Sketch

7 Jul

I am so full of tea, and my tea partner (baby sister) has left me for a few moments, so I thought I’d do a quick, live report. Check out this for afternoon tea…

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Pistachio, raspberry and black peppercorn trifles; rose macaroons (the correct spelling on the menu delighted me); salt caramel cups; lemon, macadamia and ouzo tarts; egg mayo sandwiches with quails egg and caviar… And those were just the highlights. Yum. Back to it.

Ce qui me gêne

27 Apr

A macaroon (macaron in French) is a small cake made predominantly from ground almonds. The name comes from an Italian word, referring to the method of turning the almonds into a paste. In France, they have developed the style to those delicious little sandwiches in wonderful flavours, and they are now conquering the world with their sugary yumminess. The French have only one word for almond-based cakes – they call them all macarons. To use the word macaron as an English speaker is completely unnecessary – we have a perfectly functional word to describe the item, and it’s a direct translation from the French word.

In all honesty, it seems a little silly to use foreign phrases when our own will do. Except for in the title of this blog post, of course. We don’t shun the word cheese in favour of fromage, simply because we are eating Roquefort. Unfortunately, it has become so widespread (oh, Wikipedia) that a lot of people do not even know that macaron and macaroon mean the exact same thing, but I’d bet money that it originated with the sort of people who say things like “au contraire” a lot.

26.2

16 Apr

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I did it. I completed a marathon. I am a marathoner. Four months and 260 miles of training runs culminated in a fantastic day.

The night before was pretty disastrous. We had an early dinner at Pizza Express, much to my chagrin. To be in a big city and faced with such options as Las Iguanas and Yo Sushi was frustrating when I knew I could only eat something pretty basic and spiceless. An evening by the seaside couldn’t be wasted, so Barney rode the carousel for the first time, grinning gummily as it whizzed round.

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Hey Mum! Where's the sand?

We got back to the hotel around 8, to find that our room was filled with the thumping sound of 90s classics from the function room downstairs. When we asked reception, they said that they would turn the music down and that the party would only go on until 11. Not ideal – I’d hoped to be asleep by 10 – but bearable. The music went on until 12:30 and got louder and louder as more drunk people grabbed the microphone and sang along with the music. Barney’s sleep was horribly disrupted, and so even though the music stopped, he spent much of the rest of the night awake. Bearing in mind that he has slept through the night since four months, having a baby attached to me all night was pretty gruelling!

Still, I managed to get up, ready and fed with toast before I headed off to the start line. I was in the slowest corral, and held back so that I wouldn’t have to be packed in and have a million people overtake me over the first few miles. I have never seen so many people in a place where there aren’t usually that many people, if that makes sense. I believe that there were around 9000 runners and apparently 100,000 spectators expected for the day!

Twenty minutes after the gun, we got moving. My number one priority was to try and ignore what everyone else was doing and stick to my own pace. I knew that I was aiming for between 7 and 8 hours, so I aimed for a 17 minute mile. It was hard! I didn’t manage – I stayed at a steady 16 minute mile for the first 20 miles. Patrick met me after 3 miles; a couple after that, he and his mother, Alison (and Barney!) jogged with me for the worst hill climb. I then left the centre of Brighton and headed out towards Roedean School. The view out there was beautiful – an imposing, Mallory Towers-esque school, looking out to sea. Our first u-turn was at 8.5 miles. I still felt strong and steady, while other people zoomed ahead and fell behind. At mile 10, she joined me and stayed with me for 8 miles. My mother-in-law does *not* fit into the stereotype at all!

I pushed myself a little hard running next to her. I think it’s because she is a runner – I was a little embarrassed at being so slow – but if I hadn’t had her amazing support I don’t think I’d have achieved such great (for me!) times in those stages! My sister, Dad, uncle and Granny were all there to wave me on a few miles on.

Reaching halfway was quite hard – I think that the “out-and-back” nature of the course was mentally challenging, because I had already turned back and was running very close to where the finish line was, but with the same again to go. The next stage took us into a residential area, and while supporters were thinner on the ground, a number of people were having marathon parties and came out of their homes to cheer us on. Brighton is such a friendly and beautiful city!

At around mile 18, I was starting to suffer. Patrick took over from his mum, and stayed with me to the end. These are the perks of being slow – you can have your cheering squad alongside you at all times! The final leg took us around an industrial estate, which started with the 20 miles marker and an official race sign that read “To Hell and Back”. I don’t know if that was supposed to bring out a wry smile, but for me it was the point when I realised I simply couldn’t run any longer. When I was pregnant, I was referred to a physiotherapist because of problems with my pelvis being misaligned, and I could feel those symptoms flaring up again.

The final 6 miles were through an industrial estate with a power station, steelworks and what smelled like a sewage treatment centre! Only the hardcore supporters remained in this area, and the NSPCC (the charity I was raising for) crowd were there and full of enthusiasm. As I headed towards the group, I heard “it’s one of ours!!!” and the cheers were music to my ears! The final stretch was upon me, and I hobbled along, pausing every so often to scrunch up and stretch out my aching muscles.

I knew that the finish line was at the new pier, just along from the skeleton of the old, burnt pier, and that broke up the distance. Each mile absolutely crawled by, at this stage. The mile markers were almost painful, as each one was met with a “seriously? It’s only been a mile?!” I had started Patrick singing rugby songs through the industrial estate, and Chicago and Yogi Bear had carried me through some tough times so far. By this time, Granny and Alison had joined us, so the nature of the songs had to reflect their audience a little better! Green bottles were the answer, so we sang 20, then 30, then 40.

I made it to the finish line, which they were in the middle of disassembling, and it was incredible. I had finished, and I wasn’t last – those were my goals for the day, and I had achieved them. There honestly hasn’t been anything in my life for which I’ve set a plan, stuck to it and followed through to completion in this way. I feel like I can do anything.

We place so much value on the skills and attributes that come naturally to people – this actress has never had to diet and hates exercise; that sportsman is “gifted”. The truly glorious feeling is to achieve something you never, ever thought you could. I remember the feeling of every exam result – a sense of relief that I’d “got away with it” again, that my natural academic skills had got me through. The feeling yesterday, continuing into today and beyond, is so much more than that.

A Mother’s Work Meme

8 Apr

I saw this post on Mummy Pink Wellies and thought I’d weigh in. Here goes…

A Mother’s Work Meme

Rules:
Please post the rules
Answer the questions in as much or as little detail as suits you
Leave a comment on mother.wife.me so we can keep track of the meme
Tag 3 people and link to them on your blog
Let them know you tagged them
Tweet loudly about taking part (well ok, that isn’t a rule, but how about if we start a hashtag – #amothersworkmeme)

Questions:
1.  Did you work before becoming a mum?
2.  What is your current situation?
3.  Freestyle – got your own point you’d like to get across on this issue? Here’s your chance…

And, most importantly…. you’re tagged!! If you read this and agree or disagree, please join in.

1. I was a chartered certified accountant. I had been in the process of starting up my own one-woman practice, but had fallen into the lucky situation of having one client who provided enough work to keep me busy full-time. When they found they could no longer use me, I looked into going back to employed work, but when I fell pregnant, I realised that I didn’t want to use child care full-time. My dad needed some help with customer services and product research in his company, and offered to provide me with enough hours to keep me busy while I built my business.

I struggled immensely to find clients, due to my complete inexperience in that side of the business, and began to work full-time with Dad, particularly after two key staff members left in February last year.

2. Working with Dad fit really well into our lives – I could answer queries while hooked up to a breast pump in the middle of the night, and despite my fear of the “boss’s daughter” tag, I started to feel like I was really contributing to and becoming a valuable member of the company. I’m still a bit embarrassed when I tell people that I work for my dad, but I feel that spurs me on to work harder to prove myself.

I work about 30 hours per week. Barnaby is at nursery for eleven hours per week and naps for about three to four hours per day. I can also work in the evenings and more at weekends when Patrick is home to help. I realise that I will need to cut this down as and when Barnaby needs less sleep and moves around more!

3. Katherine makes a great point about the “what do you do all day?” comments. I keep a timesheet, because I’m weird like that, and I regularly do a 50 hour week including work, housework, feeding, changing, reading to Barnaby, walking the dog and attending baby-specific classes and appointments. I am sure that plenty of mothers attend more classes and toddler groups than I do, and absolutely certainly do more housework. The only way people have time to watch Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women is if they’re as rubbish as I am at housework, or if they’re not spending much face-to-face time with their children.

For me, there are two big bugbears in the world of mothers and work.

One is that we need to acknowledge that, for most careers, taking a year or more out is going to slow us down. We need to research and make our choices; recognise the real-life implications and stand up for ourselves if we genuinely feel that an injustice has taken place. If I tried to return to accountancy, having missed out on a year’s practical experience and ongoing professional development, I would have to accept a frozen/lower salary until I had proven that I caught up. That’s not a Four Yorkshiremen statement, that just seems fair to me.

Excellent childcare is available from a very early age, so it’s not essential to take full maternity leave, unless being the main provider of childcare to your child is something you want and choose to do. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of mean-spirited people out there in the mummy blog world who have written about how wrong, uncaring and unnatural mothers who send their children to nursery are, and the damage they’re doing to their children, completely disregarding that, throughout history, childcare has been a communal activity. It takes a village to raise a child, after all. To imply that a child can only be raised well if the mother is the main childcare provider during the working week is not only insulting to working mothers, but to the loving and dedicated childcare workers who provide the service.

The second point is that we need to bring more flexible working into the system. Many jobs can be done from home, or with flexible hours, but it just doesn’t happen – especially in lower-paid roles. Too many bosses seem paranoid that their staff will not work unless properly supervised, but that seems like crazy logic to me. Why hire somebody you cannot trust? Why not work toward improving company loyalty? We need to move towards a working world in which parents and non-parents have equal opportunities to achieve a work/life balance.

I’m afraid I’ll have to break a rule, as I honestly don’t know who to tag, but if you’re reading this, then please consider yourself tagged! I’d be interested to hear opinions of parents and non-parents alike.

20 Miles

27 Feb

I don’t think I need to say much more than that! But I will…

On Saturday, I ran 20 miles. OMFG. Especially as I skipped my 30-minute run on Thursday because I just didn’t feel like it. Take that, Thursday!

I decided to try out a different route as the one I had been doing was making me a little crazy on long runs. Ok, very crazy. I am yet to encounter the endorphin high. I tend to get exercise-induced rage. I have actually walked out of spinning classes because I build myself up into such a “this is so f-ing stupid! We’re on bikes and we’re not going anywhere! And we’re listening to really awful music!” So, the beautiful tunnels (see header) started to look very similar and I’d think I was closer to home than I actually was, and I’d start to get angry with myself for running, Meg for finding it so easy and not just running the distance I was doing but up and down the banks at the side as well, and Richard Beeching for having closed down the railways that meant I was running along this former railway line.

So, I tried out a new one along the canal. It was super pretty…

I’m really happy with the choice of route. I think I’d start a few miles further west, as the first/last 3 miles were a bit uneven, which was fine when starting out, but not so much when I was exhausted towards the end. I turned my ankle a few times, and my knees are feeling a bit dodgy. Being so inexperienced in the field, I’m quite nervous about telling the difference between a “man up and push on through” and a “you’ve actually hurt yourself”.

Choosing to run west along the canal was the most intelligent decision of my life. I started at midday, so the sun didn’t bother me too much, and then when I turned around it was behind me – perfect. The people I encountered, who were out enjoying their boats, were absolutely lovely – friendly to Meg and encouraging to me!

I’m still so nervous about this race. I am slow – see above – but I need to push that thought out of my head. If I have to run on the pavement when they start reopening the roads, that’s not the end of the world. I’ve started thinking about how I will feel if I am actually the last person to finish the race, but it can’t be that bad. I’ll have run a marathon! It’s a big thing for someone like me – someone who starts projects but doesn’t finish them; someone who gives up if I can’t do something perfectly. I have to ignore the many, many articles out there complaining about slow runners ruining marathons for the experienced ones and just focus on my own personal goals. As I wrote a while ago, the internet is full of people trying to create their own, exclusive club because they’ve been excluded before; but that’s 100% their own issue, not mine.

The biggest surprise of this training is how important the mental side is. I have been blessed with a mostly-functional body, and anyone with that can run as far as they want to. That’s a really cool thing to learn – so much more exciting than how my bottom looks in jeans, which is, incidentally, much better than it did before I started training.

Bed Head

19 Feb

My Mum commented last week that most of my Flickr photos are of Barney and me in bed. I swear I don’t just laze around in bed all day!

I just love the extra light in our bedroom. The big issue with new estates is that you’re all smushed in together, and so unless you’re on the very edge, it can get a little dark downstairs, even with quite large windows. We’re quite lucky that, over the fence, we can see the cornfield and the hill where a farmer friend of ours grazes his cows. Our garden, however, is less than ideal as it slopes severely and simply doesn’t see any sun whatsoever.

Another point is that general rolling around and cuddling and all those important things are just easier in bed. After changing his nappy, I’ll often have a few minutes of compulsory cuddles (I have to enforce these things while I still can!) Also – love you, Meg, but you’re less likely to come and sit on my head when I’m on the bed. I’m just sayin’.

Some favourites coming up. I swear I’m trying not to be a mummy bore. I can’t guarantee that I won’t fail.

Him and Mini-Him, wearing their t-shirts accordingly

Hand over the phone!

Mothers! Use your sleeping baby to kind of hide your double chin!

Labrador-wrestling

A little tenderness to make up for the Labrador-wrestling

I’m ready for my super-close-up

iBaby

And yes, on that last one, you will see that I have started the indoctrination (mwahahaha) early, with the It’s a Small World iPad app. It’s awesome. And it teaches him that if he does stuff, stuff happens. That’s important, y’know.

It takes a lot of food to reach 6′ 5″

18 Feb

When you try and reduce the crazy somewhere, more creeps in. Here, I begin to agonise over weaning the baby. There are so many options and methods out there. Firstly, there’s the currently popular baby-led weaning compared to standard purées-getting-chunkier method.

BLW, as it’s called, is getting a lot of press recently after a self-reporting study of 155 parents of 20-month- to 6-year-olds revealed some differences in the preferences and weight of the children, depending on their methods of weaning. Parents were asked to rate their child’s food preferences by category on a scale of 1-5 (1 “loves; 5 “hates”, with BLW children having scores of 1.82, 1.83 and 1.89 for carbohydrates, savoury snacks and sweet foods respectively, and spoon-fed children having scores of 2.12, 2.08 and 1.81 for those same categories. 61.9% of BLW babies and 63.5% of spoon-fed babies were considered a healthy weight by WHO z-score standards. Because of our concerns about obesity in the West, the focus has been more on the fact that 25.4% of BLW children and 31.7% of spoon-fed children were considered overweight or obese by WHO z-score standards.

Naturally, the overall conclusions have been more well-publicised than the figures themselves (poor old BMJ – they just don’t get the readership!). Looking at the figures in detail, I’m more inclined to think “meh – there’s clearly more to it than just how a baby is weaned”. There’s the correlating factor that always comes into play whenever we look at methods of parenting that have been deliberately selected rather than followed simply because it was what everyone else was doing. It makes sense that parents who actively make decisions are more likely to see positive outcomes (I feel icky just typing that! Like we’re preparing for our final grade, or something we can put in the family newsletter), so it just doesn’t seem possible to strip out all of the gazillions of correlating factors there are. I’m sure that if any of us tried to submit such an experiment to our GCSE Science teachers, we’d be told to bugger off and do a lot more work. I guess that the BMJ is less discerning than Mr Lees.

So… My first conclusion is that the method we use to wean Barney doesn’t seem to matter that much.

Then we get onto the food. This is where I stress myself out a lot. I have read Annabel Karmel’s books with great interest, but have yet to brave any recipes, as I’m terrified of my carefully-prepared meals being met with disgust. I also haven’t really gleaned much information on what *actual* nutrition small people require, only a list of scrummy-sounding recipes.

So far, we’ve stuck to the following – batches of cooked veggies, meat/fish/poultry and starches frozen into cubes and quickly defrosted (in the microwave) with some herbs at meal times. This is punctuated with the occasional purée of whatever I’m having, although as a pest0 fan, hot sauce junkie and salt fiend, I’ve had to use this method only when absolutely appropriate.

Everything has gone down well so far, although the puréed celery took a few attempts. I have always taken the George’s Marvellous Medicine approach to cooking, resulting in slightly peculiar taste combinations that nobody seems to like except me. But if only they’d try Tom Yum and emmental toasties, I know they’d love them! Thankfully, Barney is a captive audience, and he hasn’t turned his nose up at many concoctions, despite one accidental turmeric-spill. After he devoured a bowl of veal biryani, I texted Patrick to let him know that I would treasure this moment when, in the future, he would refuse to eat anything but bread. Yes, baby brother, I’m looking at you!

I’m sure that it’s hard to go too far wrong, unless you start feeding your child puréed fast food – yup, that happened. It doesn’t stop me freaking out over him eating too many bananas in a day (more than two), or when I had a stomach bug and couldn’t cope with preparing anything more sophisticated than Weetabix for an afternoon. These are the days on which I plan to look back and laugh when the real challenges set in!

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