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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.

 

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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.

alain_gree_petit-mouton_poster

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.)

anorak alain gree

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:

alain gree poster

 

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:

animals gree

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. 

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.

 

bet lynch

 

My Christmas list

I’m feeling festive! This may have something to do with the mulled rum a friend brought or the tonne of orange and pistachio stollen which I am slowly munching my way through made for presents.

Orange-and-pistachio-stol-007

Or it could just be that after a year which brought a few challenges, I can’t wait for a fortnight of eating, drinking, hugs, quality family time, and playing Monopoly.

And my gift to you is a top 10 Christmas present list for wonderful mums. Why not treat a friend, yourself, or send on to your nearest and richest if they have asked what you want for Christmas?

1. “How to be an idle parent” by Tom Hodgkinson. In an age of anxious parenting, this book says doing less does more for your children. Inspirational, well-written, intelligent. Will change your life.

2. Garnier’s BB cream. Do not wear this if you are going for the sympathy vote with husband, friends, grandparents, or anyone else you want to tap up for babysitting duties. They won’t believe you when you say you’re shattered.

3. A great pair of pyjamas. In the mornings when my daughter is breakfasted, washed, and dressed, and I am still in my pyjamas and doing the dishes, the only compensation is that at least I don’t look like a trog even if I feel like one.  Must be cotton.

4. Coated M&S jeggings. These are flattering, do all sorts of great suction type things to the thighs, and look a bit edgy. I tried on their olive ones (they’re called Forest Green online) and loved them.

M&S waxy jeans

They also had a black pair which I loved. Definitely recommend these. Must try on in-store ( M&S things much better in-store than on-line.)

5. A Clarks gift voucher. Have you seen Clark’s range of boots recently? I can’t decide between these :-

Musky Marloor their ‘Norley Wood‘ boots which are a bit more ‘sensible’.

Norley Wood

It’s a mute point as I can’t afford either, but that doesn’t stop me from pondering. If your rich uncle Barry can buy these for you, then waste no time.

6. A statement necklace.  These are fashion’s way of saying “It’s alright darling, let me do all the work today.”  Kate Moss knew this when she sported the gold necklace on the day her cocaine scandal broke. No one cared about her morals, all we wanted was her necklace. Will absolve a woman of all sins – bad hair, egg on face, etc.

kate moss

I love this Autograph multi-chain necklace:

M&S necklace

and have also spotted some lovely necklaces on Etsy this year, like this one :

etsy necklace

7. A dress from People Tree. Every time I go on their site I fall in love with a new one. At the moment, it’s their ‘Rosabel‘ dress which looks flirty and yummy. It’s also lined with fleece. I KNOW.

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8. Not so much a gift as a tip. Pixi-Woo are make-up artists who post online tutorials. Now I understand why they are called ‘artists’. To see what I mean, check out their videos here.

8.5. Bourjois Liner Pinceau Liquid Eyeliner in brown. The easiest liquid eyeliner I’ve used. Makes me feel like a proper woman.

9. A make-up mirror. The day I started applying my make-up SITTING DOWN, IN FRONT OF A MIRROR was a big one.

Finally….

10. Ryan Gosling in a festive jumper.

Ryan+Gosling+seen+out+and+about+in+NYC

Actually – jumper optional. I debated with myself about whether to include this pic as it’s gratuitous nudity. Then I thought – who am I kidding. It’s Christmas.

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Hope your children sleep through the night, you get all the help you need, and you have a wonderful holiday with your nearest and dearest. God bless us everyone.

Stop cruelty to models.

One of my bugbears about fashion magazines is when they make the models pull stupid faces or do weird things to their limbs. I find it cruel and unnecessary and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Poor models, I think. Yes, they may get to wear pretty things, but they still have to pull poses like this:

And this:

Look at the pain in their eyes! This model looks like a rabbit in the headlights; she may even be drugged.

Honestly, I don’t know how magazine editors can live with themselves sometimes. Still these pictures should hopefully make all new mums feel better about their lives; you may have egg on your cheek and a damaged pelvic floor, but at least you don’t have to keep your mouth open while keeping a hand near your face, in some weird mockery of happiness.

Knackered? Bang on trend, more like.

Do you feel as if your fatigue is preventing you from being a stylish powerhouse? Ladies, worry no more.
After flicking through some mags extensive media research, I have come to an encouraging conclusion. Being tired and disheveled is very very trendy.
Look at this Lacoste ad. Yawning is cool.

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I used to think that my unwashed scraggly hair was a set back for an aspiring fashionista. Not any more. If it’s good enough for Gisele..

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And look at this Paul Smith model! She’s so tired she can’t even open her eyes. Knackered is cool.

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I will be posting more evidence when I see it. In the meantime,
mums, accept your exhaustion. It’s such a good look.

Like what you’ve read so far? Nominate this blog for the Gurgle Awards…

Like what you’ve read so far? Nominate this blog for the Gurgle Awards….

Like what you’ve read so far? Nominate this blog for the Gurgle Awards…

New parenting magazine Gurgle is running a Best Blog competition online.

If you have the time, please nominate Worn out and Wonderful for your favourite blog.

Just click on the link http://www.gurgle.com/gurgles-2012/nominate-blog

Thank you!

Having a bad day? Eat!

As everybody knows, we are what we eat. And when you are suddenly in charge of nourishing a tiny little child, it’s funny how your own diet takes a back seat. When I was first weaning P., I would look at our respective meals and shake my head in despair at how different they were.

P’s lunch – chicken and sweet potatoe casserole with rice as a main, yoghurt and apple for pudding. My lunch – cheese on toast.

P’s dinner – wild salmon pasta with broccoli and spinach and grated cheese, rice pudding for after. My dinner – beans on toast.

I just didn’t have the energy to think about what I was eating. Hmm, I wonder why?

Things, luckily, got better. I took a while to catch on to basic concepts, like ‘Why don’t I just make double so I can have some too’ but I got there in the end. I wonder if it’s also quite common as a mum to forget that your needs are just as important?

Anyway, I’ve got over that phase of my life, thank goodness. Now I try a lot harder to eat well and put P. and I on equal footing in the needs department.

But I still have the odd blip when I charge around, doing too much, then look back on the day and realise all I ate was Kit-Kats and oatcakes and – yep – cheese on toast. This happened to me a few days ago. I felt very sluggish and despondent and tiny tasks which were normally easy seemed insurmountable. After P. was in bed, rather than go for my evening run (which I normally do twice a week), I’d look out of the window, sigh heavily, and think: I am going to sit in and watch Keeping up with the Kardashians. Yes, things were bad. (Although I do actually love this trash TV.  We can talk about this later.)

One evening I was tidying up the kitchen when I caught sight of a bag of dried apricots I’d been trying to get P. excited about eating. It was food, and I’m a grazer. So I put one in my mouth. It was good! And sort of sweet! It was like a wrinkly Kit-Kat! I felt a tiny little squeak of health and realised that eating good healthy stuff wasn’t hard work; I could just grab it out of a bag and munch it. Kind of like fast food! But without any of the guilt!

I’ve spent a few minutes researching good food that you don’t have to cook. As this is for mums, I concentrated on foods that made you both feel and look less tired. Yes, that’s right; there is food out there that gives you energy and a free facial. Incredible, no?

The list is below and I have also attached a little shopping list here for you –

Shopping List

All you have to do is print it, put it in your wallet, and use it next time you are shopping for food (probably today, as babies are such greedy little wotsits.)

Eat, enjoy, and look wonderful. These are easy, healthy, proper style-fixers and we deserve them. (And you thought this blog would just be about Marks and Spencer’s. Shame on you. Although, to be fair, it will feature heavily.)

Now for the science part….

Almonds

All nuts have almost miraculous benefits, but let’s put the humble almond in the spotlight for now. Munching on a handful of these a day will help regulate your appetite, block your body’s absorption of fat, and prevent heart problems. They are also rich in Vitamin E which is an important anti-oxidant. These nuts will flush out nasty little toxins from your skin and leave you with a healthy glow. They’re also great for lowering cholesterol and keeping your digestive system healthy. You don’t even need to cook these little beauties – just put some in a bowl, leave it on the kitchen counter, and grab one or two throughout the day. Also a great source of energy.

Image by <a href=”http://www.free-stockphotos.com&#8221; title=”Free Photos”>Free-StockPhotos.com</a>

Blueberries,  kiwi-fruit, oranges, papaya, strawberries

Are rich in Vitamin C and help produce collagen which strengthens the capillaries to feed the skin. It would take about 1 minute to put these fruit into a bowl and make yourself a good-skin fruit salad.

Dried apricots and sesame seeds

These are full of iron which improves your skin tone. Experts recommend eating a few apricots a day, and sprinkle sesame seeds in your salads.

Marmite and cheese

Are both great sources of the skin-saviour vitamin B2. This will make your skin glow, so make yourself a marmite and cheese sandwich every once in a while and eat in the knowledge it’s going to make you look radiant. Marmite is also great if you find yourself getting very tired in the day; try to have a little a day on an oatcake.

Dried fruits: raisins, prunes, figs, dates, apricots.

These are a great source of iron which will give you energy and help you feel less tired throughout the day. Put them in a bowl on the kitchen counter or your office desk and snack on them when you need a sweet treat.

Avocados

These a great source of ‘good’ fats, essential for your body, and a good source of energy for tired mums. I try to put them on top of my cheese toasties – delicious.

Natural Yoghurt

A great blend of protein and carbohydrates and perfect for refuelling your energy levels throughout the day. Put some in with your good-skin fruit salad and feel the benefits!

Experts say it takes about six weeks for any changes to start to be felt, so don’t give up after a day. Give yourself the six week challenge and see if your energy levels improve. If they do, please let me know.

I’ve discovered there are lots of other foods out there which are perfect for tired mums. These require some cooking but will do wonders for your skin and energy: milk, red meat, eggs, broccoli, beans, salmon, pasta, bananas, oats, orange juice, oily fish e.g. sardines, oysters, liver, sweet potatoes. Remember these foods need to be eaten consistently for you to reap the benefits of improved energy and radiant skin; so try to buy some of them every time you go shopping. Here is the list again if you need it!

Shopping List

What do you eat to feel great? Do you watch the Kardashians? Have you got a Kit Kat obsession?  Let us know!

 

A bit about me

I used to spend time and money on myself before my daughter P was born. I wasn’t a fashionista or a supermodel – I was just a girl in my twenties who liked to feel good. I worked hard during the day, so the evenings when was I went to Pilates, or had a facial, or did some shopping. These things were important to me because they gave me some much needed me-time and eased away the pressures the targets and deadlines of my office job.

It was a real shock to the system in the few weeks after P was born; I never made it to the shops, couldn’t get away from her long enough for a facial or a work-out, and the rare times she wasn’t breastfeeding, all I wanted to do was sleep. Then there was my body. It was in a bit of a pickle. I’d been stretched and prodded in all sorts of places I hadn’t known existed before she was born, my back felt weak and ached all the time, and all those little midnight snacks I’d indulged in while pregnant has resulted in me putting on two stone.  None of my favourite clothes fitted and I spent my life in leggings and t-shirts. I was growing out a bad fringe and my grey hairs were coming through as I didn’t have time to escape to a hairdresser.

This is a picture of me before I had my daughter:

That is one carefree childless woman, no?

This is a picture of me when P. was a few months old:

Although some kind people will say I look radiant and happy and that’s all that matters, I was shocked when I saw this picture. I didn’t recognise myself and all I could think was: Who is that?

I was wearing my old maternity jeans because they were the only thing I could fit into. That two stone of excess weight was hard to shift on a diet of coffee and cake and I hadn’t washed my hair in five days. That’s why it’s scraped back in the photo.

This is a picture of me at Christmas, when my daughter was eleven months old.

I know I am pouting a bit; sorry about that.  But finally, I felt like myself again. I’d managed to get into an exercise routine that suited me, and I knew where to shop with a baby in tow, and what make-up I could apply in ten minutes. They were all things no-one had told me, I’d had to find out for myself.

The point of this blog is not to make people feel bad about their looks or their figure after they’ve had a baby. That’s not what I’m about. Some women will stumble across this blog and think I’ve got my priorities wrong and that as long as my daughter is happy, (she is) that’s the only thing that matters. (With the utmost respect, I disagree.)

This blog is not for them.

Some of you will read this blog when you are three, six, nine months into motherhood. Or a year, or two. Perhaps, like me, you feel a bit overwhelmed by how much your old life seems to have changed. You may find you spend more time picking out clothes for your baby than for yourself. You spend more time changing nappies, breastfeeding, weaning, pureeing, doing the laundry, and emptying the dishwasher, than you can remember doing anything else.

You may feel exhausted or a bit bedraggled, and you may not recognise yourself when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror. And then you think: ‘But what can I do about it? I don’t have any time to myself.’

This blog is for you. Together we will find a way to get our sparkle back, and once it’s back, keep it.

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