The Challenge Review

So, probably no one remembers…i barely remember myself, but way back at the beginning of the year i set myself three challenges, in a similar vein to new years resolutions but more fun. Or so the theory went.

Challenge One was to try one new recipe each week. This was an epic fail almost from the start. I am not a master chef, or indeed, any kind of chef. I am very interested in eating delicious food, and in theory, making nutritious  food for my family, but i’m just not that great at it, and i find anything i’m not great at extremely frustrating to do. It’s a problem i have.  So i tried, but it didn’t go so well.

Across the entire year, these are the new recipes i tried:

Chocolate and beetroot brownies (Delicious)
Apple cake (Disaster)
Banana and Bran Flake Muffins (Delicious)
Apple and Potato Rostis (There were some texture issues, but otherwise ok)
Innocent Vegetarian Cottage Pie (Rudy loves it, Toby hates it)
Apple and Mustard Sausages with Sweet Potato Mash (Sausages- Delicious, Mash- Disaster)
Chocolate Bran Flake Cakes (Total Disaster)

For those who struggle to count, that’s 7. Seven. Across the entire year, in which i aimed to try 52 new recipes, i tried 7.  I should probably have been more realistic to begin with and aimed for one a month. That way i’d still have failed but less spectacularly.

Moving quickly on to movies. This was remarkably easy, between Love Film, Netflix, downloads, DVDs and Blu-Rays i smashed my target of twelve and watched 26 new films.

Taken
Rum Diary
Anonymous
True Grit
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
Colombiana
50/50
The Social Network
Bolt
Tyrannosaur
500 Days of Summer
Shrek Forever After
My Sister’s Keeper
Rio
Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows
Cars 2
Tangled
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (The new one)
The Black Swan
Bridesmaids
New Years Eve
Red
Spiderman (the new one)
The Pirates in an adventure with scientists
Sex and the City Movie 2

I can’t be sure i didn’t watch that last one at the end of last year, as it was a birthday present from Chris so there’s a chance it was technically watched in 2011 but i added it on there anyway as i’m pretty sure it was January by the time i got round to watching it.

Finally, books. Historically i am something of  a bookworm, so from that point of view, one new book a  month is barely a challenge at all, however since becoming a parent, in fact since, becoming pregnant with Toby, my rate of reading slowed substantially.  For some reason, that i’m still not clear about, i found it really difficult to choose a book to read, and even harder still to get ‘into’ it when i eventually did. I would find myself having to re-read sentences, and whole pages sometimes because my concentration would falter. I’d put books down part way through and have no inclination to go back to them.  Then once the babies actually arrived, not only did i have that to contend with but actually finding the time to even sit down and read- an activity that requires two empty hands, was almost impossible.  I think i read one book in the entire first year of Toby’s life.

Then, last christmas, Chris offered to buy me a Kindle.  He’d been trying to ‘sell’ them to me for some time but i was opposed to them in theory and remained stubborn.

He asked me- “But which do you love more? Books? Or reading?” “Books!” i insisted, but actually, he had a point.

Reading was one of my most favourite things to do and yet there i was, hardly ever actually doing it, and here was something that could potentially help me to do it more often…i’d be silly not to give it a try, so i did.

I was seriously resistant at first, and even flirted with the idea of sending it back but then Chris put a handful of books on there and within a week i’d read three.  Three books in a week! That was more than i’d read in the previous 6 months. I felt like myself again. I was sold.

Because you can operate the Kindle one-handed, i could suddenly read while breastfeeding, which opened up great swathes of possible reading time, since that’s pretty much all that newborn babies do.  I also found it easier to pick up and put down the kindle in a way that psychologically seems trickier with an actual book. Also i was able to be more liberal about giving new books and new authors a go as most of the kindle books i bought were between 99p and £1.99 and in fact some were free.

So, armed with my kindle, and shelves of unread books in the house, reading one new one a month this year was never going to be a massive challenge.  It was more a prompt to myself to try new ones rather than revisiting old favourites over and over.

Here’s what i read:

Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum by Mark Stevens

A Classical Education: The Stuff You Wish You’d Been Taught at School by Caroline Taggart

Introducing Child Psychology: A Practical Guide by Kairen Cullen

Murderous Manchester by John J Eddleston

Night Waking by Sarah Moss

Parenting Under 5’s (Infinite Ideas)

Rupture by Simon Lelic

Trades of the Flesh by Faye L Booth

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

Fifty Shades Darker by E L James

Fifty Shades Freed by E L James

Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in The Throat by Jen of The PIWTPITT Blog

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee by Sarah Silverman

What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen

Nighttime Parenting by William Sears

Passing for Normal by Amy Wilensky

The Night of The Gun by David Carr

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Plus two books on potty training (!) a handful of parenting magazines and several new children’s books.

All in all i think i’ve done quite well. The recipe thing was never really going to work so although i do feel bad about my poor effort, i also don’t (if that makes sense?!)

Next year i’m going more traditional with my “Resolutions” but that’s a whole separate post in itself, so more about that later 😉

Merry Belated Christmas

It’s only the 27th so i think i’m still within my rights to do a christmas post…right?!
Ours has been very different this year, for one thing we haven’t had any central heating or hot water since the 21st December. But that’s another story. The other thing that’s different is that we’ve had guests! For the first time in 8 years!
Chris’s Mum and sister Emma have been staying with us since the 23rd and it’s been brilliant.
Christmas eve we had a little party with games, music, a buffet and drinks
Later we had Santa duties
Christmas morning was mostly taken up with present opening
In the afternoon Emma and i took the boys out for a quick trip to the park on their bikes/trikes while Chris cooked christmas dinner
Dinner was delicious and everyone was pretty tired out after from the early start and busy day but i had to head out to work to look after the squishy new babies spending their first christmas on the neonatal unit.
Yesterday, boxing day was pretty sedate, i had a small sleep after work and then made mexican food for everyone, sat in my pyjamas and stuffed my face until i could hardly move, drank one solitary beer and started falling asleep on the sofa so sent myself to bed at 6.30pm like the Party Animal that i am.  I can’t say as i’m feeling particularly rested though as i was randomly awake again at 10.30pm so made the mistake of doing some online sale shopping, unaware that we were going to have the night from hell with Rudy who was inexplicably awake and wailing for most of the night despite all our attempts to settle him.
Other than the (fairly usual) lack of sleep though it’s been nice, we all got some lovely presents, and the boys are really enjoying all theirs.  They actually got a good mix of things- some clothes, some books, some chocolates and sweets, some bright, flashing, noisy toys and some beautiful, wooden, non-noise-making toys and the big stuff like the bike, trike, and…wait for it…a bouncy castle?!?! (Thanks Peter 😉 ) I think we’re going to have to wait for the christmas tree to vacate before we get that out the box, although they both wanted us to inflate it as soon as it was unwrapped (it was the final present under the tree).
So, overall a really great christmas, and it feels like there’s more yet to come.
So Merry Belated Christmas to all (four of) my blog readers 😉

Birthday Boots

Birthdays.  Aren’t they just awesomely fantastic and spectacular?!
Erm.
I was born today, 28 years ago at 11.55pm so my birthday is exactly five minutes long. Which, really, given my track record with birthdays is probably long enough.
I think everyone experiences a general waning in enthusiasm for their own birthday as the clock ticks the years away, and shiny new toys are replaced by socks and pens. For me though it’s not so much the brilliant memories of birthdays past being replaced by slightly duller more grown-up versions…
Having a christmas birthday acted as a barrier for even childhood birthdays to reach their true potential.  It’s not that my parents didn’t try to make it special and distinct from christmas, i know they did because i have fond memories of the years they were successful, but they were few and far between, because, let’s face it- who wants to go to a swimming party in December?! Anything outdoors is pretty much ruled out, and at this time of year everyone is so busy with their own stuff, like food shopping and gift hunting and present wrapping and visiting relatives they barely speak to the rest of the year, and getting drunk at their office party and all that jazz that they don’t really have the time to squeeze in another, seemingly unrelated and minor celebration.
I’m not bitter.  Although if you’d received one half of a tracksuit for your birthday and then the other half for christmas, i’m not sure you’d really blame me if i was.
As an adult it was slightly easier, most people are up for a few drinks most nights in December so providing i planned it like a military manouvere so as not to clash with anyone’s works’ christmas do’s i’d generally be able to guarantee a handful of friends would raise a glass with me.
2009 was to be my first birthday as a parent, which was sure to be different and exciting in itself but then, as you know, my Dad passed away suddenly two days before so actually, it was shit.
2010 was better, i went for a family meal, and wore a dress with owls on it.
What you can’t see in the photo is that i’d just had an early twin miscarriage and ERPC a few days before. So, like i say, an improvement on 2009 but still slightly maudlin around the edges.
I had high hopes for 2011.  No family deaths. No pregnancy losses. Two beautiful children, and i was on maternity leave- bonus! I dreamed of a delicious lie-in and then dinner out for the four of us.  Maybe tapas. Mmm. Unfortunately i got mastitis. I made it out of bed around lunchtime and spent the afternoon wrapping other people’s christmas presents.
And this year?
Well. The boiler broke yesterday and at this point we’re facing christmas without heating or hot water.  Our plans for dinner out were once again cancelled as we had to wait in for the gas engineer, who tried his best to fix it with one of the two parts he needed, but alas, the other part really is vital and although it would usually only take 2 or 3 days to get hold of, it is of course, you guessed it, christmas so a lot of places are closed already.
Given the spectacular fail of my 25th birthday though (2009 for those who can’t do math at this time of night) and the pain of last year’s mastitis-birthday i really don’t think this year has been too bad.
Sure, the birthday cake i bought for myself never made it out of the cupboard because Chris forgot it was there, sure i had to go into work to collect a heater from one of my (generous) colleagues so that my children won’t turn into ice statues overnight, sure i ended up in The Trafford Centre for part of it, on the last Saturday before christmas, with two small children in tow…
but i also had croissants and real coffee made for me for breakfast, a beautiful hand made card from my boys that almost made me cry
and all the alcoholic beverages in the house are pre-chilled without ever having set foot in the fridge because it’s so bastard freezing.
The best bit though, has to be my birthday boots, my present from Chris, Toby and Rudy.  I’ll let them speak for themselves because they’re so awesome that they can.
And at the end of the day, i’m just grateful to be another year older (and none the wiser)
Happy birthday to me!

My Dad

It’s 3 years today since my Dad passed away. I wish i could say peacefully but i don’t know because i wasn’t there. He was unwell and had been in hospital a week when it happened. I hadn’t visited because i had a brand new baby and the ward he was on was closed with diarrhea and vomiting. And anyway, we all thought he’d get better, that he’d bounce back like he’d always done. And then he took a sudden turn for the worse, and died at around 4am on 20th December 2009.
His official cause of death was pneumonia, but that was exacerbated by malnutrition and both those were secondary to the massive stroke he’d had in January 2008 and that was a direct result of his alcoholism so really, in the end, when it comes down it, it was the drink that killed him.
Growing up with an alcoholic Dad, i always knew of course that he wasn’t going to live to a ripe old age but he was so resilient. He’d been abusing his body and getting away with it for so long, the idea he wouldn’t be able to get away with it forever was quite an abstract one. So even though it was expected in some ways it was also a massive shock. He was 49.
When it happened, and for a long time after, i didn’t really know what to think or how to feel about it. I cried after the viewing, and at the funeral, but Toby was 6 weeks old so i had to just keep carrying on as normal, and he was a fantastic distraction:
That’s him the day after my Dad died, the first smile we managed to catch on camera. And all dressed up for his Grandad’s funeral:
The only photo i took that day.
It was such a bittersweet time.
When my Dad died he had two Grandsons he’d never had chance to meet, Toby and my nephew Zach who was only 2 weeks old:
Since he’s been gone he’s gained two more grandsons, and earlier this year, a granddaughter.
To some extent i think i’m still not sure how i feel or how to find the words to say what i want to say.
But i suppose all it comes down to is that he was my Dad, and like many eldest daughters i was a Daddy’s girl. And i miss him but i don’t wish him back. It wouldn’t be right or fair. He was so unhappy for such a long time. And i could write a thousand blog posts questioning why, hell i could write a BOOK on it and would still have barely scratched the surface but it would mostly be speculation anyway.
If i could talk to him today i think i’d just want to know if he was happy, and to wish him a merry christmas.
Everyone who knew him knows how much he loved christmas. He WAS christmas, even though every year, despite his best intentions he’d inevitably end up causing some kind of trouble for somebody.  But he loved it, i mean, he really loved it.  The tree went up in November and the christmas music was on a loop throughout December.  I’m sure my love of this time of year stems at least in part from him.  And because i was born 3 days before christmas it just made it all the more magical for him.  He used to call me his “christmas angel”.
Merry christmas Dad and Rest in Peace.

Deck the Halls

I thought our tree, in all it’s glory, deserved a blog post of it’s very own 🙂

It’s the fourth year we have had a real tree, some years they have fared better than others. 2010 was particularly bad as due to spacial  constraints it had to be located next to a radiator, which i know is a massive real tree no-no and by new years there was almost nothing left of it, and any pine needles that had remained insitu were dislodged when Chris wrestled it out the front door.  I’m pretty sure it was so bad we photographed the evidence but i can’t tell you where that would be now, filed away somewhere safe i’m sure 😉

Anyway, last year the tree was by the window and that worked out better.  This year we’re in a whole new house, and despite it being twice the size of the old house, we still ended up having to rearrange the furniture a little in order to find somewhere suitable for the tree to go- how does that work?!

So it is near a window again, but ummm…also kinda near a radiator too, since there’s one under the window.  Ho hum.  Every year Chris and i battle, him wanting to get a fake tree, me wanting to get a real one, me winning (of course) and then him vowing that next year he will win.  I can see his side of the argument, don’t get me wrong.  Certainly financially it makes more sense to get a fake one, and now we have the loft i don’t have the “We have nowhere to store it!” argument either.  I just really really love real christmas trees.  They look fantastic, they smell delicious, i like that you get to pick a new one each year and that you just plonk it outside with your recycling come new year rather than having to pack it all up and stuff it back into a box.

So, i won again obviously and on the 3rd December the advent calendar spoke:

(Mainly because the 3rd December was our only day off together as a family until the week before christmas)

So off we went! Picking one was pretty easy this year as we had some criteria- tall (as we have high ceilings) but not TOO bushy, with good needle-retaining-qualities, and with a budget of £30, £35 tops. The one we chose was actually supposed to be £40 but the guy let us have it for £35 and helped Chris carry it home as it turned out he lives a few doors down from us.

Toby was super excited.  Rudy was utterly baffled.  Just when he thought he had a handle on the universe, the grown-up people, the sensible, predictable ones, start bringing GIANT TREES indoors!

Anyway we got the christmas music on, as per tradition, and they both got straight to work- Toby hanging decorations, and Rudy pulling them off and tasting them.

There was a point during the decorating process when Rudy was actually pulling them off the tree faster than Toby and i could get them on the tree and Chris was over on the sofa in a tangled web of Ikea window lights.  In such situations the best thing to do, i find, is mask your screams of frustration in a hearty performance of “O Holy Night” or some other serene carol.

And now it’s done Toby wants to know, every single day, is it christmas morning yet?!  It’s the first year he’s really been old enough to even have a concept of ‘Santa’ and he’s excited but slightly puzzled by it all.  Yesterday, after a particularly spectacular unprovoked meltdown, made more dramatic by the fact he was nude (he was getting ready for bed!) he told me, between sniffs, that he was sad because “My wish Santa would come and bring me presents” so i think he’s getting a little impatient now, what with having no concept of time and the fact every Tom, Dick and Harry we come across keeps asking him if he’s been “good” so “father christmas” will fetch him toys (*sigh*)

It might mean the tree has to go up slightly later in years to come.  But for now, i’m enjoying the view

And the smell.  Which really is very magical 🙂

Catch Up!

It’s the 11th of the month already and yet this is my first blog post of December? Poor show, i know but things have been so hectic! I’m sure it’s the same for every family in the lead up to the holidays but possibly more so with all the bugs that have been flying our way.

Shortly after my last blog entry, in fact, possibly the very next day, i got mastitis. Which was predictable in many ways, as Rudy’s feeding had been all over the show, with him feeding round the clock when he was poorly and then showing very little interest once he was well again.  Then we went out for the day to mooch around the Christmas markets and meet up with some friends of Chris’s who we hardly ever get to see, and Rudy was in and out of the sling but basically didn’t feed the whole day from morning until bedtime, by which point i’d started to feel a bit unwell.  I was headachey, and generally achey, and generally feeling meh and wondered if maybe i was coming down with the mother-of-all migraines so called in sick to work.  Then around 1am i woke up with what felt like a boulder of red hot molten rock strapped to my chest and flu symptoms and knew with absolute certainty what i was dealing with.

I tried massage and hand expression in a vain attempt to ‘nip it in the bud’ and by 1.30am i was leaning over Rudy’s cot waking him up (the irony!) to get him to feed.  He had a sleepy, half-hearted kind of feed that did precisely nothing to resolve the situation and by the Monday morning i was at the doctors, feeling rotten and hot, and distinctly lopsided.  I’m not sure if it was the flucloxacillin, the ibuprofen, the expressing, the feeding, the resting, the combing (yes, combing), the hot showers, or what, but the duct did eventually unblock and normal life resumed…

…until last week when we had a visit from the D&V fairy (again! She was only just here a few weeks ago)

It was the usual- Rudy got sick, i got sick, Toby got sick and then eventually, just as i was beginning to think i might possibly be able to move somewhere other than between the bed and the toilet, Chris got sick and there was no one to look after any of us.  We’re all now recovered but the house may need some time yet to get over it.  Our kitchen has a definite “Halls of Residence” quality about it just now.  You know, when you need to move the washing up bowl full of dirty dishes to fill the kettle up? But there’s no available surface to move the washing up bowl to? So you just give up, and half fill the kettle at some weird angle, spilling most of your water back out as you try to navigate it back out of the sink? Yeah.  That.

It’s all good.  Chris has an assignment due on Friday and once that is handed in he no longer gets dodge his contributions to the housework and has to resume normal dish-washing duties.  Which i just know he will be thrilled about 😉

Toby isn’t quite right to be fair, i took him along to the GP this morning as i thought he might have a UTI (random spiking temps, lethargic, tearful, unsettled during the night when he’d normally  sleep through, complaining of his tummy hurting, not peeing much and you should have SEEN the colour of his pee last night- or possibly not) but then i caught a midstream sample from him just before we headed out to the appointment and it was concentrated but clear and not even remotely resembling the crazy cloudy stuff we’d found in his potty.  I took both samples, even though the potty one obviously wasn’t sterile, but they both came back dipstick clear, and clinically he’s well, with pulse, temperature etc all normal and not complaining of abdominal pain on examination…so either he did have a UTI and it’s cleared, or he didn’t, and i’m just a crazy neurotic mother 😉 Either way he did seem brighter today, which was nice to see, but also meant he had slightly more energy to put in to his “threenager” strops ;)(which are varied and plentiful these days!)

I love that photo!

It absolutely captures perfectly what they’re like at the minute.  Rudy is adorable.  He is a handful and a half, and that’s putting it politely.  I must say his name more times in one hour than i eat hot dinners in a month! Every time i look away i turn back to find him doing something he really ought not to, like climbing furniture, pulling things off shelves, eating things that are not in any way edible, bopping the dog on the head with toys, bopping his brother on the head with toys, turning electrical items on/off, opening and closing doors/drawers, stealing the toilet brush, dangling off the toilet flush, unravelling reams and reams of toilet paper like a bloody andrex puppy.  Fortunately, just like an andrex puppy, he is so gosh darn cute! He’s an imp.

And then Toby, getting his sulk on, pretending to be surly because he’s three, and he’s too cool for school.  But he’s still somewhere between a baby and a boy, and him being poorly last week was a real reminder of that both for us and him i think, and i’ve been appreciating the extra cuddles since.  He’s such a little worrier, very cautious and thoughtful and takes his big brother role Very Seriously.  A bit too seriously at times and i have to remind him who the parent is as some days he really gets on Rudy’s case.  He’s so funny though, he makes me laugh every day.  Yesterday we were at a shopping precinct, and i was musing…
Me: “I wonder what Nana would like for Christmas…what do you think Toby? What does Nana want?”
Toby: “Umm…maybe Nana would like to buy me some toys”
Hahaha.