Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Ironing Monster


The first time I really ironed something was actually just after I met my husband. He had just collected me from work and brought me to his flat to get ready to go out for the evening. He asked me to iron him a shirt while he had a shower. I agreed without hesitation.

Now up until this point the only ironing I had done was as a kid, “helping” my Mom by ironing my Dad’s handkerchiefs. This was easy as they were squares, and back when men were carrying handkerchiefs in the 1970’s, it was the fashion to press creases into them as you ironed and folded them. I had never ironed a shirt before and had absolutely no idea where to start. So as my love made his way into the shower, I began to panic. What if this was some kind of test? His mum was pretty traditional. What if he expected me to be that way too? What if I could not iron the shirt properly and he decided to break up with me because of it? Well, panic must have fed inspiration because I did a pretty good job of that shirt in the end. In fact, when he told his mum about it later in the week, the 21st Century Husband-to-be was pretty impressed. His mum just shook her head, smiled and said to me, “Really, you should have started as you meant to go on.” I was puzzled at the time but later realised that what she meant by that was that by ironing that first shirt I was setting a precedent. She was right.

Not a lot of my own clothes needed ironing, and I was amazed to discover that most folks in England ironed everything. Seriously, one of my friends ironed underpants! Coming as I did from North America, the land of permanent press sheets and no-iron shirts, I was a bit overwhelmed. Most people living in England twenty years ago did not even have tumble-dryers (again a bit of a surprise to me) and that made ironing just about everything a virtual necessity.

Once I became a housewife, it did not take me long to discover that I hated ironing. From the endless shirts to the wretched sheets (which I always managed to tangle myself up in), my iron and I never quite developed an entente cordiale. It did not take long for an ironing monster to grow in our airing cupboard. A washing basket full of clothes to be ironed always seemed to be sitting there waiting for me. Even if I actually managed to empty it, it would be full again by the end of the day. Once, when we went away on holiday and my cousin lived in our flat so she could look after our cats for us, she tackled the ironing monster for me. I really thought she had defeated it, but within a few days of our return, it was back. Over the last twenty years it has followed me from London, to Kent, to the Midlands and back down to the south of England again.

I am all for getting help when you need it and am a big fan of cleaning ladies and domestic services that do all manner of things from cleaning your oven to, you guessed it, ironing. While I have had one fabulous cleaning lady and have had lots of luck with domestic oven cleaning services and the like, any ironing services I have tried have been a bit of a disaster. One, despite promising they were ironing in a smoke free environment, sent back all the shirts reeking of cigarette smoke. This was no help at all as of course I had to wash them all again. The next service managed to send back a polo shirt that did not belong to us. It was a designer one so I immediately telephoned them. “Oh, we’ll never figure out who it belongs to, so you might as well just keep it, “ was their reply. I was horrified, but felt slightly less upset when I found out that a) it fit the 21st Century Husband and b) one of his shirts was missing as well.

So I guess I am stuck with the ironing monster for now, although I intend to keep trying to defeat it. I guess it isn’t so bad as monsters go...it may be unsightly, but at least it’s quiet!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Taking Some Time Out

I got to the Abbey but was unable to go inside as it was shut! This was despite a sign saying it was open on Saturdays until 5.30pm - and it was only 4.30pm. Never mind, perhaps next time I will finally see the inside of this iconic building. We walked all the way around it and it was wonderful to finally have a really good look at the outside.


It was a brilliant weekend, with lots of sightseeing, relaxing and eating. This photo is the 21st Century Husband and I in the photograph in the Quarry - or The Dingle as it is known. It is an old quarry that was made into beautiful gardens. As you can see from my coat it did get chilly eventually, but the sunshine was out so it was beautiful.

We stayed in the Prince Rupert Hotel, so named as it used to be the home of King James I’s grandson, Prince Rupert, who was a keen supporter of Charles I. Parts of the building date from the 12th century so it is a very interesting place. We were in the ominously named “King Charles I Suite” which made me a tad nervous as of course King Charles was one of those members of the royal family whose story does not end happily. However the hotel is not even remotely spooky, being completely (but very sympathetically) re-done. It was an extremely nice place to stay and aside from the shower (which was the worst I have ever used!) the suite was lovely, although I was disappointed it was not one of the ones with a four poster bed. I’d recommend the Prince Rupert, but would suggest you plan on baths instead of showers unless you enjoy being alternately scalded and frozen. It is difficult to plumb old buildings I know, but I’ve stayed in older places with better showers!

It was so lovely to have a day or so to just potter around exploring. We stumbled on some fantastic little shops, including Juliet Chilton Flowers and Interiors which was a gorgeous treasure trove spread over several floors full of all sorts of furniture, curios and things to decorate with. Another favourite was Wysteria Lane, one of the most amazing shops I have ever been in. It is situated in an old house over four floors and each of the rooms is done up to suit the wares being sold in it. Menswear is in the basement, kitchen items are displayed in an actual kitchen and I was utterly taken with the display of outdoor items actually outside in the garden.



Venture upstairs and you will find rooms done up as walk in wardrobes with beautiful clothes, handbags and decorative items for bedrooms. There is a children’s room and lots more. It is a simply beautiful shop. I would love to have spent more time there.

We had two super meals in Shrewsbury which I will talk about more soon on my other blog, Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen. I hope the photograph below wets your appetite!


It was also lovely to catch up with our cousin Noel. I feel so grateful to have had a little break in the midst of all the chaos. Everything is so busy at the moment here in the 21st Century Household with impending exams, lots of things going on and busy professional lives as well, that sometimes we need reminding to slow down. Just in case your household is in a similar situation to ours let me remind you of it as well. In the words of William Henry Davies, “What is life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” It’s as true today as when he wrote it nearly a hundred years ago.

Do take some time out. Even if you cannot manage a whole weekend, try for a day or even a couple of hours. You will be very glad you did.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Exploring the Past


I’ve told the story before about my Grandmother Ruby Wilde who was emigrated very unwillingly to Canada with her mother in the early 20th century.  She was only six years old and had been raised by her grandparents.  Her mother worked as a housekeeper in a large manor house about thirty miles from Shrewsbury and only visited occasionally.   There was no father’s name on the space for it on Ruby’s birth certificate.  To further add to the mystery, when Ruby was six, her mother was discharged from service at the manor house and paid to leave England.  The further twist in the tale was that it was specified that she must take her child with her.  Ruby did not want to go and begged to stay with her grandparents, but to no avail.  So hasty and unplanned was this departure, that Ruby’s mother flipped a coin to decide whether she would emigrate to Canada or Australia!  It seems pretty clear that there was some connection between Ruby and those who lived in the manor house but it is impossible to know for sure.  I do know that Ruby left England very unwillingly, and sadly never returned.  Aged only 62, she died wanting desperately to visit her home one last time.  Some of her passion for this country seems to have passed genetically to all of her grand-daughters and has already brought two of us back to England to live. 


It’s also given us all a real soft spot for Shrewsbury itself, a beautiful market town near the border of England and Wales.  It is to Shrewsbury that I am heading with my husband and son this weekend.  We will be sightseeing and also having a visit with our wonderful cousin Noel.  Noel’s late wife, Barbara continued a correspondence begun by my Grandmother Ruby with her grandparents many years before, and that correspondence was in part responsible for me ending up in England.  He is a lovely gentleman, and it will be so nice to see him again.


You see, after my Ruby’s Grandparents passed away, she stayed in touch with her cousins.  The cousin she kept in touch with the most was named Albert.  He had two sons named Alan and Noel.  When World War 2 raged, Ruby saved her ration coupons and sent food packages to Albert and his family.  

 

After the war, Ruby kept up her correspondence with the family she had left behind and after Ruby’s death, her daughter (my Mom) wrote to Albert to tell him of her mother’s death and the correspondence continued.

 

When I was old enough,  I began to write to Albert as well.  It was really mostly thank you letters for the wonderful packages he used to send me full of games and toys different to any I could find in Canada, but I loved to write letters so these developed into a correspondence of their own. 

 

After a time, Albert too passed away, and it was his son Noel’s wife who wrote to tell us of his passing.  I still loved writing letters, so I replied to her and the correspondence continued.  In 1985 we travelled to England and met our them.  I loved England so much that after another visit in 1987, I emigrated.   The rest is history!   


I’m looking forward to exploring the place my Grandmother came from this weekend.  I have not spent that much time there so every visit I see something new.  I also hope to visit Shrewsbury Abbey this time.  It is where the vase in the photograph above came from.  It was my Grandma’s.  I don’t know if she took it with her when she emigrated, or if someone brought it over for her later, but I’m very keen to see the place it came from. I also want to go to the Dingle, where we scattered my Aunt’s ashes last Autumn.   


We are going to be staying at a lovely old hotel, very historic and reputedly one of the most haunted hotels in England.  Sounds like an adventure to me!  

Friday, April 24, 2009

Isn't It Time We Gave Mums Some Respect?

Although I have no hesitation in discussing tough issues on this website, I try very, very hard not to be political. This is hard for me as I am very much a political animal and there are many issues I feel strongly about. With some rare exceptions, I generally restrain myself. However the following is an issue that needs to be raised out of respect for housewives and mothers across the United Kingdom.

The National Health Service and Department of Health in Britain have started an initiative called “Change 4 Life”. It is a campaign to inform people about healthy eating and living. Of course, healthy eating is important, as is watching your weight and exercising. However, one particular advertisement they are showing is not just condescending, it is downright offensive.

Do click here to have a look at it.

Just in case the link does not work, the advertisement is animated and shows a boy sitting at a table. As he speaks, his mother drives a fork lift truck to the table and dumps a huge portion of sausages and mashed potato on his plate. As the animation continues, the dialogue goes something like this. “Mum loves me and thinks lots of food will make me big and strong. But she gives me enough to feed a horse! Good job we have Ben.” (Ben is a dog sitting on the floor to whom the boy gives much of the huge portion he has just been served.) The boy goes on, “She forgets I don’t need grown up portions. My teacher said if we eat too much and do too little food gets stored as fat in our bodies which means we could grow up to have heart disease, cancer or type 2 diabetes. Nasty!” At this point the animated people are looking into a flap the boy has lifted in his tummy to see the horrors going on inside him. This includes train cars full to overflowing with fat making their way to his organs, all afflicted on him by his over-feeding mother. The boy then says, “So I told mum not to feed me till I burst. Now I eat me size meals, just the right amount for my tum.”

I find this advertisement deeply offensive on so many levels I almost don’t know where to start. First of all, it implies that mothers are at best ignorant, and at worst, stupid. Seriously, if we have got people in this country that actually do not know that children need smaller portions than adults, we have got a lot more problems than we think we do already. It’s common sense. Not only that, but you would have to have been living in a sealed fallout shelter, with no access to the media for the last several decades, not to know that over-eating can contribute to heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes - amongst other “nasty” things!

Secondly, this message is targeted squarely at women, specifically mothers. No mention is made of dads, other family members or carers. It implies that mothers may love their children but are just too stupid to know how to look after them without state intervention. They overfeed them because they have no common sense and the result is a lot of overweight children. This tacit implication that mothers are completely responsible for all childhood obesity is not only inaccurate but totally unfair.

In today’s society, mothers are not the only ones who feed their children. Many children are fed by dads, nurseries, their schools, their extended family and friends and goodness knows who else these days. Not to mention the fact that children will even eat things themselves, without asking or telling their parents. Children are influenced in their food choices by the media, advertising and their peers, not just their mothers.

To solely blame mothers by implication for the childhood obesity problem is scandalous. Not only has the government in Britain allowed the development of economic pressures so strong most women cannot be housewives or stay at home mums, they have now decided to blame mothers for this health issue. Perhaps if more women could be stay at home mums and be more in control of what their families eat we might not have this problem in the first instance.

In addition, the “teacher says” piece implies that teachers (who here are representing the state) know better than parents. The “I told mum” piece implies that it is perfectly acceptable for a child to be telling their parents what to do. No wonder we are having problems with the breakdown of discipline and children behaving badly. Government agencies are implying parents know very little and positively encouraging kids to tell them what to do. This shows that many government agencies do not feel that parents - particularly mothers - are worthy of any respect whatsoever.

Just for the record, most women who are mothers are knowledgeable, caring people with more than an ounce of common sense. If any other group of society were being targeted in this way there would be uproar. This deeply offensive advertisement should be taken off the air.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Bit At A Time


Remember the photograph above?  That is my cringe-worthy “before” picture from my blog on 11th February.  It is one I was worried about posting, as it more than casts my housewifery skills in a very bad light.  Having said that, I never claimed to be a “perfect housewife”.  In fact, that is the antithesis of my work as the 21st Century Housewife. 


But I digress.  In case you did not read my blog on 11th February, the room above is the study in our house, and it became a bit of a dumping ground after we moved in.  Everything we did not know what to do with went into the study, particularly things that I needed to sort through after the deaths of both my parents.  Just as we were in the process of moving, my parents died within six weeks of one another.  That was about eighteen months ago, and every time I went in the study to try to sort things out, I’d end up in tears as I went through things that reminded me of their loss.  As a result, not much got done in there for a very long time.  So in February I decided to sort the room out, whatever it took and however long it took me.  


Because of the emotional nature of the clutter I had accumulated in the room, I decided to be patient with myself and work away at my own pace.  It is because of this that I am only just now posting more photographs.  Sadly they are still not “after” photographs either.  These are the “half way there” photographs.  




Despite this, I am rather proud of myself.  It took hours going through many of the boxes.  Also, as you can see from the photograph on the left, the desk is nearly clear enough to actually be used by the 21st Century Husband.  (This room is his study; I have a room upstairs we call the library that is my version of this room.  I love my library, but I’ll share more about that another day.)


You can’t really see it in the “before” photograph, but there was a display cabinet to the left of the desk (the edge of it is just showing in the left corner of the photograph above).  I moved that upstairs yesterday and it looks amazing in the master bedroom.  (Even that was a challenge as I had to go through all six of the drawers in the cabinet before I moved it!)  I’ve cleared out four big dustbin (garbage) bags full of paper in the last ten weeks, and that does not count the papers I had to shred!  I found nice places in our house to display many of the keepsakes that had belonged to my parents, took a few things I needed longer to sort through upstairs to the library (no that isn’t cheating, it’s just creative displacement!).  I also recycled over fifty magazines I had collected over the years.  (What was I thinking, hanging on to all those magazines!!) And that is before you get to the bookshelf which you cannot see in the right of the photograph - and which I promise to include pictures of next time!  


The long and short of it is, this is very much a work in progress.  My purpose for sharing it with you is to emphasize that housewives like that so beautifully played by Marcia Cross in Desperate Housewives - the Bree Hodges of this world - are few and far between these days.  It is virtually impossible to have a tidy house all the time, and those of us who fall slightly - okay a long way - short of perfection on that score should never feel bad about ourselves because of it.  


I also want to stress the importance of taking things slowly.  It is a bit like losing weight.  If you crash diet and the pounds fall off in a huge hurry, you will find that when you start eating again, they pile straight back on.  If you tidy everything up in a rush, putting things away willy nilly, not only will you never be able to find them again, but it’s a pretty strong likelihood that the room you have sorted out will be a disaster zone again before you know it. 


So whatever room it is that is your nemesis - or even if there is more than one (hey, don’t look at me, I’ve confessed enough for one day!) - be encouraged.  Take it slow and steady, but do something about it.  I feel so much better - lighter somehow - having done what I have in the study.  Also, because I have done it over time, I am not feeling fed up with the job itself. In fact, I am actually beginning to enjoy it.  The feelings of sadness and dread I had are being slowly replaced by happy memories and a calm knowing that even though they have passed away, my parents are still very much a part of me and of our lives.  


Who knew tidying up could be so therapeutic?


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Praise of Pudding


When I was a little girl in Canada, pudding was one of my favourite things.  I particularly liked pudding pie, with its graham cracker crust and its soft, velvety milk pudding filling.   Being a child of the seventies, I was a great fan of Bill Cosby’s advertisements for Jello Pudding, and it was that my Mom always bought.  We used it for dessert as it was, or used it for making other desserts, from the aforementioned pudding pie to (with the addition of some other ingredients) wonderful light cakes.

When I first arrived in England twenty years ago, I was surprised to see that Jello as a brand did not seem to exist over here.  I was very disappointed to find that instead of the myriad of flavours of Jello gelatine I was used to seeing on offer, all there were was small boxes of Hartley’s gelatine cubes.  These were a mystery to me because, as far as I was concerned, gelatine was a powdered substance (except if I was making something very fancy indeed, in which case it came in “leaves” or sheets).  Not only that, but there was no Jello pudding.  In fact, there was no “pudding” of any kind.  My enquiries of the staff in the grocery store yielded only confusion and usually went something like this.

“Pudding?  What kind of pudding dear?” they would enquire. 

My reply of “I really don’t mind what flavour” would cause their brows to furrow with confusion. 

Thinking I perhaps had not heard them correctly, they would ask, “No, I mean what sort of pudding are you looking for?”

“You know, the creamy kind you mix up?” I’d reply. 

“You mean custard dear.  It’s over on the left next to the ice cream cones.”

By this point I was so confused and embarrassed I would usually give up. 

I soon discovered what the problem was.  Not long after that I was in a casual restaurant eating dinner with my boyfriend, G, who would later become my husband. 

“Any pudding chaps?”  the waiter enquired after we had finished our main course. 

Thinking I might finally have discovered somewhere I could get a creamy, milky dessert that faintly resembled the thing I so enjoyed, I eagerly answered “yes”.  The waiter disappeared and returned with a list of desserts, not one of which was pudding.  In desperation I turned to G and asked him what was going on. 

Although he is English, G spent a considerable part of his youth in the States and so was ideally placed to sort out my confusion.  He gently explained that in England, and in fact pretty much anywhere in the United Kingdom, pudding is not a creamy, milky dessert.  Here, pudding is defined as the final part of a meal.  It is usually something that is served hot, like sticky toffee pudding or rice pudding, but over the years the word “pudding” has come to mean the same thing as the word “dessert”.  Even an ice cream sundae or piece of cake can be a pudding. 

 

Even now, twenty years later, I still cannot buy instant pudding here in England.  Actually, that is not strictly true, you can buy a whipped dessert called Angel Delight .  It is similar, but once you have had Jello pudding, nothing else really measures up.  I find Angel Delight to be too sweet, and its texture very grainy, nothing like the smooth creaminess of my favourite.  I really miss it in cooking too.  It’s impossible to make Bacardi Rum Cake the way I really love it without the addition of a package of vanilla Jello pudding, although heaven knows I have tried. 

As a result, I have been known to bring back boxes of Jello pudding in my suitcase after visits to Canada or the States.  My husband laughs at me, but we do enjoy the desserts I make with it so much.  I have to confess I always worry as I walk through Customs though.  There is nothing illegal about bringing it in as it contains no forbidden ingredients, but I can only imagine what the officers would say if they opened my bag and saw several boxes of the stuff tucked in amongst my clothes.  I might never live it down, but it would be worth it!  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Looking At Things From A Different Angle



I bought some wonderful bulbs at the Chelsea Flower Show last year which I planted in containers to avoid them being eaten by the ninja squirrels who visit us regularly. (I call them ninja squirrels because they can get into all sorts of awkward places, and regularly hang upside down by their toes to steal peanuts from the bird feeder. They are a bit silly as I always put peanuts out for them, within easy reach, on the ground. I guess it is just more fun being a ninja or something.) Anyway, although I ordered the bulbs at leisure, choosing them from a list while looking at gorgeous pots full of blooming specimens, when it came time to plant them it was rather in haste. It was coming up to Christmas and they were beginning to sprout, so I threw them into pots very quickly one afternoon. Somehow I managed to plant an orange variety in the same pot with a bright pink one. Oops.

For the first little while after my mistake became apparent, I tried to convince myself that it was an homage to the colour clash of fuschia and orange that is so hot in fashion for Spring/Summer 2009. However, after a few days it started to really bug me. I’m not sure I really like fuschia and orange together. Every time I walked past the container of tulips I berated myself for not being more careful, for not being organised in the first place so I did not have to rush, and for just about anything else I could think of to berate myself for. All my other tulip containers look so pretty with their bright blocks of one colour - pale pink, purple and red. This one became a real eyesore to me, particularly as the orange flowers began to open up and become brighter. I liked the orange tulips and I liked the pink tulips, but I really did not like them together.

Finally, after a couple days of being upset with myself, it occurred to me that I could pick the orange tulips and put them in a vase inside. It just so happened that I had already chosen some pretty freesias and roses in the red and orange family for a bouquet in our living room, which is decorated in red and cream. I added the orange tulips to the bouquet and here is the result. A visitor yesterday thought it was a bouquet from a professional florist. I’m incredibly pleased with it.



Now when I walk past the container of pink tulips I feel happy, and when I see the bouquet in our living room, I feel happy too. It got me to thinking how sometimes we have situations in our lives that irritate us, and that seem to defy any attempts to resolve them. Every time they rear their ugly heads they irritate us. We go over and over them in our minds, and all we do is upset ourselves. Well, sometimes stepping back and looking at the situation in a different way can be the path to a very satisfying solution, a bit like it was for me today.

It’s certainly worth trying next time you are faced with one of those rather irritating situations, and infinitely healthier than driving yourself crazy worrying about it! ☺

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Monsters, Aliens and The Case of the Disappearing Weekend


I know I have gone on about this before, but what has happened to weekends? As usual, this weekend has disappeared at the speed of light. I wish that did not happen so often. One minute I am looking forward to Friday and the next, it is Sunday evening! Never mind, it was fun. Tonight isn’t bad either, even though Sunday night is not my favourite night of the week. I’ve got a lovely organic chicken in the oven for dinner and the delicious smells of it cooking are wafting through the house. It’s very cosy.

We decided to take some time out on Saturday and went to the movies for the first time in ages. Going to the cinema with me can be a bit of a challenge as I have very stringent criteria for the movies I watch. They have to be funny or seriously interesting, there should not be too many sad bits, very little violence and last, but not least, there just has to be a happy ending. As there are not a lot of movies out there like this any more, this seriously limits the number of times I go to the cinema, and it was the reason we found ourselves watching Monsters vs Aliens, an animated feature by Dream Works yesterday afternoon.

It is a very funny film, voiced by some extremely talented actors and I have to say we really enjoyed it. It lost a bit of energy towards the middle, but the ending was happy and it did have a very positive message. (Even though life-altering changes can be really scary at the time, sometimes they lead on to something really amazing and make you very happy indeed.)

We went out to dinner but arrived home fairly early. As the 21st Century Husband had some work to do so I decided to tackle the ironing basket (my very own monster and alien combined) which had actually gotten so full I was worried it was going to take on a life of its own. This daunting task was made bearable by watching episodes of the Rachael Ray Show which I had recorded on Sky earlier in the week. If you live in the UK and you have Sky, you can watch Rachael’s show on Diva TV. If you have not yet heard of Rachael, do check her out. She is a fabulous cook and the show covers all sorts of interesting topics. It’s a great companion to the ironing, that is for sure. It’s not just for girls either; the 21st Century Husband enjoys it as well, and I caught him taking sneaky glances at the screen during breaks from his computer!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed today as we spent it doing some long overdue tasks in the garden, including staining our much-loved garden bench which was a gift from my parents some years ago. It was looking a bit tired and worn out after three years with no special attention (they really need annual sanding and staining). Finally, this year I have managed to find the colour of stain I always wanted - Autumn Brown. Every other time the stain has been fractionally too dark for me, but this year it is perfect. Just one more coat and about a week to fully dry and I’ll be sitting out on our bench having my morning coffee. I really enjoyed staining the bench with the 21st Century Husband (and was very grateful to our son for the great job he did sanding it down). It’s not only quicker doing a task like that with a companion, it’s a lot more fun.

I’m looking forward to getting lots accomplished this week, including spending some quality time on the manuscript of my book. I’ve been concentrating so much on the website that it has been a bit neglected of late. It is nearly finished, so it’s time for a good old fashioned bit of concentration so I can get it sent off to the publisher. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

Wishing you a great week!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spring Salads


I’m so pleased to see that spring is well and truly here in England. The flowers are out; I’ve even got bluebells (one of the later bloomers in terms of English spring flowers) in my garden now. Now the clocks have gone forward it stays lighter longer and I notice I feel more energetic.

As a result I have been making a lot of salads, both complete dinner salads and side salads. Inspired by a couple of recipes my cousin Esther makes, I got a bit creative the other night and used strawberries in a savory side salad. It was delicious. It is not really enough of a recipe to be on the Recipe of the Week page, but I do want to share it as I hope it inspires you to try some versions of your own. Mixing fruit and nuts together with salad leaves can make for some very tasty experiments! Provided you go easy on the dressing and don’t use too many nuts, they are a very healthy choice as well.

I bought a ready-made speciality aged balsamic vinegar dressing from Waitrose, but any good balsamic dressing would be fine. You can even make one yourself using 2 to 3 tablespoons each of olive oil and good aged balsamic vinegar plus 1 tablespoon of honey.

Strawberry and Macadamia Nut Salad
Serves 3 - 4

About four to five cups mixed salad leaves (I used a bag of mixed salad and added about a cup of torn iceberg lettuce)
10 - 12 large strawberries, washed and sliced in about four slices each
2 handfuls of macadamia nuts
3 - 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar dressing

Toss everything together in a salad bowl. It’s nice to hold back a couple of strawberries and a few nuts just to decorate the top of the salad.

This recipe is so delicious you might want to make extra. We all had seconds!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Home Again - Tuesday 14th April


I must admit, I had been worried about our visit to Canada as I felt there was so much to do and it was such an emotional trip, going as I was to hopefully finish sorting out my parents’ estates. But to my delight, with the help of some very nice people, I had done pretty much all I could do towards that end by close of play last Tuesday, leaving me almost a week to visit with family and friends.

Of course, last Tuesday was a difficult day, and really concentrated my mind on my grief at losing my parents. In another way though, it was very freeing. Obviously everything is not totally sorted out yet, but I have done all I can, and in many ways, drawn a line under the horrible feelings of loss. I can now make a concerted effort to concentrate on happy memories and move on.

Although I am an only child, and there are only three members of my parents’ generation of family left, I have a lot of cousins, so it would have been impossible to visit with them all in less than a week. (My Grandpa had fifteen grandchildren and more than double that number of great-grandchildren and that is just on my Dad’s side. I have a big family on my Mom’s side too!) However, I did manage to visit with quite a lot of them. Everyone made a huge effort to get together with us even though we were only in Canada for a short time. Easter Sunday was lovely as well. My cousin and her partner had a family gathering which everyone attended so all of us from my Mom’s side were together again, save for my two cousins and my cousin’s finance who live in England like me. I also managed to catch up with two lovely friends and their families earlier in the week which was wonderful.

We all had a lovely time and I’m so grateful to my super family and friends who made such an effort to see us. And so we are home again. I love to travel, but there is always something wonderful about coming home. I feel grateful to have a nice place to come home to, and newly enthusiastic about really settling in here. After eighteen months during which so many times have felt overshadowed by sadness, this feels like a new start. If that isn’t something to be grateful for, I don’t know what is!

Some Things Never Change - Saturday 11th April


Back in 1971, a branch of the Old Spaghetti Factory opened in Toronto. It followed the format of previous branches in the West of Canada, located as it was in an old warehouse. The warehouse was filled with antiques - from an old carousel to an old street car (tram) - and then tables were scattered amongst them. Even the headboards and footboards from old beds were turned into booths. It was a magical place for a child to eat, and when I visited with my parents in the late seventies, I was completely enchanted. An added attraction was the food, which was delicious, plentiful and great value for money.

The 21st Century Husband, Teenager and I returned to the Old Spaghetti Factory at 54 The Esplanade in Toronto tonight and nearly thirty years after visits with my parents, nothing has changed. We had a wonderful evening, surrounded by fascinating souvenirs from Canada’s past. The food, from a menu offering so many choices it takes a pleasurable ages to decide what you would like to eat, was delicious. Generous main courses also included delicious soup or salad to start with, and yummy spumoni ice cream to finish. My veal milanese was scrumptious. The pasta was dressed in a tomato based mushroom and tarragon sauce that was simply delightful. Our waiter was friendly and efficient and we enjoyed a couple of hours at our table over some extremely nice food and drink.

It was lovely to feel I was stepping back in time. The Old Spaghetti Factory obviously believes in the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and this has served them very well. The formula adopted in 1971 still works today and I highly recommend a visit to this wonderful emporium. It’s located just a couple blocks from Union Station and is a wonderful place to go with kids of all ages.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Very Old Friend


The plant in the photograph above is one of the first things I remember from when I was a child. I grew up seeing it entwined through a pretty screen that formed a separation between the entrance hall and the dining room in our house. In fact, it is older than I am.

The plant is actually made up of two plants. The first was given to my Mom at one of her wedding showers in the late fifties, and the second at a baby shower in the mid 1960’s. She potted them both together when my parents moved into their first house six months after I was born.

The plant thrived all through my childhood, with the ivy getting longer and longer. There was a brief time when it began to falter, but my Dad took a cutting which he later added back into the remaining plant, and everything was alright again. It survived a move to a new home when I was thirteen, and later my parents’ move from that house to an apartment. It saw me grow up, and was a silent witness to all the laughter we had in our house - lots of family gatherings and fun. It watched my parents grow old.

When we helped my parents move into a retirement home in 2007, the plant was beginning to look a little ragged round the edges. There was a long strand of stem without many leaves. We were all worried that it would not survive the move. I held it on my lap in the car as we drove to the home - and personally draped it round the picture my parents had over their sofa and over the screen door to their garden area.

Like my parents, the plant did not really like being in the retirement home. It began to fade away a bit, and the leaves fell off one of the main stems, leaving us with a fairly strong plant at the bottom, but a very worrying bit of plant at the end. When my Dad passed away, the plant was not doing very well at all, and when we had to move it to the new suite my Mom moved into after his death, I doubted whether it would survive. I carefully draped it round the room, trying to make things look like home. But for my Mom, nothing would ever be the same again.

It was the last thing I removed from the home after my Mom died. I walked out the door with it in my arms, feeling utterly bereft. My lovely cousins in Sarnia agreed to take care of for me. Sadly I could not take it home due to the restrictions on moving plant materials from one country to another. It was looking so fragile I told my cousin not to worry if it died, I just appreciated them looking after it for me.

Imagine my delight when I saw the plant again this week. Living with my cousins in Sarnia clearly suits it. It seems very happy there and is looking healthier than I have seen it look in years! My cousin had the courage to cut the long dying stem off it, and the remaining plant is thriving, with lots of wonderful new leaves starting.

I’m glad my old friend is living happily with people I am so fond of, and is doing so well. It’s nice to see it making a fresh start; it makes me feel happy to see that. After such a long time watching my parents suffer and mourning their loss, I feel a real sense of hope that I, like the plant, might now be able to start again. It’s about time.

My cousin has suggested the plant might benefit from re-potting and I agree. After nearly twenty years in the same pot, I’m sure its roots are desperate for a bit more space. It is time for it to move on and I’m really looking forward to seeing it thriving the next time we visit.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Being Yourself

It’s so lovely visiting people you know well, who have known you for years, and with whom you can completely be yourself. We are visiting with my cousins in Sarnia right now and they are people like that for us. We are having a wonderful time.

Of course, ideally, people will be themselves with everyone, but I think that most of us have a public persona that we use except when we are with people we really trust. And letting go of that pubic persona is such a relief!

I’ve been lucky to have the sort of the week this week that has meant I can be myself pretty much all of the time. Although I don’t get to see my family and friends in Canada all that much, when we do get the chance to have a visit, it is like we have never been apart. They are all super people and I am lucky to know them all.

The people we are visiting with at the moment have been such a support to us over the years, particularly when my Mom and Dad passed away. Although they live two hours from where my parents did they were physically there for us, helping us with all the myriad of things you need to do but cannot really face. Even more importantly, they helped keep us all sane during that truly horrific time in our lives. But the real joy is how well we all get on and how relaxing it is to spend time with them.

So we are spending a couple days just having fun, being spoiled rotten (my cousin is an amazing cook) and getting a chance to relax en famille. It is just wonderful and I am really grateful for this lovely break.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wednesday - Unexpected Pleasures

Admittedly, Tuesday was a bit of a worrying day. I had several appointments to sort things out for my parents’ estates, and I was concerned that I do everything correctly. As Executrix, I feel a huge responsibility to dot all the ‘i’s” and cross all the ‘t’s’, not just to protect the estate, but also to handle my parents’ affairs as I know they would want them to be handled - honourably and with dignity. Thankfully I have some wonderful people helping me, from a super accountant to a lovely lady at the bank, who made everything incredibly easy. By close of play Tuesday all the forms were filled out and the taxes were paid. There is little else left to do now, and that is a huge relief to me.

This meant that we could have a bit of fun on Tuesday night, meeting up with a lovely old friend (in terms of the time I have known her, not her age!!) and her family for dinner. It was wonderful to see with them and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Because everything went so well yesterday, there was little else to do in terms of work today, so we were able to have a bit of a wander round. We drove back past the houses I grew up in, past all the schools I went to and past lots of places full of memories. It was sad, but nice to remember my parents and the good times we had with them. Their absence is palpable. It must be so hard to live where you grew up as you would experience this sort of thing every day. For me, it is just when I visit. Of course there are places in England full of memories of my parents, but here I feel utterly surrounded by them.

Then we went to my Uncle’s house for a visit which we really enjoyed. It was great to catch up with him. My cousin and her husband took time out of their day to join us which we really appreciated. My cousin owns two wonderful lingerie shops, one in Kitchener and one in Guelph. They are called Vicanie’s and if you are ever nearby they are worth a visit! My Uncle owns the house my Grandfather used to live in, so it is really interesting visiting somewhere that I went so often as a child. He has a wonderful dog named Chico, who is huge but an absolute baby, so affectionate and cuddly. We had a great time visiting.

Then we went for a walk in Victoria Park, where we walked so often with my parents. It’s full of memories from when the 21st Century Teenager was little and also from my own childhood, when my Mom used to take me skating on the lake which freezes every year. When I turned to look back up at the balcony of the apartment where my parents used to live across from the park, it was all I could do not to wave. When he got too ill to walk in the park, Dad used to look out for us walking from there and he’d always give us a wave.

At suppertime we met up with another wonderful old friend (again, not in terms of her age!) and her family. We had another super visit over dinner. It was wonderful to see them.

So it is turning out to be a much more relaxing visit than I had envisaged. I was worried that but for a few little highlights, this visit was going to be very stressful, but that has not been the case at all. I am thrilled we are managing to catch up with so many people. I’m also touched that people are going to such trouble to fit in visits with us when we are only here for such a short time. Everybody is busy these days and it really is lovely when they make such an effort to see you!

I have to admit that it does seem like everything has changed - but I guess it is like Benjamin Button says in the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” - “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.”

Tomorrow we head off to Sarnia to visit with my cousin and her family, something we are really looking forward to.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Welcome to Canada


The plane descended through clouds so thick we could not see the ground until we were practically on it. The pilot came over the radio saying “Welcome to Canada.” There was a pause and then, his voice full orfirony, he said “Nice weather”. That about summed it up. It was grey, snowing, blowy and cold.

We disembarked from the plane and began the long walk through Terminal 3 at Toronto’s Lester B Pearson airport. I was feeling more than a little low. Every time we arrive at Toronto, I miss my parents more. They are not in arrivals waiting to greet us as they used to be, although I always search the crowd for ghostly figures (silly , but I do) and every step we take underscores the fact that they are gone.

We were lucky that when we arrived at Customs and Immigration yesterday in that there was no queue. The Canadian officials are very efficient at handling the large volume of visitors but I have to say, they can be really unfriendly. We’ve come into Canada umpteen times and only once or twice have we had a friendly official. Today was no exception. He rapid fired questions at us, trying to catch us out. Where we were staying? Did we have family anywhere we were visiting? And on and on and on. He didn’t smile once. The cracker was when, looking at the 21st Century Husband’s passport which has three entry stamps for Canada on the page right opposite the photo page, he asked, “Have you been to Canada before?” He had already looked at my passport, which of course says that my birthplace is Kitchener. Good grief! All this is after you have had your passport checked at the foot of the gangway coming off the plane by an armed customs official.

Then, once we had finally got through clutching our customs declaration with a big red ‘3’ circled on it, the 21st Century Teenager was accosted as we walked through the next desk to baggage reclaim with a very aggressive “Who are you with?”. He was practically walking up my heels he was so close to me.

Actually, we were lucky yesterday. On previous occasions I have been accused of trying to kidnap my 8 month old son (the 21st Century Husband was unable to travel with us as he was working), and once the 21st Century Husband got hauled out and taken to the separate area for questioning. My Dad had been rushed to hospital and as the 21st Century husband was in Dallas on business he flew up to see him and help him. The officials could not understand why he would fly up from Dallas for a couple days, despite the urgent nature of the situation. Luckily they believed him in the end.

Now I know that lots of people want to come and live in Canada and also you cannot be too careful in these days of international troubles, but it frustrates me that nearly every time we come through customs I’m made to feel almost like a criminal. Canada is a lovely country, but I do not want to live here, I only want to visit. By the way, while I am here, I, like many other visitors, will be spending money and stimulating the economy.

We travel all over the world and nowhere is it so upsetting to go through customs. Going through customs in the United States and into countries in Europe is so much more pleasant. Even when I was an immigrant to England twenty years ago, the guards in the UK were friendly and welcoming.

All was redeemed yesterday at the end though by a wonderful person who made me proud I was born in Canada. As we walked through the last desk with our luggage, ready to hand in our declaration form, the guard smiled and said, “There you go, all set”, and as I walked past him he looked me straight in the eye and said “Welcome to Canada”. He made my day.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Here We Go Again

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of traveling all over the world. I used to think about it almost all the time. Heck, I even dreamed about it at night. I would visualise myself getting on the plane, enjoying the flight, walking down the steps after we landed and even sightseeing in different countries.

I’m very lucky that my dream came true. Once again I find myself sitting in the British Airways lounge at Heathrow waiting for a flight. This time we are off to Toronto, back to the airport I took my first flight from when I was eleven years old. My parents took me to Florida, and up until that point, it was the most exciting day of my life.

My traveling days started off slowly, as my next flight was not until nearly five years after than - on a school trip to Paris. But that flight was just the beginning. By the time I was 23, I had travelled a great deal, and had even immigrated to a country three thousand miles from where I was born. I’m a citizen of that country now, although I’ll always have a soft spot for the country where I was born. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of world, and to be able to return frequently to the places I like best. Admittedly, this means my carbon footprint is rather more of a body print, but I try to do things to offset this, including being a champion recycler.

I have to confess, nothing brings me more joy than traveling, exploring new places and returning to ones I love. Although parts of the plane journey do worry me (I’m the one clutching my seat arms on landing), I have to confess I do enjoy flying, especially now I am able to sit in the comfy seats a bit more often.

But back to the dreams coming true part. When I was little and daydreamed of traveling all over the world, it never occurred to me that my dream might not come true. And by the time I got old enough to realise that dreams don’t always come true, my dream was so much a part of who I was there was no risk of me doubting it.

I think that is how we have to dream our whole life. If there is something that you really want, you have to believe it can happen. You have to allow yourself to dream like a child does, with no sense of limitation. Even when other people try to persuade you otherwise, you have to believe with your whole heart in what it is you want to do, become or accomplish. You have to visualise your dream, nurture it, pray about it - eat, breathe and sleep it.

I honestly believe that when you do this, dreams really can come true. They don’t always come true exactly as you thought they would (I’m very blessed in that mine often seem to work out better than I’d planned) but they do help you to grow and develop into the wonderful person that is you. So don’t let anyone discourage you. Believe in your dreams - and believe in yourself as well. Almost anything is possible if you do.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Making A Good Team

“There is nothing more admirable than two people who see eye-to-eye keeping house as man and wife, confounding their enemies, and delighting their friends.” Homer

When we wake up in the morning on a week day, I go downstairs to the kitchen while the 21st Century Husband is in shower. By the time he is dressed, there is a steaming hot cup of tea and some cereal or a muffin waiting for him. I plan the time I serve dinner in the evening around his schedule and yes, I do touch up my makeup before he comes in the door at night. Some people get very wound up when I tell them this, and ask me why on earth I would do these things. I’m supposed to be the 21st Century Housewife for goodness sake, not the 1950’s housewife! But I firmly believe that modern housewifery can in most cases benefit from the addition of just the right amount (not too much!) of the traditional.

You see, my husband and I work as a team to create the wonderful life we have. Without what my husband does, it would be very hard for me to be a housewife, something that I love. And he is the first one to say that without me it would be much harder for him to achieve the things he does. If that is not a modern attitude, I don’t know what is.

It works like this. If I didn’t bring him breakfast, he would not eat any. I rarely have to be out the door first thing, so it makes sense for me to help the part of the team that does to do so on a full stomach. I don’t see why I should get to laze around when he has to go rushing out the door just after seven in the morning. It also means we can get up just a little bit later (and when the alarm is set before 7 am, every minute counts!). It’s important to point out here that he has never once asked me to do these things, nor would he ever dream of commenting if for some reason one morning I did not.

The nights dinner is late, it is not because he wants to work late, but rather because he is conscientious and a hard worker. I benefit from his strong work ethic every day of my life. It’s not like he is out with the boys or down the pub. He always calls me on iChat or Skype and I can see he is in the office. He keeps in touch with me so we can work together to have a family evening (including a meal eaten together) nearly every night. As for touching up my makeup, I do that because I want him to think I look good when he walks through the door after a long day. It means a lot to me. I love him madly and he is a wonderful husband. I like making him smile.

If you read the blog entry below (written almost two years ago) you will get an idea of how much I have to be grateful for and just why I’m very happy to be a 21st Century Housewife with bit of a traditional twist.

3rd May 2007
 
It is so much easier being a 21st century housewife when you have a really wonderful husband or partner.  At the end of the day, running a home has to be a team effort or it just doesn’t work, even if you are the most amazing housewife on the planet.  I know I am incredibly lucky to have someone who so willingly shares the load, but sometimes I forget just how much easier he makes it for me to pursue the career of housewifery.  This morning was a perfect example.
 
I am not a morning person and no amount of caffeine will make me into one.  So the mornings when we have to be up before 7am are really not my cup of tea at all. Today was one of these as my son A needed to be at an early morning school activity by 7.30.  Of course, as things are wont to do on those wonderful early mornings, things began to go wrong almost from the start.  We all had to get up (perhaps the biggest challenge of all!), showered and dressed.  Our fabulous elderly cats (lovingly referred to as “the boys”) needed to be fed, watered and medicated.  Both our lovely old gentlemen are on tablets, Jake for his heart and Elwood for his thyroid.  If you are thinking these are odd names for cats, they are an homage to The Blues Brothers of the late 1980’s, Dan Ackroyd and the late John Belushi.  But I digress.
 
Having fed the cats and opened the door so they could have a wander in the garden, I rushed to shower and dress.  Finally in the kitchen with soaking wet hair and no makeup, I began to prepare my son A’s lunch.  A wandered in, slightly dazed and began to make his breakfast.  On his way to sit down at the kitchen table he stopped rather abruptly, turned and in a vaguely accusatory tone said, “Did you realise one of the boys has been sick in here?” Not waiting for a reply, he turned away and went to eat in the family room.  I looked up to see that not only had one of the boys been sick, they had thrown up their whole entire breakfast completely undigested.  This happens from time to time.  Jake has a habit of wolfing his food down and his poor little 17 year old tummy just can’t cope with the sudden onslaught of nourishment.  It is a horrible sight at the best of times, but particularly when one is attempting to make a tuna salad wrap at 7am. 
 
Deciding I could not cope with the sick at the moment I resolved not to look at it anymore but rather to carry on making A’s lunch and deal with it later.  At this point my husband G came downstairs about to leave for work.  “I’m in a rush,“ he announced as he gave me a kiss.  He then looked round, saw my wet hair and disheveled appearance, along with the rather amazing piles of cat sick on the floor.  “It’s okay,” I said in an attitude of false confidence, “I’ll deal with it after I’ve taken A to school”.  It was now 7.15, and although school is only 5 minutes away by car, things were not looking good for a 7.30am arrival – particularly if I was going to manage to go out looking like something that would not embarrass my son (or me for that matter!).  It is very hard to keep up any notion of street cred if your mother drops you off looking like something the cat dragged in – and with my soaking wet hair and face devoid of makeup, I was doing a pretty good impression of just that.  G was clearly in a hurry as well, and I know he had an early meeting. He got as far as the door before he turned round.  “Look,” he said, “don’t worry, I’ll take A to school.”  He then proceeded back into the kitchen and whilst I finished making A’s lunch, my incredible husband cleaned up the cat sick!!!  I cannot begin to describe my gratitude.
 
Five minutes later, he and A were on their way out the door and all three of us were smiling and laughing.  There is a pretty good chance that the extra ten minutes G waited to leave will have meant that he will have to sit in traffic for an extra half an hour and quite possibly be late for his meeting, but he never said a word about it.  If you are a 21st century housewife, I fervently hope that your husband or partner is as loving and supportive as mine is, and if he isn’t, my prayer for you is that he will become so! 

 

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"It Was Twenty Years Ago Today"


That Beetles song has been running through my head all day. You know, the Sargeant Pepper one. It’s not really appropriate as I’m not thinking about a band at all. The photograph above is not exactly apropos either in that it was taken eighteen years ago and not even eighteen years ago today. But the photograph above was made possible by what happened twenty years ago today.

At an April Fool’s New Year’s Eve party (it’s better not to ask - even I’m not quite sure how to explain it), I met the 21st Century Husband for the first time. Of course, back then he was not the 21st Century anything - heck, none of us were. It was 1989. I had been invited to the party by my cousin, who suggested I might like to come along. As I had only been in England about three weeks, it seemed like a good way to get to know people. So I accepted her invitation.

The party was being held at the Sydenham Lawn Tennis Club. It sounded very posh, but I noted on my arrival that just because something sounds posh doesn’t mean it is! To be fair, I’m sure it was posh a long time before. I was wearing a blue dress, the height of 80’s fashion, and I was petrified. Part of the reason for this was that my cousin’s partner had driven us to the club and he was notorious for both the speed and erratic nature of his driving. Sadly I did not know this when I got in the car although I was terribly grateful for the lift. The other reason I was petrified was that I was in a room full of people, only three of which I actually knew - my two cousins, and my one cousin’s aforementioned partner. As the evening wore on, I found myself sitting with some people having a drink and trying not to feel quite so nervous. Suddenly the door swung open and two chaps walked in. They headed for the bar so quickly that by the time I saw them I could only see the backs of their heads. I found myself focussing on one of them. He was very tall and quite slim, with curly red hair, cut short. Suddenly, disconcertingly, I heard a voice in my head. Now, I’m not normally one to hear voices (and I hasten to add I have not heard any since!) but this one was loud and clear. What I heard was this. “That is the man you are going to marry.”

I was a bit taken aback by this apparent revelation, particularly as we had not at this stage even met. I had not even seen his face. I did not have long to wait to do so as before I knew it my cousin was approaching with him in tow. She introduced us, and in that moment I learned the true meaning of the words coup de foudre. I was lost, utterly besotted. It really was love at first sight. He hardly left my side all evening. The blue of his eyes in the moment when he extended his hand and asked me to dance for the first time is something I will remember forever.

Less than a month later, I moved in with him. We have been together ever since. I’m so grateful for the wonderful life changing event that happened twenty years ago today - and for the wonderful family that grew out of it.

George Sand wrote “There is only one happiness in life - to love and be loved”. I could not agree with her more.