Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Snow has Gone

The snow has gone... and in spectacular fashion. Wind and rain battered at my window and the brightest flash of lightning I'd ever seen lit the entire room momentarily through a gap in the curtains. Not surprisingly, there was flooding.

It was Monday morning, I was already running late and then I found out that the road to my daughter's school was closed. It is often a journey interrupted by big puddles but on this occasion, it was impassable. I took the alternative route and arrived at school after the bell had gone. Leaving 2 year old Dylan in the car to save time, I took Addy into her classroom then ran back so as not to leave the little fella alone longer than necessary. Bad mistake. As I ran out of the school gates, my foot landed on black ice and I was lying on the hard ground before I'd even had time to register what had happened. I banged my knee on the way down but my upper arm and shoulder took the full force of the fall.

It was a vain hope that my spectacular mishap had gone unobserved. As I struggled to get back on to my feet and assess any damage, concerned mums came to see if I was OK. I was OK. Nothing broken. BUT IT HURT!!!

Dylan was completely content, playing with his toys in his car seat.

I was supposed to be going for a run that evening, now that the pavements were clear of snow and no longer a slipping hazard (!!) but I just didn't feel up for it. It made me very miserable.

Thankfully, my arm is feeling a lot better today - just some lingering stiffness - so I see no reason not to put my running shoes on tonight. I am hoping that the bang to the knee won't hinder my progress.

I have seen and heard of so many people falling on the snow and ice - some resulting in broken bones. I am grateful that for me, it was my dignity that suffered the most damage.

The snow has gone... and I am not sad to see the back of it.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Burns Night - In Sickness and in Health

My husband had a sick day from work yesterday. Lovely as it was to have him home, I am not good with sick husbands.

When I am feeling unwell, my husband is wonderful - attentive, sympathetic and loving. When he is the one shivering and feverish, I avoid him as much as possible, roll my eyes and tut when he asks for medicine and tell him to man up. In my defence, I do apologise for my behaviour and try to explain that I am simply not good with sick husbands.

He did ask me if I knew why it was that my normally generous nature deserts me in the face of ill health. I think it possibly stems from a time in my childhood when my mother was very sick.

I grew up in a small house that felt even smaller than it was because it was crammed full with large furniture. I was probably about 9 years old when my mother fell ill. I distinctly remember being in the overcrowded living room trying to watch television with my mother in a very sorry state, struggling for breath and saying that it felt as though she was being stabbed in her back, and my father telling her curtly that there was nothing wrong with her. This was not neglect or cruelty - simply denial. He could not bear the idea that his beloved wife was anything other than her healthy, vibrant self. My uncle called round, took one look at his sister and demanded that my father call the doctor. It turned out that she was suffering from Lobar Pneumonia.

My mother was ill for a long time and spent a lot of that time in her bed. In a fevered state she experienced a glimpse of the afterlife. Unfortunately for her, her hallucination was not a 'beautiful light at the end of a tunnel' sort of experience - she was visited by a horned Beelzebub complete with flaming inferno.

The one thing that haunts me most about those grim days was not the coughing up of blood streaked sputum, or the the disruption to our daily routines and my dad's lumpy porridge - it was the smell of illness. It is well recognised that smells have a remarkable power to evoke memories. The smell of illness embodies the fear and the uncertainty a young girl felt when she saw a mother frail and weakened and a father no longer able to hide behind denial, having to face the hard reality.

My mother recovered. The permanent damage to one lung did not seem to bother her. The ordeal strengthened my parents' relationship with each other but to the detriment of their relationship with me. I always felt in the way.

Darkened room, fevered body shivering beneath clammy duvet, barely audible plea for medicine or a glass of water, subtle but unmistakeable smell of illness - I'm rolling my eyes, tutting and avoiding. My poor husband deserves so much better!

Thankfully, he had perked up enough by the late afternoon to peel a load of potatoes for the 'tatties' part of our Burns Night traditional Vegetarian Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

We had an almost perfect evening. A roaring fire was a good antedote to the snow battering at the window. The Proclaimers provided the soundrack to our Scottish feast and Lidl's provided the themed Burns Ale to accompany it.

Bad recitals of Burns' poetry and the retelling of my favourite Scottish Folk tale, The Milk White Doo filled the interlude before bringing out the very unScottish homemade Lemon Bakewell Tart dessert (I didn't have the ingredients for shortbread!).

The only thing that prevented this being a perfect evening was the fact that my little Addy's temperature started to soar.

When my children are the source of the smell of illness, it doesn't have the same effect on me at all. No eye rolling, no tutting - just cuddles, kisses and Calpol!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Gretel Parker Project

I heard some terribly sad news today.

Two years ago, a friend introduced me to the work of the incredibly creative artist, author and blogger, Gretel Parker, when she gave my daughter one of her lavishly illustrated 3D  Puddletown books for her birthday.

After seeing a video that I posted online of my daughter enjoying the book, Gretel contacted me to ask if she could use it on her website. I was more than happy for this and as delighted as my daughter when we received a Special Delivery from Puddletown by way of a thank you.

Today, I found out that Gretel's beloved partner of 21 years died tragically and unexpectedly.

As often happens when I hear of devastating news, I imagine what if that were me?

It is such a painful thing to even think about losing my husband. My world would undoubtedly fall apart - but I know that I would be reasonably secure financially and I would have the love and support of my family.

For Gretel, there is no family and an artist's earnings are not necessarily going to see her through the difficult times ahead - especially as her partner died intestate. On a positive note, she is well supported by real life and online friends and part of that support has been to set up The Gretel Parker Project - an online giving page.  No amount of money can ever undo the tragedy but it would certainly alleviate any immediate financial difficulties and perhaps help this incredibly talented woman to get back on her feet and move forward with her life.

If you can help in any way, either by making a donation, however small, or spreading the word about the Project, it would be greatly appreciated.

Or why not take a look at the Puddletown Tales: Mrs Mouse's Cupcakes and Peggy's Lost Pennies - both beautiful additions to a child's bookshelf.

I feel so blessed and happy with my life but no one knows when tragedy might strike. It is so important to treasure every day, not to get bogged down with the little things that sometimes obscure the big beautiful picture, to be grateful for all that you have and to reach out to people in whatever way you can - a smile, a chat and of course support when it's needed.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Snowflake Experiment

The school where my eldest daughter teaches English had a snow day today. I was delighted when she invited me to join her and her boyfriend for lunch on her unexpected 'day off'. On the way home from our Burger and Coffee at the local Wetherpsoons, a perfect snowflake landed on her black coat. It lasted just long enough for us to admire its intricate beauty before melting into a tiny wet spot.

It got me wondering if I could possibly capture that beauty on camera using the primitive equipment at my disposal. So, armed with a small piece of black paper and my Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 with its Macro Zoom function, I set about my Snowflake Experiment.

It would have been easier to collect my tiny subject if I had had the idea when it was still snowing with any conviction. As it was, the very occasional flake drifted lazily from the sky, and mostly avoided my attempts to encourage them to land on my paper. When I did get lucky, they would melt before I could switch from 'catch' mode to 'photograph' mode. Painfully cold fingers were not that adept at holding the camera still, framing or focusing. The result was a lot of blurry nonsense.

I did manage a couple of shots that came close to what I was trying to achieve.

If I had been a fraction of a second quicker, this could have been a spectacular example of the complex symmetry that make snowflakes so beautiful instead of a ghostly wet shadow of its former glory.

My second example was spoiled by the fact that it was not a single snowflake (which presumably is why it didn't melt as rapidly).

As experiments go, it wasn't a resounding success. I should perhaps leave it to the experts. However, concentrating on one tiny snowflake at a time as I was gave me a totally different perspective on the snow. It is mind boggling when you consider the vast numbers of these fragile ice crystals it takes to make a snowman.... and to wreak the havoc it does.

I am looking beyond my computer screen and out of the window in my study. I can see some perfect specimens falling gently towards the ground - teasing me. I feel the strong urge to grab my wellies, black paper and camera and commence The Snowflake Experiment - Take 2!

I really should learn to control my urges.

A Wintry White Start to the Week.

A wintry white world awaited me through my window this morning - a familiar sight I am sure across much of the country.

I listened eagerly for news of School closures on the local BBC radio but it was business as usual - no snow day for us. This meant braving the narrow country lane to my daughter's rural school.

The journey to school wasn't too bad. I think the tractors do a good job of keeping the roads relatively clear for which I am grateful (less grateful to the tractor that was coming towards me as I applied my brakes and continued to slide forwards - luckily sliding past without event rather than into). I kept my speed below 25mph  for the entire journey and never got above third gear but the slow pace allowed me to appreciate just how beautiful everything looked.

I was supposed to taking part in a timed 5K run at the weekend but the course (which shares about half a mile with my route to school) was deemed unsafe. My training run tonight is also cancelled. Part of me really wants to wrap up warm, lace up my running shoes and head off into the snowy wilderness - but the sensible part of me has heard too many incidents of people  falling and the last thing I want to do is risk injury. Warm and cosy in front of the fire is a tempting alternative!

I did spend a little time in the snow with the kids this weekend. They have been surprisingly disinterested - more concerned with how cold and slippery it was outside rather than seeing the potential fun to be had. Curiosity (or just plain stir craziness) finally got the better of them and they ventured out on a mission to build a snowman. They soon realised that building snowmen is harder than it looks and certainly harder than the 'virtual Build-a-Snowman' games they have been playing online. They enlisted the help of dad who rolled a huge (dirty) snowball to get them off to a good start. They wanted to make a Mickey Mouse snowman but it looked more like an owl or a carrot nosed baby bear to me.

They loved him anyway and I must admit he looks a lot nicer this morning with a fresh sprinkling of snow and surrounded by an untouched blanket of white.

Cold, inconvenient, dangerous, beautiful, fun ... whatever you think of the snow, it will soon be gone. All that will remain for us will be a couple of stones, a muddy patch, a wizened root vegetable and memories.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Naughty Cheese Night

My husband spent quite a few years living in Switzerland before we got together. I visited him there a couple of times - in the summer when we walked in the mountains and in the winter when I had a go at skiing (not my greatest triumph!). He very definitely succumbed to the Swiss love affair with cheese and I  came to realise that there is a lot more to cheese than a bit of cheddar.

As part of my kitchen equipment I now own a girolle, which is a device for scraping Tete de Moine Swiss cheese into delicate little rossettes, a raclette grill used for melting slices of Raclette cheese which are then scraped over boiled potatoes, vegetables and various other accompaniments and in true 'Generation Game ' fashion - a fondu set.

Until recently, my husband has brought back ready prepared cheese fondu from his trips to Switzerland to visit his children. However, when Lidl did a special offer on Gruyere and Emmental, he made his own fondu from scratch...  and it was delicious - far superior to what I was used to. The trouble was, when you can actually see how much cheese and wine goes into making this gloriously oozy treat, it is impossible to ignore its calorific content. Not by any stretch of the imagination was cheese fondu going to fit into the healthy eating diet plan we were trying to implement  - but we had some Gruyere and Emmental to use up and it would have been a tragic waste not to turn them into an indulgent fondu.

My husband put up on our weekly meal plan board for Wednesday - Naughty Cheese Night.

Of course I knew that the 'Naughty' part referred to the unjustifiably high calorie and fat content and the inevitable alcohol consumption (once that bottle of wine has been opened, how can you resist) but I couldn't help letting my mind wander into the realms of the sensual pleasure of eating Tom Jones style (the classic book rather than the welsh singing superstar that provided one of my highlights of the V Festival experience last summer). Naughty Cheese Night was starting to get interesting!

On Wednesday evening, the little ones were in bed and the last of my older girls still living at home was at a panto rehearsal until 10 o'clock. The fondu was cooking and the stage was set.

Wednesday evening is also one of  my running club nights. Despite bitterly cold conditions outside and the promise of my cheese night, I did not want to miss this run. There were far fewer people braving the cold than we would normally expect so we went off as one group and anybody that didn't want to do the full 6 miles or so had the option to cut off for a more manageable 3 miler. I was very definitely a 3 miler! It was hard work even getting round the 3 mile course but I was  glad I did it and felt good. If I could have gone home and jumped into a hot shower I think I would have remained feeling good. Unfortunately, I had little ones to put to bed and a daughter to take to panto rehearsal before I could even consider sorting myself out.

So the fondu was cooking, the stage was set... but I just felt really cold and a bit achey. I changed into a slinky, sexy top - then promptly put a big cosy cardi over the top and just for good measure, put on my fleecy pyjama bottoms. Heels, that I know my husband would have loved to see me wearing for our special night in, were ignored in favour of slipper socks!

The fondu was warming and comforting,  candelight created soft flickering shadows and a blazing fire was enough to chase all the chill from the air. Sadly, it completely failed to chase the chill from my bones. Even with my duvet wrapped round me I shivered!

It was actually a lovely evening. Apart from a slight glitch when the fondu went through a solid, rubbery stage that resisted the intrusion of our dipping bread followed by an elastic stage that produced incredibly long spaghetti like strings that refused to break and painted messy squiggles when we raised our fully loaded bread from the fondu pot, the food went down a treat. We moved the sofa to be right in front of the fire and snuggled up in the radiant heat. There may not have been any of the naughtiness of my fantasy but it did come close to a threesome of sorts - me, my very patient and understanding husband and my duvet.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Vagina Monologues

I watched The Vagina Monologues on TV a couple of days ago. I wasn't at all sure what to expect but was surprised by just how funny, tragic and eye opening it was as well as being a wonderful celebration of women and their genitals. I was incredibly impressed by Eve Ensler, the author and performer of the monologues that are based on interviews conducted with a broad spectrum of women and shone with truth and brutal honesty.

Eve Ensler was clearly very comfortable with the idea and the language of vaginas. Sadly, the same can not be said for all women. I still find it shocking that some women are reluctant to look at their most intimate of places and be familiar with all that it is.

After watching The Vagina Monologues and the feminine empowerment I felt as a result, I watched Botched Bodies - a documentary about plastic surgery disasters. One of the cases highlighted was that of a young woman seduced by the glamour of a 'designer vagina'. She was unhappy with the way she looked 'down there' reporting that one piece of skin hung lower than the rest. The labiaplasty to correct the problem and make her look 'neat and pretty' actually resulted in the complete removal of the labia minora. Instead of neat and pretty - she looked mutilated. A second surgery involved harvesting fat cells and injecting them into the labia majora to give a fuller look. Perhaps she should have learned her lesson after the first time because this left her with a hideous oversized lumpy mess where once had been an albeit slightly assymetric, perfectly normal vagina.

Much of my early sex education as a child came from sneaking looks at Electric Blue, a soft porn video that my parents owned. The video included footage of a catastrophic multiple car crash at the start of something like the Indianapolis 500 from sometime in the 70s. My dad insisted that this was the only reason he had the video! It also included an adult cartoon called Snow White and the Seven Perverts. Snow White was portayed as a long legged, buxom, sexually promiscuous young thing with genitals animated to give them a bizarre life and personality of their own. The look of the poor woman in the Botched Bodies documentary post surgery reminded me of this animation.

Women (and their vaginas) are amazingly varied. We should try to embrace our uniqueness and delight in who we are rather than wanting to conform to an unrealistic, unattainable perfection defined by a faceless 'society'. The multi million pound cosmetic surgery industry could never allow this to happen.

I have no problem with my own vagina in terms of form or function. It has served me well both sexually (long may this continue) and through childbirth (six times). I had an episiotomy with my first labour and was fortunate enough to be sewn up by a very conscientious midwife who was new to the procedure and wanted to impress her superiors. She did impress. I, with legs in stirrups, laid bare and exposed, was admired - or rather my very neat suturing was admired. Childbirth has the ability to give you a temporary shamelessness which made this seem quite normal. I once knew a woman, who after a particularly difficult birth, was not given the same meticulous precision work as I benefitted from. She complained that she was left with something resembling a cornish pasty. It was not good for her self esteem or her relationship with her husband.

I do believe that how we feel about ourselves in the context of the secret place between our legs can be key to how accepting we are of ourselves as a whole person.

Eve Ensler asks all the women she interviews the following two questions:

1. What would your vagina wear?
2. In two words, what would your vagina say?

I never find those sort of 'outside the box thinking' questions very easy to answer but I gave it some thought and the overriding image that came to my mind was "draped in garlands of flowers" and "Love and Peace" To accommodate the less glamorous aspect of lady parts, I  suppose this could be "Love and Piss". Let's keep it real!

Monday, 14 January 2013

QRS is for Quick Run, Quick Step, Rumba and Snow

In the interest of getting through our Alphabet Dates so that we can concentrate on our 50 things to do before we're 50, we have cheated slightly and combined Q, R and S.

After a Casino Night at The Queen's School in Chester fell through as a date option, my husband and I decided that a Quick Run together would qualify as a Q date - and could incorporate the R component as well. We had visions of an early morning, romantic run (if a run could ever be considered romantic) while the trees were transformed into fragile, glittering masterpieces by Jack Frost's paintbrush. However, the mild weather over the Christmas holidays when we were both available with babysitters on standby, meant that the perfect opportunity never really presented itself.

This weekend we had a bit of a 'now or never' moment, put on our running gear and went for it (the Quick part of our Quick Run being descriptive of the duration rather than the speed)

I am not a good runner by any stretch of the imagination but I felt quite efficient with economy of movement compared with my rather bouncy, gangly 6' 5" husband. We were fairly evenly matched fitness wise which pleased me - I had visions of me coughing up my own internal organs as I attempted to keep pace with him. I think that any advantage he has over me from his Triathlon training and regular gym sessions are cancelled out by a recurring hip injury that he suffers from - a hip injury that can seriously affect his running ability. It turned out we were pretty good running partners - each of us pushing the other forward. We ran a 2.3 mile route with a reasonably fast finish and it felt great.

He has signed up to run a 10K Road Race in our town with me in May so we could be doing lots more training together. I think that the very best dates are the ones that unlock new interests, let you see a new side to someone and lead on to greater things. This could potentially have been an excellent date!

The date didn't stop with the run. We went out that evening for a dance lesson - the first in a long time. When I realised that we were going to be working on the Quickstep and the Rumba, it put me very much into a 'date' frame of mind rather than my usual 'learning' mode. I felt very connected to my husband as we worked through our rumba routine, the dance of love, and learned some new figures to add to it. It was a lovely session, even if our quickstep left a lot to be desired.

I was already feeling that life was magical and wonderful as I left our dance class. I received total confirmation of this when we walked out into a world blanketed in crisp white snow with a myriad of flakes falling gently through the cold air.

I never Dream of a White Christmas. I wait for it to snow then have a 'fake Christmas'. Driving home through the snow was lovely. The roads were clear but everything looked new and beautiful. I absolutely love what happens through the windscreen as the car drives into falling snow. The flakes seem to come straight at you in lines that converge on a distant point. Mesmerising. Not so good when you are trying to concentrate on driving but as a passenger I could totally lose myself in the 'hyperspace warp speed' effect it creates.

Back home, we toasted our 'fake Christmas' with a glass of port and enjoyed a slice of Christmas cake. It may not be good for the diet but it was definitely good for the soul.

The snow reminded me of my wedding day. I had a February wedding. The weather was amazing - blue skies and enough sunshine to do a few outdoor poses with the photographer (although you can see the goosebumps on my arms if you look closely at some of the pictures) and during the night it snowed. I woke up as a married woman to the most perfect white world. It was the best wedding present ever.

The Snow at the end of our 'Q R' date was such an amazing bonus and with S being the next consecutive letter, I felt it only right to add it. In the spirit of post-Xmas economising, it was a 'three for the price of one' deal - A QRS Date.

I was hoping that the snow would remain for a day of two so we could celebrate Fake Christmas in style with the family but Monday morning was predictably grey and drizzly. I will have to see if I can brighten things up with an imaginative T date.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Three Rings

I bashed my knuckle on a tap while I was cleaning the bathroom yesterday. The pain made me cringe but worse was the fact that the joint turned an alarming colour (I wish I could say purple but it was more orangey-brown!) and starting to swell up. Typically, it was the knuckle of the ring finger on my left hand - the finger that  wears my wedding, engagement and eternity rings. I had horrible visions of it swelling to the point that blood circulation would be restricted and I would have to choose between cutting off the rings or risk losing my finger. It is not a decision I would find easy.

Thankfully, the swelling did not amount to much. It stills hurts like crazy but I no longer fear for my rings (or my finger depending on which way my decision went!)

The incident did make me realise how much my rings mean to me and the happy memories entwined with each.

My husband proposed to me fairly early on into our relationship during a weekend away in Beaumaris, Wales. We had been walking along the cliffs with beautiful views of the sea and the unspoilt countryside when he dropped down on one knee and popped the question to an audience of interested sheep. The romantic moment was slightly lost on me because of my amusement that he was kneeling in sheep poo but I managed to say yes. The ring was purchased much later.

We went to the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham to buy it. He had a good idea of what he was looking for and it fitted in very nicely with my own preferences. We went into jeweller after jeweller looking at dozens of rings and learning about the five C's of choosing a diamond - Clarity, Colour, Carat, Cut and of course Cost (it's too easy to get carried away and so important to stay realistic!). When I finally found a diamond I loved in a platinum setting that appealed, I couldn't commit straight away with a resounding YES. I had seen that many gems that I was becoming blinded to them and didn't entirely trust my judgement. We decided to go for a coffee and come back with fresh eyes.

The coffee shop had a rather tempting bread pudding on display. I did trust my judgement in this instance and had a sizeable chunk with my drink. It was lovely and helped to soothe and relax me and restore my own Clarity.

We went back to the shop. I took another look at the ring. It was gorgeous. I tried it on my finger. It slipped on comfortably as though it was made to be placed there. Smiling, I held my hand out to see it in all its glory. The smile slipped from my face. It just didn't seem to sparkle and shine like I had thought it would. My disappointment was obvious. Disappointment turned to embarrassment when I realised that the reason for the failure to sparkle was due to the fact that some greasy residue of bread pudding left on my hands had transferred to the stone. Embarrassment turned to joy when with a quick  wipe of a cleaning cloth, the sparkle was restored. The ring was perfect.

I did not get my ring immediately. I think my husband was waiting for the right moment to give it to me. I waited and waited. I wondered if he had lost it, or forgotten about it, or maybe he'd changed his mind about marrying me. Eventually, he placed it on my finger and as awful as this sounds, I can barely remember how that came about. I must have been so relieved that my fears were unfounded that it blocked all other thoughts!

I would have loved to have been married before the birth of our first child together but messy, prolonged divorce meant that was not to be. My engagement ring remained a solitary adornment on my finger. Minutes after the birth, as I cradled our daughter in my arms, my husband presented me with an eternity ring. It was an incredibly special time anyway so a ring was really not necessary and with all the blood and mess it wasn't a great time to be making a big romantic gesture. It was also a perfect time! So many good emotions are tied up in that simple band of platinum studded with seven tiny diamonds. The diamonds were supposed to represent  my four daughters, his two children from his first marriage and our brand new baby. Although the symbolism became outdated with the birth of our son, I still treasure this ring and wear it everyday.

Finally, there is my wedding ring - a simple platinum band. Simple yet hugely significant. It was such an important moment to me when my husband slipped that ring onto my finger in the presence of friends and family. It marked the end of much uncertainty and heartache and the beginning of our life together as husband and wife.

I was five months pregnant with our son when I said my wedding vows. After losing the baby weight my rings were all a bit loose and resizing became essential. I hated being without them, even for the small amount of time it took to get the job done. I'm beginning to think that if the worse case scenario had played out when I had my little accident with the bathroom tap, the fate of my finger would have been very precarious. After all, I've got loads of fingers... and three precious rings.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Missing Mash

My daughter Taylor sometimes goes by the nickname Mash - which was fortunate for alliterative purposes in my title. She is only small and despite being a drummer, very quiet. However, she leaves a huge 'Mash-shaped' hole in our home when she is away at Uni.

We took her back to her campus last weekend and the tears that filled her big sad eyes showed that she would miss us as much as we would miss her.

Those tears were never very far from spilling for several days before she actually packed her things and prepared to go. It was heartbreaking to see her emotions etched so plainly on her lovely face.

She and her boyfriend went on a shopping trip a few days prior to her departure. She found a Catwoman poster that she had being trying to get hold of (little bit of a girl crush on the actress Anne Hathaway who plays the feline superhero) and bought it to adorn the wall of her room in the Hall of Residence she calls home during term time. The posters were 2 for a fiver so the boyfriend, being a massive comic book geek, chose a Spiderman poster for himself.

Back home, they unsheathed their posters to admire their heroes.

Taylor has tried to replicate the expression on her boyfriend's face and the accompanying high pitched yelp of surprise and disbelief when the unrolled poster revealed not Spiderman - but teen pop sensation Justin Beiber! Big sister Liberty said that she would have paid money to have been there and witness it first hand.

The unfortunate mix up with the posters created a tidal wave of hilarity that proved a great ally in the battle against Taylor's sadness about leaving.

We had a family get together on Taylor's last night at home. At 4 year old Addy's request we had marshmallows to toast and consequently called it a "Mashmallow" party. Justin Beiber was invited and had more than his fair share of the warm gooey pink and white confection.

Taylor has been back at Uni for a few days now but missing home and exam stress has meant it has not been an easy transition for her. I know she is well supported by the friends she has made and that her boyfriend is only ever a text away but I can't help worrying about her.

In terms of how much I miss her and filling the Mash-shaped hole, I consider myself very fortunate to have this larger than life portrait of her hanging in my hall. It was painted by her incredibly talented friend as an art A'level piece. Not surprisingly, this friend is now at University on an art course.

One day, Taylor will have her own home and will probably take the portrait with her but for now I am the custodian and I love seeing it every day. It is certainly better than a Justin Beiber poster anyway!!

Original artwork by Kirsty Warner

Photography by Kirsty Warner

Human Etch a Sketch

I didn't get a new car from Santa, but I did get my rattly one fixed which should see me through a few more years (touch wood!)

I did, however, get a rather special present from my in-laws. With a little help from my husband, they bought me a Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS running watch. I love it because it is pink and part of the purchase price included a donation to Cancer Research - a charity close to my heart. I haven't quite worked out what all the buttons do yet but I love it because it records every mile that I run, my average minutes per mile and my best pace. I love it because I can upload my runs onto my personal profile on the Garmin website and compare stats and routes and see progress and set goals. It is hugely motivating.

I also love it because it sketches out the route I have run and shows it as a red line overlaid on a street map.

I couldn't help seeing the potential to use this feature to turn myself and my town into a giant Etch a Sketch. Just like the Etch a Sketch I played with as a child, I could make any shape (that within reason fits in with street geography) that can be made with one continuous line. My daughter's boyfriend, who also owns a Garmin running watch, inadvertently ran a Xmas tree shape which was seasonally appropriate and very funny.

My childish side really wants to experiment with the human Etch a Sketch idea but the lack of exercise and overindulgence of late has meant my ability to run falls far short of my ambition.  But with regular training, stamina can only improve. The town will be my artistic playground!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Jaws Night

Back in November, my daughter and her boyfriend attended a movie All Nighter  together. Despite large quantities of sugary snacks and power napping through the mystery film, Spinal Tap, they were not able to stay awake for the iconic shark movie, Jaws. By way of compensation (and because it is one of my favourite films of all time) I suggested we have a family Jaws night during the Christmas holidays.

I had planned on making some shark fin biscuits and themed cupcakes but it was so difficult finding a time when we were all available to do it, that we settled for a spur of the moment 'let's do it tonight' attitude that didn't allow much in the way of preparation time. I did, however, have one little surprise that I thought would elevate a 'stay in and watch an old movie' night into something much more memorable.

During the time that my friend Kirk came to visit before Christmas, we had a shopping trip. Kirk has an uncanny knack of finding the weird and the wonderful lurking in unfamiliar places on familiar shelves. But it was me this time that spotted the Giant Inflatable Remote Controlled Shark at the bargain price of less than a fiver. All you  had to do, according to the box, was inflate with helium for your very own 'Airquarium'. It had to be done. I knew we had a canister of helium at home and it seemed like a perfect prop for our Jaws night.

There was an awful lot going on over the few days that Kirk was with us so we did not get the chance to breathe the noble gas life into our aquatic inflatable and experience the 'ultimate reality 3D' watching our movie. When the opportunity did present itself, I was ready.

The box had described the shark as 'Giant' but I was surprised by just how enormous it was. I began to doubt that our helium canister would be up to the task but I kept the faith and put the batteries in the remote control. There was a complicated kit containing antennae, a receiver, fins and various other bits and pieces that the instructions failed to clarify the purpose of.

The audience was ready and waiting, the DVD was on standby. I was starting to panic.

As it turned out, the instructions and the complicated kit were rendered obsolete by a pathetically inadequate volume of helium. We emptied the whole canister into the greedy Great White and barely managed to make an impression. It lazily lifted its pointed head vaguely skyward to reveal a gaping mouthful of sharp triangular teeth.

My initial disappointment that I would not be able to remotely steer the magnificent predator into a living room of people eagerly awaiting shark entertainment was offset by the fact that we had inadvertently recreated the Jaws movie poster.

I had to admit defeat and manually reveal my rather limp offering (to my rendition of the duh, duh...duh, duh theme music).

We did all have a good laugh along with speculating how much it would cost for the quantity of helium that would be required to actually fully inflate the beast.

We enjoyed Jaws so much that we later bought and watched possibly the worst shark movie ever made - Sand Sharks. That could be a whole other blog post!

Monday, 7 January 2013

What's Your Favourite Quality Street?

I visited a friend this weekend. A quick look into her post-Xmas larder reminded me very much of my own.

I'm sure it is a familiar sight. Boxes of chocolates, sweets, biscuits, alcohol. Avoidance of doing a supermarket stock up means there is precious little in the way of healthy options which is bad news when the excess festive poundage can be ignored no longer.

I have signed up for a 10K race in May. It will be the furthest I have ever run and I really want to do well. It will mean some serious training, healthy eating and a body restored to a lean mean running machine. It can be done!

I have demonstrated my commitment to a good diet by throwing away the last of the Xmas pud and mince pies. Christmas is over and the New Year New Me is just beginning.

During a forage into my larder I came across this.

We haven't had Quality Street for years, opting instead for Heroes and Celebrations, but they were always a big part of Christmas as a child. It was very nostalgic to reacquaint with the familiar assortment when we were given some this year.

Everyone has their favourite Quality Street chocolate. I love the orange creams, even though they aren't quite as I remember them. I'm sure they used to have a hard fondant centre with an orange colour to match the flavour. They are gooey and white now but still strangely appealing.

 It does looks as though in our house, the blue Coconut Eclair wasn't anyone's favourite.

Bring on 2013

If you'd said to me a year ago that my daughter Ivy would graduate from University with  2:I, find a job that she loved, move into a nice little flat and have a boyfriend with a toolkit who bakes cakes and brings her flowers... I would have been delighted. If you had also told me that the journey towards this happy ending would involve an enormous amount of heartache and frustration and stress on the whole family and relationships tested to breaking point... I probably would have taken a deep breath, braced myself and said - Bring it on.

Of course, nobody said these things and hindsight remains a fatuous concept.

2012 was a year full of personal achievements and wonderfully happy times as well as some tragically senseless loss of life that reminds you to treasure all that you have. However, I will probably always remember it for being the year Ivy came back home.

When my daughter graduated from University, she was completely without a plan for the rest of her life. We tried to encourage her to make use of the University careers resources but she left it all too late and had no other option than to return home.  I imagined that having her home would bring an exciting new dynamic to family life. She could share some of the workload of running a home, we could bear witness to her promise and potential falling into place as her life took on the as yet unknown shape. Unfortunately, my workload increased and the shape her life took was prickly and unstable.

Having her around was emotionally draining and frustrating. Any time we tried to help or offer suggestions she would feel that we were attacking her or making judgements on her choices. We tried to back off and let things play out in their own way but as a parent it is incredibly difficult not to try and intervene when you can see your child making stupid mistakes.

The story is really my daughter's to tell, not mine - but the tears I cried belong to me.

The story has the happy ending. She found part time employment in an elegant rural gastro pub. She thrived in the environment and started dating one of the chefs. On new years day, she moved out of our family home into a small flat that she can just afford on her wages.

I am so proud of her for making this step to independence but our relationship is still strained. Worse for me than the diminishing of the bond we shared is seeing the erosion of the close relationship she had with her sister Taylor. My relationship with my own sister has suffered a similar erosion so I cannot criticise. These things do happen. I hope with all my heart that it is not irreversible.

Nobody is telling me what 2013 will bring (although triskaidekaphobics may have something to say on the matter!) God willing, this time next year I will be looking back and reflecting on good times and bad. Whatever, the next 12 months have in store for me, I'm taking a deep breath, bracing myself and saying Bring it On.

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