House of Pain

I am emerging from a weird sort of hibernation today. For the last three weeks my house has resembled an episode of M*A*S*H with makeshift beds and bandaged bodies groaning from different rooms. I have taken on the role of Hawkeye and have been administering pain medication to my three poorly patients. My patients have been my husband, my dog and my daughter, as all three of them have had operations.

Firstly, hubby was booked in for a minor operation. We have decided to draw the line at three children and to ensure this is a definite choice, my hubby made the brave decision to have ‘the snip’ (only took 2 years of me badgering him). He wasn’t completely willing as apart from the obvious fears of the pain he may have to endure, I think there is a male ego thing related to this particular male operation. For Mum’s we become fairly used to being pulled around and examined with little dignity from the minute we get pregnant and long after the baby is born. I had so many examinations during and after my pregnancy with the twins I was pretty much on auto pilot of stripping off from the waist down at every appointment, even if the doctor was only interested in my blood pressure! After three children, all delivered naturally and numerous smear tests, I did find it a little tricky to feel too sympathetic about my hubby’s upcoming surgery but I did understand his concerns.

On the day of the operation, my husband and I travelled by train to a clinic in the west end of London, which literally had the smallest waiting room I’d ever seen. We waited amongst the other nervous looking men and their partners until he was called through for the procedure. In just less than an hour, my hubby emerged looking a bit pained. I had expected him to be walking like a cowboy having just dismounted from his horse but it was the opposite, he wasn’t able to take big steps but instead was sort of shuffling. Clutching his paper bag of dressings and leaflets we carefully left the surgery and ambled down the street towards the Underground. Hubby was now resembling a geisha with his tiny steps and his legs shut together which meant I had to adopt a similar walking style so as not to leave him behind, this seriously doesn’t work in rush hour London. Apart from flinching everytime the dog or kids came anywhere near him and walking tentatively for a few days, his recovery has been fairly straightforward.

Next up on the hit list was our dog Chester. As a 2-year-old male Labrador, Chester has become a little over sexed of late. Thankfully, his heightened hormones have mainly been directed at cushions, his bedding and a weird obsession with Chihuahua’s and he hasn’t tried to hump any of us.  However, whenever we were out on a walk, Chester’s hormones were raging at any dog that was unlucky enough to cross his path. Whatever breed or gender he was climbing aboard, I was left trying to drag him off the poor dog he was violating and apologising profusely to the horrified owner. If a Chihuahua was within a 2 mile radius he was gone, nose shoved in a place that made the features of the toy dog literally cry out for help. When it came to the point of an annoyed dog owner suggesting he ‘sort my dog out with some bricks’ I knew it was time to seek veterinary help!

Not a happy patient!

Not a happy patient!

We visited the vet after determining what the difference was between a castration and a vasectomy, which was a little reminiscent from the week before with my hubby. Chester was led away, his tail wagging, oblivious to what the rest of the day had in store for him, again it was a little reminiscent of the week before with my hubby. We collected him that evening with his massive cone to wear, struggling to walk on wobbly legs and a private area that would make the bravest person heave. His recovery has been a bit more laboured, he hasn’t been allowed out for walks for two weeks and for a dog who has a 2 mile run every day he has been super miserable. The cone that he was supposed to wear was a nightmare, not only did it take a wrestling team to fix it on his neck, but once he was wearing it, he proceeded to nudge the backs of our legs with it and scrape it up and down the walls. He has finally recovered after two weeks in depression with my constant shouts of ‘leave it alone’ after we abandoned (and he proceeded to chew) his cone. He has been out for walks but not amongst other dogs as yet, that test is to be trialled next week when I immerse him back into doggy society and hope that he has learnt to control his hormones a bit more.

My last patient of the month was our little girl. She has always had abnormally sized tonsils and adenoids, suffers with constant glue ear and is always dealing with some sort of cold. In her six years of life, we have visited numerous doctors to no avail, were told that she will ‘grow into her tonsils’ or that she can ‘learn to live with them’. After a concerning amount of time off school last year with throat infections, she was finally placed on a waiting list for surgery. The date we were sent, of course, was the week after Chester and hubby’s operations. I had longed for a solution to my little girl’s constant anguish with illness, but when the day arrived for her to have the problem eradicated, I was petrified. We arrived at the children’s ward bright and early one morning and settled Millie in her sterile and unwelcoming bed, against colourfully designed walls, amid hospital equipment and toys.

The view next to my daughters bed.

The view next to my daughters bed.

After the consultant talked us through the upcoming procedure of removing said tonsils and adenoids, puncturing her ear drums to drain fluid and inserting grommets, we had to paste on our hopeful smiley faces for the sake of our anxious looking daughter. We were led to the operating theatre were I was given hospital scrubs to wear, as I would be accompanying my little one through anaesthetic. Hubby was placed in the most starkly decorated relatives room ever seen and I followed her hospital bed and nurses down the daunting corridor and into pre-op. My job was to distract my daughter as the anaesthetist inserted the needle tap thingy in her hand. So I proceeded to promise my daughter the world in exchange for her looking at me and not the hand that was being dealt with. Unfortunately, her tiny hand didn’t accept the needle insertion so they had to try the other hand. I changed places with the surgical team, choking back the tears as my little girl stared wide-eyed at me looking frightened and begging me ‘to keep her tonsils’. They managed to put the needle in her other tiny hand and within seconds she was out cold, at which point I almost collapsed in a heap. One of the nurses led me back to the relatives room as I burst into tears, blubbering at the nurse ‘she didn’t even count back from ten’. Hubby was waiting there opposite another Mum, in much the same state as me, as we waited the longest 45 minutes of our lives.

The most depressing waiting room I never want to see again.

The most depressing waiting room I never want to see again.

Thankfully the surgery was a success, however, once back in childrens ward an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic kicked in resulting in her heart racing, her temperature raging and the poor little lady vomiting. Thankfully, the nurses were quick to react and brought her back to normal with medicine and a fan. We then spent the next 9 hours trying to make our little girl comfortable and feeding her crisps and sandwiches (doctors orders) so no ice-cream as expected. The last two weeks of her recovery have been tough, she has suffered greatly with pain, especially in her ears, her appetite is non-existent and her diet has mainly consisted of jacket potatoes and chocolate milkshakes, but she is starting to turn a corner now. The pain has eased and she is starting to show an interest in food again. I am spending far too much money on my food shopping and hosting a kind of Generation Game each evening bringing different food items in front of my daughter with an accompanied ‘Wow look whats on the menu tonight!’.

Three weeks, three operations and three poorly patients. I’m hanging up my scrubs for now.

Technophobic Parenting

Being a parent can often involve a multitude of roles covering everything from cleaner to chef or chauffeur to psychoanalyst and the negotiation talents of Alan Sugar for when it comes to mealtimes/bedtimes or bickering between siblings is often helpful.

The latest required string to my parental bow is the need for technology know-how. Don’t get me wrong, I can confidently find my way around the internet, am fairly proficient in Word, Excel and Powerpoint and hopefully Social Media savvy (although still trying to become enamoured by Twitter). However, when we bought our 10-year-old son a tablet for his birthday in December, his knowledge of the internet in a week left me in the dust. Trying to keep up with him clicking between various tabs was like trying to understand the conversations in one of the modern Star Wars films. In the early days of his new gadget, I sat down with him to ‘show him the ropes’ but instead ended up with my first-born helping me create a Google account while he become frustrated trying to explain Google + to me. Say What Now?

This is the child that has looked to me for advice from birth. Those big green eyes have penetrated my soul as he has quizzed me about all manner of weighty subjects over the last ten years, as I in turn imparted my pearls of wisdom about what worms eat, or if Spiderman has to wee like normal people, but computers, this is a whole new world that I wasn’t ready to share with him yet. A world that he is sort of doing a lot better at than me worryingly.

computer says no

Our son is not only a bit of a computer whizz kid, but I am proud to think that he is a sensible little fella too. He has a nice group of friends that are all polite boys, we have never had any fears of him being bullied and on the whole, apart from the usual strops about going to bed early or not wanting to eat his broccoli, he is a happy child. And like most other parents, I thought I knew my son, we talk a lot, he tells me lots of things about his school life, he talks to me regarding his concerns about whether he’ll make the Chelsea soccer squad when he’s an adult and I in turn try to steer him to other career choices, but I was suitably shocked to discover that my innocent little man was actually making YouTube videos.

He sometimes borrows my laptop as he started writing a blog last year (http://williamsmatchoftheday.wordpress.com/)  and I am actively encouraging this new-found desire for creativity by allowing him use of my computer. However, when he left it logged on (again!) the other night after he had gone to bed, the only tab open was YouTube displaying the numerous videos he and his friends have been making.

The thing is, my son and his friends are addicted to Minecraft and for those of you who are not familiar with this game, it is basically a combat, building, strategy type game with graphics which remind me of those that were used on Ceefax many years ago. Yet despite its seemingly awful layout, it has become the biggest thing for young gamers worldwide and most definitely amongst my son’s friends. He has assured me that the Minecraft he plays is only single player mode and that the things he builds/blows up are only in his realm and that he doesn’t have the ability to talk to anyone on the site. Phew…However, he and his friends are sharing their Minecraft creations with each other on YouTube. To me, this is mental. YouTube is a place I use to view music videos and film trailers, YouTube is also the place some people go to watch porn, upload dodgy videos of themselves and a lot of stuff that is definitely not suitable for a naïve 10-year-old. My other major concern, when I saw the fresh face of my son on his YouTube video talking to his friends and the World Wide Web (argh!) about his latest Minecraft tactics, is who else is watching this!

This then provoked the conversation I had been dreading. Me and hubby sat down and talked to our innocent boy about the risks he runs from posting videos on YouTube, that it’s not just his mates that could be watching and that some bad grown up people may pretend to be a 10-year-old Minecraft fan and will want to talk to him and that’s not OK. The confused expression that I was met with during this conversation made my heart skip. This young boy of mine is on the verge of growing up and is doing so into a very different world that I experienced when I was his age.  My computer knowledge at 10 was watching my older brother take at least 15 minutes to load Pac-Man onto his Spectrum with ear-piercing screeching noises emitting from his cassette deck.

I’m excited for my children’s technological future and I personally want them to embrace it (within reason) and be able to become savvy in its positive sides. If tablets and whiteboards are the way forward in the classroom then I want my children to know their way around them with their safety being paramount. I talked with my son about how people should act appropriately online and what sites he is allowed on. We have told him to never use his real name or to show his face in any YouTube videos, if he needs an avatar then he should use a cartoon one like mine. As an extra safety measure, I am attempting to fold washing behind the chair in which he sits on his tablet and have a little peek at what he is accessing.

When we bought the tablet for his birthday present we downloaded the parental controls as suggested by the information provided, however, it wasn’t very clear to me what he was protected from exactly. Can he stumble across adult content from an innocent Google search? Can he be cyber bullied on gaming websites? What should I be worried about when it comes to him being online unsupervised? It makes me feel unable to protect him from this virtual world he is embracing and such a long way from the days he spent creating pictures of the Tweenies on the CBeebies website. But as long as we make this technological journey together or with my interfering eye over his shoulder, there’s no reason for him not to benefit from this new world he is discovering.

If you have any concerns over your children’s safety online, there is help available. The ever so knowledgable people at Childnet are launching a Safer Internet Day on 11 February to help concerned parents and their tech savvy children explore how to enjoy the internet in a safe and responsible way. Virtual worlds needn’t be places to fear, Disney Club Penguin are running the campaign ‘It Starts With You’ which also offers help to parents and children on how to make the online world a better place. Just make sure you ask permission before using your child’s tablet to look them up.

My 2013 Stats!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog.  Thanks for all who have supported me.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 50 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Well Hello 2014!

It’s hard to believe that 2013 is behind us already and here we are welcoming in 2014. It only feels like last week that I wrote my recap of 2013 https://anounceofmedotcom.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/farewell-2012)

As I started to fill out my 2014 calendar yesterday, that is how rock and roll my New Years Eve is these days, I felt that at least a few months had vanished from my memory, that the year had flown by and that we had been cheated out of a few weeks here and there somehow.

2013 has been a funny old year. It provided us with a pretty decent summer with temperatures staying hot for a number of weeks and not just for a Friday morning like the dismal summer of 2012. Still, we Brits aren’t used to warm weather, as Andy Murray experienced in the Wimbledon Final when the roof was closed to ward off ‘evil sun glare’ and nearly put him off his game. In fact the highlight of the final for me was not just his historic victory, but seeing the nice but dull tennis star get a bit cross about the roof, that and Gerard Butler with Bradley Cooper decked out in pastels looking a bit tipsy in the crowd.

Miley Cyrus made an effort to make power tools more alluring and ‘treated’ us all to the introduction of twerking. I will admit to finding the whole tongue thing she does a bit offensive but can we really be so shocked by her actions at the MTV awards when the biggest selling song of the year was the worryingly titled song ‘Blurred Lines’ complete with a video featuring clothed men alongside fairly nude women and bizarrely a goat. The whole act between Robin Thicke looking like a predator in his Beetlejuice suit and Miss Cyrus looking like an awkward teenager acting sexy with a foam finger was just odd beyond words and I thought Billy Ray’s mullet was the worst thing to be associated with the name Cyrus.

The horse meat scandal was big news in 2013. You can read my versions of events at: https://anounceofmedotcom.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/make-mine-a-veggie-burger-please. But in short, the big shops all pretended to be shocked when somehow it was revealed that cheap meat products contained traces of Dobbin. Despite the fact that the meat in question was a multipack of burgers for £1.50, the British public were shocked that prime cuts of beef were not used in such products. I’m not a meat eater but my children and hubby are and I have always been a bit of a meat snob on their behalf. I grew up as a teenager with the threat of Mad Cows Disease lurking in our burgers and I have a strict vegetarian mother who allowed us to eat meat as long as the animal had been given a good quality of life, decided upon its choice of death and funeral preparations before making it to our plates. We are told that the scandal is behind us and that horse meat is no longer used, just make sure you read the labels carefully in future as a majority of our foods are pre-packaged in Europe where horse is openly on the menu. If the ingredients say ‘meat’ you might want to swerve it for a clearer definition.

There was a fair share of tragic news stories this year. The barbaric slaughter of Lee Rigby on the streets of London demonstrated extremes of human behaviour, from the bloodied sight of the slayers talking to passerbys while brandishing their weapons, to the heroic members of the public who either filmed the events from their phones or tried in vain to help and comfort the poor victim. Other appalling acts of terrorism were seen in Nariobi, Syria and Boston. And Kim Jong-un continued his reign of fear.

The Iron Lady Maggie Thatcher was treated to a state funeral raising questions of whether George Osborne could perhaps be a long-lost son as he blubbed through proceedings, more so than her actual family members. Opinions were divided over whether to feel a loss at her passing, some people heralded an exceptional leader while others enabled the song ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ to reach Number 2 in the charts. More recently, Nelson Mandela made his voyage to the world beyond. He was a legendary statesman with a catchy freedom song, the world mourned his loss and a fake sign language ‘expert’ showed poor taste while doing his own version of Agadoo at Mandela’s memorial.

There was two weeks of excruciating media coverage outside the doors of the baby hospital where Prince George was to be born, bored news crews filled air time with talk of what Kate would be wearing and if Wills would change a nappy when finally a flawless looking royal couple emerged with the privileged tot. Still, at least George is a traditional name for the royal offspring. Elsewhere in celeb land, there was a competition on for the silliest name for 2013 newborns. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their daughter North, Wayne and Colleen Rooney tested their spelling ability with the naming of their son Klay, but my particular favourite is Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet, whose new husband actually changed his name by deed poll from Abel Smith to Ned Rocknroll and named their son Bear.

Other not so hard-hitting news stories included Cheryl Coles bottom looking set to enter the Chelsea Flower Show next year with its extreme rose tattoo. Justin Bieber pretty much acting like a spoilt brat wherever he went from storming off stage in Brazil when a fan threw a water bottle at him, to showing bad taste with writing in the guest book at the Anne Frank’s museum in Holland that ‘hopefully she would have been a Beilieber’, he has since suggested he will retire at the grand old age of 19.

In my recap of 2012 I predicted that Tulisa would be glad to see the back of that year, in fact, she hasn’t had a great 2013 either. However, I think poor Nigella will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning at a hopeful new start to her new year. In 2013, we saw photographs of her husband appearing to strangle her outside a London restaurant, to her staff rifling through her handbag and outing her alleged drug use, it will be interesting to see if her soft focused cooking shows will see a return to our screens in 2014.

Who knows what 2014 will hold in store. Will Simon Cowell’s baby inherit his Lego hair? Will the England football team manage in the heat of the Brazil World Cup? Will Cheryl Cole have some sort of topiary tattooed across her face? All we can do is strap ourselves in and enjoy the ride. Happy New Year!

Tis the Season to be Jolly..Stressed

In the words of Noddy Holder… “Iiiiiiiit’s Christmas!!!”. Well in a few days it will be, but thanks to marketing mayhem it has been the run-up to Christmas for about a month now! I do like Christmas, I have three children so its hard not to get caught up in their excitement of it all and the impending Santa visit, but I also find it just a little exhausting, frustrating and overwhelming at times.

It seems that the shops are on steroids with their extended opening times that appear to be geared around the eve of an apocalypse rather than a day of celebration. My hubby was up and out at 7.30am this morning to do the food shop and still had to queue for over an hour to get into our normally quiet supermarket car park. Isn’t Christmas dinner just a glorified roast dinner? Why do we see this one day as the reason to eat a huge dinner, buying too much meat per family member along with extra food for leftovers in the evening as part of a buffet, we never eat this way any other time? We have eleven guests for Christmas dinner at our house, along with two dogs and I am really excited about it. I do think Christmas should be about family as it is the only time you can wedge your dining table into the living room and use garden furniture to sit on without it seeming weird.

Santa Chester - Sorry was unable to airbrush out the hands.

Santa Chester – Sorry for grainy quality but it was probably the most difficult picture I have ever taken, hence the poised hands after the 50th attempt of getting the hat on his head!

My three children have been in a state of high excitement for about three weeks now, writing their unachievable letters to Father Christmas on the basis that “the elves can make the toys so we can put expensive things such as computers and game consoles down”. I have tactfully looked at shopping websites with them steering their interest to more affordable toys that we can buy on behalf of the man in the red suit. Then it is the yearly dilemma of how to give the presents, which ones are from us and which are from Santa. This is a subject that I think should be covered in ante-natal classes as every parent seems to do it differently. Many parents will say all of the presents are from the big man which I worry will leave us parents looking a bit mean with grandparents arriving armed with toys and that we haven’t bothered. Me and hubby tend to do half and half, we give them a big present each from us and the rest of the achievable part of their lists comes from Santa, but this leaves us quite out-of-pocket having to buy extra.

I don’t wish to come across all Scrooge about it. I love how excited the kids are about the big event. My eldest appeared in two Christmas concerts at our local church and they felt very festive, even though it does make me feel like a bit of a hypocrite every year as I say hello to the local vicar aware that I’m only his house of worship for my own means and not as one of his congregation. This feeling of guilt and awkwardness extends through his opening sermon as I uncomfortably get into my prayer position and mumble Amen at the end of his prayer. As you can probably tell I’m not really religious, I have no objections to other churchgoers as I’m sure it can provide a source of comfort to many but I feel a bit too cynical to believe in a lot of the bible stories. I understand you do not have to take a lot of the stories literally but discover the true meaning behind the lavish storylines, but it all seems a bit too far-fetched a lot of the time. I mean wasn’t Joseph a little suspicious about the whole ‘the baby is the son of God’ story that Mary gave him. Did they even know who God was back then?

The twins also had their Nativity this week and this was a very traditional affair with my son playing a shepherd and my daughter playing the part of a door… well to be more precise she was an innkeeper but had a cardboard door she stood behind amongst other door holders and shook her head when Mary and Joseph came a knocking. She had been in character for days as she is a real method actor and the day prior was mute and would only answer us when we knocked on the ‘door’ first! The nativity was lovely and the minute the children sang their first word I was a mess, trying to stifle a sob and discreetly wipe my eyes unable to speak for fear of bawling. Joseph was a little stage shy and stomped off screaming after they had settled in the stable, leaving Mary a single mother clutching her plastic baby upside down by its feet. Still, as true professionals the children brought home the message of Christmas to a standing ovation, which was actually parents standing up and elbowing each other in a bid to achieve the best photograph they could of their little star. After the children had taken their applause, a couple of young chaps were introduced by our Headteacher as local Christians. The lads then asked that ‘J-dog’ and ‘the main dude’ should not be forgotten at Christmas. It was like witnessing a scene from The Book of Mormon as they ‘got down with the kids’ to try to entice their young impressionable interest into Christianity. As I cringed at their youthful approach to bible studies, I did feel that maybe I should feel a bit guilty, they were at least celebrating the alleged reason behind Christmas when all I wanted was to gloss past that bit and talk more about Santa to my kids. Christmas is more about Father Christmas then Jesus in our house even though both are perhaps mythical beings created in some sort of storybooks.

Our Kids Only decorated Christmas tree. We did have to help with the top half - the out of reach bit.

Our Kids Only decorated Christmas tree. We did have to help with the top half – the out of reach bit.

Whether you celebrate Christmas for ‘J-dog’s’ birthday, or for the sole purpose of having ‘Father Christmas’ deliver presents to your children, it does seem that we all lose the message of Christmas sometimes. Christmas means family to me, a time that we can all spend together, buy things to please each other and try to help others. However, it also means a massive earning potential for huge corporations, a career revival for Cliff Richard and a strong possibility of piling on unwanted weight, but where there’s a Ying, there’s a Yang I suppose. Merry Christmas everyone!

Our Eurovision Vacation

December is a bit of a crazy month in our household.  Apart from the main event with the big man in the red suit on the 25th, we also have my birthday on the 19th, our eldest sons birthday on the 24th and our wedding anniversary on the 1st.  It can prove to not only be a pricey couple of weeks, but also very limiting trying to squeeze in all the celebrations alongside various nativity plays, Xmas work drinks, etc, etc.  With my eldest son’s birthday celebrations now monopolising the nearest weekend before Xmas, I have had to become a bit tactical on the celebration of my birthday. Obviously, with my 30s dwindling before my very eyes I am happy to not make a big fuss, but I also like an excuse for a party or a big night out with friends.

A very dear friend of mine has a birthday on 27th November and we often share a night out to save on our money/time/liver damage and this year we decided to up the stakes in the planning process and organise a weekend away involving me and my hubby and him and his partner. We decided on a European city as the basis for our getaway but hadn’t bargained on how tricky it would be for us all to agree on where to go. Between the four of us, we had visited quite a few of the obvious places already and, of the remaining cities, we couldn’t agree on one in particular. So, my friend decided that the only fair way to agree on the destination would be to let the hands of fate decide, or more accurately we agreed that whichever country won the Eurovision Song Contest would be our destination of choice (providing Easyjet flew there from Stansted that is). After managing the first fifteen minutes of the excruitating and frankly bonkers Eurovision performances, we decided to learn of the winner the following day and Denmark were the victors! This meant that Copenhagen would be our birthday break away and was also a city that hadn’t been on any of our shortlists.

So last Friday, the four of us met in the VIP lounge of Stansted (one of our party is the main man when it comes to guest lists) to start our weekend of celebrations, as well as my self-medicating process of drowning out the fact that I would be getting on a plane shortly. With four adults and six months notice, you would think that we would have had an itinerary nailed for our weekend away, not so. We had managed to book our flights and had opted for renting an apartment rather than booking a hotel, but the only other research we had embarked on is emailing each other songs made famous by the stories of Hans Christian Anderson.  And with only 2 nights and 1 full day in the Danish capital we should have really made more of an effort to do some research.

We arrived early Friday evening and showed our apartment address to a cab driver who worryingly raised his eyebrows and then informed us it was opposite the cemetery where Hans Christian Anderson was buried! Thankfully the apartment was lovely, even if two of the beds were in the living room, but we would later discover that the type street it was on – the cemetery was the least of our worries. If you imagine a tourist visiting London and then mistakenly renting an apartment in a really dodgy housing estate which the guidebooks would name the ‘Latin Quarter with an urban and artistic feel to it’, then that is where we were staying. However, once we made it past the 20 or so kebab shops which were obviously a front for some sort of trafficking operation and talked ourselves out of entering some dodgy looking bars, we crossed the bridge and entered the nicer part of Copenhagen.

Our Local!!

Our Local!!

When we crossed the river and reached the less ‘urban’ side of Copenhagen, we were in for a treat. Stunning architecture, wide cobbled streets awash with cyclists outnumbering cars, multi-coloured houses adorning the canals and a plethora of quaint bars providing their customers with blankets so they can snuggle under the heated lamps outside and watch the world go by. After a mammoth walk trying to decipher our route through the identically named streets, we found a little Danish bar where the customers were literally spilling out of the door. So with my Scandinavian looking friend (even though he’s a Scouser) leading the way, we wedged ourselves inside to be engulfed by a wall of cigarette smoke and a noisy folk band of pensioners playing their very own Eurovision medley. We ordered some local beer from the barmen (who were also smoking) and stood at various angles in available gaps to watch the band. An elderly gentleman who was sat beside my spot started putting some metal caps on the ends of his fingers, he didn’t strike me as a violent type but when he started to undo his jacket I did feel slightly uneasy. Thankfully, his unbuttoned jacket revealed a metal washboard which he began to play with his metal capped fingers to many whoops from the crowds including us and mainly me from a sense of relief. Next thing, a lady shouted a request from underneath my friends elbow and the band started a rendition of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, to which the whole pub joined in. With the dark smoky interior, the ageing clientele and the rousing war songs, I felt like a member of the resistance in war-torn Europe.

Hans and our iron

Hans and our iron

The following day was our sightseeing day. We woke at 9.30am (a lie in on a Saturday is such an unusual experience) and made our plan for heading out to see what daytime Copenhagen could offer us. After eating our bodyweight in Danish pastries at the local patisserie, our first port of call wasn’t on the usual tourist route, my friend needed an iron for his outfit that night and so treated himself to one in a local hardware/pawn shop (this was in our part of town). The iron then become the focal point for the rest of the day and wherever we went, the iron was photographed there first. It did encourage some weird looks but kept us four amused!

Copenhagen is a beautiful city and the Danes, despite their lofty height and need for beards (men and women), are a friendly bunch. We walked miles around the city, checked out the Royal Palace (not a patch on Buck House) and washed our Smörgåsbord’s down with plenty of Glögg. We ended the day in the magical Tivoli Gardens, a 19th Century amusement park which has been updated with Alton Towers style rides but still holds the charm of an old-fashioned fairground. The whole place was decked with a billion fairy lights, their Santa’s grotto entrance was via a field of real reindeer with not a string held beard in sight. We did feel a little guilty that we were there without the kids as we were entertained to a Disney style fountain display and queued up for rides. As the park started to close and we completed four loops on the ‘Demon’ rollercoaster, our intentions of going clubbing after were replaced with a couple of beers at a local bar instead.

On Sunday, we headed back to Blighty, feeling refreshed and a little bit more cultured about another part of Europe. We have decided to make this an annual event, to afford us a break from the kids and to learn a little history about another country (and sample their beer and food as well). I will await the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 with anticipation and hope the winning country is as successful a destination as Copenhagen was.

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

This morning I was held to ransom by my 6-year-old daughter.  It was one of those parenting moments when you have to breathe deeply and keep calm (good witch) but what you really want to do is holler obscenities into a cushion as you are feeling infuriated by the stubbornness of the angelic child in front of you (bad witch).

Let me explain what left me feeling this way today. You see, my daughter is ill A LOT, this is due to her abnormally large tonsils and oversized adenoids and constant glue ear condition. In short, she suffers with a LOT of colds and is constantly congested, particularly at night time when her snoring could rival most men after a boozy evening. It is horrid for her and upsetting for us as powerless parents . We have attended numerous hospital/doctors appointments, ever since she was a baby, to try to resolve the issue but have been told to ‘wait for her to grow into them’. Seriously, her tonsils are bigger than mine and unless she is going to morph into a bullfrog I can’t see how that would be possible!

However, this year there has been progress, mainly due to a new GP who was my last-ditch attempt to convince to finally rid my daughter of these pesky tonsils. He was reluctant at first but felt sorry (possibly scared) with my pleading for a permanent solution. So we were referred (again) to the ear nose and throat consultant and this time I was planning on coming over all suffragette and handcuffing myself to his office furniture if he told me to ‘let her grow into them’ again. My little girl was present and as I for the hundredth time explained her symptoms, talking in a muffled nasal tone so she wouldn’t be worried, he responded with a worryingly graphic and loud description of removing said tonsils and adenoids, along with ‘pinpricking and bursting the eardrums to insert grommets’. Our little girl stared wide-eyed at him as he continued his speech, oblivious to the trauma he was causing her and the endless questions we would endure after.

It was a weird moment of elation of finally being told that there would be an end to my daughters suffering along with the realisation that my little girl would actually be put through surgery. I started thanking him then started panicking, quizzing him if her allergy to mosquito bites would mean she would be allergic to anaesthetic as well, suddenly feeling the need to check  his qualifications if he was going to be taking a scalpel to my precious child. Hubby sensing my concern thanked the consultant and ushered me out of his office.

That was a month ago and my little girl is now off school with yet another cold. I called the consultants assistant this morning to chase the surgery and was told ‘we are waiting for authorisation’. I said ‘OK no problem, I hereby authorise you to book the surgery’.  But no she meant the hospital’s authorisation, isn’t that what the consultation was for? Is there a further masonic type authorisation ceremony that needs to take place? She said she would take a note of my daughter’s name and ‘chase it up’.

However, there is a further problem, the matter of knowing when your child is ill or just pulling a sicky? See my daughter knows she suffers with a LOT of colds, she is a twin and has a lifelong gauge in which to measure herself against, but she also knows what symptoms to give in order to wangle a day off school. She has the makings of a future Ferris Bueller who famously licked his palms to give the effect of clammy hands when faking a fever. Currently, if she throws the ‘I feel sick’ curve ball my way I am sold, I can’t possibly send a vomiting child into school, ‘poorly belly’ is another, what parent can allow a child to be stuck on a school toilet with an upset stomach. These are the kryptonite of illness excuses. With the ‘my throat is sore, nose is blocked, I have a headache’ range of excuses, I can counteract these with ‘you need to eat more fruit/veg/dinner, go to bed on time, get more sleep,’ offering me a chance to lecture on other issues that are outstanding.

Yesterday morning, she had a high temperature, she complained of a sore throat and as her tonsils are in a permanent state of ‘raging’ I agreed she could have the day off.  This morning, she upped the ante and it became a virtual poker game. School mornings are a limited time zone so negotiations have to be quick and carefully thought out. She put in the sore throat, I raised her a fruit juice to help it, she took the fruit juice and put in a ‘I feel sick’. I took on board her ‘feeling sick’ and raised her ‘you went to bed late so its tiredness nausea’, she took on board (ignored) that suggestion and begged for the sick bowl. I was beaten. She dealt a convincing hand and I can’t ignore the sick bowl. We dropped her brothers at school, came home and within 37 minutes she was fine again practically doing cartwheels around the lounge.

Time to Drop Kick my Confidence

I’m not normally an indecisive person.  In fact, amongst my friends, I am usually the spontaneous one, suggesting nights out/weekends away/themed parties.  But for some reason, when an event arises which is solely for my purpose, I will often happily drag my feet and make up a plethora of excuses not to do it.

A perfect example of my ‘folding washing instead of doing something more creative’ current trend of thinking is the upcoming bloggers event Blogfest, organised by Mumsnet.  For any readers who are not aware of this event, despite the use of ‘fest’ in the title it isn’t in a field, I won’t have to wear wellies or use a chemical toilet, unless I want to of course. I attended Blogfest last year on its launch and it was a fantastic day, full of interesting speakers from Caitlin Moran to Prof. Tanya Byron and many more, all there to lend advice or opinion on the world of blogging.  When the email pinged up in my inbox recently suggesting I book my ticket for this years event, I scan read it (it’s an awful habit of mine) and moved onto something else. But, I kept having that nagging feeling that I was missing out on something.

Don’t get me wrong,  I am fairly ambitious in what I do or I wouldn’t be a blogger at all. Earlier this year I attended an intensive writing course on how to write my first novel, unfortunately the said novel is also filed in the ‘dragging my feet’ pile of things to do for myself.  I have told friends and family that I have lots of ideas and that I’m making lots of notes, what I’m actually thinking is I need to rent a cottage in a remote setting where my creative juices will flow in an inspirational environment, these things can’t be rushed!

But the Blogfest email was still burning a hole in my inbox and I needed to make a decision. I glanced back on my musings of last years fest in my post Bloggers Day Out and realised that actually I did enjoy myself. I do remember worrying too much about what to wear on the morning of the event, faced with a room full of fellow bloggers many of whom are very successful in their blogging and not just writing for their friends, family and bizarrely a few followers in Brazil like me. I guessed I should look a little literary, bit trendy, not Mumsy and definitely not ‘trying too hard’. I was fairy satisfied I looked more Lois Lane then Marge Simpson by the end of my wardrobe evacuation and trotted (bad choice of heeled boots) to Millbank for the event. I had also selected a pretty handbag which was completely impractical, as even though it looked like a satchel it didn’t actually fit much in it or could I fit the straps over my shoulder so had to hoop it over my arm a bit like Her Madge.  On arrival at the venue, The Guardian with a zillion supplements was thrust in my direction as the first freebie of the day. (Note to self – politely decline newspaper this year, not necessary to have it, will not use/read it at any point and cannot dump it anywhere).

I think my indecision stems from that new kid at school feeling I sometimes get in a room full of strangers. Last year, after I had finished wrestling with my Guardian newspaper and entered the room full of bloggers who were quietly sipping their complimentary coffee, I couldn’t help feeling that everyone knew each other. I tried to smile at a few people, whilst pretending that I was looking for someone in a bid to feel less conspicuous. I grabbed a coffee and croissant which I literally had to balance on my bag and hoped that someone would approach me but alas no-one did. I tried my Bridget Jones tactic of sidling up to a conversation in full flow and laughing along until I was included but then wimped out and headed for the loo’s instead. The day improved and I ended up making friends with a lovely blogger and author of http://survivingteenagers.co.uk/ who was as much a fish out of water as I was.

I must remember how much I really enjoyed Blogfest last year and what useful information I gained, although I still have lots to learn this year.  Most importantly, I really desperately need to understand what the heck SEO is all about and how to achieve more ‘traffic’.  I also really want to hear the very funny Viv Groskop (at blog session – In it for the LOLZ: writing funnier stuff), as well as Jack Monroe (at blog session – in Shaping the debate: how blogging and social media can change our world), and attempting to slightly stalk the superb author of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver.

So, as an early Crimbo present, my endlessly supportive parents have bought me a Willy Wonka style ticket. And now I am quite excited really.  I am determined to make the most of this years event and I have a uber talented writer friend who is the blogger author of http://kidsgowild.wordpress.com/ attending so at least I won’t be completely Billy No Mates again.

Stuck In Reverse

I am in a bit of a slump at the moment.  Slump… such an odd word but the only word to pretty much sum up my physical and emotional mode for the last few days.  Nothing bad has happened thankfully, other than the fact I have been struck down with a nasty bug and that I have the usual stresses and strains of a busy Mum of 3, but I also seem to have an added problem of feeling a bit ‘Meh’ about everything too.

I am aware that I don’t really have cause to complain. Many people are dealing with a bucket load of agro in their daily lives from serious illnesses to serious debt and I am thankful for all that I have but, on occasion, I also just want to adopt an Ebenezer Scrooge persona and grumble about nothing in particular as well.

I have always been an optimistic person, am always blessed as a shoulder to cry on for many friends as I am told I have a knack for cheering them up, but at the moment I would give Jack Dee a run for the morose crown!

And when I find myself in a slump, gone is my carefree abandoned nature and in return is a paranoid guilt fest of emotions. My reflection in the mirror is met with a tut while I try to fluff up my hair or study my increasing worry lines, I start a myriad of housework duties only to find that whatever I achieve (ironing, dusting, mopping) needs re-doing or goes unnoticed after a day which then leads to frustration.

My work/life balance feels strained at both ends, the benefit of working from home is that I can choose my own hours but when my time is not governed by me, i.e. school runs, afterschool clubs, dog walks, chores, etc., versus deadlines for work, then I find my working day seeping into my evening and weekends and limiting the quality time I spend with my family.

My joie de vivre was seriously depleted yesterday evening so my parents kindly covered the school run so I could take to my sick bed. On their return, I kept them hostage as I felt incapable of parenting solo and/or being a lone adult, something that doesn’t normally bother me. After the kids had gone to bed and I released my parents back into the wild, with hubby on late shifts this week, I found myself alone again. Desperate not to shuffle back into my melancholy mood, I remembered a tactic from during the postnatal/early stages of my parenting days. When I used to feel hormonally challenged and endlessly exhausted it was sometimes impossible to find my inner Mary Poppins, so what I used to do was creep into the kids bedrooms and watch them while they slept. To watch your sleeping baby is a fantastic quick fix on helping you feel that you have achieved something remarkable in the world, to create something so beautiful, you feel forced to buck up your ideas and take notice of your achievements.

So, last night instead of demolishing the kids ice lollies in a bid to satisfy my comfort eating, I crept into youngest son’s bed and watched him snooze, immediately evoking goosebumps on my arms. And although I felt dreadful in myself, I was awash with emotion. It helped me remember how clever I was to make this little man along with his twin sister and big brother.

My parents have the twins tonight straight from school and my eldest son is out on a play date, while hubby is at work. This meant that I could have a whole day to rest and relax, get better and have some me time. And I have done this and I am thankful, but do you know what? It’s so quiet in my house. The peace and quiet and the ‘mini-break’ from my daily toil that I crave all seems a bit bland now. I am actually longing for a return of the chaos, for my three children to be talking over each other and creating a tsunami of toys in my lounge. I was wrong, my slump isn’t being helped by starving myself of the craziness but from pushing the craziness away. I need to be jumped on by the children, become tangled in their little limbs while their eager eyes bore into mine as they excitedly tell me about their day, I even miss my eldest son talking constantly about football or asking me every 15 minutes if he can have a snack.

Without my hubby and kids today, it has left me and my only company, my Labrador Chester, feeling a little bit lost. So I have decided to shrug off my slump, to stop worrying about the little things, the housework, the lack of time in the day. No more moaning about the trivial stuff, but instead count my blessings and appreciate my little realm and the people that live within it. Time to get on with my lucky life and put a search party out for my inner optimist and in turn I will leave you with the words of a true optimist, Mr Ferris Bueller:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

An App For Your Appetite

I have lots of cookery books adorning my kitchen shelf. Actually, to be more accurate, I have lots of dusty ignored cookery books sitting neglected at the back of my kitchen shelf. They have an airing on occasion when I am feeling ambitious about following a recipe. This results in my cookery book being plastered with double cream, while I stress out realising I forgot to blanch my tomatoes, that I haven’t any fresh tarragon and then give up on the whole idea.

In fact, after purchasing a cookbook I flick through to see all of the lovely ideas, only to realise my ‘cupboard staples’ are looking a bit pathetic. And Mr Jamie Oliver, as much as I admire your cheeky chappie enthusiasm for cooking, I would like to talk about your 15 minute recipes, I haven’t manage to cook one within an hour yet!

Then there is the matter of pleasing your dinner guests. I am a sort-of vegetarian, I eat fish and wear leather (obviously other types of material too!) , one of my friends doesn’t eat carbs, another friend is gluten intolerant and most are often on some kind of fat-free, sugar-free, impossible to cater for kind of diet. So, if I am to embark on a dinner party my cook books do not tend to please my crowd.

So, it was with great pleasure that I discovered that a hugely talented chef friend of mine, Laura Pope, is launching an app for the iPad with lots of healthy, easy to follow and gluten-free recipes. No more trying to balance my cook book on the top of the bread bin while I lose my place, but instead I can upload a recipe from the app and take it grocery shopping with me.

The  app, Gluten Free Me, launched this month with a follow-up iPad app scheduled for December in order to satisfy the in-laws over the festive period. The recipes are simple to prepare and full of fresh flavours and nutritious ingredients. None of the recipes contain wheat, the only two with gluten use spelt instead of wheat, how many of you are now googling spelt, its OK I had to as well. Many of the sumptuous recipes are unbelievably dairy-free, sugar-free and therefore guilt free! The app is free to download and there are eight free recipes available, with four further albums of paid-for recipes.

As a taster, Laura kindly provided me with one of her yummy dinner ideas which has given me a reason to actually use the quinoa I purchased a month ago from Holland & Barrett for a recipe that I gave up on and it has since lived unloved in the back of my cupboard. I found this recipe really easy to do and honestly gorgeous to eat, resulting in my toddler type behaviour of ‘not sharing’ once it was finished.

So go download it, give it bash and as Mr Oliver would say its ‘pukka-tukka’!

Yum yum!

Yum yum!

Griddled summer vegetables with herby quinoa 
� Laura Pope 2013
A super-healthy accompaniment to your meal or a main course in itself. Go for lovely seasonal veggies and a LOT of herbs for your quinoa.
Quinoa is a fantastic food – a ‘super food’, in fact, containing all eight essential amino acids and loads of vitamins and minerals. Also, being a seed rather than a grain, it is a great source of protein and is naturally gluten-free. All the herbs make it super-delicious – the greener, the better! Cooking your veg in a dry griddle pan (no oil) gives a far better result and you don’t smoke out your kitchen in the process – by tossing them in the oil, vinegar and seasoning after they’ve cooked, they marinate and take on the flavours beautifully. Serves 6.
Ingredients:
Veggies:
  • 2 red peppers, seeds and stalks removed, cut into eights
  • 2 courgettes, cut in half horizontally and then lengthways into 1cm (��) slices
  • 1 medium aubergine, cut horizontally into 1cm (��) slices
  • Good glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • Your favourite vinegar – I love fig balsamic or a nice sherry vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)
Quinoa:
  • 200g (7 oz) quinoa
  • 100g (3� oz) rocket and soft green herbs (flat-leaf parsley, chervil, tarragon, basil, mint, coriander�)
  • I red, medium chilli (optional), deseeded and finely sliced
  • Glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preparation Steps:
Cook the quinoa following the pack instructions, then drain and rinse under cold water. Drain again.
Chop the herbs and rocket roughly and mix through the cooled quinoa with the olive oil and chilli (if using) – season with salt and pepper.
In a large heat-proof bowl, mix together the oil and vinegar to get the right balance of acidity, add the garlic, if using, then season with salt and pepper.
Heat a griddle pan up really high – this can take 5 minutes – and then start to cook your veggies in batches until you get distinct griddle marks on each side. In my experience, the peppers take the longest. As each batch cooks, tip the veggies into the oil and vinegar and toss well.
Once all the veggies are cooked, leave them to marinade in the oil and vinegar for up to half an hour, then arrange on a platter with the quinoa to serve.