Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunshine, Procrastination and the Hottest Day of the Year

I love sunny weather so much I often wonder why I don’t actually live somewhere that has a bit more sun than this very wet (if lovely in so many other ways) island I live on. I’m certainly enjoying the weather we are getting this year. There is so much more sunshine than usual. It’s a far cry from the last two summers we have had - particularly 2007, when it seemed to rain all the time.


In fact, today it is so hot, I think it may well be the hottest day of the year so far in the part of England where I live. This is a shame for my husband, who went to London by train today. Although it is a fairly short commute, there is nothing like the steamy inside of the London tube system on a hot day. The trains resemble a cross between a sardine tin and a pressure cooker, which is one of the most unappealing combinations you can imagine. I’m very lucky to be able to stay in the suburbs, and if I do have to go out, I have a car with a retractable roof so I can feel the breeze in my hair.


I have, of course, wacked on copious amounts of sunscreen - factor 50 believe it or not. I’m so pale, you can practically see through my skin in places and the sun and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship. The only tan I get anymore is from a bottle. I can’t even use proper self tan, as it turns my skin so dark it looks a bit odd - and that is when I use the “light” or “pale skin” versions. So I use those moisturisers that gradually tint your skin. I had a bit of a false start this year though. I used the same one I’ve been using for years, but without the same results. It’s by L’Oreal and I don’t know if it was my skin that changed or the formulation but a) it smelled really odd and b) the colour came out slightly to the orange side of tan (not enough to be noticed by anyone else, but enough for me to think “oh dear”). So I decided to splash out on a much more expensive Clarins “Golden Glow Body Lotion”. It promised “year round hydration and sun-kissed skin” and it delivered. It’s fantastic. It smells like proper body lotion (not like chemicals) and really did give my skin a “golden glow” after just one application which is quite challenging when you are working with skin as pale as mine. I am impressed. I guess you do get what you pay for, even with self tan.


While I may be keeping my skin up to date in terms of protecting it and keeping it looking summery, the warm weather seems to be exacerbating my unfortunate habit of procrastinating with just about everything else. Once again there is an ironing monster, and even though I have a new cleaner starting on Wednesday, I don’t think she’ll have time for ironing this week. She’s got her work cut out for her just with the house. Plus, it’s my son’s school prom tonight and he needs his shirt and suit pressed by close of play today. I’ve known about this for months, and it isn’t as if his dinner suit and dress shirt are something he wears every day - I could have ironed it in the cool days following the 21st birthday party he wore it to a couple of weeks ago. But no, I have procrastinated, and now will be ironing on the hottest day of the year so far. Will I never learn??


I’m particularly glad that this week promises to be so nice weather-wise, as for the first time ever, we have tickets to the tennis at Wimbledon. Getting tickets to Wimbledon is a huge challenge. First you have to apply, and your name goes in a draw. (Only one entry per household is allowed.) If your name is drawn out you are offered tickets on a specific day for a specific court (no choice). If you are able to attend, you can then buy up to two tickets (no more). If you are unable to attend, that’s your chance gone for the year, and the tickets go back into the ballot. Well, this year, not only did we get tickets for a day we could go, but we got Centre Court tickets for the last week of the competition. I am completely over the moon about this, having watched Wimbledon for years on television and always wanted to attend. Thursday is the big day and my husband and I can’t wait. I’m sad our son can’t come too, but there are only two tickets and as he is younger than we are, he has not been wanting to attend for quite so long as we have!


In the spirit of motivation, I’ve just gone and sat outside in the steamy heat, and eaten a beautiful, juicy nectarine. Ah, the pleasures of summer! Now I’ll just go and heat up the iron and get on with my chores....


Sunday, June 28, 2009

AND THE WINNER IS...


You may recall that I announced our first giveaway here at the 21st Century Housewife on the 10th of June. Well, the closing date was yesterday and the winner* is...

Mrs F from Lisbon in Portugal

Congratulations!!

*I printed off all the emails that I received from readers this month, put them all in a hat, and mixed them up. The 21st Century Husband then drew out one email with his eyes shut. It’s not very high tech, but it works!!

Look out for our next giveaway in the near future....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Settling In - Finally!


We have moved a lot and it has never taken me such a long time - ever - to settle into a new home as it has to settle here. The things that happened as we moved completely threw me. I’ve blogged about this before but basically, within a six month period both our 18 year old cats died, my godmother died, my husband took a new job, we moved 150 miles (living between two properties for a few months as well), and then worst of all, both my parents died within six weeks of each other. I was utterly devastated. As a result, even eighteen months later, I really did not feel like we were anywhere near settled.

Added to this was an ongoing battle to try to unpack (seriously, I still had boxes even a couple weeks ago), sort through everything and make the house feel like our own. I had a wonderful cleaning lady where we lived before, and could not find anyone here, so frankly was struggling to keep our extremely large five bedroom, three and a half bathroom house tidy and clean. Every time I took a step forward it felt like I took one back. Things went missing with great regularity and it felt like I was constantly trying to locate them in the vortex.

Factor into this the most stressful school year of our son’s life with exams, an incredibly busy job for my husband, trying to finish my book and fit in all the wonderful things we get the opportunity to do. Suddenly organising the house just seemed like the icing on top of a very haphazardly held together cake. I was managing, but barely, hardly getting to know my local area and feeling like somehow I was a stranger in my own home.

But isn’t it wonderful how suddenly things just come together? We had wonderful friends round for a visit Thursday and Friday and when I was preparing for the dinner I had planned on Thursday, I suddenly felt like I “fit”. I found myself in our local village, buying meat at the butcher, cheese at the cheese shop and vegetables in the greengrocer - being recognised and greeted as a good customer and someone they liked to see. Dinner came together beautifully, the weather was gorgeous and we all had a brilliant time. We sat outside drinking wine late into the evening, watching little bats chase each other through the night sky and looking up at the stars.

Also on Thursday, a local cleaner popped a leaflet through our door. I decided to contact her, and she came for an interview on Friday. She sounds like she is exactly the person I need to help me out and she starts next Wednesday. She also does ironing. Hallelujah!

The quote for the work I have wanted to have done in our garden (see “The Perils of Garden Design”) arrived on Friday, and it was just right, so I’ve sent off the work order and hopefully by the middle of August our garden should be ready for me to plant up. The plan is exactly what i wanted with landscaped beds all round and I’m even going to be able to have a kitchen garden with raised beds outside the back door. As for my husband, he is delighted as they are going to clear an area and lay a concrete base for the shed he wants, tucked in away beside our detached double garage. He even bought a new gas barbeque in anticipation of how nice the garden will be.

When we sat down to dinner last night, I felt so happy and relaxed it was just amazing. Okay, I’ve still got an ironing monster and a completely messy study, but our home is taking shape and I feel like I really live here now, instead of kind of just passing through. I’m making progress with my writing and something seems to have clicked.

What a difference a couple of days makes!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Last Day of School


As you can guess, the photograph above is of my son a number of years ago. He is with my late Dad, and it was the first day of year four. (My son would probably not be very happy about my posting this photo as the uniform he had to wear at that point was very traditional - he was never very keen on the hat - but he’ll have to forgive me just this once.)

This Tuesday was my son’s last day of school. Where did the time go? Sometimes it seems like the moment pictured above was a lifetime ago, and others, it seems like yesterday.

Ironically, a friend of mine’s daughter went for a “taster day” of Kindergarten on Tuesday, in preparation for “big school” in the Autumn. She is beginning her school career just as my son finished a big part of his. I’m not sure which one of us was more emotional, me or my friend!

Of course, it wasn’t my son’s last day of education as he will go to Sixth Form next year, but that is not really thought of as “school” here in England. It’s post-secondary education (some kids go on to college instead of sixth form at this point, but sixth form is the route to university).

It was a huge relief for us all that my son has finished all his exams, and is moving forward from what has not been the easiest of years, so there is a lot of celebration going on here. We went out for dinner last night and toasted the wonderful young man our son has become. We are so proud of him.

But I have to admit that in my mother’s heart I do feel a pang. The years fly by so quickly and suddenly our children are nearly adults themselves. While it is incredibly rewarding to see the wonderful people they become, it’s also hard to let go, and to accept the changes in your own life that transformation brings. As my brother-in-law said last Friday night, it truly is not just our children who grow up as we raise them, we “adults” grow up too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

Today was Father’s Day. I always feel a bit sad on Father’s Day now that my own Dad is gone. I regret we didn’t spend more Father’s Days together. Falling as it does on the third Sunday in June, it was not during the school holidays, so we were rarely, if ever, together - although there were a few occasions when he was here with us. I cannot complain however as we had so many lovely visits with my parents, and I am blessed to have been able to travel to see them as much as I did.

I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful husband to celebrate Father’s Day with, and so grateful that we have such a brilliant son together. Father’s Day was the perfect opportunity to show him how much we appreciate him. So we gave him a few little presents and cards, and decided that it would be nice to treat him to a long, lovely lunch by the Thames.

We headed for the wonderful Boathouse at The Beetle and Wedge in Moulsford. The Boathouse is just that, a converted boathouse. Upstairs the light and airy décor is enhanced by floor to ceiling windows overlooking the River Thames. Downstairs is cosier, with the open grill ablaze. You can watch the chef cook all manner of things there, right before your eyes.

I always like it better upstairs, particularly in the warmer weather, and I had asked for a table by the window as it was a special occasion. Although the Thames has a reputation of being an urban river, filthy from the city, it is actually quite beautiful in many places, flowing through miles and miles of countryside. It is a river people swim, sail and play in outside of London. W saw gorgeous boats, from tiny traditional launches to yachts cruising past the window. It was also fun watching people learn to sail and kayak right before our eyes. One little boy, out in a canoe with his parents, sat in the middle of the vessel, clinging furiously to both sides. It was so cute - clearly he had been told to sit very still! There was lots of wildlife to keep us entertained as well, from coots and ducks to Canada Geese.

The food is amazing at The Boathouse. They specialize in things cooked on its wonderful grill, including some fantastic seafood, but the menu offers a huge array of choices for everyone, from vegetarians to meat eaters alike. From entrees to main courses and desserts, the choices are brilliant. Food is creatively prepared and the combinations of ingredients are fresh and delicious.

I started with a honey roast fig and parma ham salad, served with rocket and parmesan cheese. It was stunning, richly flavored and delicious. Our son always starts with the same thing, shredded duck served on a ginger risotto cake . It is his absolute favourite. And for my husband there are nearly always mussels in a beautiful cream sauce on offer.

For my main course, I tend to have seafood when I go to the Boathouse at The Beetle and Wedge as it is so fresh and cooked so beautifully. Today I enjoyed a roast loin of cod with mango salsa, served alongside a rosti potato cake. My side dish was a multi-colored cherry tomato and shallot salad that was utterly refreshing and delicious. Our son chose steak as always, served this time in a piquant peppercorn sauce, and my husband had beautifully cooked liver and bacon. He often chooses that dish as it is something I refuse to cook at home. Sadly I’m one of those folks who believe that offal is awful.

The desserts at the Beetle and Wedge Boathouse are not to be missed. Our son chose an incredible profiterole dessert, served with chocolate ice cream and flaked almonds. My husband and I had steamed citrus pudding. British steamed puddings are like a heavy cake and are traditionally very stodgy. However, steamed puddings at the Beetle and Wedge are light and delicious. This one was served with an amazing citrus sauce and lovely light vanilla custard.

We chatted throughout the meal, which lasted over two hours, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. (The service is not fast at The Boathouse as in some places, but over a relaxed Sunday lunch, fast service is not always what you want!)

It was a lovely afternoon and a super celebration of the wonderful man who is my husband and our son’s father. I’m so grateful for family times like these.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Growing Up Together


Yesterday evening we celebrated my nephew’s twenty-first birthday at the Wotton House Hotel, near Dorking. It’s a beautiful place, an old stately home (formerly the family home of a 17th century botanist) converted into a countryside hotel. Original architecture and paintings contribute to the historic surroundings in the main building, and even the modern addition has been sensitively constructed. The gardens, all twenty acres of them(!), invite exploration. It’s a really gorgeous place.

It was a bit tricky to find, as the sat nav system sent me down the ominous sounding Hollow Lane. As we turned, I faintly remembered the lady on reception saying when I booked that I should not, under any circumstances, turn into Hollow Lane. A seven mile detour that left us nowhere near the hotel told me why. In fact, for a while things were a little tense, as my son and I travelled further and further down a narrow country lane, with no mobile phone reception, and absolutely no place wide enough to turn round! Luckily we eventually found our way back to where we had gone wrong in the end, and managed to find the hotel by going in the opposite direction from that which the sat nav recommended, a little shaken but none the worse for wear.

Due to our unplanned detour, we were only just in time to get changed for the black tie celebrations - I’ve never done my makeup and changed into a dress so quickly in my life - but my husband arrived even later, having missed his train from Waterloo. Luckily he made it in time for dinner!

Despite our rather disorganised arrival, we had a fabulous time and caught up with a lot of old friends. It was great celebrating with our nephew. He’s a wonderful young man. After dinner there were some super speeches, including one by my brother-in-law. One of the things he said was how great it was to be able to grow up together with our kids. I thought it was a lovely thing to say, and although I had never thought of it that way before, how true it is!

When I first met my nephew, he was only eight months old and I was twenty-three. I had just met the man who would become my husband. I thought I was a grown up then, but boy, did I have some growing to do! Then when I married my husband, I thought surely I was a grown up. But I was wrong that time too. Then when our son was born, I knew for sure I was no where near grown up - but as our son and his cousins grew up, we “grown ups” really did grow up too.

It’s been an incredibly rewarding journey, and I do agree with my brother-in-law, that we owe a vote of thanks to the wonderful kids we grew up with - this amazing next generation - for whom I have very high hopes indeed. As for me, I hope I never stop growing, although I suppose after all these years, I really must be a grown up by now!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Book Club


Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read. I used to devour books like other folks devoured candy, and with just as much pleasure. Nowadays I don’t have that much time to read, so I really treasure the time I can spend curled up with a good book. But when you don’t have a lot of time to devote to one of your favourite hobbies, you want to be sure the time you do have is time well spent.

One way some people make sure they get to spend quality time reading is to join a book club. But again, I really don’t have the time for that, and I also worry that I might have to read books chosen by others that I don’t necessarily like that much. As someone who believes reading should be a pleasure, not a chore, that thought does not appeal. Thankfully, there is an easy on-line solution to this problem.

The lovely lady pictured above is Suzanne Beecher. Suzanne and I have never met, but every weekday morning Suzanne sends me an email. You see, I belong to the Dear Reader Book Clubs.

Each of Suzanne’s daily emails contains an excerpt from the book she is featuring that week. Over the course of the week, I am able to read the first chapter or so of the book, and decide if it is one I would like to read the whole of - in which case, I can either request it from my local library or buy it. If I don’t like it I can (in Suzanne’s words) “press the delete key” without any guilt whatsoever.

There are several different book clubs on offer and you can belong to as many of them as you like, free of charge, regardless of where you live in the world. Book clubs include fiction, non-fiction, business, mystery, teen, good news, science fiction, thriller and more. There is even a pre-publication book club. There is also a new “Author Buzz” section each week where you can “meet the authors” and a book forum where you can discuss that week’s selection with other readers from your club.

It’s a super way to find out about new books and Suzanne’s emails are a great way to start the day. So for sample books in your email, plus authors, discussion, recipes and prizes, please click here.

In Suzanne’s words:-

“Sign up for a free book club and every day I’ll email you a 5-minute portion of a book. I’ll send a different book each week and you can sample two to three chapters. Before long you’ll be hooked on a book and you just might win a bubble machine, a signed copy of a book, or some of my homemade chocolate chip cookies too—I love to bake for readers.” —Suzanne Beecher
Do be sure to visit www.dearreader.com. I’m sure you will be very glad you did.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Perils of Garden Design



It was the rose arbor that got us started. We went along to The Big Plant Nursery in Twyford, near Reading, last week. We bought several plants from them last year, gorgeous nearly fully grown specimens that fit right into a garden, making it look established from the beginning. We were looking for ideas for our garden which at the moment still looks for the most part like a great expanse of grass, despite our attempts to populate it with plants.

This is the biggest garden we have ever had - a huge backwards L-shape that wraps itself around our house with a single long rectangular planted area along the long side of the bottom of the L at the side of the house. Aside from that and a few trees, there isn’t much else there except some grass - a lot of grass. In our last house, my friend S helped me to design our garden and we dug it out ourselves the summer her husband was in the Gulf with the armed forces. I loved that garden, and brought as much of it as I could with me to this house. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances which arose around the time of our move, most of the plants just got plonked in the aforementioned rectangular bed without much thought, where they have survived quite nicely, if not as stylishly as I would have liked. I added a few plants here and there last year, but without much effect.

Nearly two years after arriving here, I figured it was time we did something about the garden and hoped I could figure out how to do it myself. (S lives over 150 miles away.) But the sheer amount of work involved, combined with the fact that none of us in this family is very good at, or has the lower back strength for, digging was causing me to doubt the wisdom of that idea. And then I saw the rose arbor - instant, finished, stunningly gorgeous and just what I dreamed of. Unsure where in our garden to put it, I did not actually buy it, just wandered out of the nursery dreaming about it. Then by a stroke of serendipity, just opposite me I saw a sign for a garden design/landscaping company. I looked at my husband, he looked at me, and before we knew it we were in their offices talking about our garden and rose arbors. Which brings me rather neatly to this morning, when their director visited so he could give us a quote.

He listened to my ideas (myriad, dreamy and kind of impractical) and translated them into possibilities that are do-able. Sadly, the rose arbor is out. His exact words were, “I’m not sure exactly where in this garden an arbor would make sense” which I’m sure translates to “What the heck were you thinking?” in garden design speak, but he was very nice about it. He agreed to give me three quotes, separating the garden into sections, so we can do as much or as little as we would like. He was also happy just to dig the beds and let me get on with the planting which was exactly what I wanted. Sounded great. I walked him back to his car, shook his hand, turned and grabbed the front door knob. It didn’t budge. My son had gone to school and locked the door while we were outside. None of the other doors or windows were open.

So there I was, cheeks bright red, standing in the driveway with the chap from the design company. My phone was inside. His offer of the use of his telephone was unfortunately no help at all as I do not actually know my son’s mobile phone number - it’s in my mobile phone memory filed under his name. (Note to self, memorise son’s phone number.) Thankfully the culprit was just up the road at school, so I proceeded to walk up to find him, having now bid farewell to the witness of my embarrassment. Thankfully he had had the good grace not to laugh. I mean, it was kind of funny.

It was a lucky thing for me that when I arrived at the school my son was standing outside, although perhaps not for him as his friends witnessed his very frazzled mum arriving to retrieve the very keys that had locked her out. “Do you realise how embarrassing that was?” I queried. “I know I always tell you to lock the door, but I was home!” To be fair, he did look a bit chagrined, but I could tell he was trying very hard not to laugh.

In the end, there was no harm done (except perhaps to my image), and I’m safely inside again now. Apparently the quote for the garden will be with me in two or three days. I’m hoping that by then I’ll be feeling slightly less embarrassed by this morning’s events!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Not-So-Secret Vices



I’m not the sort of person who has a lot of vices, but when I was asked by a glossy magazine about a year ago to list the ones I did have, I confessed to champagne, handbags and shoes.

I’ve always enjoyed champagne and had a penchant for beautiful handbags. When my husband bought me a black quilted Lady Dior bag about ten years ago, I began a small designer collection that brings me great pleasure. In fact, he has just bought me another beautiful Fendi handbag for my birthday. I love my handbags, and I actually use them on a daily basis. But that is another story. I promised yesterday, and last Thursday, to talk about shoes.

I love shoes. To paraphrase Lily Allen, “it’s not my fault”; it’s hereditary. I’m a third generation lover of shoes on my Mom’s side. The thing about shoes is that, like handbags, size does not really matter all that much. It’s not like you can do anything about the size of your feet. They just are. So unless the store does not stock the size you need, size is rarely an issue with shoes. No sales person has ever raised an eyebrow when I’ve told them my shoe size and I’ve never come home from shoe shopping feeling tired or discouraged about how big my feet are. This is not the case when I go shopping for trousers.

My husband is one of those rare men who really enjoys shopping - for our home, for our son, for him or for me. (I know how lucky I am!) He has a good eye, and will encourage me to try things I would normally never consider, usually with very good results. He enjoys buying things for me, or encouraging me to buy them for myself. So when we went to Harrods on my birthday, it was almost a given we would end up in their amazing shoe department.

Harrods covers seven floors and a whole city block. Their shoe department covers half of one of those floors. They stock almost every shoe manufacturer and designer you can imagine, from Louboutin, to Jimmy Choo, Stuart Weizman and everyone in between. Imagine - shoes, almost as far as your eye can see. It’s shoe heaven.

To be fair, I had intended only to look. I have quite a few shoes in my collection already, and I had just bought a fantastic pair of black pumps at Russell and Bromley a few weeks before. But as I passed the first display, the shoes pictured above caught my eye. They were by Solea, limited edition pumps for summer. They were nothing short of incredible, and with a sensible heel and comfortable body, they were right up my street. Plus they had a teal bow. I had to have them. Luckily they had a pair that fit. I purchased them and made ready to leave the shoe department clutching my green Harrods shopping bag.

But then I saw these.



I swear I had a pair like this back in 1979. Sometimes the good stuff really does come round again. I paused, and the saleslady was there for me. “Do you like wedges?” she asked. Do I - who lost the ability to wear serious killer heels without experiencing agonising pain a very long time ago - like wedges? ABSOLUTELY. Wedges give me height without pain, and as someone who is only five foot three inches tall on a good day, height is something I crave. And these were a blast from the past that I could wear almost daily. (I try not to, but when I’m at home, I tend to live in jeans.) Before I knew it I had tried these curiously inexpensive French Connection shoes on, and was amazed by just how comfortable they were.

In the meantime, several pairs of wedges had now appeared at my feet. I put my “I’ve bought enough” face on, and prepared to be strong. But then I saw these babies by Carvela.



I did try to resist, questioning what yellow shoes would go with. But when even my husband said, “What won’t those beautiful shoes go with?” and started listing outfits I had that would be flattered by them, I was lost.

My son (who has accompanied me on shoe shopping trips before - and had to carry the results) had abandoned all hope all this point and was sitting in a chair rolling his eyes heavenwards and praying for patience. My husband and I had become so comfortable in this wonderful shopping environment we were talking with other shoppers, sharing opinions and having a wonderful time. (To be fair, there was an extraordinarily pretty lady with her personal shopper trying on incredible shoes to distract my husband - and I was distracted by the shoes she was trying. Her one pair of apricot beauties cost more than the three pairs I was about to purchase, and the heels were so high they would have sent me to the emergency department after only a few steps - but they were gorgeous.) In short, we were having fun.

I knew if I didn’t leave I would spend more money though, and I figured three pairs was enough for one day. (I’m not telling you the largest number of shoes* I have bought in one day - you’d think I did not have an ounce of self control if I did.) But as the shoe department was not the only place we had bought things in Harrods, I knew it was time to go. So I paid cold hard cash for my purchases (the only way to go with impulse buying) and walked away from shoe paradise very happy, having only actually covered an eighth of the department.

Yes, my name is April and I am a shoe-a-holic - but as vices go, is it really such a bad one to have?


*more than three, but less than nine, and every single pair was on sale (and I still have, and wear, them all)

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Huge Victory Over Clutter


“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein

Although I promised to reveal more about my adventures in the shoe department in the iconic London store, Harrods, in my next blog entry, I’m way too excited about what we did over the weekend. So, as hard as it is, I’ll just have to put off talking about new shoes till tomorrow one more time. This is where I have to stress that I am really not as shallow as this makes me sound - honest!!

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know about my on-going battle with the study in our house (see blog entries from 11th February and 23rd April) and my what feels like futile attempts to turn it into a room that is actually useable, as opposed to a place that is overwhelmed with stuff. Well I’m sorry to report I cannot put a picture of the “new and improved study” up yet but I can report on a small victory over clutter that was won this weekend by my family and I. You see, this weekend we attacked the garage.

The picture you see above is definitely the “after” photo. I’m going to leave it to you to imagine the before. You certainly could not walk without keeping a very sharp eye, and there was not very much floor space visible at all. There were boxes everywhere, and a layer of builder’s dust on the floor that we had never managed to shift - after moving in only two weeks after returning from Canada after my Dad’s death, and two weeks before another visit to Canada for what would be our last Christmas with my Mom. I was so distraught when we moved that I instructed the builders to put anything I did not know what to do with in the garage. And as it turns out, there was a whole heck of a lot I did not know what to do with! In fact, the garage became an almost scary place, with so much clutter I used to wonder what might be lurking behind (or in, or under) it.

It was my husband who announced he was going to attack the garage - and my son and I who very reluctantly agreed to accompany him into battle. But once we got started, it was actually very therapeutic. The sunny weather meant we could put everything out on the back lawn - and sorting through things in the sunshine is never that bad. Yes, it was dusty, and we all sneezed a lot. And God bless my husband, who single handedly swept and washed the two inches of builder’s dust off the floor.

Two carloads (station wagon sized car loads!) of things to the dump later, we started to put the things we really wanted back in the now clean garage. We dusted and washed everything down before we put it back, and it seemed like we were washing away some of sadness from the difficult times around when we moved. The whole garage felt lighter when we finished, and so did our hearts.

Today when I went into the garage to fetch something, for the first time I did not run in and out, rushing away from the things - physical and metaphysical - that I worried were hiding in the corners. Although we could pare down even further, the garage is clean, and I know exactly what is in there and where it is.

I feel like we have taken a huge step towards settling into our lovely “new” home (it’s now 18 months since we moved in!), and I feel encouraged to carry on the efforts we started in the garage actually in our house. The clutter monster in the study had better watch out!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Great Memories and Taking Nothing for Granted



I have wonderful memories of my birthday this year. It’s lovely to look back on it. My only regret is that we did not take very many photographs!

My son had no exams on the day, so he was able to be with me nearly the whole time (he had to go into school for about an hour) and although my husband worked some of the day, he was home too.

I received some very thoughtful cards, emails and presents,


and I had fun blowing out my candles.



In the afternoon, we went up to London on the train. It was a rainy day, so we decided to go to the place that is, in my opinion, best for shopping in the rain, Harrods. You can take the tube to Knightsbridge and come out right beside this iconic store, so your exposure to the elements is brief. Actually Harrods is a wonderful place to shop any time, whatever the weather. It is a treasure trove of amazing things, floor after floor of just about everything you can imagine. The Food Hall is beautiful to look at, with fresh fruit, chocolates, candy, cheese, meat, even entire prepared picnic baskets on offer. Most of the lotions and potions anyone could need are available in the beauty department, and I always manage to lose myself in the handbag section. Upstairs are floors and floors of clothes, shoes, furniture, antiques, books and a children’s department that could bring out the child in anyone. Should you feel hungry or thirsty, there are restaurants, tea rooms, sushi bars, cafes and even a deli in the food halls. Although it has a reputation for carrying expensive goods, there are definitely bargains to be had here, and Harrods carries so many different lines and brands, there are things at just about every price point. My husband found a great bargain on a new television in the amazing sound and vision department. This was also good for our son as it means he gets our ‘old’ television (it’s only a year old actually, unlike his current television which is thirteen years old and making very alarming ‘replace me quick’ noises). As for me, I bought myself some new shoes for my birthday...like I need an excuse to buy shoes! (More about my adventures in the shoe department tomorrow.) In between purchases we refreshed ourselves with a glass of champagne at the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar on the first floor, where it sits tucked in amongst the gorgeous designer dresses.

After we had finished our retail therapy, we hopped back on the tube and headed for Piccadilly Circus. It was great to be in one of my favourite cities on my birthday. Although London is no longer my very favourite city - it’s been usurped by Paris and New York (I’m not really sure in what order, I can never decide which of those two I like best) - it sure is in the top ten. Wandering up from Piccadilly along Regent Street towards Oxford Circus is lovely. Regent Street is lined with beautiful old buildings, most of them now shops. We strolled along between showers and popped into shops to avoid them!

We were just in time for our dinner at Piccolino in Heddon Street. We had such a lovely evening together there. I tried a new cocktail at the bar. It had a long Italian name and tasted of summer and sunshine. I can’t remember the name of it, it was something ‘Sole’, but I do remember tasted very nice! Later we worked our way through the menu. My husband and I shared an antipasto platter. It had calamare (fried octopus rings), melon and Serrano ham, tri-colore salad with mozzarella cheese, basil and fresh tomatoes and my favourite, fennel salami wrapped round roasted peppers. My son shared his garlic bread with us too (it was pizza sized!). I tried something new this time, a rib eye steak with roasted tomatoes. It was beautifully cooked and just melted in my mouth. I shared some courgette (zucchini) with my husband. It was really lightly battered and fried - scrumptious! By the time we got to dessert I was just too full (too much cake earlier I guess!) so I shared some strawberries and raspberries with my husband (and my son shared his dessert with me as well!).

It was so nice to have such a lovely day with my two favourite people. This was my first really lovely birthday in three years and I am so very grateful for it! In 2007, our beloved cat Elwood died on my birthday and in 2008, I was so sad having lost my parents only six months earlier that it was hard to feel like celebrating anything. I used to take happy birthdays for granted, but now I realise they are a real gift. To have a day like I did last week was just wonderful and my heart is full of gratitude!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kind of Like Monday....


It feels kind of like Monday here today. My husband took a couple days off work over my birthday, and it has really felt like a holiday, but now he is back at work and everything is back to normal. So today feels like the first day of the week, even though it is Wednesday!

We had a great time though. Apart from Friday in London (more about that in tomorrow’s blog entry!) and the weekend, which we spent in the Midlands, we just stayed nearby (the furthest afield we went was about half an hour up the road). It was wonderful just to have some time at home and a lot of fun to be able to explore our local area together. Life has been so busy since we moved here back in December 2007 that we really have not had much time to do that. I also visited some of my favourite little shops in Pangbourne, the wonderful butchers Green’s of Pangbourne, Grey’s Cheese Company and the lovely florists Green Parlour, where I bought the bouquet pictured above.

It’s back to routine again today though, although I have to say life is very rarely routine here in the 21st Century Household! I’ve been getting caught up on some of my writing and paperwork, and I have even booked some tickets for The Henley Festival, which is coming up in July. There is so much going on in this area over the summer, it is hard to choose what things we would like to do, and even more than that, to figure out how to fit them all in! July should be a pretty exciting month here with Wimbledon, The Charity Gala Preview of the Hampton Court Flower Show, The Henley Festival and our summer holiday to New York, Boston and Canada all already booked in.

It’s an exciting day here today too. We are having our first ever giveaway on my website " The 21st Century Housewife". Check it out! Click here to find out more.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Henley-on-Thames


There are a lot of places in England with “Henley” in their names, including Henley in Arden in Warwickshire and villages called Henley in Suffolk and Somerset. There is also a village of Henley not far from where I live called Henley-on-Thames. That is where my husband and I found ourselves this afternoon. (Their beautiful town hall is pictured above.)

Henley-on-Thames is a very historic place, and the first medieval record of settlement is in 1179. Henley’s pretty riverside location and proximity to London led to it being a popular place to live from those medieval times right up to now. Historically it was home to the brother of artist Thomas Gainsborough and William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons from 1629 to 1640. Author George Orwell spent some of his childhood here too. Beetle George Harrison lived here for over thirty years until his death in 2001, Liam Gallagher of Oasis has a second home here and many others in the entertainment field live in or very near to Henley.

It is also home to one of the major events of the British summer “season”, The Royal Henley Regatta. Lasting for five days over the first weekend in July, the regatta has been held since every year since 1839. The wonderful Henley Festival runs for the five nights immediately following the regatta (this year it runs Wednesday 8th July to Sunday 12th July). This black tie arts festival is a delightful way to celebrate the summer. We attended a couple of years ago and had a lovely time. We dined at Albert Roux’s restaurant, wandered along the banks of the Thames admiring the floral displays and art works and enjoyed performances by headlining artists which that year included singer Lesley Garrett. The festival traditionally showcases the best of all sorts of entertainment, from classical music and opera, to jazz, comedy and street theatre. We have booked tickets to attend the festival this year. There is also a Henley Literary Festival in October each year, which attracts famous authors and journalists from all over the world. There is a lot more to this small Oxfordshire village than meets the eye!

Henley-on-Thames is a great place to spend a day. It is a super example of England’s country villages with lots of lovely old buildings to look at and explore. If you enjoy retail therapy, this is a great place to indulge as many small local shops and tiny boutiques sit side by side with major retail chains. Whatever your interests, there are businesses to cater to your needs - from traditional hardware stores to up-market gift and houseware shops, to unique dress and millinery stores. There are also lots of places to visit, as well as some gorgeous walks along the River Thames. The five arched Henley Bridge, built in 1786, crosses the river here and the riverbank is a popular place for picnics.

It was a tad cool for picnicking today so we had lunch at Cafe Buendia in Bell Street. At first glance this tiny restaurant appeared to be a lunch counter, but in reality, this is a gorgeous Italian restaurant in miniature. (Check out the faux balconies with trailing ivy inside!) The food is absolutely delicious and the service is wonderful. If that is not to your taste however, there is a proliferation of restaurants and coffee bars in Henley, from the ever-prevalent Starbucks and Pizza Express to the elegant Loch Fyne Seafood Restaurant and many other small independent bistros. Of course there are plenty of pubs as well.

We had a great afternoon out in Henley today, and I’m looking forward to returning in the near future to explore some more.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Hugely Grateful

I had a wonderful birthday yesterday. I got to spend the day with my favourite people, and we had a lot of fun up in London. I drank champagne at the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar in Harrods’ and had fun exploring one of the most iconic stores in the world. We also had a super dinner at one of our favourite restaurants. More details (and pictures) to follow, as we are just about to set off up to the Midlands for a weekend away celebrating with our friends, which I am really looking forward to.

I also was thrilled to feel a huge sense of change here in the UK, following on from the local and European elections on Thursday. It seems we are feeling a brilliant readiness to move forward and suddenly there is a positivity in the air I have not felt for ages. It is lovely to feel like we are going to put the Great back in Britain again. We’ve still got a lot of issues to sort out in terms of the government but you can feel the change around you, and it is like a breath of fresh air!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ducks in a Row, Being Different, and "It Was Twenty Years Ago Today" - Okay, Maybe It Was a Bit More Than That...


My husband returned from San Francisco this afternoon, and I am so glad to have him back home! For someone who loves traveling, I am the most curious of homebodies. I am someone who absolutely loves to have her family round her in that wonderful place they call home, but who also takes great delight in flying off somewhere exciting at a moment’s notice. However, when another member of the family has gone to (or has been left behind in, as was the case this week) an exciting place, I always look forward to having them back where they belong safe and sound. I never take that last bit for granted. To me, every time we come home safely - separately or together - it is the most wonderful gift from God. So tonight, I am utterly content, with all my ducks in a row. (That is one of my favourite expressions. Although it actually means “to get one’s act together” for me it means having my family nearby, all of us safely together.)

I discovered the most amazing flower in my garden today. It was a beautiful white flower, tucked in between one of my blue-y mauve rose bushes (I have unfortunately forgotten the actual name of the rose) and some gorgeous lavender. I was a bit confused as to where it might have come from, as it was the only white flower in the vicinity. For a horrible moment I thought it might be a weed, but determined there was no way I was going to pull it out. Imagine my surprise when I grasped the stem of the flower to have a better look, and realised I was holding a piece of my rose bush! Somehow, a hybrid flower has appeared out of nowhere. It looks so pretty, it reminded me how things don’t always have to fit in perfectly to belong. It’s as true in life as it is in the garden.

When I was a very little girl (I remember that I was looking up at my parents, and I was not much taller than the arm of my Dad’s favourite chair), my best friend and I had a conversation in my parents’ recreation room. We were talking about “The Year 2000” (nobody called it “The Millennium” back then). We calculated, that in that year, we would both turn thirty-something. It sounded absolutely ancient. (Okay, I am fibbing, we didn’t say thirty-something - we said thirty and a number. But I’m not telling you what, because that would be telling!) Anyway, we stayed in touch over the years and have laughed about that story many times, particularly the year of “The Millennium”. Somehow, that year, thirty-whatever-it-was did not seem very old after all.

And for me, a few birthdays post-millennium, it seems positively juvenile. I’m not going to say how old I am, but I will say that, despite how much my son delights in teasing me, I’m nowhere near what I would consider to be a seriously “significant” birthday. Tomorrow, I’ll be forty-something (think low numbers here, I’ve only just jumped over that hurdle) and I have to say my prevailing emotion is one of gratitude. There are so many people I have known over the years who are not here now, from the gorgeous little girl with the curly hair in my kindergarten class who got hit by a car, to the lovely girl I knew who died of leukemia at age 10, to a chap I worked with who died in a car accident on the way home from work not long after he got married. Any one of them would be thrilled to celebrate achieving the age I celebrate becoming tomorrow; none of them were even close when they died. Why do we living worry so much about getting older? Admittedly, some things are easier when you are younger, but many most definitely are not, and I would not trade one single second of my amazing life for even a millisecond's reduction in my age.

Emma Thompson was recently quoted as saying, "I'm 50 now and I think, 'Well why can't I just be 50? What's wrong with that?' Quite right. (Although I feel compelled to emphasise again that I am only just past the post in terms of forty...). But seriously, why do we dread our birthdays so much as we get older? Is it not the most incredible privilege to get to celebrate having lived another year? I know life is cruel, and for every year we celebrate, there are some we only just manage get through, but still there is that fundamental thrill of just being alive that takes my breath away whenever I think of it. We take so much for granted.

I am grateful for every single year I’ve lived. The huge majority of them have been wonderful, some of them have been really hard, and one or two have taught me lessons I hoped I’d never need to learn. But they are mine, and I’m blessed in some way by every single one of them. Okay, I get frustrated that print seems to be getting smaller every year (and yes, I know the size of the print is not actually changing), and I now understand that aside from keeping me from flying off into space, gravity is not my friend, but it is a wonderful thing indeed to be able to gather the people I love around me, light some candles and raise a glass of champagne to the 'tries her best", wonderful, quirky, occasionally a bit ditzy and blond (!) person who is me.

I hope you feel the same way as I do about birthdays, and that the next birthday you celebrate is a happy one, whichever side of forty you are on!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Recipe of the Week - Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

This week's recipe is way too long for that little column on the side of this blog, so I'm including it here. As always, for previous Recipes of the Week, check out my website. Click here if you want to go have a look.

I love the taste of Mediterranean vegetables. Their rich, bright colors and delicious, fresh flavor just personify summer. At least once a week, I roast a big pan full of multicolored peppers, zucchini and red onions. It is such an easy thing to do, and yet it is the foundation for countless meals and snacks. Cooled and refrigerated, roast vegetables will keep for at least three days and they are the most natural, healthy fast food I know.

This is more a guide than a recipe, as the quantities and ingredients are very flexible. It is well worth making plenty as you can do so much with the leftovers. I tend to use more peppers than zucchini because I like peppers more (although I rarely leave out the zucchini as it brings a great touch of green, along with good flavor to the dish). I like to use red onions for their color and flavor, but if you only have white or yellow onions there is no reason not to use them. To make a large pan of Roast Mediterranean Vegetables I would use two red onions, two red peppers, one yellow pepper, one orange pepper and two small to medium zucchini. Of course if you can’t get multicolored peppers, you can use different quantities of different colors. I do avoid green peppers though as they tend to be very bitter in England where I live – but if you can get lovely sweet North American bell peppers, feel free to use those too. Even if you are not keen on zucchini, do put in at least one small one. It really does taste nice in the mix. Of course, I won’t be there when you make the roasted vegetables, so if you do choose to leave out the zucchini, I’ll never know! If you like garlic peel a few cloves to taste – I would use five or six in a big pan - and toss them in with the vegetables. They will roast to a soft, creamy deliciousness, adding flavor to every vegetable they touch.

All you do is de-seed and cut the peppers into chunks (about three to four centimeters square, but don’t panic, no one is going to check the sizes!), slice each zucchini in half lengthwise and then chop the halves into two to three centimeter thick half moons, and peel the onions and cut them in about eight pieces each. Basically I cut each onion in half and then cut each half in quarters. Put all the vegetables in a large roasting pan. Now mix two to three tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of Balsamic Vinegar together. You can use whichever sort of olive oil you prefer. If you like a strong flavor, go for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but if you prefer a milder flavor, choose a mild olive oil. It is worth buying good Balsamic vinegar though as there really is a difference in flavor. You don’t have to buy the really expensive stuff if it is cost prohibitive, but I would urge you to choose a mid-price, properly aged version. It is best if you can get one imported from Modena in Italy as I do think they make the best version – as they should. Modena is the birthplace of Balsamic vinegar, where they have been making it since 1064.

Now pour the oil and vinegar over the vegetables, tossing them with your hands to coat. You want the vegetables to be shiny with the mixture, but not dripping. If you do not feel they are coated well enough, feel free to add a bit more oil, or mix up a bit more oil and vinegar if you like. Go easy though; you don’t want them to be greasy. If you want to toss in some dried Italian herbs at this point (about one teaspoon of thyme, oregano or basil, or a mixture of the three), this makes a very tasty addition. Spread the vegetables out over the pan as evenly as you can.

In terms of oven temperature, I don’t think it has to be screaming hot to roast vegetables. (Potatoes, yes - vegetables, no.) I preheat my oven to about 200°C and then turn it back to 180°C when I put the vegetables in. That translates to about 400°F for preheating, and 375°F when you put the vegetables in. With the amount of vegetables I have described, you can count on about forty minutes roasting time, but you do need to keep an eye on them. I stir them round at least once during the cooking time – twice is even better. You want them to be just beginning to brown up on the edges, but you definitely do not want them burned. If you want to make extra-special roast vegetables, toss some pieces of asparagus in with the vegetables twenty minutes before the end of the cooking time or add some sugar snap or snow peas ten minutes before the end of cooking time. When the vegetables have cooked, remove them from the oven.

Now the fun begins! There are so many things you can do with roast vegetables. In the first instance, they are great on their own as a side dish with just about anything. I’ve listed some other ideas below:

1. Make up couscous according to package directions. I recommend adding a chicken or vegetable stock cube to the water that you use to make the couscous for flavor. Now toss the couscous with some of the roast vegetables and a drizzle of olive oil. Adding some pine nuts and chopped fresh basil gives the dish an Italian flavor. You can either serve this dish hot, or allow to cool, pop in the fridge and use as a cold salad.

2. Stir the vegetables into cooked rice along with a bit of butter and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Cook some pasta according to package directions and add the roast vegetables with tomato or pesto sauce. If you like, you can add slices of cooked chicken breast to this, or fry up some bacon pieces to add to the mix.

4. Layer the roast vegetables with ready-to-cook lasagna sheets, tomato sauce, béchamel or cheese sauce and grated mozzarella cheese as you do to make ordinary lasagna. Bake for forty minutes at 170°C or 325°F until the top is golden brown.

5. Slice a piece of French bread almost in half, and fill with roast vegetables and your favourite cheese. You can add some sliced roast beef, pork or chicken as well if you like. Wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil and pop in the oven for about ten minutes on medium heat to warm through.

6. Stuff toasted pita bread with hummus and cold roasted vegetables.

7. Cook some pancetta or pieces of bacon until crispy. Toss into hot roast vegetables. Place on serving plates and top with a poached or lightly fried egg (or two). As you break the egg yolk, it will gently spill down over the bacony veg – yummy!

8. You can use roasted vegetables as a filling for omelettes.

9. Make fajitas by tossing the roasted vegetables in some Mexican seasoning (you can buy packets in the grocery store), and wrapping them in warmed tortillas. You can also use strips of cooked steak and chicken along with the vegetables if you like. Top with guacamole, grated cheese, salsa and/or sour cream to taste. If you prefer your fajitas mild (as my family do) just take it easy on the seasoning, or leave it out altogether. Roast vegetables can also be used in enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas.

10. For a quick and easy eggplant-free ratatouille, warm a tin or two of drained chopped tomatoes (reserve the juice) in a saucepan and add some of the roasted vegetables. Cook together until warmed through, adding a bit of the reserved liquid if you feel it needs it.

As you can see, making a big pan (or two!) of roasted vegetables can be your ticket to several days of delicious, nutritious and easy meals. These ideas are only a beginning. Served hot or cold, Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables are an easy, nutritious and delicious way to serve your family a variety of healthy meals.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Holding Your Ideas Lightly


Here are a couple of the fun things I bought on the way back from San Francisco. British Airways sell things “duty free” on the plane. Of course, there is really no such thing as duty free anymore - basically they just discount the prices - but it still feels like you are getting a bargain. I got this cute little Lulu Guinness purse for £35. You could use it as a posh makeup bag or as a tiny clutch bag. I like it so much I’m thinking they would make good presents. Lulu Guinness designs are all a little quirky - that is what makes them so appealing, and I love the postcard motif in this piece. Also, I saved £9 on the retail price of Creme de la Mer. You probably already know of this product as it is a pretty iconic one; it’s supposed to be “the most coveted moisturiser” in the world. Because of the advertising I had never really looked at the real cost of the product, I just assumed it was out of my reach. But when I saw it in the British Airways brochure, I realised it actually cost less than the creams I am using at the moment! I’m so glad I found that out and tried it as I can now understand the hype. This is the first moisturiser I have tried that has shown almost immediate results. I’m noticing my skin tone is evening up and my skin feels super hydrated without being greasy. I’m definitely a convert. Isn’t it silly I never had the nerve to go up the counter and ask the price? I just believed the hype and got stuck on the idea it was too expensive. It’s funny how we get ideas in our heads and then struggle to let go of them - but when we do suddenly something improves for the better.

I’m finding that in another area of my life this week as well. This is the first time my husband has been away on business that I have actually felt okay about it. Every other time he has travelled, I have been beyond upset. I’d have separation anxiety for weeks before he went away and getting through the days after he had gone always seemed really hard. Added to that, something always seemed to go wrong while he was away. As a result, every time the words “business trip” passed his lips I’d literally feel ill with anxiety. For a corporate wife, this is a serious problem. You can’t be freaking out every time your husband needs to go somewhere, it just makes life way too difficult. The fact that my husband does not like traveling on business (as he says, he has done it so much, it no longer holds any appeal), and that he always took us with him whenever it was possible (proving that he does not like being apart either), still did nothing to assuage my fears.

I used to get really cross with myself about this. It made me appear needy and clingy, both very unattractive qualities. It also made me miserable. But of course beating myself up did nothing to help the situation; it just made me feel worse.

But suddenly, this time, it is okay. Frankly, I thought it would be worse for me as I had to leave my husband behind in San Francisco, but strangely enough, it has all been easy. Although I really miss my husband (I am rather partial to him!) I have actually managed to not only get through the time without him, but to have a bit of fun as well. Obviously I would rather he was here, but he just can’t be - and I’m okay with that.

But to get back to the point. We get set ideas in our heads about things, and until we let go of those ideas, it can be detrimental to our experiences and even our health. Once we do manage to let go of them, there is a huge benefit. I understand now I had a set idea in my head about business trips. Combine that with a little fear of things that might never happen and a couple bad experiences and you’ve got one miserable corporate wife. You see, my husband’s first major business trip happened when our son was barely three, just after we had moved to a new house 150 miles away from everyone I knew. I was petrified when I heard about the trip, and wept when my husband left, so I wasn’t really in the positive frame of mind I ought to have been. Then our friends came to visit for the weekend, their son broke his arm and had to have emergency surgery, I swallowed a fish bone in a restaurant and had to have a tube stuck down my throat in the emergency room, and I got a lung infection so serious the doctor nearly admitted me to hospital. My husband was only away for a week! It took three weeks after his return for me to recover. That experience stuck in my mind and anytime an absence of more than a couple of days loomed I would be beside myself with upset.

Also, whenever my husband would go on away, things would go wrong. Pipes would leak, locks would break, the electricity would go - you name it, it happened. This made me dread his absence even more. While I would not go so far as to ascribe completely to the popular belief that “there are no accidents - we create our own experience”, I do believe that we can affect our environment by what we are thinking and the way we behave. Here I was, walking around waiting for a problem every time my husband went away - and guess what I got?

Suddenly, miraculously, this time it is so different. The horrible sick feeling I used to get every day he was away is just not there. (As I said, I do miss my husband, just not to the point of actually making myself ill.) Nothing has gone wrong so far and I’ve actually been content while he has been away.

I did pray that this time it would be different, and that I would finally be able to be comfortable with my husband’s absence, so I don’t know why the heck I am so surprised. I’ve frequently experienced answers to my prayers. It beggars the question why I never prayed about it before. I did pray that my husband would not have to go away (rather counter-productive as business trips benefit us all), but I never thought to ask for a change of attitude until this time.

And it is that God-given change of attitude - the letting go of an idea I have clung to for ages - that has created a huge benefit in my life. So be encouraged to hold your ideas lightly, and never hesitate to let go of the ones that no longer serve you. And perhaps even more importantly, be encouraged to pray. It can change your life.

As for me, I’m counting the hours till I see my husband on Thursday, but for the first time ever, I’m enjoying the minutes in between as well.

Monday, June 01, 2009

To Schedule or Not To Schedule?

I’ve had quite a lot of time now to attempt to develop a “Housewife’s Schedule”. (Quite a few readers had asked me about whether I could suggest some sort of schedule for housewives and I wrote about it back in my 10th and 12th May blog entries. ) Well, after much deliberation and many attempts, I have to say that I don’t think it is really possible - certainly not for me anyway. I believe that while you must schedule appointments, having a permanent schedule of household tasks can be pretty difficult.

My reason for this is that I believe that by its very nature, the life of a housewife is totally unpredictable, particularly if you have children. Trying to make a firm schedule of tasks for each day of the week can be soul destroying. More often than not, things come up that make it impossible for you to stick to the plan and then you feel stressed about it. So I think the days of anything resembling “washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday” are, for most of us, long gone. However there is something you can do if you crave an order to your day - stick with me and I’ll explain.

Now when I say that I don’t believe you can formulate a precise schedule for household tasks, I don’t mean you can manage without a diary or calendar. I’d be lost without my iCal calendar on my MacBook and iPhone, which I use alongside the Mobile Me program from Apple. If I put something into the calendar on my computer, it automatically goes into the one on my iPhone - without me doing one single thing - and vice versa. This is utterly invaluable both for my own appointments and those of my husband and son. You see, I can schedule things in their calendars by sending them appointments, and they can do the same thing with me. As soon as any one of us accepts an appointment, it automatically goes into the calendar on our computer and our iPhones. I think housewives definitely need something like this to help them keep themselves and everyone else organised. If you are not really into computers (although if you are reading this you probably are - it is a webpage after all!), you can always do it the way I used to, holding diary reconciliation meetings every week with your family and making sure you all know exactly what is happening. It’s much more difficult than doing it electronically, but it does work, provided you are disciplined about having the meetings! Whatever method you use though, you must be absolutely religious about keeping a note of everyone’s appointments and knowing who needs to be where and when. You also have to factor in where you are as well, especially if you have to play chauffeur! An up to date calendaring system is integral to the efficient running of a home.

And it is within this framework that I believe a sort of schedule is possible. Although I don’t think you can have a permanent schedule that you can use week after week, I have found that scheduling tasks into the day on a flexible basis works really, really well. What I have been doing is looking at my calendar for the next day every evening and then writing in the things I need to do that day in any gaps that are available. The biggest challenge with this is not to over-schedule yourself; the biggest benefit is that you can actually schedule “me-time” such as visits to the gym or going for a walk, etc. Of course, this is not a foolproof plan as tasks over-run and unexpected things do happen, but I did find it helped me to be very productive in terms of getting things done.

So if you want to have a “Housewife’s Schedule”, this is my recommendation. Have a list of the tasks you need to do on a weekly basis (amending it as necessary as things do change week to week), alongside your calendar and/or diary. On a nightly basis, schedule in a reasonable number of tasks around existing appointments the next day. Be patient with yourself though, if something comes up and you can’t stick to the plan, you can push most household tasks on till tomorrow or later in the week. It’s not a competition, so don’t be hard on yourself.

I really hope this helps the readers who wrote in to ask about this. I have to confess though, that I am unlikely to stick to my own plan. I find my days are too unpredictable to do anything other than slot household tasks in as and when around our appointments. So you’ll find me throwing a load of laundry in here, and doing some ironing there, or vacuuming when I have a spare half hour or so. It’s not the most organised way of doing things, but it works for me!

The key is to remember that just because you are a housewife does not mean that all the household tasks should come down to you. You are allowed to delegate and/or request help. And whether you decide to use my method of scheduling or not, be sure to make time for some fun every day - there’s more to life than housework after all!