Tuesday, 8 November 2011

'tis the season

I know, it’s a bit early (for me anyway) but it will be here before we know it. Only 46 days (apparently) until the big day. 

Time then for 40 (plus) days and nights of frantic, planning, shopping and stocking up on enough food to feed an entire football team for a month. Let the madness begin! 

Reading the excellent http://ivegotadrillandimnotafraidtouseit.blogspot.com made me break out in cold sweat as I realised that I had completely forgotten about the Christmas cake this year. I make a huge one every year which I share with my mother, sister and mother-in-law. Bearing in mind that all three of the aforementioned ladies are retired, I’m not sure why the task still falls to a working mother-of-three who has moved house recently, but there you have it!

So, I dug out my faithful old recipe (as Paula says everyone has their favourite – mine comes from Good Housekeeping circa 1992) and set about shopping for ingredients, overlooking the fact that this is the only time of year that Sainsbury’s sells out of glace cherries.

Several (OK, two) trips later, I had everything needed to bake that cake (except of course, the time to do it).

I would like to say that as I write, the cake is cooling in the kitchen and I am relaxing with the first festive sherry of the season (the only time of year it touches my lips – ugh! I tend to forget what it tastes like in the months in between), with a smug expression and a smut of flour on each cheek. However, this is not the case. The cake has still to be baked and family honour upheld.

Whilst, I was trying to pinpoint a day to bake, my sister rang to remind me that I promised to go Christmas shopping with her and my mother. I wrote last year about the joy of family Christmas shopping trips so I won’t repeat myself here, only to say that I will probably need more than one sherry afterwards!

Then he-who-has-never-written-a-Christmas-card-in-his-life (aka hubbie) kindly reminded me of the need to get the cards done early this year so that we can include a change of address. 

And up and down the country, relatives are plotting about who is coming for Christmas and for how long. I have little say in this and await instructions (swiftly followed by the ‘which grannie is going to have whose room’ argument) but when they all arrive I will smile valiantly and make sure that I am well stocked up on trifle (a good use of the rest of the sherry when I remember that I don’t actually like it). 

With the risk of sounding more and more like that well-known Dickens character, I should add that I do enjoy Christmas and no doubt in years to come when I pass the organisational responsibility on to my children (I wonder, will they invite me?), I will miss the days when I was the one at the heart of everything.

Or maybe not!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Friends and Neighbours

As you know, I have moved house recently. 

It took us about 18 months to secure our lovely house by the sea but, finally, we are in. On the first day here our new neighbours popped round with a card and a huge box of chocolates (there goes the diet again!). In fact, I have probably had more conversations with the couple next door in a month than I had with my last neighbours in ten years and I thank them for making us so welcome.

It started me thinking how we are often too busy to pass the time of day with those who live around us and it is a great shame. My mother knew everyone in the street where I grew up (she had lived there for years and still does) and I can remember that everyone was always popping in and out of each other’s houses. These days so many of us don’t even know who lives next door, let alone the entire road.

Another happy side effect of moving house has been the number of people who have dropped by to see us. No matter how many boxes we have had to unpack or rooms to paint, we have stopped what we are doing and reached for the kettle (ok, yes, more often it has been the corkscrew!). In the past, I have frequently had to cancel lunch dates and other social engagements because I have just been too busy but moving has given me the perfect excuse to make time for the people who matter. As a working mum with three children, our schedule is always hectic but it is important to take time out for friends and it is all easy to forget that.

It has been a very sociable and enjoyable few weeks. We had to deal with the inevitable leaky taps, squeaky floorboards and, in our case, five hundred spotlights, as we discover the house’s little quirks but it has been made easier by the kindness of friends and family who have fed my children, packed and unpacked boxes and (my sister, bless her) scrubbed out the oven.

I would like to say that life will carry on this way but already, as the new term starts, I am finding myself pressured by the school run, work deadlines and the practicalities of family life, as well as trying to find time to wield a paintbrush.

I can only say that I will try.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New Horizons

It is a time of change for my family.

Not only have we moved house recently, but each of my children is embarking on a new stage in their lives.

Having achieved good grades in her GCSEs (it was touch and go at times!) my eldest daughter has just started an A level course at college.

My middle child is just beginning her GCSEs and is excited at the prospect of studying subjects she has chosen.

And my son is now in year 6 as we begin the process of looking at a suitable secondary school for him (excellent sporting facilities will feature high on the list of priorities).

It is incredible to me how quickly the years have gone by and how fast they have grown up. What happened to those baby years? Having a growing family brings different challenges from their younger years. I worry more when they go out and spend a fortune on petrol ferrying them around (rather that than they travel home alone!). But I feel privileged to watch them grow into the unique individuals they are becoming, each with their own strengths and talents.

I am aware too, that before long they will be ready to leave the proverbial nest. Lillie will be 17 in a month’s time and what seemed like a distant point in the future is looming ever nearer. This is as it should be and I will be only too happy to see them fulfil their potential and go out into the world.

I told my daughters recently that if lived well, a life should never be static but consist of lots of progressive stages. It almost feels as if I have lived several different ‘lives’ but each one was appropriate at the time and I regard change as exciting.

As we all settle into our new home and my children each begin a new phase in their own lives, it is good to reflect on how far we have already travelled on the huge adventure that is family life - and how far there is still to go.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Big Move

I am in the process of moving house.

Ten years worth of accumulated junk is being sorted and packed into boxes to move a couple of miles across town.

There are advantages and disadvantages. I will be nearer to my mother who still stubbornly refuses to consider moving herself, although the days of having the luxury of choice are quickly disappearing and I fear for her future. On the down side, it is further away from schools and my youngest child will need driving to school for at least the next year until he takes the next step up to secondary education.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, we could do with a fresh start but on the other, I have been here a long while - this is the longest I have lived anywhere since leaving home.

My husband has always hated this house and it has never been lucky for us. The house has a troubled history and it has always felt uneasy living here. I have never experienced that warm feeling when entering the house that says you are glad to be home.

In the early days of living here, a lot happened that remains unexplained that led us to having the house ‘cleared’. It is much better these days but the feeling of an energy that exists outside of the family still lingers. There is one room in particular that always makes me shiver and no one can sleep in. If I am honest, this house has just never worked for us and it will be a relief to leave.

Financial and other restraints have prevented us from making the move before and much as my sane and rational side says that bricks and mortar cannot influence your future, psychologically a move should be beneficial to all of us.

However, ten years is a long time and my youngest son has known no other home so there are a lot of memories here but I believe you carry these with you rather than leave them behind.

I think it can be good for children to know that you can make a change and it will be alright. I have made some big moves in my own life and they have always turned out to be for the best.

Everyone should move every few years in any case, if only to clear out the junk!

This will be another chapter in our lives, a new beginning, and although the next house is smaller, I am looking forward to being two minutes away from the beach. I can look out of my front window and stare at the sea. Inspiring stuff for a writer.

It is perhaps fitting that I have just published an eBook, dedicated to the town I now live in (http://www.apexpublishing.co.uk/pubdetails.aspx?Num=267).

We move next week. I am ready (well almost!).

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

On friendship

            “Why would she do that?” my daughter asked about a so-called friend who had been messing around with another girl’s boyfriend.

            “She’s supposed to be a friend.” The old cliché ‘all’s fair in love and war’ came to mind but the simple truth is that girls can be heartless when it comes to affairs of the heart, and ever was it so.

            Years ago, when I was not much older than my daughter, I can remember my best friend at the time taking up with my boyfriend and the first I knew of it was when I turned up at his house and she opened the door. I cried for about a week and cut them both out of my life. I moved on to a better relationship and he did the same thing to her six months later. I forgave her and she remains to this day, one of my closest friends.

            I’d like to tell my daughter that relationships, with girls as well as boys, improve as you get older but I have found that grown women can be every bit as devious, calculating and unpleasant as my daughter’s (ex) friend. Millie nearly fainted from shock when I told her that I could count my true friends on one hand. For someone, like herself with in excess of 1,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook the idea that I should admit to having so few seemed inconceivable.

            Yes, I know a lot of people. I have a lot of acquaintances. I am in touch with people from school, university, work and the school run. I am on speaking terms with our neighbours and I know my children’s friends’ parents well enough to pass the time of day. But my true friends, who I could call on if need be, at any time of the night or day, remain in single figures.

            I tried to explain: “You meet many people on your journey through life, some stay with you for a time, others fall by the wayside fairly quickly, but only a few will travel with you until the end.”

            Millie didn’t really understand and I didn’t expect her to. Even though we have moved house and she has changed schools and knows all about ‘moving on’, she still expects the people she is friendly with now to be in her life in 10, 20 or 50 years time. And, just maybe, one or two of them will be.

            I can count my true friends on one hand (well, maybe two) and my hope for my daughter is that she is able to say that when she reaches my age because the passage of time reveals those who truly are our ‘best friends’.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Growing Pains

When my children were babies, I will admit that I sometimes found it tough. The constant round of changing nappies, washing and feeding combined with lack of sleep and limited free time, meant that I often looked forward to the future when they would be more independent. 

Now that they are older and able to go out on their own, I have different concerns, from reckless drivers to paedophiles, not to mention alcohol, drugs and (in the case of my teenage daughters) boys! I now realise that whatever their age, the worry never ends. Being a parent means that you are destined to be anxious for the rest of your life.

I still want to keep them safe but I also recognise the fact they also need to go out in the world, experience life for themselves and make their own mistakes.

There is no short circuit or quick fix. And no amount of trying to instil in them what you have learned in life is going to help. As parents, we can advise them but they have to work things out for themselves.

Sometimes, this hurts. You, as much as them. None of us wants to see our children go down the wrong path or make bad decisions but sometimes all we can do is stand by and let them find out for themselves. And be on hand to pick up the pieces when things do go wrong of course!

My eldest daughter has caused us many sleepless nights already and I am sure that she, and her siblings, will continue to do so.

But I am a great believer that given the right upbringing and influences, no matter how far they stray off the path, they will find the right way eventually. 

So, whilst it is difficult to send the children you have nurtured and cared for off into the unknown, you have to let them go.

And if we have done our job well, hopefully they will come back. Stronger, happier, more independent and capable people.