This usually involves piling on a train to an accessible city where lots of other new forties (or indeed hen parties) are pursuing similar activities.  Great fun but one should proceed with caution: By the time you've prepped your face, body and wardrobe for this trip - and indulged in some retail therapy while you're there -  it may cost more than your annual family holiday.

3. The great escape
Those who have an a) romantic and b) generous partner may find themselves whisked off to some luxurious location where they can gently ease themselves into their next major life stage.  This type of celebration has almost universal appeal, however there are several drawbacks: a) you have to have a partner b) they have to be romantic and c) they must not be permanently skint.  

I'll cross my fingers and avoid looking at the joint account, shall I?

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Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Family traditions - and why they matter

I've started to think of this time of year as the festival phase.  We've just had Halloween and as I start to write this post it's November 5th (remember remember?).  And we all know which BIG festival comes along soon after that...

Now that the little 'uns have reached the ripe old ages of ten and eight, we've finally established something resembling a pattern surrounding these big occasions.  Dare I say it, we're starting to build family traditions.  Some have seeped over from my own childhood, but most are ones that our average little family have created - albeit haphazardly and inadvertently - on our own.

I've really not made any conscious effort to do this. In fact, I hadn't realised what we'd done until junior voices started reminding me that "We must make the Christmas cake soon because we always make it during the October break".  Their delight as the familiar box of rather cheap and tatty Halloween decorations appeared was a sight to behold.

Although most of our small rituals are pretty mainstream, I've heard of many more quirky and unique traditions that families follow - and I think that's great. The wonderful thing about family traditions are that they are special to you and yours. There should be no pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations and standards.  If you can't stand craft or cooking, simply don't do it! Find something that works for you and your loved ones instead. Perhaps a new tradition for some this year will be an idea that's currently circulating on social media: wrap up 25 books in the countdown to Christmas and open and read one with your children every December evening until the big day. 

For my own part, I'm looking forward to the usual messy debacle of icing the Christmas cake while the kids use the leftover marzipan as edible play dough.  I'm just as excited about dressing the tree as they are - complete in the knowledge that I'll balance up any lopsided efforts once they're safely tucked up in bed. I'll even welcome the holly-punctured fingers that are the inevitable result of my attempts to make a wreath for our front door.

Do you know the other great thing about traditions? It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but you can always introduce new ones.  This year we're going to attend the local pantomime on Christmas Eve (oh yes we are).  I was taken aback, but quietly pleased, when the children expressed dismay that they might miss our 'usual' Christingle service. (I'm now hoping we might manage both).

And there we have it.  The evidence that, in our own messy and average way, we're creating memories for the younger generation.  Traditions that they may even choose to incorporate into their own grown-up routines (though I don't mind at all if they prefer to create their own).

I will end with one cautionary note, though.  Take care not to get caught on the tradition treadmill. I have a horrible feeling that I'll still be hosting our Boxing Day party in my nineties...

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Thursday, 16 October 2014

The truth about bloggers...

I've had a bit of a lull in blogging of late.  There's no good explanation why. I'm certainly not going to put it down to lack of time because everyone suffers from that.  You just have to make time for the things that matter. But although blogging does matter to me, I simply haven't made the time.

Normally, I'm fairly disciplined about it.  As regular readers may have noticed (there are a few of you loyal souls out there aren't there?!), I tend to post about once a week - and I usually enjoy the process.

I say usually because I was thinking about my perception of blogging and bloggers before I started writing online myself.

For a number of reasons I thought blogging would never be for me.  In no particular order, these included:

1. Bloggers have to be brilliant writers.

2. Bloggers have to be an expert on something.

3. Bloggers have to be opinionated or - yikes - controversial.

4. Directly related to 3. above... bloggers are super-confident, strong personalities.

Well guess what? I'm none of the above (hence the blog title). Truth to be told, my little blog would never truly have seen the light of day were it not for a good friend who 'outed' me.  I'd just been quietly writing away in my own little corner of cyberspace when she decided to share the page with - gasp - other people who might read it.

After that, there was nothing really left to lose. I finished off the job myself by setting up the little Facebook page where I share these posts.  I even remember to tweet from time to time too. I'll soon have been blogging for a year and I therefore now feel ready to confess to some home truths about bloggers (well, about this particular one):

1. Bloggers frequently spot typos after they have pressed 'publish' and have to go back to correct them.  (In my case usually after everyone who was going to read the post already has anyway.)

2. Bloggers regularly feel faintly ill after pressing said 'publish' button, in case the world thinks that their post is really stupid.

3. Bloggers are terrified that they are opening themselves up to nasty comments or criticism.

4. Bloggers often fall off the blogging wagon.  But - with a bit of luck (and self discipline) - they get back on again.

After all, we do it because we love it too.  Albeit in a masochistic sort of way.

I promise not to leave it so long the next time. Bear with me, won't you?

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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Farewell my summer love

To be fair, the last fortnight has felt like borrowed time.

In our little corner of north-east Scotland, we've recently enjoyed some lovely sunny days.  They're not like the genuinely toasty days we experienced in July though.  These early September days have started out with morning haze and shivers in sweatshirts before the sun gets up to speed and we cast off the layers by late morning.

I always feel a little nostalgic at this time of year.  Forgive me then, while I indulge myself by clinging onto the best sights, smells and sounds of summer in this mid-September post.  Because for me, these are what summer's all about...

The sights

Sun sparkling on the sea, gardens at their most colourful, bright clothing contrasting with conker-brown limbs...

The smells

Cocoa butter soaked skin, salty freshness after a day at the beach, mouth watering wafts of early evening chargrilling...

The sounds

Children's al fresco play peppered with giggles and laughter, ice cubes jangling in frosted tumblers, the unmistakeable 'thwack' of flip flops on patios...


It doesn't do to get too remorseful, however. In the interests of balance, let's not forget about the sad sight of the parched plants you forgot to water, the city's pongy drains in the midday heat and the predictable drone of lawnmowers whenever you attempt to open your paperback...

Suddenly autumn doesn't seem so bad. (I'm thinking golden landscapes, cosy roll-necks and warming fruit crumbles.) Whaddya reckon?

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

An open letter to my child's new teacher

Dear teacher,

The start of the new academic session sees my youngest child move to the upper stages of primary school.

This means a lot to my family.  A lot more than first meets the eye.  It's not just a transition to a larger playground and the opportunity to get involved in new school activities.

For my family, this move means that both my children will now walk themselves to and from school.

It means that they'll take responsibility for getting themselves out of my front door and into your classroom on time.

Sounds simple? Here's what else it means for us...

  • They'll need to grab the packed lunch they helped to make from the fridge.

  • They'll have to remember swimming kits and musical instruments. On the correct day.

  • They'll be responsible for looking the way we both expect them to look as a representative of your school and our family.

  • At the end of a long day, they'll need to transfer the notes and homework from their bag to our kitchen table.

And so I need to apologise now.

I need to say sorry for the potential late arrivals, unkempt appearances, forgotten play pieces and missing homework.  I need to say sorry for the disruption caused if one of them has to sit poolside in their school uniform while the rest of the class swims.

So why am I letting this happen, I hear you ask?  Because we've done the lists.  And I've yelled the reminders.  And now I need to let them learn.  Themselves. The hard way.  It's finally time to hand over the ropes.  I anticipate a period of confusion and frustration for all of us.  But I think it'll be worth it in the end. 

You and me? I believe we have a common goal.  To encourage our children to be responsible, independent and well-organised young people.  If my expectations at home can echo your expectations in the classroom, hopefully we can all reap the rewards.

Meanwhile, I'd like to beg your forgiveness.  I realise, after all, that the start of a new term is a challenging time...

Yours sincerely,

A concerned parent

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Five Reasons To Take The Ice Bucket Challenge

You can hear the trademark noises everywhere. From suburban gardens to Facebook news feeds. 

The splashes. The shrieks. The howls of laughter.  (Usually in that order.)

I'm guessing that most people who read this post will be familiar with the ice bucket challenge for charity. Some of you may have subjected yourself to a soaking, others may have paid out a bit more to avoid the experience.  Others still may be choosing to completely avoid social media in a bid to side-swerve a nomination.

As with any trend that catches on, the ice bucket challenge has attracted some controversy.  It seems possible that, in a tiny percentage of cases, things may have gone horribly and tragically wrong.  There has also been a significant backlash against some charities for piggy-backing on someone else's idea.

I'm not going to explore these issues any further in this post.  I simply don't feel that I have the requisite background knowledge or analytical writing skills to do so.  What's more, this is a very peaceful little blog and I'd love to keep it that way.  

Instead, I'm going to write about my own average 'take' on the ice bucket challenge and why I think it's been an overwhelmingly positive thing.

1. Laughter
There are many days that I feel we simply don't laugh enough.  This challenge has a fun element to it. Yes, we're laughing at our friends' and relatives' expense but not in a cruel way. You can actually hear people guffawing at their laptops as they check out the latest drenchings during their lunch hour.

2. Novelty
In my last post 'Back to School...But What About The Parents?', I touched on the subject of comfort zones. I'm guessing that getting a bucket of ice cold water tipped over you isn't top of anyone's list of new things to try. And yet...Having been through the experience, there's something strangely exhilarating about gritting your teeth and doing something that you're dreading.  Particularly when it's for the greater good.

3. Bonding
Siblings throughout the land have bonded as they've teamed up to gleefully hunt down the largest possible receptacles to fill with icy water for their long-suffering parents.  My son was desolate when he realised that, having emptied his largest Lego box, there were two small holes in the bottom rendering it obsolete for ice bucket purposes.  No prizes for guessing who his lucky victim was.

4. Kudos
Mums and dads have gained new respect in their kids' eyes for doing something fun and, let's face it, something that's completely irrational and ridiculous.  Just because you're a parent doesn't mean you have to be sensible 100% of the time.

5. Charity
Don't worry, I've saved the best until last. By the time you read this, the challenge may well have peaked but it's safe to bet that millions have been raised for worthy causes. It will be a huge bonus if awareness levels receive a boost too.  Because in among the splashes, shrieks and laughter, we all need to take a moment to remember those who are less healthy and happy than ourselves.

Have you participated in the ice bucket challenge yet? Why not post a comment and let me know?

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