Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Musing on corn on the cob and living more organically

In Canada, farms like Hurley's near Kitchener-Waterloo elevate corn on the cob to a fine art, offering at least three different varieties at any one time, including the gorgeous Peaches and Cream variety which is so sweet and fresh there is nothing like it. You can eat corn on the cob as almost a meal in itself. A couple of cobs with some fresh asparagus and a poached egg is a supper absolutely fit for a king. It is one things I have to admit to missing, although I love living in England.

Here I find that corn on the cob is not even remotely like that. It is usually shucked (the husks are removed) and shrink wrapped and cut to fit its packaging. Once in a while you can find cobs of corn with the husks still on it (the only way to have corn on the cob which is even remotely fresh). All corn on the cob is sold like that in Canada, and you are expected to peel away a bit of the husk, to ensure the cobs you choose are fresh and beautiful. Here I have to surrepticiously ease a tiny bit of the husk away to have a peek whilst braving the angry stares of supermarket staff and other shoppers. It usually is not worth the trouble either as the corn is often tough and tastes as though it has been picked for ages.

Today for lunch however my husband and I ate organic corn on the cob, picked yesterday and delivered to us this morning. Although it could not compete with my favourite Peaches and Cream, for English corn this was utterly outstanding. It was fresh and sweet with a good colour and nice even niblets.

I've been trying to incorporate more organic food into my family's life for some time now, but my efforts have been rather hit and miss. Organic vegetables in the supermarket seem to be imported a lot of the time, and as I have been trying to reduce food miles as much as possible this kind of defeats the object. There is no doubt any organic food tastes better and is better for you, but I craved fruit and vegetables that had been picked sometime within the last 72 hours, not vegetables that had been in cold storage or travelled hundreds of miles.

When one of our local newsletters mentioned that River Nene Organics was beginning to deliver in our area, I immediately placed an order. I was a bit wary, having used a box scheme some years ago when we lived at our previous house in another location. I never really felt that the vegetables were that wonderful, and I often received lots of a particular vegetable. Sadly this was usually a vegetable that we did not like or were unfamiliar with.

My reservations were completely unwarranted. This morning I received a beautiful (there is no other word for it) vegetable box and salad box, containing an array of gorgeous brightly coloured vegetables and salad items. Everything in the boxes is clearly at the peak of freshness and if our experience with the corn is anything to go by, will taste incredible. I am delighted.

Having already convinced my family that organic meat is the way to go (not that they needed much convincing when they tasted it), I have now been able to ensure that at least some of the vegetables we eat will be organic as well. As we eat an awful lot of vegetables, this is certain to benefit us.

More importantly however, I have finally found corn on the cob that I would be happy to make the centre of a meal, produced reasonably locally and freshly picked. Another tiny victory for the 21st Century Housewife!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Holiday was Fantastic but I'm Still Decluttering!

Our holiday to Washington / Toronto / Los Angeles was incredible. We saw so much and had such a good time. Our visit with my parents in Kitchener (60 miles west of Toronto) was wonderful too. It had been three months since we had seen them, the longest in a really long time, so it was especially good to get together. Los Angeles was just amazing and I really did not want to leave! We spent the majority of our time in Hollywood and it was everything I imagined it would be.

So now we are back, A is back at school and everything is back to normal, or as normal as it ever gets around here! I am still trying to declutter. I seem to be making very little progress for some reason, despite the huge number of bags of stuff leaving this house!! We've been to the charity shop and the dump several times and still there is clutter. I think it multiplies when I'm not looking!

I do love September though, and the new start it has always signified for me. I've got lots of projects in the house and garden, and of course I am still working on my book and my website That's all for now folks, I'm off to have yet another battle with the clutter (and the ironing!).

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Eagle Has Landed and is Decluttering

That's right, the eagle has landed, all my ducks are back in a row! I am so pleased to have A safely back. You pray and believe everything is going to be alright, and it is so wonderful when those prayers are answered. I am incredibly grateful.

In advance of our family vacation I am encouraging A to declutter his room and get ready for the new school year that will arrive almost immediately we get back. In a spirit of fairness I too am decluttering and organising closets. My burst of activity is not only prompted by the impending arrival of September, which for me has always signalled a new start, but also by a wish to facilitate any reinvention I might be considering. In view of the fact that A is becoming so independent at such a speed and my role as a mother is evolving, I want to reinvent within my career as 21st Century Housewife (not to actually change that role) and the scope for reinvention is quite tremendous and full of possibilities. It is all rather exciting and I do not want any negative energy that any clutter or messy closet might hold to get in my way!

I do find decluttering incredibly therapeutic. The getting rid of things you no longer need and physically removing them from your universe is almost always followed by something exciting. Either something new (and hopefully more useful) arrives to take the place of the clutter, or something exciting happens. I nearly always find this to be the case. In fact whenever we have wanted to move I have always begun the process by decluttering. It does not just make the house look nicer or make it easier to move, it seems to signal to the universe that you are ready to let go of the old and let in the new. Whether one wishes to move or not, anything that encourages forward movement in life is highly desirable.

I admit it is hard to pack for a holiday and declutter at the same time but I have always been one for a challenge. Of course packing itself is a bit more challenging at this time. My friends are having a quiet giggle at me because for the very first time I was insisting I was only going to take hand luggage (I am not a light packer at the best of times) and of course that is now totally impossible. In all honesty, the only real inconvience to the hand luggage restrictions (and something I feel almost ashamed to admit) is that I will not be able to take my makeup on board. Of course anything that faciliates an easy journey during these worrying times is important, but I really hate being seen without my face properly made up. It may be old fashioned, but that is the way I am. Sadly I have yet to find a makeup that lasts an entire transatlantic journey. I have spent huge amounts of money and time trying to find said product, but it seems to have eluded me. Still, it is hardly a terrible thing in the scheme of things. Made up or not, it is much more important to have a safe and happy journey.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ducks in a Row

Well, yesterday sure made my blood run cold. You just relax a tiny bit and then bang! Someone uncovers yet another fanatical plot. It is very unsettling.

A was really worried about terrorists when he flew to Spain on Monday. I told him not to be silly, of course everything would be okay. I sure did not feel okay when A rang yesterday and asked me if I knew what had happened. Last time someone asked me that was 9/11.

Thank God it was all intercepted and stopped. Thank God there are additional security measures in place. Thank God we are British and just carry on regardless.

Still, I have to admit I prefer that, if these sort of things are happening, I have all my ducks in a row as it were. In other words, I have all my people in one safe place all together. This time we are all spread out and it feels very uncomfortable. Especially as the duck who is not in place is my 13 year old son.

So I'm doing the usually Mummy thing - assuring him that his return flight is an European flight, that there are extra safety measures in place, that it will all be okay. And I'm praying my heart out. It is the best protection I can give him.

I wonder if I'll feel confident when we all fly out to North America next week? The more I fly the less I like it (and I fly a lot!). Now we factor terrorism into it - well it just makes it all the more difficult. Eight hours of sitting there worrying. Super. Can't wait. Eight hours of looking at everyone else like they could be a potential terrorist. I hate that. I'm genuinely one of those Pollyannas who looks for the best in everyone, and believe it does not matter who you are or where you come from you are probably inately good, and suddenly here I am practically turning into a racist - judging folks on how they look. Terrorism is such an insidious thing. Even when you swear you won't let it change you or make you afraid, it does both.

We have to fight that as much as we have to fight the terrorists. Fight being afraid, and fight changing from loving trusting human beings to frightened distrustful racist ones. As for me, I'm going to keep praying till I get my duck back, and then pray some more as we go off to North America together. I still believe we are, most of us, inately good, and that by working together we can crush "the enemy within." Good always wins in the end. Somehow though, I think we are a long way from the end.

Monday, August 07, 2006

And all I've got left is a pink slip of paper

This morning at 5.50am my son, A, flew to Mallorca to join his Aunt, Uncle and family at my parent's in-law's flat. It is the first time he has flown on his own - and at 13 really did not need to be an "unaccompanied minor" but as he had not flown alone before we thought it was a good idea. Don't get me wrong, A has flown more air miles than most people have had hot dinners. His first flight was at 8 months and if it weren't for 9/11 he would still love flying as much as he did as a little boy. Now, like most of us, he approaches it with a reasonable amount of trepidation but an acceptance that if we want to travel we just have to get on with it and not let anyone scare us. This does not explain why I nearly burst into tears when I heard he had arrived safely. Not much getting on with it going on there. Really stupid I know, but he'll be my baby till he's 110. Having said that I'll never hold him back - I'm always the one telling him to jump in with both feet and not to be afraid of anything or anyone.

Anyway we decided to send him as an "unaccompanied minor" as he had never flown from Gatwick airport (we always fly from Heathrow if we are flying from London) nor had he ever flown alone into Mallorca. He speaks reasonable French but not much Spanish. So we thought it was a good idea. Yet even as I stood with A in the waiting area with the four other "unaccompanied minors" (one a really tiny little boy - what a brave mum he's got!) I felt a sense of trepidation. Sadly I think it was less to do with worrying about him and more to do with realising he isn't really a little boy any more. And of course due to the fact it was four o'clock in the morning and I'd had very little sleep I was totally emotional. Suddenly I was watching him go off to college, dancing at his wedding and growing old. Good grief, it was ridiculous.

Anyway we waited a little while, A with his pouch round his neck containing boarding pass and passport ("From now on I'll look after my own when we travel together Mum"), and then the lady from BA came to escort him to the plane. From the carbonated paperwork we had filled out, she took the green slip, A took the white slip and I got the pink one. He hugged me and his Dad and went off - didn't even look back once.

My husband remarked I looked a bit lost as we walked away. I just held on to the pink slip and my dignity with both hands. Time for a little bit of personal reinvention for this 21st Century Housewife I think. A isn't the only one who is growing up.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Skinny Summer?

I do wonder how it can be August already! The time just seems to fly by. Another thing I wonder about is everyone’s insistence that summer is the easiest time to maintain your weight – or lose weight if that is what you are trying to do. For me this is simply not the case. In fact, with the sheer exception of Christmastime, summer is the hardest time for me to stay on the straight and narrow from a dietary point of view, and the time when I have to exercise more, not less.

I think the main reason for this is picnics. We have the good fortune to go to lots of picnics in the summer. The best so far this year was my friend’s birthday picnic in late July. It was idyllic. We sat in the sunshine in the grounds of Calke Abbey, one of the Midlands’ most beautiful estates (I can’t say I like the inside of the house, it is spooky, but the grounds and gardens are incredible) drinking champagne and eating the most wonderful delicacies. As the afternoon wore on we progressed to cakes, chocolate covered cherries (not the pre-packaged ones, actual cherries dipped in melted organic chocolate) and other lovely treats. We ate virtually all afternoon. It was wonderful. The company was super and it really was one of the highlights of the summer so far. Most picnics we attend follow much the same formula, and always involve tons of lovely food and treats. Even if we are watching an outdoor performance of some description and I have packed the picnic, I find it impossible to exercise any restraint whatsoever. On the contrary, a picnic for me is an excuse to try the new and different with absolutely no consideration of their calorific value. I also eat more pastry that at any other time of the year in the form of beautiful vegetable tarts and quiches. In the winter, Pilates and aerobics keep my stomach relatively flat (although my hips will never be as slim as I would like them to be) and me in pretty good shape. In the summer, it takes extra sessions of Pilates and lots of walking as well as the aerobics to maintain the status quo. In the winter I would never dream of drinking at lunchtime. However a summer picnic is the perfect excuse to try some lovely bubbly at any time of the day (provided one is not the designated driver of course!).

A secondary reason I find summer a challenging time to stay in shape is ice cream. Fairly easily ignored during the winter, ice cream is the most wonderful summer treat. Occasionally to my horror I find myself having some nearly every day (which can be a disaster). Thankfully I have discovered some incredible sorbets by Bottlegreen this year which make it no hardship to skip the ice cream and have sorbet instead. Except if someone happens to have a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream sandwich to hand in which case I find resistance is nearly impossible.

My family and I always eat lots of fruit and vegetables. In the winter I take advantage of the fact that produce from other countries is available and we have strawberries, melons. blueberries and whatever other fruit is tempting and on the supermarket shelves. Of course there is more variety of fruits and vegetables available in the summer, but the sheer amount we eat does not change, only the sorts of fruit we might eat. Nor do I hesitate to serve salad in the depths of winter. My tastes do not change just because the season has and you are just as likely to find Salade Niçoise on my table in November as in July or August.

It isn’t that I have put on tons of weight or anything. On the contrary my size remains the same. It is just so much more work in the summer! And it is so incredibly frustrating when every piece of media I see, from newspapers to magazines, insists that this is the easiest time to stay fit and trim. I wonder if there is anyone else out there like I am, or if I quite simply am quite the opposite of the norm because categorically, for me, summer is the most difficult time of the year to keep my shape.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It is wonderful to be a housewife!

It is no secret that I love being a housewife, but yesterday was one of those days when I was truly grateful to be one. My husband, G, was driving down to London for business, and offered my son, A, and I a ride. London was our home for five years and I always find it strange going back as a tourist. My relationship with London has always been a special one. When I was a child it was a place with mythical significance, a magical place I always wanted to go. My earliest books were about London and included rhymes about the “rosy cheeks of the little children”. When I finally visited London for the first time in 1985 I fell head over heels in love with it. A return visit in 1987 cemented my ardour, and when I immigrated to England in 1989 I determined that London was definitely the place to live. For five years I called it home.

Anyway, back to why I was so grateful to be a housewife yesterday. Because G had offered A and I a ride, we were able to go and be tourists for the day. Of course, there is an advantage to being a tourist that knows the underground like the back of her hand, with a son who has a pretty good handle on it as well. It was wonderful. If I had not been a housewife I would most likely not have been able to drop everything and just go. As it was, I did, and we had a fantastic day. There is nothing like being your own boss, able to do as you will. Okay, there are often restrictions, schedules and obligations, but when you are in charge and just a little bit organised, there is little that cannot be juggled to allow you a blissful day out.

Our first stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum, which, I’m ashamed to say, I had not visited since 1987. A had visited two years ago with school, and took great delight in showing me around the place. It was incredible. I particularly enjoyed the exhibits of fashion through the ages, and Princess Diana’s lovely dress with all the seed pearls on it took my breath away. The multi-coloured blown glass chandelier in the entry way wasn’t bad either! We then walked to Hyde Park and made our way to Kensington Palace. It was a long hot walk, but well worth it. This time, it was my turn to show A around. Things had changed a lot since my last visit though and there was so much more to see. It was absolutely super, if a bit mind-bendingly hot. The odd strategically placed fan did help matters, but I felt terribly sorry for the stewards who could not look forward to getting outside as soon as we could. The photographs of Diana, Princess of Wales by Mario Testino were incredible. I had seen them in Vogue when they were first published all those years ago, but seeing them framed and life-size was just amazing. Being allowed to walk through Princess Margaret’s apartments was a bit strange. They are almost empty and one had the feeling of perhaps being somewhere one ought not to be. It was almost as if she might walk back in at any moment and ask what on earth you were doing. It was a strange feeling, but it was really nice to be allowed to walk through them.

Of course, for A and I, a visit to London is rarely complete without a trip to Harrods for one of their most marvellous ice creams in the Georgian Restaurant. Harrods was (blissfully) air conditioned which was so welcome after our long walks. A spot of shopping and it was time to join G for dinner at Pizza Express. A super end to a lovely day.

I really am grateful for the flexibility that being a housewife allows me. I think it is this flexibility that we as 21st Century Housewives have to embrace. So often we allow ourselves to feel swamped by obligations and schedules. It is so easy to become rigid and trapped in a prison of our own making. This is silly. A little flexibility can go an awfully long way, and allows you to grab some fantastic experiences with both hands. There is a lot to be said for spontaneity and yesterday really taught me a lesson. When I found out today G was scheduled to be in London one day next week, I juggled our diaries round and A and I are going with him again. Another adventure awaits the 21st Century Housewife!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Who is the 21st Century Housewife?

I’ve had a website for years with a blog within in, but I’ve never had a blog quite like this before.

I am the 21st Century Housewife. I love being a housewife and I am good at it. I am not “good at it” in the sense that my house is spotless and there is a cake baking in the oven (I should be so lucky!) However, I am good at it in the sense that I enjoy making a home for myself and my family, and they enjoy the fact that I do that for them. Like many housewives today, I know what it is like to juggle the demands of family, career and home. It is stressful sometimes, but I love it.

I believe housewifery is as much a career as any other profession. Those of us who are housewives, and society as a whole, need to recognise that. There are always exceptions to every rule, but in general in this century it is very rare for housewifery to be a career that is imposed on someone, it is most often a choice. Yet even though we have chosen this path, many housewives today feel they are somehow less than “enough” and that they are not fulfilling their true potential. Part of the reason for this is that society very rarely gives credit where credit is due in the case of housewives. They are more prone to belittle women who have chosen this path. However, I believe it is possible to fulfil one’s true potential through the craft of housewifery, and that rather than considering ourselves to be “just housewives” we ought to feel quite proud of what we do. In this post-modern culture, where the home is becoming even more central and important to our society, housewives still have an important role to play.

What has been lost is not only an honouring of the craft that homemakers pursue. If that sounds old-fashioned I do not mean it to be, nor do I espouse some frighteningly dated vision of the ‘perfect’ stereotypical 1950’s housewife wearing a twin set and pearls. Nor do I believe that every woman should be a housewife. No one should let anyone else choose their career for them. It is important to point out however that most housewives are, in most cases, well-educated and independent women who have worked outside the home as well as in it.

The thing that drives me absolutely mad is when housewives describe themselves as “just a housewife”. No one is “just” an anything. Our career requires us to be on call twenty-four hours a day every single day of the year. It requires a skill set so varied and constantly changing that it would reduce most high-flying executives to tears. In any given day I have been required to be a project manager, diplomat, child care worker, nurse, psychologist, chef, chauffeur, interior designer, party planner, financial manager, social secretary, electrician, repair person and change management expert, often all before lunchtime. How can anyone but a professional do that? I truly believe we should describe ourselves as Professional Housewives. This would go a long way towards eliminating the two most dreaded questions that often follow someone describing themselves as a housewife I’m referring of course to the ever popular “Aren’t you bored?” and “What on earth do you do all day?” questions. I believe these are extremely rude and indicate a complete ignorance of the craft that housewives pursue. Very few people ever ask me these questions anymore, as I am in the habit of telling them exactly what I do do all day (see above!) and suggesting that if they could be bored doing all of those things they must be quite strange people indeed!

I believe that once housewives start to honour themselves and their craft, that society as a whole will follow suit. Of course, you will always get the odd ignoramus, but that is unavoidable. In the meantime though, it is important for housewives themselves to honour themselves and their craft, and take every opportunity possible to develop within it. Heaven knows, there are lots of them!