Quick Style Fixes for Busy Mums

It's not vanity. It's self-respect.

Old haunts – good for the soul.

What I didn’t realise about motherhood, until it happened to me, was how many cogs I had to adjust in my brain. I couldn’t just put myself first – there was a small, sometimes shouty prawn that told me she was more important.

This meant I had to wave goodbye to some aspects of my old life. The problem, though, with sacrificing things – my job,  lie-ins, instant gratification, a decent pelvic floor – is getting carried away.

I made so many adjustments and sacrifices I forgot I didn’t have to lose everything from my old life.

Am I the only one? Do we only think we’re good mums if we constantly toss our loves, pastimes and hobbies on the sacrificial flames of parenthood?

It’s early days, but I’ve found myself going back to old haunts and old interests recently and finding the whole thing really UPLIFTING. I’d even go so far as to say it’s felt SPIRITUALLY CLEANSING. I feel stronger. 

Here are some things I’ve rediscovered over the last month or two:

  1. The pub in my old hometown. A lunchtime drink and a walk by the canal. Amazing.

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  1. Messing around on the Clifton Downs. I used to come here all the time when I’d just moved to Bristol, marvelling that I’d swapped this:Commuters in LondonFor this:

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But after I moved to South Bristol and got married and had a kid, I stopped going, I have no idea why. It was one of those mental barriers that needed to come crashing down. Anyway I recently took P. and bought us both an ice-cream, and after I’d taught her how delicious the chocolate cones were, she left me alone to read a section of my newspaper in peace! It had been at least three years since I’d spent an afternoon here and I couldn’t believe I’d left it so long. Definitely one of my spiritual homes and I’m glad I reconnected.

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  1. Spending a few hours in Bristol Central Library. This is one of those places I used to spend hours in. Recently, I read about a series of events about writing being held in the library, and managed to go along to one of the sessions one sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago. I hadn’t been in for years, having stuck to my local, much smaller library, but as soon as I walked in it felt amazing. And I spotted this little post-it note on the wall:

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  1. Cycling the Bristol Bath cycle path. This place meant a lot to me when I first moved to Bristol, and I would try to cycle along it at least every couple of months. Hadn’t been back for about 5 years and as soon as I got on my bike I started grinning like a fool and didn’t stop, not even when I swallowed a bug. Look at this view!

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I know it’s really, laughingly simple. Pubs, libraries, bit of grass, and cycling. Like I said, it’s early days, but I feel inspired.

Partly I think it’s just time – now P. is two years old, things are much easier in terms of where I can take her and how portable she is. But I can’t wait to try out other stuff and adventures on a domestic scale that I’d felt were out of my reach before.

What’s your experiences of visiting old haunts since you’ve become a mum? Do things feel just the same, better, or worse? Where would you love to go again if you could?

 

On time and kids, helicopters and biscuits.

 

In honour of Child Centre Awareness Week. This post originally appeared on the Relationship Scotland website.

My daughter was born in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, two years ago. After lots of shouting and screaming – mostly at my husband – a solemn naked baby was placed in my arms.

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I looked down at her, and she looked up at me, and there was an immediate, almost telepathic bond. I knew what she was thinking as clearly as if she’d said it. And so our first serious chat went like this:

“Mum – we’ll be spending a lot of time with each other over the next few years. Can we have one rule?”

“I’m not even sure what my name is anymore, but I’ll promise you anything, beautiful child.”

“Promise me that we’ll never, ever, go to a darkened, windowless warehouse that calls itself a soft play installation. We’re better than that.”

It took two years for me to realise she was right.

Why? I loved her, but the day-to-day grind of early motherhood was hard. I didn’t have post-natal depression, but I did have post-natal crapness which basically involves –  feeling a bit crap.

That meant I didn’t place much value on my companionship. I didn’t think I was ‘enough’ for my child. I thought she’d be bored with me.

‘SHE NEEDS MORE STIMULATION THAN I CAN EVER GIVE HER,’ was the cry that ran through the sleep-deprived sponge in my skull (formerly an adequate brain.)

 So to compensate for my perceived failings, I took her out. A lot. There wasn’t a playgroup, coffee morning, baby group, music session, swim class or library rhyme time we didn’t go to. If there had been lessons for baking gluten-free cupcakes while flying around the Himalayans in a helicopter singing ‘If you’re happy and you know it,’ we’d have been first in line.

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And yes – I broke my promise. I took her to darkened warehouses calling themselves soft play centres and watched her look in confusion at a broken toy and then at me, as if to say: ‘Erm – I know you were on gas and air, but technically you were of sound mind when we had that chat.’

Luckily, things changed. Around the time of her first birthday, I became more confident. Confidence is a wonderful liberator and, in my case, helped me make my own decisions about how we’d spend time together.

We made loafs of bread that looked like huge brains. We made cakes that looked more appetising. We ate the cakes and gave the bread to our confused neighbours.

We made houses out of Lego, while I did some subtle feminist coaching. “Let’s put the man in the kitchen, while the woman goes out for a ride on her zebra.”

We went to the garden centre, bought some cheap daffodils, and my daughter proudly soaked them with her yellow watering can. We bought some sunflower seeds and chucked them haphazardly at our frozen mud, and called it gardening.

We played a game I invented, called ‘hungry legs’, which basically involves trapping your child between your knees and shouting ‘HUNGRY LEGS’ repeatedly, while pretending your legs are eating your child.  (You kind of have to be there.)

We spent time with good friends. We limited the number of playgroups we went to, and learnt which were good. (This may or may not be influenced by the biscuits on offer.)

We also made a lot of mistakes. We had painting sessions which ended in tears (mostly mine.) I’d spend entire afternoons watching her refuse to share her toys with friends we’d invited over. That was always fun.

But all these experiences, good and bad, helped me develop my own guidelines about how to spend time with a child. Please feel free to pick and choose.

1)    Spending time with children is different to spending on children.

2)    Therefore, being with kids should not be expensive. Be a skinflint.

3)    As a rule of thumb, time with children is best when it involves food, drink, mud, muck, and some sort of sing-a-long. This rule can also be applied to time spent with adults, or time spent in the world.

4)    Spending time with children is brilliant when done with other people, but can be life-changing when done by yourself.

5)    There will be days when it all goes a bit wrong and you find yourself counting down the hours to bedtime. These are essential as they make the good days even better.

6)    Spending time with children doesn’t mean you have to ‘entertain’ them all the time. Just being out in the real world is good enough. Let them make their own entertainment. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: ‘Give them the tools and let them do some bloody work for a change.’

7)    If it comes wrapped in plastic, it’s not time. If it’s got the word ‘Adventure’ in the title, it probably isn’t one. My daughter has often got more enjoyment pretending a tea-towel is a hat.

8)    Rewarding yourself for time well-spent is essential. You have done an excellent job. No-one else may have seen it happen, but you have made a child happy. You are a legend. Treat yourself accordingly.

9)    Most importantly – make up your own rules. Only you know what makes you both happy. Just don’t be afraid to try.

10)  The more time you spend together, the easier it will be to decide what to do. (Or not do. Not doing is also important.)

And that’s my model of parenthood. Just ‘be’ with your kids, don’t worry about getting it wrong, and make it as uncommercial as possible. When it works, you’ll experience glorious moments of love for them, like secret fireworks going off in your chest.

As for me, my post-natal crapness disappeared. Kids may occasionally be snotty rat bags, but they’re also sweet and generous, and they know how to make one of the most important things in life happen. Because, as most of you will have discovered, spending time with your children teaches you to love yourself.

So here’s to the seconds, minutes, hours, months, years and decades ahead. Here’s to time and the wonderful harvest it brings.  I wish you all plenty of it.

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Relationship Scotland supports adults, families and parents experiencing relationship difficulties. If you’re based in Scotland and need support please pay them a visit. You can read my original post on their site.

 

Out & Wonderful and being a bit sick in .. The New Forest

When my in-laws offered to look after our daughter for a few days so B. and I could sleep for two days spend time together, we tried not to look too eager as we said: “When?”

They live in Hampshire so we opted to spend some time in the nearby New Forest. Have you ever been? It’s like a fairy-tale grew legs, looked around, and said: “This will do.”

Brockenhurst

Trees shrouded in mist? Yep.

Chocolate-box cottages lying languidly around, wearing nothing but daffodils? Affirmative.

Cute ponies? Tick.

Whole swathes of wood to yourself? Yessir.

Spending a romantic night in your B&B, wearing a Calvin Klein slip, and puking? Oh…

It started well. Our break began with a boozy lunch at The Jetty in Mudeford, Christchurch.

We had complimentary glasses of Prosecco, oysters, chablis and a buttery, succulent lemon sole. Pudding was a white chocolate tiramisu with cappuccino ice-cream.

I looked out onto the Solent, breathed in the nappy-free air, undid the top button of my trousers, and sighed with happiness and indigestion.

After checking into our B&B, I had a nap and read a magazine. Then we went for a walk. That was a pretty good way to see in an afternoon. The next day we had a three hour walk, another staggeringly yummy lunch, (so good, we decided to sack off walking home, and sent for a taxi! The decadence!)

Everything was lovely until around midnight on our last night. I got up, staggered to the bathroom, and proceeded to circle the toilet like a rabid dog. My husband has never heard me being sick before, and he was in for a shock.

“You’re so dramatic,” he chided. Until it was his turn.

So we spent our second and final night on our first weekend away in 12 months, caressing the big ceramic loo in our en-suite.  Maybe it was the oysters. Maybe it was all the rich food we’d had over the last two days.

Maybe our bodies had gone into shock from one lie-in and 48 hours of no parental responsibility. Yeah, that will be it.

Either way, I’d do it all again. The New Forest is lush, practically empty, and full of ponies. And our land-lady told us that if we came back in November, we’d see “pigs being chased by ponies. It really is quite a wonderful sight.”

Well, for that reason alone, I’m already canvassing my parents.

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We stayed at the Cottage Lodge in Brockenhurst. We ate almost everywhere, but my favourite place, apart from The Jetty (oysters apart) was The Oak in Lyndhurst.

Let’s have a recap.

So, in January, I rashly made the decision to not buy any clothes all year. I also made other resolutions, like perfecting my tumble-turn and eating more fish.

How did I do? Well, there’s good news and bad news, people.

In the bad news corner – I’m not going to lie to you. I bought clothes. So basically, I violated all my self-imposed rules.

*Hangs head in shame*

On a brighter note, though, I have become more thoughtful about what I buy, and better at PUTTING THINGS BACK ON RAILS and giving myself a stern talking to. A jumper from Monsoon went back, as did a beautiful dress from New Look which I found in my local chaz shop.

And 90% of the time, I have refrained from purchasing. But once in a while the weather, or my need to get dressed, got the better of me.

So in total I’ve bought one thermal top and a pair of snowboots (both on sale, both bought in January when it snowed.)

In March, I couldn’t resist Warehouse’s Lurex Tweed jacket, £46, and knew it would be perfect for meetings and interviews. You have to speculate to accumulate, I practically shouted to my crumbling resolutions as I whisked it off to the till. Here it is online:

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Here it is on me:

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I’ve bought one piddling little H&M top from my local charity shop for £3.50.

so in total, that’s four items, over 12 WEEKS. That’s good, for me.

How have I got on with my other resolutions?

Let’s have a think:-

. I will find another hairstyle to add to my repertoire of ‘up’ and ‘down’. BIG FAIL.

2. I will perfect a tumble-turn. SUCCEEDED! I now find swimming the ‘boring bit’ between tumble-turns, that’s how much I love them.

3. Oh yes – bread. I will make bread. I MADE BREAD ONCE OR TWICE, THEN MY HUSBAND GOT INVOLVED, AND HE HAS BECOME OUR RESIDENT BREAD MAKER. THIS IS A HUGE WIN.

5. Speaking of food – I will eat more fish. FAIL. It’s all about cheese, bread, and pulses.

6. I will find a few more musicals to add to my collection. SUCCESS! ‘BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS’ AND ‘SINGING IN THE RAIN’.

7. I will wean myself off cheap hair dye kits. I can’t even talk about my hair. It’s like a neglected plant.

But it has been a good few months. Husband got a new job, P. started walking, and I discovered sweet-peas. Blog-wise, it was all about Alain Gree, Julie Goodyear, Whistles, and the wonderful ladies of Advanced Style. I made friends with some great bloggers – Kat, Hayley, and SJ, whose blogs are all brilliant. I also discovered Eeeh Bah Mum and Not Dressed as Lamb.

Why not pay them a visit and say hello?

How about you? What have been your highlights of the first quarter of 2013? Best bits so far, in a nutshell? Tell. 

Heavenly Trousers

I love going home because there’ll always be a WAD of style supplements by the bed, saved for me by my gorgeous mum.

After flicking through them yesterday, a few things stood out.

White is everywhere. Monochrome is everywhere. Jacquard is everywhere. And this spring, everyone’s talking about the ‘wowser trouser’.

Here are a few to start us off, all from Asos, because they are brilliant and I am tired. 

Asos monochrome check, £45:

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Asos Geo Tile Print trousers, £35

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Micro Geo trousers, £30:

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Whistles Fluoro Jacquard Trousers, £125:

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Asos have styled them brilliantly – simple and wearable for the everyday, and worn with plain black or white on the top half.

Admittedly, they’ve been sexed up here with heels, but if you want something a bit more casual, I’d go for a REALLY plain black flat:

Like these from Dune, £55:

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Or these lovely ones, £25:liberty I am now obsessed with Asos.

What are you lusting over for Spring?

My love-in with Easter, Part Deux

It’s Good Friday, and so far my day has involved coffee, cake, and watching ‘Room on the Broom’. We are at my parents for the holiday, which means industrial strength G&Ts later, and I’ve just had a nap.

I shall now call it Brilliant Friday, boom boom!

My obsession with Easter continues over at Kat Got the Cream’s blog, where you can find me writing about how a DIY Easter wreath kept my whole family entertained.

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Have a fab weekend, xx

Why Easter totally kicks Christmas’ butt. And pretty clothes.

Easter is my new favourite Holiday. I can’t believe it’s taken me 35 years to fully appreciate it.

It’s got all the good stuff – chocolates, rabbits, daffodils, two days off. And none of the bad stuff, like hyperventilating in Debenhams on Christmas Eve.

It’s easy to celebrate with a 2 year old, and it doesn’t have to  be expensive. Here are some things we’ve been up to:

MAKING CHOCOLATE CRISPIE CAKES.

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Man, these are fine. They take minutes to make, and even very young children will love stirring and spooning the mixture into paper cases. P. concentrated very hard on patting the cornflakes tightly into them, which made me feel like an AMAZING PARENT as I was encouraging her MANUAL DEXTERITY & CONCENTRATION. We had so many left over we gave a massive box to her childminder this morning. *pats self on head*

The health benefits are also manifold, because dark chocolate, as everyone knows, is good for everything, and cornflakes are enriched with Vitamin B, which is good for flagging energy. Oh I’m sorry – I’ve finished the lot. Total cost: about £4.00 Time: An hour – making and scoffing

BUYING GREAT STUFF IN CHARITY SHOPS

Like these decorative eggs, £1.00 for both. I know – criminal.

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They sit, somewhat reluctantly, next to P.’s mad home-made egg.

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And this flowery table-cloth for £2.75:

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Which ordinarily B. would never allow in the house. Luckily he is as desperate for sunshine and flowers as the rest of us, so I’ve exploited his temporary weakness and we now even have breakfast on it. It feels like eating in a meadow:

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Total cost of charity shop bargains: under a £5.

GETTING OBSESSED WITH SWEET-PEAS

I have thought about planting sweet-peas for years, but somehow never got round to it. Then, thanks to issue 7 of The Simple Things, which has SIX PAGES OF TANTALISING SWEETPEAS – and becoming a mother, and ‘between jobs’ – I just went right on and did it.

I now have four little teepees in the back garden:

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The kitchen windowsill has become a temporary incubation site:

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And in the summer, my house is going to be full of jam jars of the stuff. (Photo: The Simple Things.)

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Total cost: £15 – £20 to enjoy all summer.

Finally – if you’re in Bristol this weekend, you should go to the Chocolate Festival. It takes place over Saturday and Sunday, ENTRY IS FREE and there will be chocolate smeared over EVERYTHING. You can see pictures from previous events here.

If it was remotely warm, I would be wearing this Collins Avenue dress, £39.95, which would look fab with boots and tights.

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But as it is, I’m lusting after my favourite ‘mad 80s’ jumper from Therapy which I have already tried on and it looked great. Reduced to £17.50, I’m desperately trying to think of excuses to get it. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a job in children’s telly?

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As well as this stunning Ted Baker coat, which I spotted in House of Fraser. Gorgeous, no?

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A quick look online reveals it’s ‘only’ £229, so I may just admire from afar with a pained expression.

I just love it. One more glance? Go on then.

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Can I live in your world, Alain Gree?

Imagine a world where there is no thuggery or evil. No computers, no trolls, no worrying about bills, no bad stuff at all.

Now imagine a lot of cute animals – with French names. I said cute animals with French names. 

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Think about beautiful flowers, woods, beaches, farms and valleys, where the sun always shines, and ruddy-cheeked people do good things, like pick apples. Or just have a wholesome dance, holding hands.

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Hey presto. You have the world of Alain Gree.

Who is he? He’s a French illustrator. You can read about him here.

His is a world where elves roam in cute hats, watched over by owls, on their merry way to some sort of magical tree with a door. And look at those trees! Did you ever see a tree as beautiful as that in real life? No. You haven’t.

(Now I understand why people felt depressed after watching Avatar. This is my Avatar moment.)

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HOOKED?

You can watch this sweet You tube video – it’s only 5 minutes long – as he draws a boy and his pet turtle in a field. The video is set to classical music. After watching it, I felt amazing, like I’d been spiritually cleansed a little bit, and patted on my head by a kindly grandfather. You will too. That’s just the Alain Gree effect.

You can buy lovely posters from Anorak, such as this ‘Happy House’ print:

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Or you can just skip straight to the holding a Gree book in your hand sensation.

I bought mine from Blackwells, (IN YOUR BIG FAT CORPORATE FACE, AMAZON) and here they have a nice big range of Alain Gree titles. (Some of which sadly seem to be out of print – but there’s enough to be getting on with.)

I would start off with ‘My First Book of Animals’, which is £4.99:

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And then take it from there. These books are an absolute joy and you will love sharing them with the children in your life. I don’t know what’s in your head, Alain Gree, but I bet it’s nice to live there.

 

Image sources: Anorak Magazine and Blackwells, this lovely blog, and this one too. 

Are you a lady? And what I wore.

Have you heard of Rachel Johnson? She’s a Sunday Mail columnist, ex-editor of ‘The Lady, woman with family in high places. (Boris Johnson’s her bro.)

She’s fronting a TV documentary about ‘ladyhood’. I think she’ll be asking what makes a lady. I’ll be watching because I’m interested in feminism, ideas of female identity, how we construct our behaviour – all that sort of stuff. 

Anyway, I’ve had a think. I’m half-lady.

I care about manners but I know there’s other stuff like happiness and anarchy which is sometimes just as important. I’m not going to tell Polly 100 times a day to say ‘thank you’ – gratitude can be shown in lots of different ways and it doesn’t always have to be verbal.

On the other hand, if husband walks into the kitchen and switches radio stations without EVEN RUDDY ASKING ME I will go all prim and proper and say “Manners don’t cost anything.”

If I’m at a playgroup or party (rare) and somebody seems lonely, I’ll try to smile and chat – which makes me a lady, apparently (A lady always puts others first or makes a beeline for people at a party who seem left out) But I have had moments when I would rather just huddle with people I know, or stare into space/read an edifying book instead.

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If I meet someone for the first time, I try to put them at ease, which I suppose is lady-like. But I do this by asking them lots of questions about themselves – because I’m an ex-journalist and old habits die hard – which can sometimes seem rude or intrusive. (I’m sorry if you’ve been at the receiving end.)

In some ways, motherhood has brought me closer to being a lady. Sometimes I am more considerate, respect parents more, and try to teach P. about those values too. But I do get bloody tired, snappish and self-centred, which probably isn’t in The Manual of Ladies.

My  blog, twitter feed, and an interest in online ‘sharing’ probably removes me from True Lady Status too, as most ladies are famously discreet and private (Just look at Kate Middleton, a very modern ‘lady’.)

So I suppose I’m half-way between these two ladies:

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Which is probably the right place to be. It’s good to have choices.

What about you? Are you a lady? Has motherhood made you more or less lady-like, or do you think the concept is outmoded and restrictive? I’d love to know. How to be a Lady is on at 9pm on BBC4, 28th March. Read more about it here.

Finally – at the weekend I went along to the 48 Hour Fashion Fix at Cabot Circus, Bristol. This was my first event I’d attended as a blogger so I had little idea of what to expect. In the end, it was a Jolly Time Out. There was a big beauty bus, pop-up fashion shows, I met some lovely bloggers (hello!) and at the end we all ran in the rain to drink bubbly and eat calamari in a free bar. Thank you very much!

The lovely Gina Dyer took a snap of me, so here is what I wore:

me at cabot

Black Heels – ancient Russell & Bromley ones, M&S green jeans, Warehouse brown coat, black satchel from France – husband bought it while we were ‘courting’ – that’s when I knew he was a keeper. A few people have asked about my lipstick, it’s an Avon Extra Lasting lipstick and you can buy them online at the moment for £4. They are bloody good.

What did you do at the weekend?

Female Icon: Julie Goodyear

This grey Sunday morning I was padding around in my kitchen cooking and drinking coffee. Radio 4 Desert Island began – and for the next 45 minutes, I was hooked.

Why? Because it’s Julie Goodyear talking about her life. And what a life. (I can’t help but slip into tabloid type writing when writing about Julie.)

Four marriages (one was a shotgun wedding), one child, cervical cancer, being told she had a year to live, a husband leaving her for his best man, at their wedding reception, the ensuing nervous breakdown – and through it all, she worked like a trooper – and earned an MBE for services to drama.

What I loved about this show was her composure and her strength, as well as her sense of humour.

“I seem to have led a leopard-print life,” she tells Kirsty Young, fairly early on in the show. Her anecdotes are amazing- hit by a meat-pie while out singing in a pub, she picked it up and ate it – “Well, I was hungry.” She bought her young son a bicycle with her first pay cheque from Coronation Street. Laurence Olivier gave her acting tips (and what’s evident in this show is how much she loved her job.) She takes her late mum’s bus-pass everywhere with her.

What a woman.

And the music she chooses! Over 45 minutes you’ve got Nancy Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Barry Manilow, and Tina Turner. What’s not to love?

Goodyear is 71 now. She lives on a a 30-acre farm, with her fourth husband. I like to think of her, padding out to tend to her sheep, before going home to a big fried breakfast. I hope she’s happy. You can listen to the show here if you like.

 

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