Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas is coming...

Finally. Finally I get a moment to scribble something down. Life for us has been so totally crazy. But dear husband has taken the children to his office today. Hurrah! They were so excited, and he was so hungover (ha ha!). 'Can't you keep Cici' (she's 2) he pleads. 'No, I'm having a break!' So here I am. I've done 3 loads of washing, washed my hair, booked tickets for the Christmas pantomime for my entire family, emailed the builder, emailed the estate agent, and now I can write this. I had intended to have a 'me' day. I don't know - take a book to the coffee shop and read decadently all morning, or go to the beautician and get a massage or manicure, or have a long lazy bath. But the reality is: presents need wrapping, food needs cooking (dinner party of 8 tonight), clothes need washing and packing, and someone needs to be here this morning so as not to miss Mr Amazon delivery (possibly one of the most annoying things at Christmas time is to have to got to the post office with one of those No One was Home notes).

Why so crazy? Well, the house sale was meant to exchange before Christmas. Our mortgage was supposed to be totally portable, until some new whipper snapper who has never dealt with us before, suddenly told us we needed to repay a rather large chunk. The rather large chunk needed to do renovations to the next property. To cut a long story short, it is all sorted now, but it took a lot of negotiating and someone different from the bank, who knows our history, to help out. So the survey was delayed, and the exchange is delayed. In the meantime, the people buying our house chose to do a full survey. The guy was here for 3 hours! Our house is in good condition, and there were a few tiny things that he picked up. Of course, the people buying it, have come back to us saying they want all these things rectified. These are not structural things, but tiny things that happen in old houses. So I said no. They can do it themselves, or at least I'll do it, if they pay for it. I've just got to the end of my tether having to be oh so understanding regarding the poor condition of the house we are buying, and yet kowtowing to the people buying ours... I'm waiting to hear back... 

Then there is Christmas! Christmas is a busy time in our family. I LOVE it. It is my most favourite time of year. The Christmas tree is up on December 1st without fail. This year I bought a plastic one for the children's playroom, and a real one for the sitting room. We wanted a 10ft one, so bought one of the old fashioned type ones that smell good but lose their needles (£30 versus £100 for a non-drop). It is standing tall, and looking fabulous, but if you are as to so much sneeze or even breathe near it, a shower of needles descend. My carpet now looks like green fuzz and I've nearly destroyed my dustbuster. But I don't care, it looks awesome! The rest of the house is covered in garlands and fairy lights, nativity scenes and christmas scented candles. I've even discovered a radio channel called Smooth Christmas, that plays Christmas tunes all day long. My aupair is about ready to shoot the radio (or me), but I love it!

And at Christmas time, come Christmas parties. I am officially beat. We hosted a party last Friday. Me and my great buddy made lots of canapes, and we served champagne all night. I wore my party frock and some seriously high sparkly shoes courtesy of TKMaxx (love a bargain), and everyone seemed to have a great time. It was a lovely mix of people, and everyone made a great effort to mingle. Bed finally beckoned at a rather champagne hazy 2.30am. The next day: DVDs and chilling? Oh No... Cici's 2nd birthday party: 15 ankle biters and parents, pass the parcel, musical statues, lots of screaming, and a very badly behaved 3 year old son. The glorious haze of champagne fading into a dull headache. Last man left at 6.30pm, at which we hurriedly shoved the children in bed and got dolled up for another party. Like torture - the taunt of the Strictly Come Dancing Final (did I mention we saw Harry and Aliona training at our local gym, swoon) and the sofa, rather than another party frock and perilously high heels.
Sunday, the official day of rest? No. Lunch party for Dom's sister's birthday. Eyes needing matchsticks to hold them open. Monday should have been recovery except the children, all of them, decided not to sleep. All night. It was like musical beds. Tuesday - Drinks Party. Wednesday - Birthday Drinks Party. Last night? Cooking for the dinner party tonight as Dom was out with work. We are exhausted!

But Christmas is coming! We will see all my family. We're going to the Panto for the first time ever with the children. We will go Church, eat loads, and open lots of wonderful gifts. It's a time of open fires and winter walks and family and friends. The children are totally enthralled by the magic of Christmas - it's a very special time. And did I mention? I love it!

Let me leave you with a couple of interesting shots:
Dom passed out under the Christmas tree at 3.30am after a boy's dinner. I turned the lights off and left him there of course (then went to bed giggling about how he'll wake up a stick his head right in the tree!).
Cici at her birthday party looking very crossly at someone eating her crisps. Like her mother, she likes jewellery.
And a close up of our tree.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE, I'll blog back in the New Year. 
Mx



Wednesday, 30 November 2011

House Selling, Jewellery Selling and Christmas (nearly)

I've been a bit quiet as it's been so hard to get a minute to myself. Our house has been on the market for a while now, and we have seen a couple of houses we would like to buy: one within our budget but unlikely to make us a big renovation profit, and one out of our budget but likely to be amazing once done. So we have accepted a low offer on ours, to get ourselves in a situation to bid for the others. It's a bit like ebay but with mega-bucks. The stress of bidding against other people, not knowing if you are bidding too high, not wanting to get your hopes up, and the crashing disappointment when you don't get it. To cut a long story short, we got the one we can afford, we didn't get the one we can't afford. I guess on paper this makes sense, but I always believe in stretching yourself (if interest rates are likely to stay low, which I think they are), to then get yourself up the next big step on the ladder. Anyway, we didn't get the wreck with potential, but we got the lesser wreck with lesser potential. Which is still exciting: it has a bigger garden, and will be much easier to live in during building works (we couldn't afford to move out and rent).
In the meantime we have been squabbling with the people who have offered on our house. They have offered below the asking price, and yet expect us to leave them various pieces of furniture and all our curtains. I have said they can't have our furniture (it's amazing the excuses one has to come up with: it belonged to my granny, it was a wedding present... it's just bloody well mine so sod off), and I've said they can pay for the curtains. This has caused a total fracas, with emails shooting between the agent and their property finder, and finally resulting in them agreeing to a small sum. BUT, they have decided to come and have another look, to study the curtains in depth. So on Friday morning I am supposed to welcome them with open arms whilst they analyse my furnishings. That was not the deal! We are selling our house, not our possessions... argggghhh...

On a more friendly note, I hosted a jewellery trunk show today. This sounds very posh, but actually it was a friend of mine from uni who popped over with a suitcase of lovely jewellery, and various friends/mums from school got to look at the stuff and try it on whilst sipping coffee and eating biscuits.
In preparation for this, I stayed up till midnight decorating the house for Christmas and mopping the floors. It has to be said I am a bit of a Christmas fan, so the house is covered in fairy lights, garlands, nativity scenes, Father Christmases, and a large plastic tree in the basement for the children (rainbow lights, rainbow baubles, etc) and so on. I have been told to wait till December (ie TOMORROW!!!) before I can put up a real tree upstairs in the grown up room (white lights, and marginally less rainbow decorations). I lit the Christmas smelly candle, and my goodness I am feeling the joy! This combined with a successful jewellery sale, 2 sleeping children and an hour for me, I might even forget the house saga - momentarily...

This is a snippet of the children's tree, I'm loving birds this year!



Mx

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Out during the week? - surely not!

The end of the week is nigh, and it's been quite a good one. Going out a lot is not something I've done much of since the children, but this week has been an exception...

Tuesday was the regular girls' night, which is never very regular. We ate at the most fabulous Thai restaurant (http://www.sukhogroups.com/), which never fails to deliver delicious food at reasonable prices. Well, reasonable until you keep ordering more and more because it is so tasty. It did me good to catch up on my friends' lives and talk about all those things most men find boring (clothes, jewellery, the children's school, men, hair removal).

Wednesday night was Book Club. I go to a book club organised by mothers from school. These are, mostly, women I see every day but don't know well at all. And the books chosen are generally quite high brow (I have taken to suggesting books to read, that way I've already read them and I know they aren't too taxing!). I always get frightfully nervous, drink more wine than anyone else (they seem rather partial to fizzy water on the whole, as I glug the wine to get over my nerves), and then I have verbal diarrhoea. As soon as it's over I curse myself for saying the wrong things, and hope I didn't make too much of a lemon out of myself. This week, however, was better than most: a) there were some new recruits who were really lovely; b) I'd chosen the book (The lessons by Naomi Alderman - good read); c) my great friend drank more than me. 

Thursday night I was fortunate enough to be invited to Fortnum and Masons for a private pre-Christmas drinks party/shop. Fortnum and Masons is one of the oldest shops in London, and is very elegant http://www.fortnumandmason.com/. The window displays are really breathtaking (see pics below), with Christmas ideas displayed in such clever and stylish ways (I always think being a shop window decorator would be such a cool job). It is also very expensive. We were invited via my husband's work, which means so were a lot of his clients. And if there is one thing I love it's client schmoozing. I find it ironic that book club can make me so nervous, yet talking to wealthy and successful individuals doesn't phase me at all. The champagne helps of course, but I think it's because it reminds me of the days I used to work in the City and had to face clients every day. So we had a wonderful evening, talking to interesting people, sipping champagne and strategically placing ourselves in the line of fire for canapes on the lower ground floor; then moving up to the ground floor for coffee and mince pies ("Mmm delicious coffee" I say, "How much is it?"... "£75 for a tin"... faint); finally reaching the first floor as I felt I ought to buy something, and a Christmas decoration would be a good bet. At £15 a bauble, we just made a sharp exit, thanking all the right people for a lovely evening, and jumped on the bus home.

Friday was a calm night in, DVD in front of the fire (X-Men, First Class - love a bit of hunky mutants!). Saturday, Strictly Come Dancing with Leonora, who is totally addicted and loves Holly Valance (I prefer Harry, but am warming up to Chelsee too). And tonight? Blog writing and X-Factor results, amongst a bit of ebay bidding for Irish dresses (Leonora is an Irish girl in the school Nativity Play. It was all so much easier when they stuck to the traditional characters: Stars, Angels and the odd Shepherd).

I shall leave you with a glimpse of Fortnum's windows - brilliant!




Mx




Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday - Granny's memories

Today is Remembrance Sunday. A sad day and a day of celebration. We celebrate our freedom. We grieve our lost ones. We remember. 
For the children, it is quite hard to comprehend. Leonora is studying the Romans at school, so as she understands it, we are remembering the Roman soldiers who rebuilt our towns. For the time being, I'll leave it at that, she can enjoy the innocence of childhood. At least they know it's a special day. And rather well timed, we came out of church and bumped into a Remembrance Parade, with soldiers from various regiments and a brass band. The children thought this was quite spectacular - Cici doing a little jiggle dance in her buggy, Leonora jumping up and down, and Johnny waving from Dom's shoulders. It was another example of the things the Brits do well, and in this case, so we should.

So for today, my little way of remembering was to ask Granny for some stories of the war and her childhood. I always find talking to her makes me realise how lucky our generation have been, and how much we take for granted...

Here are a couple of her stories:

When Granny was a little girl there was a lady in the local shoe shop who only had one hand. This used to bemuse her, as when the lady went to fetch shoes out the box, she would hold them with her stump of her arm. One night during the War she dreamt of this lady. The following morning she spoke to her mother about this, making light of her dream, and imitating the lady from the shop. "You are a wicked girl!" her mother laughed. Suddenly the telephone rang. It was Grandpa calling unexpectedly from North Africa. Calling to tell Granny he had had his hand blown off. Strangely Granny said she was almost expecting it. It was as if her dream had been a warning, so that in some sort of a way she was prepared for the news.


Before the War, Granny used to live in Westgate. She was a bit of a tomboy really, and most of her friends were boys. Out of this group of friends, her 'partner in crime' as she describes him, was a boy called John O. One day, a large group of them set out to have a picnic. Granny sat on the handlebars of John's bike, holding on to the picnic. As they cycled along the cliff edge, John suddenly lost control and they went over the side. Thankfully not the steepest part, but nonetheless the bike went bumping furiously down the side, with Granny still clutching the picnic and desperately attempting not to fall off the bike. When they finally came to a stop in a heap on the ground, with John declaring 'I bet you've broken the eggs', they got back on to their feet, brushed off the twigs, and went to join the others. Granny's wrist was a little sore, but she didn't want to miss out on the picnic. After lunch, the boys, who had brought a pellet gun and a target with them, practised shooting whilst Granny helped pack up. Suddenly a yell was heard, as one of the boys had managed to shoot John in the elbow. They all set off back home, Granny with her sore wrist and John with his sore elbow. 
As soon as her parents took one look at her injury, her mother declared "Oh goodness I never thought I'd have these problems with girls! Always in trouble!', whilst her father merely said 'You know you are going to be deformed for life, don't you?'. The next morning they decided it would be wise to go to the hospital and make sure everything was OK. There, sitting in the waiting room, was John with his shot-at elbow! 
It turned out that Granny had in fact broken her wrist, but fortunately there was no lasting injury! As for John, he was fine, and their friendship continued until the War... 
After that she never heard from him again. He, and 3 others from their group, never came home. 


On the topic of friends, Granny had one good girlfriend called Peggy. Peggy used to be totally bemused by Granny, "Bobby, I simply cannot understand it, you have all these boyfriends when you are not at all pretty!".
However, a man in the chemist once said to her "You have such a beautiful smile, you will break so many hearts."
I think the latter is more fitting. (Incidentally, Granny is extremely pretty, and always was, although I must admit, it's that cheeky personality and twinkle in her eye that really makes her who she is!)


Granny has a wonderful poem she used to recite as a little girl:

If no one ever marries me,
And I don't see why they should,
Nurse says I'm not pretty
And I'm seldom very good.

If no one ever marries me,
I wont mind very much,
I'll buy a little rabbit
In a little rabbit hutch.

And when I'm getting very old,
About twenty eight or nine,
I'll buy a little orphan girl,
And bring her up as mine!"

(I have found this on the internet, and for the full version, look at this link. Granny remembers it slightly differently. http://www.nataliemerchant.com/r/leave-your-sleep/lyrics/if-no-one-ever-marries-me)

As a little girl, Granny's mother had an elderly friend who was hard of hearing, so used one of those old-fashioned ear trumpets. Granny was asked to recite her poem to the lady, nice and clearly. So she went up to the trumpet, took a deep breath, and yelled ' IF NO ONE EVER MARRIES ME...'. The poor old lady leapt out of her chair in shock, and Granny was, yet again, in trouble.



So there are a few funny and sad memories, on this special day. It makes me think how every day we are creating our own memories. How important it is to enjoy our friendships, enjoy our families, and be thankful for what we have.

We are so grateful to those who gave up so much, and those who continue to give up so much, so that we can live in safety and peace.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, Rest in Peace.

Mx

Monday, 7 November 2011

Bonfire night and the Tooth Fairy

If there is one thing we do well in Britain, it is Traditions. Bonfire night must be one of the best. 'Remember, remember the 5th November!'. We remember the night the 'Gunpowder plot', an attempt at burning down the Houses of Parliament in 1605, was foiled. Guy Fawkes, the lead conspirator, was caught and executed. So in a rather macabre fashion, we make a dummy Guy, stick him on top of a bonfire, and burn him! Usually this is accompanied by fireworks, and celebrations.
This year the 5th November was Saturday night, and we were lucky to get some tickets to the Hurlingham Club, which is a private member's Club in London (another thing we do well: members' Clubs). It is a great place, with lovely facilities for children, a gym, tennis courts, beautiful parkland, and wonderful buildings that host a large variety of events. Bonfire Night is one of their annual events, and they sell a restricted number of tickets to non-members.
Being a rather smart club, I was extremely worried that the children might be a complete nightmare and wail all evening. I managed to leave Cici at home, but in exchange for my brother's little girl, Arabella (a beautiful, funny, doll-like girl of 3 whom I adore). So Dom, my mother and I arrived with the 3 children, and met a queue of at least 30 waiting to buy glow-in-the-dark light sabres, and flashing star necklaces. Being a total rip off, we still bought them as it's very hard to refuse when every other child has one (and I thought they might be handy for seeing where they run off to, which they were). We then went to the bar, bought a very civilized glass of wine for the ladies and beer for Dom, and sat outside on the terrace listening to an electric string quartet (not your average Bonfire Night). The Guy was processed along to the huge bonfire, which was then lit, and filled the air with warmth and the wonderful smell of november fires. This was followed by a brilliant pyro-technics display, with men waving seriously large flames around in unison with the string quartet. The children were mesmerised. Then came the fireworks. By this point we had wiggled our way forward so that the children could see. Dom had Johnny on his shoulders, and we had lost him somewhere, so my mother and I watched together, with the 2 girls standing right at the front. They were magnificent. Set in tune to music, from classical to Queen, which stifled the bangs so the children weren't scared, you have never seen such an array of colours and sparkles and showers of shooting stars! Little Arabella managed to fall asleep on a kind stranger's lap (!), who had been lucky enough, or early enough to get one of the few chairs in the front row of the barrier. Leonora looked like she held her breath the whole way through, and mum and I stood arm in arm grinning up at the sky.
Topped off with a disco for 2-7 year olds (that I think I might have enjoyed that more than the kids - see video), we got home by 9.30pm with 3 exhausted but excited children, who behaved so well and did us proud!



video

On a totally different note, Leonora's wobbly tooth has finally fallen out. I was going to put a photo of it on here and then realised that it is probably only beautiful to me! The tooth was wrapped up last night in a tissue, and put in the little pocket of this special tooth fairy pillow she owns. 
 (You can buy one here:
Johnny was very upset about the whole thing, storming off, wishing that his teeth would fall out (he might live to regret that one!). The Tooth Fairy duly left her a £1 coin and took away her tooth. Most amusingly, she was very indignant about this: "I did not want real money! I wanted a gold chocolate coin!". The Tooth Fairy has taken note of this for next time (although there seems something inherently wrong with giving chocolate for your teeth falling out?).

Mx





Thursday, 3 November 2011

Here comes the flood...

I've got a quick 15 minutes so I'm scribbling some stuff down. Today, as ever, is crazy busy.

My son Johnny is best friends with my sister Emily's little boy William. They go to nursery together, and Emily lives the opposite end of the intersecting road from me i.e. we are close. This means we often have lunch at each others houses - and today Em went off to pick up Willy's Fireman Sam outfit so I had him for lunch. I was busy concocting a delicious dish of bovril on toast, ham and tomatoes, when the two boys appear in the kitchen, DRENCHED. Not just a little bit wet, but totally soaking. Last thing I knew they were off to do a wee together (seriously inseparable). But they had been quiet, which is always a really bad sign... 
I run downstairs to the loo in the basement, and there is a FLOOD. A wave of soap filled warm water all over the floor, and what is worse, all down my new wallpaper leaving enormous streaks of watermarks. To remind you, our house is on the market. We have a viewing this afternoon, and it is the most impossible job trying to keep things tidy with 3 small children. "Arrrggghh!" (demented yell). I run back to the kitchen. Johnny is hiding under the (glass) table (he needs to work on hiding places). I'm sorry to all those who think I'm terrible, but he got a small smack on the bottom and a big yell. William rather unfairly just got a yell, but dishing out punishments is isolated to ones own kids (apart from the naughty step - that is universal). They were both ordered to eat their lunch right now, and not utter a word to each other. Oh the monkeys... the little furtive looks at each other, eyes twinkling, mouths twitching into a smile! Emily returns from the shop and is equally as cross, whilst I sit in the loo blow-drying my wallpaper. Back up to the kitchen, the Halloween Sweets are dramatically thrown in the bin by me. Still no remorse. (I have since retrieved them as I'd thrown away the tupperware box too). No pudding... No remorse... Finally, 'Right, bed!' I announce, at which point the threat of separation finally instills the conscience. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry!' he cries, a little too late... 
It is now time to get him up, (he always has a nap, I'm desperately clinging on to my me-time) and I've got to hang his soaking clothes up, tidy up the mess (fancy dress - big thing in our house, and always, without fail, spread all over the floor), and get ready for the next viewing. Getting him up is the best, he is always so warm and cuddly and totally divine. Can't stay cross for long!

My little man looking very forlorn 
Mx

PS As an aside, Emily just rang to tell me that when they got home William said "Mummy you're just like me.... you've got really hairy legs too!"  Tee hee! Out of the mouths of babes!


Monday, 31 October 2011

Trick or Treat!

It would be remiss to go without posting something about Halloween. My little Black Cat, smaller Wizard, and smallest of all, Little Witch have had a wonderful evening Trick or Treating with their cousins. 
We live in a great street with lots of young families, and an sprinkling of the older generation, who embrace all things community spirited. Halloween is one of those times. A little note is popped through the door indicating that Trick or Treating will take place between 5.30 and 7pm, and if you wish to participate, please leave a Jack-o-Lantern outside your door. We also live on a street with a huge mix of nationalities - one of the things I love most about living in London. When it comes to Halloween, you can always spot the Americans. Their houses are totally covered in cobwebs and spiders, with a selection of magnificently carved pumpkins lining their walls and invariably a skeleton or witch hiding amongst the mele. One of my friends reported that their American neighbour had built a graveyard in their front porch, complete with a door mat that groaned as you step on it! The Europeans are less adventurous, but perhaps more understated, with chic decorations and one magnificent pumpkin. As for the Brits, well we just do with what we've got. Usually a large selection of home made stuff, mixed amongst a few pumpkins varying from excellent to really rather rubbish (I speak here in general, not wanting to offend any Brit who has a penchant for decorating their house and/or pumpkins, or any American who doesn't!). However we excel when it comes to fancy dress. There's no getting away with a simple hat or a mask. No, we Brits have the whole chebang: full costume, hat, face paint, wig, accessories, perhaps some glow sticks, and a large bucket for sweets. Our street is renowned for participating on Halloween, and we always get children from all around the borough coming to us and the neighbouring roads. Booty is bountiful, and this evening the children, hoarse with the excitement of yelling 'Happy Halloween!' came home with even more sweets than we distributed. Rather amusingly, Cici (22 months) came home with the most - her little mitts clearly having been forgiven for grabbing handfuls - hardly surprising as she does come out with the cutest 'DaaDoo' (thank you). I love this time of year - everything is so exciting for the children and there is nothing better than seeing that joy on their faces (along with smeared chocolate and congealed lollies).

I also took the opportunity today to do something with the pumpkin. Every year we make the lanterns, and I wonder what to do with the left over pumpkin flesh. I had some defrosted chicken breasts that needed eating, so did a google search for Chicken and Pumpkin dishes and came up with the following:
It was very easy to make and tasted delicious, although the recipe does not mention salt, and I definitely think it needed some, so I added it to mine whilst cooking. Harissa is quite hard to find (Waitrose prob best bet), but if you added some chilli flakes I think it would still be nice. I was lucky enough to get some from a very foodie local friend of mine. I served it with rice, but it would be lovely with cous cous too.

Keeping in the theme of the evening, my little sister Lydia described it as "Entrails with Eyeballs and Flaked Frog Skin, served on a bed of Maggots". Picture below - you decide!


Mx