Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Weekend En Famille

We have friends visiting for the weekend – The 21st Century Teenager’s Godmother and her sons. The 21st Century Husband collected the boys last night, and our friend is joining us after work this evening. The five of us had such a fun evening last night just eating pizza and watching a movie on the Apple TV. It was wonderful. We watched “Don’t Mess with the Zohan” starring Adam Sandler, which was very good, extremely funny and just what we needed on a Friday night after a busy week. The boys enjoyed it too.

This morning we’ve been staying around home as we were waiting to have our Sky HD Box installed. We’ve had Sky for ages, but when we visited our friends recently we saw how wonderful their HD service was and decided we would get it. The 21st Century Teenager has inherited the old Sky + box, with which he is very pleased indeed as it has a much bigger hard drive. It only took the chaps about half an hour to switch the boxes round so it was quite painless really, no drilling through walls or anything which drives me crazy!

This afternoon we are going to head off into town for some shopping with the boys, and then come back and do some more jobs while the boys chill out. Although they are going to be helping us move my wonderful old table that I’ve had refinished into the kitchen. It belonged to my Mom and Dad, and to my Mom’s mom before that, and was a big part of my life when I was growing up. My parents used it daily until they moved into the retirement home which is when it came to me. I remember lots of card games round that table in years gone by. I can still see my Grandpa Killingback sitting at it playing Crib with me – and my Dad too. Mom, Dad and I had some fabulous games of wild rummy round that table as well. Plus it was the table we ate dinner from for the first fifteen years of my life – so lots and lots of memories! It’s going to be fantastic to have my old friend back in the kitchen in daily use. I do need to buy some new chairs as sadly the old chairs were really falling apart. There are two of them left which I do use but we didn’t refinish them as they are literally on their last legs. When you sit on them you have to be very careful indeed. So I’m on the lookout for some funky chairs, maybe leather ones, that are not too expensive. There are lots of sales on here. For now we’ll use the chairs from the glass table that is being retired. The upholstery on them is beginning to wear but they’ll do for the moment.

The 21st Century Husband is on his way back from collecting my car at the garage – it has been making a noise on the front left side ever since I got it in June which hopefully this time is fixed. It’s their third time trying so hopefully it’s third time lucky.

Now I’m off to put some lunch together for three hungry young men!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I've been published again!

It has been a good day today. It was gorgeous and sunny and I had some very good news. An entry from my other blog – Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen – has been published on Chefs.com. To see it, please click here .

Monday, November 24, 2008

It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Wonderful

Why is it that the closer we get to the end of the year, the faster the days seem to fly by? Is it some sort of weird metaphysical glitch or is it just the fact that everyone seems to be rushing around like someone pushed the “fast forward” button? There is nothing like the last few weeks of the year to suddenly make you feel like you really need to fit in more things, see more folks, do more stuff, and most importantly, get ready for the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and many other celebrations all demand our attention and preparation at a time when, in many parts of the world, our bodies are naturally slowing down along with the seasons and the fact that the sun goes down way earlier in the day than it does for most of the rest of the year.

So there you are, with a million and one things to do, feeling like really all you want to do is cuddle up under the duvet, eat some soup and watch something undemanding on television. The time of the year when housewives are expected to be glamorous domestic goddesses is the time of year when most of us are totally exhausted. We need the season of light as much as anyone else does and we want to enjoy it, but sometimes it sure can be a challenge. We end up wishing there were a few extra hours in the day – or even a few extra days in the year. And we are so busy doing that we often miss a lot of the fun.

Ironically, it is in the middle of all this chaos that we need more than anything to just stop, be still and get some perspective. As housewives, we set some very unrealistic goals and put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to attain a completely unattainable perfection – a perfection that simply does not exist. And why does it need to be perfect? Because we are assailed at every turn with movies, advertisements, magazines, catalogues and articles depicting a perfect holiday celebration – one with chestnuts roasting over the open fire, perfectly decorated houses, everyone smiling and laughing and nothing whatsoever going wrong. But this is just as unrealistic as the airbrushed models on the covers of glossy magazines.

We had friends visiting us this weekend and I worked myself into a frazzle because I could not manage to get the house absolutely perfect. I worried that the food would not turn out as I wanted it to, and I stressed myself silly. It wasn’t until Saturday evening I realised that the fact everything wasn’t perfect simply did not matter. We were having a wonderful time visiting with our friends, everyone was full of delicious food and wine, the conversation was flowing and laughter could be heard all round the table. No one was worried that I had not yet managed to do a proper spring clean in our “new” house (the one we’ve lived in for nearly a year now!). And suddenly I wasn’t either. Far better to have wonderful, relaxed times with people I love than worry about whether anyone can see the odd spec of dust.

It got me to thinking about how much I’d like to spend just one more Christmas with so many people who are no longer with us. I wouldn’t be worried about what we ate, or what the house looked like, I’d just be so damn grateful to see them that it wouldn’t matter. And that is how we should be with people when they actually are still with us.

So, press the “pause” button, cut yourself some slack, make some soup and curl up with your family to watch a movie. This is the real thing, not a dress rehearsal, and we need to enjoy every day. It doesn’t matter if your decorations are more slap-dash than designer, cosy is always more comfortable than couture. Make Nigella Christmas your cookbook of choice for the holidays – it is very practical, comforting and gloriously anti-perfection – with the very strong message that food made with love almost always tastes good. Surround yourself with positive, uplifting messages of holiday cheer, not unrealistic airbrushed versions. And above all, have some fun. This time of year is for everyone to enjoy – and everyone means you too!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The 21st Century Housewife Meets the Original Domestic Goddess


Although we had a really fun day on Saturday at MPH, the BBC Motor Show in Birmingham, and Top Gear Live with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May was all very exciting, the whole thing was, for me, totally eclipsed by the BBC Good Food Show at Olympia in London on Sunday. As regular readers of this website will know, I’m a huge fan of Nigella Lawson. I have always admired her relaxed and joyful attitude towards food and cooking and I think her books are just amazing so I was thrilled to be able to meet her on Sunday. As you can see from the photograph of us both (that’s me in blue on the right), she is just as relaxed and friendly in person as she comes across in her writing and appears to be on television. I have met quite a number of high profile people over the years but I have never before met anyone in the public eye who was quite as genuine and unaffected as she was.

The whole day was hugely enjoyable. I’ve been to the BBC Good Food Show at Birmingham several times before and one always feels like they are about to be either squashed or trampled, but somehow Olympia in London is a more forgiving venue and although there were a lot of people there I did not feel even remotely claustrophobic. There were a huge number of exhibitors and lots of samples which of course we all love. From food to wine to pots and pans, if it had to do with good food, it was at Olympia this weekend. There was also a Restaurant Experience which allowed you to taste small versions of signature dishes from top London Restaurants. You could taste as many as time and your budget allowed, with wines to match. We were lucky enough to have VIP tickets, which allowed us access to a private dining area to enjoy our choices in. After a few pleasant hours spent tasting, sampling and purchasing, we went to the Icon Theatre to see Nigella’s presentation at 3pm. She was demonstrating how to make her edible Christmas Tree decorations but she also spent a good half hour doing a very relaxed question and answer session. The nice thing about her demonstration was that she made you feel like you could actually make what she had, and that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t picture perfect, it really only mattered that you had fun doing it. It is such a refreshing attitude in these days of “perfect” this and “perfect” that! Nothing against Martha Stewart or Anthea Turner, but I always feel vaguely inadequate when I look at their flawless projects. I much prefer Nigella’s attitude – particularly as I am a recovering perfectionist! I left the presentation positively inspired and ready to do lots of Christmas baking this year. By the time I met Nigella, she was on her second book signing and had just finished her second presentation of the day – but you would never have known it when I spoke with her. Despite the chaos reigning around her, and the huge number of people waiting (lucky for us our VIP passes meant we were escorted to the front of the queue) she was very relaxed. By the way, she has a new book out – Nigella Christmas – which has some great new recipes along with lots of ideas for Christmas that properly implemented mean you get to enjoy it too! It’s also a gorgeous coffee table book, full of wonderful photographs as well as her inimitable writing.

After the Good Food Show finished and our numerous purchases had been carried to the car, we went to Pizza Express just round the corner from Olympia for dinner. This branch was located in what looked like an old bank, with amazing architecture – gorgeous wood panelling and beautiful ceilings. It’s hard to find a restaurant open on a Sunday evening in London as most of them close after Sunday Lunch until Monday but Pizza Express were open thank goodness. It’s good quality food with a casually elegant edge at competitive prices – my kind of place for a quick bite to eat.

We got home just in time for an early night as the 21st Century Husband left for Paris Monday morning at 4 am (ouch!). It’s been a while since I have been up at that hour of the morning but I was waiting with him when his car arrived to take him to the airport. Thankfully he is back home tonight, so it’s just a short one. We are heading into another busy week!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Busy Week

As always, I found Remembrance Day on Tuesday to be a very moving experience. I watched the ceremony from the Cenotaph in London on the BBC. I feel such a huge amount of gratitude for the sacrifices made for our freedom by so many souls, both in the past and now in the present, and such a profound sense of sorrow that their sacrifice was necessary to preserve it. Especially now that the 21st Century Teenager is coming up to 16, the age at which many boys went to war, I find myself overwhelmed by the thought of all those young men going off into battle. My own Grandpa Killingback was 15 when he enlisted to fight in World War 1. Both he and his mother lied about his age, insisting he was 16. Thankfully he lived to return home, honourably discharged at 18 after being wounded in France. I watched with a huge sense of pride as the oldest living World War One veteran in England, Henry Allingham, laid his own wreath on the Cenotaph. He is 112 years old, and although he was unable to get up out of his wheelchair he somehow managed with a bit of help to lay the wreath himself actually on the steps. Fellow veterans Harry Patch aged 110 and Bill Stone aged 108 also laid wreaths. To read more about their amazing tribute to their fallen comrades, please click here. To watch a video of the event on the BBC website, please click here. The BBC also have a wonderful Remembrance Day section on their site, which you can see by clicking here.

From our trip up to the orthodontist in Birmingham on Tuesday to visits to three different Sixth Form College open evenings, it’s been a really busy week here! (Sixth Form is Grades 12 and 13 in England, and many students choose to leave their own school and attend Sixth Form College.) We’ve all been fighting off colds as well so it’s been a bit challenging. The 21st Century Teenager was sent home from school yesterday because he was so ill with his cold. Did I ever feel like a horrible mother for sending him to school – but his school are so threatening about the dire consequences of absences I was almost relieved that they had sent him home, so as to take the blame off me for keeping him home! After sleeping till nearly ten o’clock this morning he seems to be feeling a lot better thank goodness, as are we all.

We’ve got some fun things coming up this weekend. We are visiting both MPH in Birmingham and the BBC Good Food Show in London. I’m most excited about the Good Food Show as we have tickets to see the domestic goddess herself, Nigella Lawson, making recipes from her book Nigella Christmas.

For now though, it’s back to the glamour of washing and ironing!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

10th November 2008

After a very busy week, I was looking forward to the weekend. However as it involved some travel and I had not been feeling exactly a hundred percent, I was a bit nervous about the whole idea. I need not have been. It was a wonderful weekend.

We arrived in Burton-on-Trent about 11am on Saturday , just in time for my appointment with Eve at Eden Beauty. Eden Beauty is undergoing an expansion at the moment, and it is looking just incredible. We’ve been going to Eve for years now (men go to aestheticians too!) and she is wonderful. By the time I left just after 2.30pm, I was feeling much more relaxed, my skin was glowing from a wonderful facial and my hands and feed were immaculate.

Then it was off to see our hairdresser, Joe. She’s been cutting our hair (all three of us) and colouring mine for over fourteen years and has just opened her own wonderful salon. I was so thrilled to see her fantastic premises. They are beautifully decorated, and having your hair done is totally relaxing with loads of magazines and a television to keep you busy whilst your colour is developing. Joe is amazing and I left feeling gorgeous. The 21st Century Husband and Teenager were looking pretty good too!

We normally would have gotten together with friends if we were planning an overnight stay but as we had been a bit under the weather we decided on an early dinner and an early night. We decided to stay at a place that is full of memories for us – The Mickleover Court Hotel. Seven years ago we held two big 10th wedding anniversary parties, one in England and one in Canada. Both were amazing fun. The party in England, which followed a beautiful church service during which we renewed our vows, was held at the Mickleover Court. It was a fabulous occasion; I can still see my parents dancing and laughing together. This was the first time I had been back since then and I was not disappointed – except in that their wonderful restaurants were both shut so we had to go into Derby for dinner.

That turned out well too though as we ended up at Little Frankie's in Derby and had a delicious, casual meal and a lot of laughs. Guy and Alex had ribs, and I had a vegetable risotto. Both were amazing, as were the delicious desserts. Guy had ice cream, Alex had a cinnamon waffle combination and I had a yummy cherry crumble with ice cream. We headed back to our hotel around nine o’clock, comfortably full and relaxed.

Alex had his own room, but we all chilled out together in ours, reading and using our computers. The rooms really were lovely, very spacious and beautifully decorated, and very good value for money at £80 per room for superior rooms. The beds were not the most comfortable in the world, but I’ve been finding that in most hotels lately. I think I’m being spoiled by the wonderful new mattress we bought not so long ago!

After breakfast the next morning we realised we had some time before we needed to meet our friends who were taking us to lunch. So we decided to go back to our old church – St Peter’s in Littleover. It was originally built in the fourteenth century and is very beautiful. The ministry team are dynamic and inspiring and it was such a delight to see all our old friends again including the lovely vicar and her husband, who preached the sermon this week. I was quite nervous as it was the first time I had been back in church since losing both my parents, plus it was Remembrance Day. The latter occasion on its own is enough to reduce me to tears as I feel so moved by what was done (and is still being done) for us by the brave servicemen and women who fought and died for us. The service was wonderful though and I found it very comforting. I also managed not to shed too many tears – my mascara survived anyway!

Then it was off to the Brookhouse Hotel for lunch with my lovely friend Alice, her daughter, grand-daughter and son in law. The meal was delicious and the company was wonderful. It was such a lovely day. I’m so grateful to have had such a lovely relaxing weekend!

Today it is back to the chaos of the week, but I’m trying very hard to “be nice to myself”, as I was admonished to be by my yoga teacher recently. Just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I need to get stressed. And nobody’s perfect, so I really have to stop trying to be. Actually that is a good mantra for any 21st Century Housewife – or anyone for that matter - be nice to yourself and stop trying to be perfect. It makes life so much easier – and a lot more fun!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

History in the Making

I seldom become involved in the politics of other countries (I figure you really ought to live in a place before you comment on its internal politics), but I have to say the election of Barack Obama really did make me happy. I am sure I was not the only one to shed a little tear of joy that silly prejudices are finally being discarded. I don’t know if I would be a Democrat or a Republican if I was an American, but regardless of his party, President-Elect Obama has a charisma and positivity I have not seen in a world leader for a long time. I do think it is wonderful that an African American has finally been elected to the Presidency. It’s about time. However I don’t like to focus on that because I really don’t think his colour is important in the grand scheme of things. The election of Mr Obama is the embodiment of the premise that colour does not and should not matter. Whilst his colour may have inspired people, it would does him a dis-service to concentrate on it too much. It is not the only reason he was elected. He’s got something really special going for him that has nothing to do with the colour of his skin.

Barack Obama’s refrain of “Yes we can” may have caused some mirth over here in Britain because there is a little cartoon character with a yellow hard hat called Bob the Builder whose strap line is “Bob the Builder, Can we fix it? Yes we can!”, but it is a wonderful ethos to have. How often have you heard “Yes we can” in the news recently other than in association with President Elect Obama’s campaign? We all seem to be stuck in a cycle of glooms dooms. Regardless of how serious the situations we find ourselves in, be they international relations or the world economic crisis, surely a positive attitude is better than a negative one. I pray the “Yes we can” philosophy spreads throughout America and out into the world. Without a positive attitude we can’t hope to cope with any of the things that are happening now on the world stage. In fact, we could use a little positivity in our leadership over here in the United Kingdom as well, and I do wish we had a leader as charismatic and encouraging as Barack Obama appears to be. Despite that, it can’t help but encourage folks here and indeed world-wide to see America’s leader facing the future with positivity and hope.

It’s also wonderful to see the dynamic between him and his family and it is exciting to think of a new dawn in the White House. It’s quite a lot of pressure to suggest that someone recreate the Camelot of the Kennedy years, but if any First Family can do it (if indeed they want to), I’m sure the Obamas can. And if her wardrobe on the campaign trail was any indication, Michelle Obama is going to be a very fashionable First Lady indeed. Having said that, I am sure that she will be remembered for much more than that – she seems a positive force to be reckoned with in her own right and one who will do a lot of good.

I have seen history being made many times, and some events stick in my memory more than others. The election of Barack Obama is one of those events I know I’ll never forget. I hope that his presidency fulfils both his own and his country’s hopes and that it also benefits the world as a whole. I wish him and his family all the best in their amazing new lives and hope that despite the pressure of his job, they will know many happy years in the White House.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Taking a Sick Day

I discovered something yesterday. Sick days are good for the soul. It’s just a shame when you actually wait until you get sick before you allow yourself to take one.

I picked up an infection in Cyprus, which despite attention from a doctor there, refused to clear up. After a frenetic day of rushing round trying to get caught up at home on Monday, I ended up at the emergency doctor that night feeling incredibly unwell, after several days of being not quite right. It turned out I had the wrong antibiotic to treat my problem, so the infection had been given an extra five days to bed itself in, and was now rearing its head with a vengeance and causing me quite considerable pain.

When I visited my own doctor Tuesday morning, she gently suggested to me that as I had a six day old germ that had been gathering strength racing round my body, perhaps the new medicine might work better if I gave it the time to. Finally, I decided to allow myself to take a sick day. And as I did that, I realised that I had not taken one in years. No matter how I was feeling or what had been going on, I had soldiered on regardless. In fact, when I thought about it hard enough, I realised that the only way you could get this 21st Century Housewife to take a day out like that was to make her feel really, really ill to the point that she just could not carry on any longer.

There are a number of examples of this in my life, from the time fourteen years ago when our Avon lady rang the doorbell to find me on the verge of collapse with an incredibly high fever to the time I drove from the Midlands to Surrey very ill with a lung infection. Both of these events are not something I am proud of. I’m incredibly blessed in that I am very healthy and rarely ill, but I know that it is a failing of mine that I don’t take enough care of myself the very few times I am. And I am almost positive that most other housewives are exactly like me.

When was the last time you actually stopped when you were ill, and did not just soldier on regardless? You may have felt that you just had to keep going for the sake of your husband or partner, your children, the toddler group or maybe you were chairing the PTA bake sale, but you just refused to listen to your body and rest. And how many times after that has happened have you ended up feeling well and truly past your best? My lung infection nearly landed me in hospital all those years ago, because a) I would not admit I was sick and take the time to go to the doctor and b) I did not want to change anyone’s plans, including my own. As a result I spent the following two weeks in bed sicker than I have ever been, before or since.

I personally have never stopped when I was ill unless, as I was yesterday, I was more or less forced to. And yesterday, for the first time in over ten years, I spent most of the day on the sofa. I slept, read, watched television and healed. For a whole day I just took care of me. The world did not come to an end, the house did not fall apart and no one was upset with me. The 21st Century Husband to help by picking up some shopping and the 21st Century Teenager helped by forgoing his band practice so that I did not have to go out. They were happy to help me.

I know it was easier for me because my son is grown, and I know how hard it is when you are ill and have very young children. But sometimes you just have to call a time out and ask for help. Admittedly sometimes it is impossible and I’ve experienced this myself when we were new to an area and my parents and friends were miles away, but hopefully with a bit of creative thinking you can find a trusted someone willing even to take your little one for a walk while you just grab a moment’s rest if you are really sick. You can always take your children with you to the doctor if you need to, so for heaven’s sake, go!

Hopefully I will not get ill again for a long time, and I’m going to try to make sure of that by taking another day out today as I know I am not really fully well yet. I just hope I learn my lesson this time and realise that it is no failure to call time out. If you were employed outside the home you could call in sick, so it is time for housewives to realise that every once in a while, they need to allow themselves to do the equivalent of that and take a sick day.

In fact, maybe if we housewives took the odd “sick day”, even if we were not really sick, it might help us to stay healthier in the first place. Whatever we do, we definitely have to remember to take care of ourselves as well as everyone else. So the next time you feel utterly frazzled, take a time out before you actually get sick, and be amazed at the huge difference it makes in both your physical and mental health.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

No matter how much I enjoy a holiday, I always love coming home – even when home is fifteen degrees cooler! It really is autumn here now, with the nights drawing in incredibly early. It started to get dark around four o’clock this afternoon, and now at five o’clock, it’s pitch black out there.

It’s been a busy time since we got back, trying to get organised for the autumn season and also starting our Christmas preparations. I’ve had another article published by Reuters International as well, from my blog Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen. If you would like to see it, please click here. The 21st Century Teenager goes back to school tomorrow and is heading for GCSE examinations in late November, along with GCSE Mock Examinations (practice ones for the real thing next May/June) in November and December so it is a busy time for him as well. And of course the 21st Century Husband is always busy with work!

It’s taking me a little while to get back into the swing of things. I have not relaxed properly in such a long time that our holiday has left me a bit drained – especially as having so much time to think really allowed me the time to process all the things that have happened this year. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or not as I spent quite a lot of our holiday mourning my parents. I realise now that being frantically busy means you don’t have time to think – and once I did it all came crashing in on me. I am incredibly grateful to have had such a lovely break in such a beautiful place though. If you would like to see where we stayed please click here. The Eylsium is gorgeous. We stayed in two of their deluxe bedrooms which had balconies and views of the sea. It really is a lovely setting. Cyprus has some breathtaking sea views – and don’t get me started on the sunsets!

A great session with Judith my personal trainer was a wonderful start to the day today and really energised me. And then yoga helped me to relax so that was good too. In between I’ve been throwing in loads of washing one after the other (I guess I could call that “chain washing”?!) and trying to get the housework caught up, along with doing some writing and catching up on correspondence. So it’s back to normal…or perhaps I should say normal chaos…in the 21st Century Household once again!