Elfie and Hux’s Christmas

IMG_0973

I never really knew the meaning of ‘real’ Christmas before the kids came along. And I mean that in the most literal sense, not in a sense that “ooh isn’t Christmas about the joy of kids”. I mean that because when I went to see Elfie as Mary in the pre-school Nativity play I’d realised that I’d forgotten the story, and that’s what Christmas is, right? About Jesus, Mary and the Three Kings. And according to Elfie, the “Gold, Crowns and Katy Perry”.

And when I took the kids to a lovely Christingle service on Christmas Eve with Bryony‘s family we all sang the carols together, it felt so warm and happy and festive. I’d forgotten anything that wasn’t to do with Mariah Carey, Slade or John Lewis and it felt good to remember. Elfie was terrified of the Christingle Candle and Hux ripped up the hymn sheets, but those little things are what make Christmas. Forget the presents, the happy moments with the family and friends are what it’s all about.

IMG_0980 IMG_0984 IMG_0987

Christmas Eve felt a little bit weird; it’s the first year Elfie has bought into the whole Father Christmas thing and she (as always) had SO MANY questions. I tried my best to answer them but I couldn’t help but feel a bit dishonest at all the fibs I had to make up. Is this a normal parent feeling? She wanted to know all of the what, why, where, how, who’s? about Santa Claus and I literally pulled a lot of those answers out of my arse. I definitely need to do a bit more research into the North Pole before next year.

At Elfie’s insistence we left out a glass of red and a bottle of beer along with two mince pies and a carrot for the reindeer. Apparently this all HAD to go on a tray, according to Elf the big FC is pretty discerning about these things.

IMG_0992 IMG_0993 IMG_0999

She toddled off to bed and then would not sleep. I’m telling myself this is a sign of intelligence but she worried and worried about the fact a strange man would be coming into our house so in the end (the end = 9.30pm) we had a chat and decided it’d be a good idea if the tray would be left outside for Father Christmas and he could just magic it inside along with the presents. Meanwhile I chugged the beer, chewed on the carrot, decanted the wine back into the bottle and took a bite out of the mince pie (bleurgh).

Fibbing to your kids is exhausting.

IMG_1006 IMG_1010 IMG_1012

Anyway, she finally went off to sleep and I hurridly put the presents out and went to bed myself.

For the first time in her life she didn’t wake up til 7 (I’d been lying awake for the best part of an hour) and bless her, when we first came downstairs she didn’t see the presents. She thought they’d be under the tree and as that was the first thing she saw when she came downstairs she said “oh…. he hasn’t been. Never mind”. When she saw the loot on the sofa she went slightly bonkers, and that was a theme for the rest of the day.

Turns out that 3 year olds, they just love to open presents.

IMG_1024 IMG_1026Once she started on that wrapping paper she didn’t stop. She opened her presents, my presents, Hux’s presents. She just loved the thrill of opening the presents. And why wouldn’t you?

IMG_1037 IMG_1040 IMG_1043

After present opening and a couple of Christmas Croissants at home we headed off to Mum and Dad’s house where there were – yep, you guessed it – even more presents (and Clementine Bucks Fizz)! Elfie’s favourite was the BabyBez watch and Hux’s was his toy kettle and new toothbrush. Oh, and the boxes, he loved those boxes. Me, I was very lucky with my loot this year and was given Clarins Spa Vouchers (yessss!!) as well as an Electric Toothbrush (wanted one for ages) and some Kiehl’s goodies. Though isn’t it funny how receiving the presents become of such little importance as you grow older? There, I said it, I’m no longer materialistic and only in it for the gifts. Who am I?

IMG_1050 IMG_1051 IMG_1053

Dinner was an epic Dad special: a rib of beef that had been hung for about 12 years (28 days) cooked for six hours at 60 degrees a la Heston Blumenthal. It was literally the most divine bit of beef I’d ever put in my mouth; it melted like butter and was absolutely beautiful. It was the first time we’d had beef for Christmas dinner and it was a lovely change. The recipe’s here if you fancy giving it a go for a special Sunday lunch, I’d highly recommend it.

IMG_1054 IMG_1057Pudding was Mum’s classic chocolate roulade, all washed down with lots of lovely wine (a 2011 Poilly Fusse and 2010 Louis Latour Pinot Noir). And of course, stacks of cheese, Christmas TV and the yuletide family tradition of pass the parcel.

IMG_1060 IMG_1066

A huge shame, I was massively looking forward to the Call The Midwife and Downton Abbey specials but felt a bit bored by both of them. Was it because I was more interested in the Stilton and the leftover pudding? Did I spend too much time observing other people’s Christmases on Twitter rather than watching the TV? Meh. Maybe I should try watching them again.

IMG_1075Obviously I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Christmas day as a single, but you know what? The worst thing about the whole experience was the anticipation. We had an absolutely lovely day and all really enjoyed a quiet Christmas, just the five of us (at least I did… mum? Dad?). The kids had a blast too, which is the main thing.

Christmas was another hurdle to overcome and to enjoy it rather than just endure it was brilliant. There were no cross words, no sad feelings, nothing negative. Just lots of food, family and fun. If this is the shape of things to come in 2014, well, then I’m well ready for it.

Elfie’s beautiful dress was sent to us by the lovely people at Their Nibs

 

 

Lizzie, Jamie and Their Flower Girl

IMG_0108

Attending a wedding alone as a recently separated single parent was never going to be easy. There’s the struggle of trying not to joke about divorce (I didn’t – hoorah!) and the worry that actually, are you going to be hugely cynical about weddings now and look at the day with a weary sense of ‘been there, done that, got the divorce’?

IMG_0119

IMG_0098IMG_0160

Luckily I didn’t, I had just the same appreciation of weddings as I’ve always had (and that’s not just the free booze talking). Even more appreciation perhaps, as despite mine and Will’s relationship coming to an end after a great 10 years I still believe in everlasting love, happy ever afters and saying ‘I do’.

IMG_0137 IMG_0140 IMG_0167

This wedding was always going to be very special as Lizzie was not only marrying the love of her life – who she met on match.com, there’s hope for me yet! – but Elfie was to be a flower girl with her second cousin Emily. We had been practicing for weeks, learning how to dance and twirl, looking up flower girl dresses.

She was absolutely brilliant, somehow knowing to whisper in the church, asking “is this the party now mummy?” as we sang the hymns, delighted in having her photograph taken and generally looked her lovely beautiful self. I was very very proud of her.

My cousin Lizzie looked amazing; I’m a huge fan of wedding dresses and hers was spectacularly beautiful.

IMG_0180 IMG_0182 IMG_0240 IMG_0231

Hux was a dapper little thing in his bowtie, too. He refused to sleep all day so got a little fraught towards the end but just look at his face – you can forgive him anything! He spent most of the reception trying desperately to escape out the marquee doors.

IMG_0199 IMG_0212 IMG_0308 IMG_0309

And as for me, well I drank too much wine, danced with my dad (who also drank too much wine… it’s genetic you see), took hundreds of photographs and had a thoroughly brilliant time.

Here’s to true love, to Lizzie and Jamie, to happy ever after and the two little loves of my life.

Ramblings About Our Easter.

IMG_9235 IMG_9236 Since when has Easter been such ‘A Thing’? I know it’s been a thing for years and years and years, since Jesus, though the exact length of time escapes me as much like my good friend Charlotte says I was too busy thinking about boys to pay attention in RE. But it seems this year that Easter has exploded all over the internet. And not just over the internet, all over my mum and dad’s house. All over the town I live in. You couldn’t escape Easter this year… I blame Pinterest.

When I was a child I don’t remember Easter being much else than an excuse for a couple of weeks off school and a Smarties egg. This year we had a fancy lunch with my mum and dad, an egg hunt (including a BASKET that had been decorated with RIBBON and everything) and chocolate eggs. Not Cadbury’s or Nestle, but Thorntons. Special personalised Thorntons eggs with our names on. Special!

IMG_9239 IMG_9242 IMG_9266I’m totally down for our family’s new found participation in Easter. Any time we get to legitimately drink Prosecco at midday is good with me. As is the family time and the huge amounts of lovely food my dad cooks for such events. And Elfie, well, Elfie is in love with Easter. As her favourite game EVER is hide and seek she was thrilled at the prospect of having to ransack my parent’s house for eggs (I’m still a bit peeved that I didn’t have egg hunts at her age. They’ve promised me one of my very own next year).

IMG_9268 IMG_9278 IMG_9285 IMG_9288What else has been going on? Elfie’s still asking to go back to Peppa Pig World about three times a day which is not annoying in the least… (ahem) and Hux has finally learned to sit up at the grand old age of 10 months. What can I say, we like lying down a bit too much. I continue to be baffled at the speed it takes for two such little people to a) mess up the house and b) generate dirty washing and so persevere with my battle on the front line of domesticity. I had a whole afternoon to myself yesterday whilst the kids went off to soft play with their Dad and Auntie Josie and I spent the time productively doing the one thing I didn’t need to do… re-designing my blog. Go me! There are a few buggy bits that need working out but I’m loving the clean look.

Is it me or is anyone else suspended in a kind of limbo at the moment? I feel like I can’t push on with life until Spring gets its arse in gear and makes a proper arrival. I’m wearing walking socks because my feet are painfully cold and it’s not right! This time last year I was wearing skirts (I’m eyeing my prickly legs in distaste right now) and eating beetroot salads outside in the garden. These kids need fresh air and Vitamin D!

Take Me Back

IMG_9185

Is there much worse than the post-holiday blues? Oh yes, having the post-holiday blues and a poorly child. Or maybe the post-holiday blues, a poorly child and a husband who is working away? BINGO!

The week has been a bit of a write-off, starting with a catalogue of errors on Monday which included filing the car up with petrol when I’d left my purse at home, Elfie weeing in her car seat, the internet not working at the Gym for my only two-hour child-free work window this week… yeah. I nearly went back to bed there and then but persisted with positive thoughts, thinking the week couldn’t get much worse.

It did. We’ve had loads of snow, I’ve been in an absolutely vile mood and then the flu struck. Will is away working which means I’m flying solo (sans car as well, dammit) and there’s been nobody I can share the hell of the all-night toddler illness with. Thank god for CBeebies, eh?

I received a text from Will this morning – he perhaps sensed what was going on from my subtle 4am messages “MOST AWFUL NIGHT EVER!!! ELFIE’S ILL!!! SHE HAS A TEMPERATURE!! WHERE ARE YOU?!!” – and he told me I deserved some lie-ins and treats this weekend. My second thought was (my first thought was “too right, boyo”), what would I do? If I could have any treat at all, what would I ask for? And the honest answer is that I have no idea. A facial? A massage? A nice juicy steak? Maybe. But mostly I’d want to return to last week, when we took a little family holiday.

IMG_9190

IMG_9207

Not counting my Sister-In-Law’s wedding in Madrid last year, this was our first break as a family of four. We booked a gorgeous country cottage in the New Forest near Fordingbridge for three nights, hired a car that was fancier than ours and took off with no plans but to relax and be happy.

Hideaway Cottage was brilliant. A recently renovated property, it’s in the chocolate box village of Damerham which is about half an hour away from Bournemouth. We booked through Baby Friendly Boltholes, a genius website that has only child-friendly luxury holiday accommodation on its books, and I can’t tell you how much stress was removed with the knowledge that all our baby crap would be there for us on arrival. We’re talking the boring stuff that you always need to remember: sterilisers, baby bouncers, sippy cups, playmates, toys, baby monitors, DVDs, bath seats… literally EVERYTHING was there, we just needed to take clothes and a bit of food.

IMG_9174

IMG_9172

IMG_9156

 

IMG_9165

When we arrived there was a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc waiting (my absolute favourite) with some Tyrrels crisps, fresh eggs, organic butter and bread and a home made lemon drizzle cake. Divine. I pottered in the lovely kitchen cooking a lasagne for us all and drinking the wine whilst the kids went absolutely crazy exploring. The toys – oh, the toys! The toys were brilliant. There was a selection of toys for all ages and if we’d spent our four days on holiday in that house playing with them all Elfie wouldn’t have been bored. She was in her element and said she wanted to stay there “for ever and ever and ever”. There’ll be more on Hideaway Cottage at MAMA very soon, but I’d recommend it to anyone with small children looking for a luxurious and relaxing break in the area.

hideaway3

hideaway2

hideaway1

Because I had some sort of Malory Towers Midnight Feast ideal in my head I said the kids could share a room: I imagined them whispering to each other late at night and waking each other up with stories in the morning. That didn’t happen… they just woke each other (and us) up at 5am every day. Or rather, Elfie did: “HOLIDAY TIME, HOLIDAY TIME!!”. The only thing not included with the cottage? Kids that sleep til 11am.

We didn’t make any plans for our holiday apart from to visit the beach, some family friends and Steph. And MAYBE Peppa Pig World, weather depending. Happily, we did all those things, including Peppa Pig, which was pretty horrendous, especially in the driving rain. Naturally Elfie had a ball and has asked to go back every day since.

We had a great meal at Westbeach in Bournemouth which is beautifully situated on the beach next to the pier – we tried to eat there at the exact same weekend last year when it wsd an unseasonable 18 degrees: it was so busy we couldn’t get in. This year it was approximately 4 degrees so the beach was deserted. The kids had homemade fish fingers and we gazed out to sea. Awesome.


IMG_9210

IMG_9184

IMG_9195

 

daddysea

We met up with one of my blogging BFF’s Steph and family at Christchurch Harbour – a lovely day that involved wine and lobster. And chatting, lots of chatting. She wrote about it much better than I did at her blog. Check out my handsome husband!

IMG_9217

stephalice

Then there was Peppa Pig World. What is there to say about Peppa Pig world? I appreciated the signs around the park reminding gentlemen to keep their shirts on (seriously) though there was no need for that as we froze our arses off, but Elfie thought it was heavenly. We went on every single ride, including Grandpa’s little train four times, and spend a good half hour in the amazing softplay. There’s a shop where every single thing you can buy has got Peppa Pig on it (E came away with Bubble Bath and a sticker book, Will and I got Daddy Pig and Mummy Pig socks respectively). The food was horrendous and expensive – £30 for two jacket potatoes, a kids meal and a couple of drinks! – but we will definitely be back.

gpa pig

daddybubby

peppa

So yes, if you offered me one thing to get over the awfulness of this week it would be to go back to our lovely family holiday. I’d even go see Peppa again. Failing that, I guess a lie-in, manicure and massage would do. And maybe more holiday Marlborough.

We were guests of Baby Friendly Boltholes and Hideaway Cottage on our minibreak: thank-you so much to them both for an wonderful time.

Being A Grown-Up

Every single day without fail I walk past a mirror, babe in arms, and think: who am I? Who is this person with two children at the age of 27? How did I go from being the person I was before the babies to the person I am now? Where did my old irresponsible life go?

It has all seemed to happen so quickly (real time: three years ago, pretty much to the day). Pregnancy, babies, countryside, houses, baking, moving. What happened to the old me? I don’t miss that time, much, but I do miss the freedom. The times when you could take off without giving anyone else a second thought, though the closest I got to doing this was driving to IKEA spur-of-the-moment when I was 17. Wild, I know.

 

I remember being a teenager, when all that grown-up stuff is merely a glimmer of stress in your future. If I could write a letter to my teenage self, this is what I would say I have to look forward to:

- Buying houses: hopefully in the next year or so our house up north (currently tenented) will sell and we can look at buying a southern palace of our own. Easier said than done; our old house was bought at the height of the market 6 years ago yet a comparable place down here will cost twice as much. Plus we’ve both gone self-employed since. The next two years will be a time of tightening belts, organizing finances and dreaming of the next step.

- Taxes: nothing bores me more than taxes, whether it’s council tax (EXPENSIVE!), car tax or HM Revenue and Customs phone calls, which are legendary painful.

- Cars and all that jazz: I love to drive a nice car and we’ve been in the market for new wheels since our sunroof started leaking last year (fine for summer, damp for winter). I find the MPHs, ABS, MPGs and PAS a bit ARGH but at least it’s easy to compare car insurance these days with one of those online tools.

- Work: having to earn a living is such a drag. Seriously though, remember when you didn’t have to think about where your money came from? I’ve had a job from the age of 15 and remember when I earned £80 a week – it felt like a bloody fortune. I’d be lucky to feed our family for a week on that much now. Not including wine, obviously.

- Disciplining and potty training: I actually think that one thing I’m pretty good at is discipline. Elfie is so very well-behaved and I know I can take her to any situation outside the home and she will do us proud. Potty training, on the other hand…. ugh. Cleaning pee off the floor is pretty soul-destroying and don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve put our sofa covers through the wash.

- Cooking: I loooove to cook, we all know that. But on the days when the kids have been hard work all I want to do is watch trash TV with a glass of wine followed by a bath, cocoa and bed. I don’t want to think about what new and interesting things I can do with beef mince and then scrape half of it out the carpet because we’re still learning how to operate cutlery.

- Other parents: most of them are fine, lovely even. Some of them…

Come on, what have I missed? What else is a total pain in the bum now we’re grown-ups?

I was very kindly sponsored to write this blog post about being a grown-up. Thanks!

Thanksgiving, The British Way

 

Americans really have the right idea at this time of year. Thanksgiving: a time for family, friends, warmth, love and CARBOHYDRATES. Lots of carbohydrates.  I love the idea of a big turkey accompanied by potatoes and pies, though I still get a little wary of the addition of macaroni cheese. Does it really work?

But most of all I love the idea of sitting down with your loved ones and giving thanks for the good things in your life. It’s so easy for me to get bogged down in the day-to-day routine of no sleep, nappies, weaning, budgeting, blah blah blah that I forget to look at the bigger picture and realise just how good I have it. Thinking about what I am thankful for gives me perspective on rubbish I really shouldn’t be wasting thought power on. So today, in homage to the carbs, I’ve sat down and given thanks to the wonderful things in my life. Here they are.

 

 

My Children – I have somehow managed to give birth to the two most adorable, happy babies who are a total joy to be around. Yes, they may do immense poos that I manage to get on my elbow (?!) and scatter jigsaws in every room of the house but I am so very lucky they belong to me.

My Husband – our next anniversary will be 10 YEARS and although we might bicker and grouch at each other when we’re overtired (so that’s every day, then) I feel so lucky I met him so early on in my life. He’s my best friend.

 

My Family – I am so lucky to have my parents and Mother-In-Law so close by. My mum and dad love the children almost as much as I do and my Mother-in-Law is so wonderful with them. She looked after Hux whilst I tool Elfie into London yesterday; I came home to find the kitchen cleaned, house hoovered, washing done and dinner cooked. It was a wonderful surprise and if I wasn’t married to her son I might have proposed there and then.

The place we live – I appreciate our quiet village more and more as Elfie gets older and we venture out of the house further. I’m really excited for her to make new friends at preschool next year!

My job – I admit to some whinging and moaning because I find it so hard to work efficiently as well as look after Elfie and Hux but I am so lucky to be able to work for myself. I still wish I didn’t put so much pressure on myself to be everything to everyone, the mother, the wife, the businesswoman, the cleaner, the cook… but it’ll fall into place I’m sure.

 

Our health – In the last six weeks we’ve suffered with 2 tummy bugs (Elfie) and food poisoning (me) but overall we’re all live and kicking. We should never take our health for granted.

Our friends – We lost a lot of friends moving out of London: to many people we may as well have moved to Scotland and I almost know how they feel, for me going to Notting Hill from Islington used to be a mission-and-a-half. The ones who have stuck with us are brilliant true friends and I feel lucky to have them.

Salted caramel - whoever invented this is a ruddy genius.

Right. Now that’s done I’m off to roast a chicken, stick some cream on some vegetables and eat some potatoes. Thanksgiving: the British way.