Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We had such a nice evening yesterday. After dinner the 21st Century Husband and I sat down to watch Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. I love old black and white films (not the old war pictures or westerns, but nice films!) and this one is fantastic. It is a step back into a much more innocent time, albeit a time when the world was at war, and America was about to join the fray. My mother was fourteen when it was released, my Dad was seven and the world could not have been more different than the one we live in today. Watching it was a very pleasant way to while away an hour and a half, and we both felt very cheerful indeed after watching the happy (if slightly predictable and kitsch, but then that is what old movies are all about) ending. Holiday Inn is such a classic.

We are all really excited now, and it isn’t long until we are heading off to the Big Apple. We are all packed and ready to go.

I have a New Year thank you to say to my readers this month as my website www.21stcenturyhousewife.com has had more hits than ever before. The numbers have been steadily increasing over the months and I want to offer my sincere thanks to the over 6,000 readers who now visit the site every month.

Regular readers may already know about my other blog on Blogger.com “Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen”. You can read it by clicking here. I’ll be writing particularly about our culinary adventures in New York on this blog. It’s pretty different from this blog but you just might enjoy it so do have a look!

And in case I don’t get a chance to blog tomorrow as we will be travelling and then attending a dinner, let me take this opportunity to with Everyone a Very Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Almost Ready for the Off

We slept late on Sunday morning, treating ourselves to brunch at 11am. The rest of the day was spent pottering around home, doing the odd jobs that crop up from time to time and beginning to get ready for our trip to New York on Wednesday. We also had a very pleasant walk down to Mapleduram Lock in the afternoon, although it was very cold indeed.

Today I have been rushing round like a headless chicken, trying to get everything ready not only for our visit to New York, but also for our friends to come and stay here whilst we are away. It was a beautiful day today and I was pleased to have the chance to nip out to Pangbourne to run some errands in the sunshine. I have to confess, I am getting really very excited about our trip. I can hardly believe we are going. I have been to New York before, but it always seems to be a flying visit, often on a tight budget. This time we are treating ourselves to a really special trip to celebrate the 21st Century Teenager’s sixteenth birthday. Staying at the Waldorf Astoria and eating in some of New York’s most famous restaurants, from the Russian Tea Rooms to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Centre, we are hoping to give him a celebration that he will always remember.

Of course, I always worry before we go that everything will be on time, and that all will go according to plan, especially as we are due to celebrate New Year’s Eve at one of the Waldorf’s three celebrations. Our flight arrives in the early afternoon, and dinner is of course not until the evening so we should be absolutely fine, but of course I worry despite that as I am a champion worrier! I have decided to just pray all is well and it will be.

We are now nearly packed, although I am up to my eyeballs in washing, ironing and sewing on buttons. For once we are taking a trip where I can dress up. I love dressing up and am very lucky to have accumulated a really nice collection of very classic dresses over the years. I seem to be able to choose things that do not date, so provided I am careful not to wear them in front of the same people twice, no one realises I have worn them again and again. As I do not know a living soul in New York City, I can practically guarantee no one will have seen me in any of them before. It has been fun going through my closets and finding my favourites. I have even managed to choose things that mean I only have to pack two pairs of shoes. For me, that is a record.

The 21st Century Husband is working today and tomorrow, but then he is on holiday for the duration of our trip. So, for now, roll on Wednesday morning…

Saturday, December 27, 2008

And a Good Time Was Had By All...

Christmas Eve, we had a late supper of the 21st Century Husband’s Tagliatelli with Bacon and Cream (see the Recipe of the Week for 31st December 2007 on my website www.21stcenturyhousewife.com ) which was easy and very delicious. We finished off Christmas Eve in the living room by the fire, having a drink while we wrapped the last of the presents. It was idyllic.

We were woken Christmas morning by the 21st Century Teenager, who brought us a cup of tea and urged us to hurry up and get downstairs to open the presents. We had a wonderful time the three of us opening our surprises. I was very spoiled, and am really grateful for the super things I was given, which included my favourite perfume, Coco by Chanel, and makeup from the favourite cosmetic company, Dior. We then had a quick breakfast of Bran Muffins (see the Recipe of the Week for 23rd July 2007 on my website www.21stcenturyhousewife.com ) which I had tweaked for Christmas by adding three big dessert spoonfuls of mincemeat to the batter after the raisins. They were delicious.

We then headed off to the 21st Century Husband’s parents for Christmas lunch. It was great to get together with everyone. The meal was delicious and the company was good too. We toasted Absent Friends, in tribute to all the people who had sat round the table on Christmas Day in years gone by who were no longer with us. This included my parents, and it was so nice to acknowledge them on this special day. I have so many happy memories of them at Christmas. In true British tradition, we finished our meal in time to watch The Queen’s Speech on the BBC. The Queen continues to amaze me, always somehow knowing what to say, and still looking so elegant and vital at a very great age. She is a real inspiration. Afterwards we chatted and then had some tea – and by this I mean a light meal, not just a cup of tea - before it was time to leave.

Boxing Day was spent with our friends at their new home in the country. We were served a wonderful meal and again, the company was super. We drank champagne and far too much wine, and late in the evening I learned to play Texas Hold’em Poker. We just played with chips, no money was involved, which was a good thing as despite being a seasoned card player, Poker is not really my game! Even the 21st Century Teenager managed to call my bluff! We then had a lovely supper of bread and cheese before retiring. (We had been invited to spend the night so that no one had to be the designated driver.) We left just before lunchtime this morning, after a delicious breakfast of croissants and many cups of tea.

It has been super to have two such wonderful days, spent with family and friends, but it is equally wonderful to be home again, just the three of us. We have a lot to do in the next few days, including getting ourselves ready for our visit to New York City and getting our house ready to host our friends who are coming to stay while we are away. They are attending the New Year celebrations in London. I must admit I am very excited about our visit to New York, and spent a pleasant hour this afternoon choosing what clothes to take, including a dress for the New Year’s Eve celebration we are attending at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. I am praying everything falls into place over the next few days, that the weather in New York behaves itself and that flights are all on time. I am looking forward to another pleasant day at home tomorrow, with perhaps a walk in the afternoon if the weather co-operates. I could certainly use some exercise, after all the delicious food and drink I have been served over the past few days!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

It’s finally here! Christmas Eve – when visions of sugarplums dance in everyone’s head and you can’t help but be caught up in the excitement of waiting for Santa Claus. I do love Christmas, despite the fact that many of my memories of it are difficult ones – of hospital visits and people lost, of wanting only one thing for Christmas and that being the continued existence of a loved one. But for every difficult memory, I have a wonderful one to replace it. Memories of the handwritten letters I received every year as a child on Christmas morning from Santa, deep snow on Christmas morning, huge family gatherings in Canada where the laughter was so loud you could get lost in it, baking cookies with my Mom, laughing with my parents as we peeled pound after pound of shrimp on Christmas Eve ready for the family feast the next day, my first Christmas with the 21st Century Husband, our first Christmas with our little boy, and our second Christmas with him spent in Florida with my parents, our son’s face every Christmas morning, Christmas 2002 in our home in Derby with my Mom and Dad and our friends; there is always something I can remember to push the sad things away.

So many of us have so many blessings we take for granted – a home, our health , family, friends, food, clothing, presents under the tree – all things that so many people just do not have. Thousands of people will be eating Christmas dinner in shelters this year – and so many people won’t get to eat it at all. For most of us, there is everything to be thankful for. And anyway, Christmas is about hope. It’s not about everything being perfect, it is about reminding us of the hope that exists even when they are not.

Here in the 21st Century Household, chaos reigns as usual – my to do list is a mile long, there are presents still to be wrapped, more baking to be done, buttons to be sewn on, clothes to be ironed and things to be sorted through. But we are all together the three of us (okay the 21st Century Husband is working, but he is here!) and aside from a few little niggles that really don’t matter, all is right with the world. I’m incredibly grateful, and I hope that you are experiencing something similar in your household too.

So don’t worry about the turkey, or Great Aunt Mildred getting into the sherry, or whether someone is going to say something that will upset Uncle George. None of that is important in the grand scheme of things. Whatever is going on around you, however chaotic it might be, in the words of my much missed Dad in his speech at my wedding nearly twenty years ago, “Have some fun”. It’s incredibly good advice for life, and especially for Christmas.

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas – one full of happiness and laughter, family, food and friends - and full of fun too!

Getting into the Christmas Spirit - 23rd December

Christmas preparations are in full swing in the 21st Century Household, and we are all really getting into the Christmas spirit. I have to admit, it is still chaos though – I haven’t even begun wrapping presents and the kitchen is a mess after a very pleasant afternoon spent baking and decorating cookies. I was joined in the kitchen by the 21st Century Teenager and we really had a lot of fun.

I say that this Christmas is chaotic, but compared to recent Christmases, things are actually quite calm. In fact, we realised as we baked the cookies that this was the first time we had managed to find time to make cookies at Christmas in a number of years. Both the 21st Century Teenager and I find baking incredibly therapeutic, and this afternoon is definitely one of those days that will stick in my memory for the fun and laughter that we had. It really is worth taking time out to spend time with your kids (or nieces, nephews and/or grandchildren) passing on old recipes and having a laugh together in the kitchen – and not just at Christmas either!

We drove into Pangbourne this morning and it was absolutely heaving with Christmas shoppers, with queues at the butchers, Grey’s cheese shop and the stationery store. The decorations in Pangbourne are very pretty though and it is well worth a look round this historic village this time of year. Luckily we did not need much – I have been fairly organised in terms of food shopping this year – so it was not stressful at all. We also nipped to our local Waitrose (grocery store) just to pick up some very last minute bits and pieces. Thank goodness we got there early as by the time we left there was a traffic jam of half a mile queuing to get into the car park. I think that will be it for the shopping this year!!

I’m really beginning to get excited about Christmas, Boxing Day and especially our trip to New York at New Year to celebrate the 21st Century Teenager’s 16th birthday. Once the 21st Century Husband gets home tonight – hopefully he is working from home tomorrow – it really will be “beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!”

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Sunday Before Christmas

I’m very pleased to say I have been published again, this time in The Chicago Herald News. To see my article entitled “A Goat By Any Other Name Still Would Not Smell Sweet” please click here

Today was a bit of a strange day actually. Having spend such a lovely day yesterday I don’ t know why I felt so low, but I think it was just the feeling you get when you realise that Christmas isn’t all jingle bells and mistletoe, and that sad things still happen. I was missing my parents today and as this is the first Christmas since I lost them both (although it is the second without Dad), I had a good old cry. This left the 21st Century Husband and Teenager feeling more than a little at a loss as I very rarely cry – unfortunately this means that when I do, it’s usually quite dramatic.

I decided to fight my melancholy with tradition, which I always find to be very comforting. So I nipped down the road to the grocery store and got a turkey crown (just the breast) so that I could make a lovely roast dinner. We then decided to go to church for a carol service of some description. We were spoiled for choice as there are several churches near us, all holding services this evening. I was after something very old fashioned and traditional, so I was very pleased to find a service of Nine Lessons and Carols at the church of St James the Less in Pangbourne. Nine Lessons and Carols is a service often held before Christmas and consists – as you would expect – of nine “lessons” or readings from the Bible, and nine carols. I’ve loved it ever since I was a young girl, when I was allowed to light the candles during one of these services at school. I felt extraordinarily grown up being charged with this responsibility, especially as the candles were on candelabras at the ends of the pews and so high up that I had to stand on the pews to actually light them. I’m quite glad I was not sitting underneath any of those I lit though as I remember feeling distinctly unsteady! In later years I began to find the service beautiful for reasons other than that it made me feel grown up, in particular the beautiful readings and carols, and also for how it tells the story of Jesus come to earth.

So, I popped the turkey in the oven and got everything else ready to cook when we got back so that we could head off for the service which was being held at 6pm. First we had to find the church – and although we have lived near Pangbourne for over a year – we were not sure exactly where it was. We did find it quite easily though and I was pleased to find it was very beautiful – old and traditional –which was just what I was hoping for. To see a photograph, please click here. It was lit with candles for the service and the inside reminded both the 21st Century Husband and I of the church we were married in, St Nicholas Church in Chislehurst. It was also beautifully decorated and smelled of pine from the huge Christmas tree at the back. Perfect.

I wanted traditional and that is exactly what I got. The service was from the old order of service, with lots of thees and thous and everything I remember from when I was a kid. Having said that it was not at all stuffy, and there were lots of children both attending and participating in the service. The choir sang beautifully and the whole service was so joyful and comforting. We left feeling not only very Christmassy, but also incredibly centred and blessed.

On arriving home, we opened the door to the wonderful smell of turkey and after a few last minute preparations we sat down to a delicious meal. By now I was feeling so grateful for all the blessings I have I was able to smile at my good memories of the parents I miss so much instead of feeling weepy. I can see this becoming a tradition the last Sunday before Christmas – a service of Nine Lessons and Carols followed by a turkey dinner. It works for me, and I’m sure to have no objections from the 21st Century Husband or the 21st Century Teenager!

It definitely feels like Christmas now.


We drove up to Burton on Trent today to see our friends. The 21st Century Teenager went to kindergarten with their eldest daughter and her mum, S, and I became friends through them. The friendship gradually extended to the whole family and we have all been friends for over ten years now. It was so good to catch up with them after such a busy year. We’ve gotten together a few times for coffee since our move south last December but this was the first time we have had a meal together. S made a beautiful lunch of rainbow trout, lemon couscous and salad and also made two lovely desserts, a tiramisu and some ginger and cherry fudge. Her youngest daughter made a fantastic gingerbread house which we also ate. I was horrified that she was going to cut it up, so insisted on taking the photograph above first, but actually in the end it was so delicious I got over my sorrow at its destruction!!

After a very pleasant lunch, we headed off to our hairdresser. We all had appointments so we were there for a couple of hours, but as she is an old friend we all enjoyed the chance to chat. She has been doing our hair (all three of us!) for over ten years. She has a beautiful salon as well, with a television, lots of reading materials and internet access so there was plenty to do for each of us when it was our turn to wait. We all left with our hair beautifully done and feeling very relaxed and Christmassy, having enjoyed cups of tea and mince pies while we were there.

We did not get home till quite late as it takes nearly three hours to get up to the Midlands from here, but we had all enjoyed the day so much we did not mind the drive at all. It is so nice to get together with old friends.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Private Evening Tour of Windsor Castle

The 21st Century Teenager and I had no problems driving to Windsor yesterday and the 21st Century Husband met us there on schedule so everything started out really well. I’m happy to say it continued that way as well. We were a bit early for our tour (very unusual for us!) so we went to a lovely little teashop beside the very famous Guildhall. Dating from 1687, the Guildhall was the site of the marriage of The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker-Bowles and also the Civil Partnership between Elton John and David Furniss. Our friends got married there a few years ago and it is an amazing building, well worth a visit. The room they use for marriages and civil partnerships is just gorgeous. But I digress. The teashop was called The Crooked House and it is exactly that - a very small 300 year old crooked house! We all had tea and a piece of carrot cake. The cake was delicious, and the tea was all leaf tea, very traditional. I had camomile tea (I’m still not drinking caffeine), which was made with dried camomile flowers – you could actually see the dried flower heads! (We were all given strainers to strain out the flowers and leaves of our tea before drinking of course.) It was a lovely break before our tour.

By the time we made our way to the castle gates it was getting dark. There were about twenty of us on the tour and the castle was closed to all visitors except for us. We went through the visitor centre first for a security check and then our guide led us through the courtyards. Seeing the castle from inside the walls in the darkness gave us a very unique perspective. We headed for the wing that contains the staterooms and were led by our guide at a leisurely pace through them all. The ropes that normally stop one from looking closely at paintings and furniture were removed so that we could walk wherever we chose (of course no one touched anything). It was lovely to have a such a close look at things. Our guide told us about the rooms, their history and their contents. She was extremely knowledgeable and welcomed questions. It didn’t matter how obscure the question was, she always seemed to know the answer.

I have been inside Windsor Castle once before, in 1989. Of course some of it has changed a bit due to the catastrophic fire in 1992, but it has been sympathetically restored and looks incredible. The wonderful thing about this visit is that as it was night time, all the chandeliers were lit, and we saw the rooms in the most amazing light. Some of the chandeliers were over 16 feet tall – just imagine! The castle was decorated for Christmas and we saw three huge Christmas trees all beautifully decorated.

I will always remember this wonderful tour, not least of all because we were allowed to get so close to the beautiful treasures inside the castle. At one point, whilst looking at a piece of furniture I looked up and realised that on the wall above me there were three original Reubens paintings. It was quite staggering to realise I was inches from these incredible treasures. In another room, we had a close view of Rembrant’s famous self portrait, a painting I have seen in photographs many times. To see it in real life was just wonderful. In St George’s Hall, Queen Victoria’s sleigh was on display for the first time. It was a beautiful sleigh and as our guide described Queen Victoria as passenger and Prince Albert as driver we could almost see them there!

In all, our tour took nearly two hours. At the end we went into a room containing glass cases full of antique china and porcelain. There we were offered a glass of mulled wine and mince pies and allowed to wander at our leisure looking at this fascinating collection. All three of us had the most wonderful evening. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to tour this beautiful historic property in such an enjoyable fashion.

Today went very well too. Despite my claustrophobic experience of being stuck in traffic in the car park in town for over an hour last Friday and my resolution not to drive into town until after Christmas, I drove in for my Pilates class. I parked in a different car park and had an entirely different experience! After my class, I decided to risk doing a bit more Christmas shopping and managed to nearly finish it all. I walked back to the car park feeling ecstatic on one hand to have just about finished, but a bit worried on the other about what it would be like trying to get out of the car park. In the end, I had no problems at all and didn’t spend any time at all stuck in traffic. I did take a wrong turn as I’m not used to parking in that car park, but it was quite a minor inconvenience!

So now I am at home with almost all my shopping done, but I still have not finished my cards (last posting date is tomorrow!) and I do need to wrap all my purchases. But I am getting there, and I do feel a lot more relaxed knowing that. The 21st Century Teenager finishes school for the Christmas holidays tomorrow. I always look forward to him breaking up for the school holidays, it feels like Christmas has really started then. I’ve just had a phone call and a wonderful chat with my cousin in Canada, dinner is in the oven and it feels like all is nearly right with the world. I think I just might be beginning to get into the Christmas spirit!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sneezing, Christmas Cake and a Visit to A Castle

The preparations for Christmas continue in the 21st Century Household, as I try to keep my head above the piles of presents to be wrapped, cards to be written and things to be done! I’m definitely getting into the Christmas spirit that is for sure. The only problem is I’ve got yet another cold (my third in eight weeks!). I find it hard to understand how I can be getting so many colds. Up until now I have not had a proper cold for over three years. Yet ever since we got back from Cyprus I have lurched from one to the other. They are all different as well. The first involved a lot of coughing (which I hate), the second a sore throat and this third one is a sneezy cold. I feel like I’ve turned into a cross between Sneezy the Dwarf and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. (Thank goodness for makeup!) But I don’t feel ill with it, so that is a real blessing. It’s just slightly embarrassing sneezing so much. I’m not a quiet sneezer, no matter how hard I try. The other day I was in the grocery store and everyone’s head’s swivelled round when I sneezed three times in a row. Very embarrassing.

The 21st Century Teenager and I have finally decided what Christmas cake to make for Christmas Day. It’s one of Nigella Lawson’s recipes from her book How to Be a Domestic Goddess called Marzipan Fruit Cake. (It’s on page 34 in my copy of the book.) Made with chunks of marzipan and lighter dried fruits soaked in rum, it is absolutely delicious. The only change I made to it was that there was no Orange Flower Water at my local grocery store so I used Grand Mariner liqueur instead. It was a very successful substitution. I don’t even like fruitcake as a rule and I am struggling not to devour this one. We had another piece of it last night and it is definitely improving with age – although I would have argued that it could not get any better when I first tasted it. I had my doubts when I made it as you actually freeze chunks of marzipan overnight and then mix them into the batter which I had never heard of before. Actually it is a fantastic idea as the chunks get quite soft and then hide in the cake – delicious little almond surprises. So now we just have to make the actual cake for Christmas. I’m a bit nervous as folks here often decorate their fruit cakes with marzipan, icing and goodness knows what else and I don’t think I want to do that with this one. It’s a bit too rich for icing of any kind. I’m thinking about sprinkling it with a layer of Demerara sugar before I put it in the oven so it will just have a golden top, but I hope no one will think I’m being lazy!

I am collecting The 21st Century Teenager at school at 2pm as we have been invited to a special private evening tour of Windsor Castle. We are all very excited about it. It is not actually until 5pm but we need to get to Windsor in all the Christmas traffic. We are meeting The 21st Century Husband there as he is already halfway to Windsor at work so it would be pointless for him to come all the way back here to then go again – not to mention how much time it would take. I have not been inside Windsor Castle since I went with my parents and The 21st Century Husband (when he was my fiancée) in 1989. Of course, if you go to Windsor (and I have been a number of times), you cannot help but see the Castle as it dominates the town, rising as it does from the hill in the centre and sprawling for acres. It is very beautiful. One time when we stayed in Windsor we were at the hotel immediately opposite and were able to watch the Changing of the Guard from our hotel room window. We had the best view I could imagine and it was incredible. This time, the castle is all decorated for Christmas so it should be even prettier than usual. If this tour is anything like the one we had of Buckingham Palace earlier this year I am sure I will be raving about it tomorrow!

Speaking of which, I had better go and get changed. I wonder what one wears to an evening tour of Windsor Castle….

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Weekend

It has been a fun weekend, but it sure wasn’t without it’s share of minor glitches! We are still trying to find a car for the 21st Century Husband. We think we have one, in fact we have put a deposit on it, and are trusting our local dealership to obtain it for us in an auction. The auction was supposed to be on Friday, but then there was a hiccup about the personalised number plate on the car, so it was delayed till next Wednesday. (They are not sure if the car is being sold with the plate, or if the registration number is being transferred.) So we are still hanging, waiting to see if it will be ours and, if so, how long it will take to get it! The garage are assuring us of next Friday but I’ll believe that when I see it! They seem very confident of obtaining it. So I went into the dealership to sign some papers and then thought I would “pop” into town to return some things that did not fit at Marks and Spencer. I parked in the Oracle, which is the local shopping centre, and went off to do my returning, and also a bit of Christmas shopping. I decided to head home about 3.30pm, along with about five hundred other people. In the end I queued twenty minutes just to pay my ticket, but the worse was yet to come. I just about managed to squeeze out of my parking space and into the traffic queuing to get out of the car park. I then sat there, barely moving, for forty-five minutes. I don’t do enclosed spaces, and I was on the fifth floor. I finally managed to inch my way on to the exit ramp, but in the end, it took me an hour and a half to get out of the car park! I had to stop at Waitrose (our local grocery store) on the way home as well, so by the time I got home I really was in need of a very strong drink. Unfortunately it was only just six o’clock so I waited until the 21st Century Husband got home about eight before I had a very relaxing glass of wine!

Saturday we were up early as we had appointments at our aesthetician in Burton-on-Trent – Eve at Eden Beauty. Eve has recently refurbished her premises and is in the process of renaming it Mimi Day Spa. It is looking absolutely lovely. We spent a few hours being pampered – the 21st Century Husband had a facial, massage and manicure, the 21st Century Teenager had a manicure and I had a manicure, pedicure and eyelash tint. Then we had to hightail it back down south on the motorway, as the 21st Century Husband and I were due at a Christmas party in London in the evening.

The driver collected us at 6.45pm, and we set off on a journey which should have taken us about an hour and a half. However, traffic in London was terrible on Saturday night, and in the end we did not arrive at the party until 9pm. It started at 7.30pm, so we kind of took the idea of being “fashionably late” to new heights! On the positive side, our drive took us on the route through the West End of London, past all the amazing shop windows, including the ones at Harrods, which were quite something. We found out later most of the city was blocked up, because of something that had happened on The Embankment, pushing all the traffic on to the roads deeper into the city and causing gridlock. The party was lovely though. It was held in a restaurant called 1 Lombard Street (which is also the address!) located in a building which used to be one of the old establishment banks. The interior was beautiful, all neo classical décor and even a domed ceiling. We had a lovely evening. The company was lovely and the food and drink were just delicious. Instead of a sit down meal, there was a constant stream of intriguing hors d’oeuvres. From miniature hamburgers and hot dogs to tiny canapés and cones of hot chips (French Fries), the waiters and waitresses urged us to try as many as possible. As the evening wore on, the menu then changed to plates of tiny brownies and little baby raspberry cream meringues. The very amusing bar staff kept our glasses full all evening– dancing around behind the bar and creating scenes reminiscent of the old film “Cocktail”. We really did have a wonderful time. The driver collected us again just after midnight. The party was far from over, but it would take us over an hour to get home and I really don’t do very late nights any more. I’m a bit like Cinderella - I wilt after midnight. It was a good time to depart, just as things were still very merry but not too much so!

Sunday was a lovely day, just spend pottering around home. We have had very little quiet time in our new home as we have been travelling and entertaining so much, so it was delightful. We slept late, had brunch instead of breakfast and lunch, and I cooked a beautiful piece of beef for dinner. We also managed to get some of the things on our “to do” list done which was very nice as well. I hope we get to spend some more quiet time at home soon as it really does do us good. It’s funny how when I was younger a full diary was my absolute ideal, but now I have one, I crave quiet times spent at home with my family. Still, the grass is always greener – and sometimes you really do have to be careful what you wish for!

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Stress-less Christmas

I know I am not the only housewife that finds the Christmas season stressful, and it is sad that so many of us feel this way. Expectations are high, and there is so much to do that it is inevitable the odd mishap will occur. Like last weekend when my visiting Goddaughter (aged 6) grabbed hold of the bottom of my antique cuckoo clock and pulled it off the wall. It was a wedding present to my Grandma and Grandpa over eighty years ago. My Goddaughter was nonplussed, but her mother and I were both in tears. I just cannot understand what possessed her. Now my poor clock is sitting on the dining table, being slowly pieced back together. Thank goodness my Dad showed the 21st Century Husband how it all works inside one rainy afternoon a number of years ago. But my poor broken clock seems like a metaphor for the chaos that seems to be reigning here in the 21st century household.

The 21st Century Husband has been away on a business trip for the last three days and now he is back he is trying to address the myriad of computer problems that have plagued me while he has been away – hence the lack up updates to my blog! I am awaiting delivery of my new MACBook computer which I am assured will solve all these problems (and watch out for a new and improved 21st Century Housewife website in the New Year!) but for the moment I am really struggling to keep things current here on the site.

The 21st Century Teenager is in the middle of “mock” or practice GCSE exams. This is preparation for the state set and marked exams he has to write in May and June of next year. These exams determine his future – what he can study and where he can study it. The “mock” exams are usually a good indicator of how they are going to go. So of course the levels of stress are high.

The 21st Century Teenager and I are also trying to find a Christmas cake recipe that we all like – a challenge as none of us are really big fans of fruitcake. This is slowly becoming stressful in itself. Our first attempt – a beautiful recipe from the book Nigella Christmas for a chocolate fruitcake – was incredibly yummy in the making. Frankly I could have eaten the raw ingredients with a spoon they smelled so good. The finished result was delicious in its own way, but still too dark for us reluctant fruitcake eaters. So we are going to try another one of her recipes, this time for a “blond” fruitcake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. It promises to be much more successful by the very virtue of its light colour. I’m just not sure when we are going to get time to do not only the dry run, but also to make the actual fruitcake we need for Christmas!

Yet in all this chaos, I am finding that the time I am spending cooking and baking with the 21st Century Teenager is a real joy. It’s something we both really love and it is a great time for us to connect and also to unwind. I am so pleased he enjoys cooking – not just cakes and desserts, but actual meals. I think one of the most important things we can do is to teach our children to prepare healthy and delicious food for themselves.

Yesterday we had the electricians in and although the results were wonderful – I finally have an electric hob (stove top) instead of a gas one! – the day itself was pure molten stress as the noise and frustration of the workmen filled the house. It was quite a complicated job, but the results were well worth it. It looks beautiful and I am finally cooking the way I like to after a year of battling with gas, which I have never got on with. I have even managed to set myself alight a few times in the past, but that is another story – and of course by virtue of the fact I am writing this uninjured you will know that I did manage to put those little fires out!

And of course, compared to the upset and chaos of last year, all this is nothing. Yet somehow the sadness from that year does still permeate the season this year, and I suppose it always will. So many people have sad things that happen at Christmastime – it is a challenge to learn how to honour the memories without allowing them to spoil the celebrations.

So in this season of Goodwill, when we are all being told that it should feel like we are living in a Hallmark card or Norman Rockwell painting, be assured that it really is not like that for most people. Having said that, our ordinary days are such luxury compared to what is being lived in most parts of the world, where people are struggling simply to survive. It reminds me how very much I have to be grateful for, and how very blessed I am. And after all, that is what this season is about.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's Looking Even More Like Christmas

We completed the first of our trees last night. That’s the 21st Century Teenager putting my angel on the top (with me beside him) when we had finished the decorating. I love putting up the Christmas decorations. We always put on carols – old fashioned ones, like the ones by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra which we all love. I’m not that keen on all the modern carols. I do like some of them, but not many. When it comes to Christmas I’m a bit of an old fashioned girl.

Today we made a trip up to Birmingham for the 21st Century Teenager’s orthodontist appointment. I love our drives up to Birmingham. We talk and listen to music during the drive. A lot of the time we listen to Classic FM. I’m so grateful the 21st Century Teenager has a wide choice of favourite music, from the classics, to jazz to the modern stuff. Mind you, I’ve always liked pretty much all kinds of music as well (except weird modern Christmas carols!). Pretty soon it will be time for the braces to come off and we won’t have as many drives up to Birmingham. I’m sure going to miss them.

I’ve been on the computer shopping online since we got home. What did we do before internet Christmas shopping? It’s so much less stressful than going to the shops. Tomorrow is a really busy day. I’ve got a new ceramic hob (stove top) arriving. It’s going to be installed on Wednesday. Finally I’m getting rid of the gas one. I hate cooking on gas. I know it is supposed to be more controllable, but not for me! Also tomorrow we are getting a big new American style side by side fridge-freezer to go in the kitchen. British fridges can be very small. I have a beautiful built in fridge freezer but it’s tiny. Finally, a year after we moved in we are getting organised!

Saturday our friends are arriving for an overnight visit. I’m so excited. We are taking our Goddaughter into London to see Father Christmas. Plus we are all looking forward to the lights and shop windows. It will be chaos because there will be so many people, but it’s silly not to go in and see it all when you live this close to London!!!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

2nd December 2008 - It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the 21st Century Household. There are presents waiting to be wrapped, glorious red breasted robins at the bird feeder and a sense of excitement in the air. Okay, there are decorations strewn just about everywhere and I’ve only written one Christmas card, but it is starting to take shape.

Yesterday night we retrieved the Christmas decorations from the attic, which was quite a job in itself. Due to the rather chaotic year we have had, boxes got put up in the attic in a bit of a rush. This was further complicated by the fact that the attic was not boarded, so we had to balance everything between the roof struts. (We intend to board the attic, it is just taking a while to organise!) Thankfully the 21st Century Husband and Teenager managed to find everything, picking their way carefully between the beams – despite one breathless moment when I thought we had lost the most important Christmas ornament of all.

I try not to be put too much importance on material things, but this one particular decoration means the world to me. It is an angel, purchased by my Dad when I was two years old. He brought it home and gave it to my Mom, saying “I bought this for April, our little angel.” Of course I was too young to remember that actual day, but Mom told me the story when I was a little girl. Back then, the angel seemed almost magic to me. In fact I was so taken with her that when I bought my first Christmas present for my Mom and Dad it was an angel shaped candle not unlike our treetop angel. I still have them both (we never lit the angel candle!), and my treetop angel has been on nearly every Christmas tree I have ever had – Mom and Dad brought her over for me when I moved to England.

Anyway, after a little while I did find my angel and tonight we assembled the first of the trees. I like having artificial trees. Growing up in Canada, the importance of not cutting down trees for Christmas decorations was a big issue and I’ve always carried that with me. I know you can buy ones with roots on them, but so many have just been cut down without them. Plus the ones with roots rarely survive when replanted due to the extremes of temperature they are subject to. It’s one of my big things. Funnily enough, we did have a couple real trees the first years I was in England (I was over-ruled!), but our cats used to go mad with the smell and try to climb them. After finding not a partridge in our pear tree, but rather a cat in our Christmas tree on more than one occasion (this was usually followed by the collapse of the aforementioned tree), we went back to the artificial variety.

So tomorrow we will begin to decorate the first tree. It’s the one in our living room, the one the angel will go on. I have photographs of the 21st Century Teenager putting the angel on top of the tree every year since he was two. Even when I had to lift him up so he could reach, he managed it. It won’t be a problem this year though. Although last year’s photograph shows him reaching above his head to place the angel, it became apparent last night that this year he will be reaching down to do it! He has grown over six inches in the last twelve months and even at six foot three inches tall shows no signs of stopping. It really brought home to me how much he is growing up.

I suppose that is why the holidays, and particularly Christmas, are often so bittersweet. Of course there is the bittersweet story at the heart of it, the baby Jesus born to save the world in a stable in Bethlehem, the baby who would become the man who took on the sins of the whole world in order to save us. But there is also the bittersweet nature of our own lives – the incredible joys, the heartbreaking sorrows, the myriad of moments that make up our existence. Christmastime brings all those memories back to us. The most important thing we can do is to choose to concentrate on the really wonderful memories. Of course we need to honour and acknowledge the sorrows we all share but it is more important to remember the really wonderful Christmas Days. We need to concentrate on the positive – our child’s first Christmas, or the first time we cooked dinner for our own parents in our own home instead of the other way around - and use the joy that gives us to root ourselves firmly in the now, making new and wonderful memories for ourselves, our families and friends.

I hope it is beginning to look – and feel – a lot like Christmas (or whatever joyful holiday you celebrate at this time of year) in your home too.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Weekend En Famille

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I've been published again!

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Wonderful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The 21st Century Housewife Meets the Original Domestic Goddess

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Busy Week

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

10th November 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 06, 2008

History in the Making

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Taking a Sick Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Winter Sun in Cyprus

We sat outside until the sun sank into the sea today, savouring every last moment of our last full day here in Cyprus and drinking the pistachio milkshakes which have replaced our customary afternoon cup of tea. They are delicious concoctions, served icy cold in tall glasses. Even as a light breeze began to blow in from the sea, we sat under the palm trees, relaxing. We don’t leave until after 3pm tomorrow, but there is something special about that last full day.

It’s been a lovely day again today. We visited the spa again, Guy having a massage and me, a facial. The therapist also massaged special “pink hair and scalp” mud into my hair which despite how it sounds, actually made my hair softer than it has been in years. After two such treatments in three days, my hair is so shiny I can hardly believe it. (Of course, I have washed the mud out!) And as for my skin, it’s glowing. For the rest of the day, we strolled along the beach, sunned ourselves by the pool and just relaxed. It was wonderful.

So here I am in the lounge again, with a glass of champagne in my hand this time, looking forward to another lovely meal at Ristorante Bacco. Guy is just about to check us in for our flight tomorrow. It’s been a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pistachios in Paphos

This red wine at 6.30pm in the lounge thing is becoming a not unpleasant habit! It has been another beautiful day in Cyprus, and the sunset a couple of hours ago was breathtaking. Today we went for a walk after breakfast, following the path along the public beach all the way into the harbour at Paphos. The path is very well made, and quite beautiful, with bits of marble scattered in amongst broken pieces of concrete. It’s very artistic, and also quite comfortable to walk on as the whole is quite smooth, despite the fact it is an amalgamation of broken bits and pieces.

Sadly we were unable to find the mosaics, and the most stunning sight in the harbour was the old castle. Other than that Paphos is very much a seaside town, like any seaside town in Europe really. I was curiously disappointed. Cyprus is a staggeringly beautiful country with lovely friendly people, but in my experiences it is definitely a place where you find a good hotel and just stay there! The bits in between the more luxurious hotels are very run down and touristy. Also, most of the taxis are quite old (neither of the two we have been in have had a full set of working seat belts) and driven by people who seem to be in a huge hurry to meet their Maker. The hire car we rented last time we were here was nearly falling apart as well. So it is one of those places where you need to find a lovely hotel where you are well catered for just enjoy the beach, pools and restaurants. I think we will be staying put for the rest of the week.

I was in the spa again this afternoon, this time for a manicure and pedicure. My feet were smoothed, buffed, massaged, and at one point even encased in hot paraffin. They came out baby soft and really feeling comfortable. My finger and toe nails are now a beautiful shade of red and I feel very pampered indeed.

The 21st Century Husband and Teenager met me after my pampering and we went up to the lounge to have a cup of tea, and some delicious baklava, along with some pistachio biscuits. I am in pistachio heaven here, and it reminds me so much of Dad. He’d buy the bags of pistachios back in the day when the shells used to be tinted red, and we’d sit and eat them, our pink stained fingers giving away the fact that we had been snacking before dinner. The pistachios here are just as delicious if not more so as they grow here, as do dates. This morning I tasted fresh dates for the first time, their skins firm and brown, not wrinkled and dry. They were quite exquisite, juicy and delightful, but I still love the dried ones too.

We are finding that our week is flying by far too quickly, with only three days of our holiday remaining. It is doing us so much good though. For the first time in years I do not feel tired during the day. I did not realise how much of a toll all the stress, late nights and travelling had taken. But now I am rested, sleeping over eight hours a night and sometimes even napping beside the pool as well. I feel really content and full of energy. I even look more relaxed and my skin is glowing. I’m so grateful for this break, it is just what we needed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Day in Paradise

Once again I am sitting in the bar drinking a lovely glass of red wine, reflecting on a day during which my biggest decision was whether to have a walk or a snooze after lunch! The weather has been gorgeous, sunny and very hot in the morning so we went out to sun ourselves by the pool immediately after breakfast. We’ve been absolutely religious about sunscreen so we are all developing a nice colour. All, that is, except the 21st Century Teenager, who has, perhaps sensibly, decided his fair skin means he needs to seek our shade at all times. After the many sunburns of my youth I am thanking my lucky stars I have such a sensible son.

At 12.30 the 21st Century Husband and I went off to the spa, where we had treatments booked. Sadly you have to be 16 to go into the spa, so the 21st Century Teenager was left out, but he amused himself in the sunshine with his friends. Guy had a hot stone massage which totally invigorated him. I had a back treatment and facial and am so mellow I am practically horizontal. It was a fantastic treatment, including a head massage with a special ESPA pink hair and scalp mud that has left my hair baby soft. My skin is glowing as well. So Guy and I are booked in again on Friday for some more pampering.

Today was a public holiday in Cyprus so we stuck close to the hotel, but tomorrow we plan a walk into Paphos. Apparently you can get to the harbour by walking along the seaside , you just turn left as you walk down to the beach. I’m excited to see some of the local area, including the mosaics which are some of the best preserved in the world.

This break is doing us all a power of good and I am so grateful for it!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Relaxing in Cyprus

Cyprus is lovely, very warm and mostly sunny. We are all feeling very relaxed, not surprising considering we are in such a lovely hotel, where virtually our every need is catered for! We are in a gated complex, but apparently Paphos itself is only a fifteen minute walk or a five minute taxi ride. We will probably check that out on Wednesday as we are going to spend part of tomorrow in the spa being pampered.

I’m surprised by how much I am sleeping actually. I keep nodding off in the sunshine when we are sitting by the pool (thankfully I am using SPF factor 50 so I’m not getting sunburned!). I guess the exhaustion of the last year has finally caught up with me, but I am so grateful to have the chance to rest and recover in such beautiful surroundings. It’s lovely to see the 21st Century Husband and the 21st Century Teenager relaxing so much as well.

Our biggest decision seems to be what to have for dinner. The hotel has seven restaurants so we are spoiled for choice. One of my favourite things is the breakfast – they have an omelette station where you can have your omelette made to order by a very jovial chef who shakes your hand, and after the first morning, addresses you by name! It’s a huge hotel, so how he does it, I do not know!!

Dinner last night was a bit disappointing. They do like to serve buffets here, but food is very expensive and I rankle at being asked to pay the equivalent of $60 to serve myself from a buffet! We are trying one of the other restaurants tonight, where the food is served to your table, despite urgings to come to the Cyprus evening in the same restaurant as last night. Even the temptation of music and dancing will not lure me back to the Limoniera buffet!

Lunches have been very nice in the Mediterranea Restaurant. You eat outside and much of the food is cooked on a giant barbeque. Today we watched, fascinated, as entire sea bass were cooked whole over the flames. Being unable to face a whole fish, I decided to go for the chicken kebab, which was really delicious.

So I’m sitting here in the Occidental Lounge Café, drinking a glass of wine, relaxing and enjoying the ambiance. I have to confess, all three of us are working on our computers, but that is the 21st Century Family for you! The hotel must be used to it, as here in the café there are power points in the floor to plug your computer into, and we certainly are not the only ones using them. What a change from family holidays of yesteryear!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ready for the Off

Well, we are all sitting here ready to set off for our holiday. This is very unusual for us – normally any departure involves frazzled people rushing round at the last minute, and sometimes even shouting. But today is different. I think it is also because we are all keenly aware of how desperately each of us needs this break and none of us wants to upset each other! It may also be because our flight doesn’t leave until 8.30pm tonight, and even though we have to get all the way to Gatwick, we’ve still got plenty of time to drop my car off at the garage. (It’s still making a bit of a noise on the left hand side.)

I do find it funny that now we live close to Heathrow, a lot of our flights seem to go from Gatwick. It seems very strange, but then we have started to go to some different places lately. Our New York flights at New Year are from Heathrow though.

It’s been a very relaxing morning actually. I even managed to make a batch of muffins, accomplishing the double purpose of a) appearing to be a domestic goddess even under busy circumstances and b) using up the last of the eggs before we go away. Not only that, but I’ve stashed the six muffins we didn’t eat in the freezer for us to have when we get back home. Oh, and the kitchen is all tidy and spotless too. It’s a level of organisation I rarely manage and I’m basking in the glow of my accomplishment.

And I have to say I just can’t wait to get to Cyprus. It’s a five hour flight and we arrive in the early hours of tomorrow morning so it could be a bit of an endurance test, but we are sitting in the comfy seats on the plane so it shouldn’t be too bad. I’m going to try to keep my blog updated whilst I’m away so barring any technical hitches, there should be regular posts. Watch this space!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The End of Life as We Know It? Probably Not.

Back in March of 2007, after a long weekend trip my husband and I made to Canada to help my parents through a difficult period in their lives health-wise (my father had just been discharged from hospital again after a bout of heart failure), I wrote the following:

“It does put me in mind of the old Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) saying. At times, as a family, we stretch ourselves in terms of time, and sometimes even in terms of finances, to do things we want to do and go places we want to go. I find it hard to regret any of that in the current climate of my parents’ lives. It makes me ever more determined to create a life full of experiences, much more so than a life full of things. This is not to imply that my parents ever created a life full of things. As children of the war years, they were incredibly frugal, but always utterly generous with anyone who needed help of any kind. They often put their dreams on hold though and I wish they had not done that. I do feel a sense of the need to do things now whilst I am fit and well, rather than to wait for the life in the glossy pictures promised me in the advertisements for retirement investments. Now is all any of us really have, and we really do need to seize the day. Although I urge everyone to provide adequately for their retirement, especially if you want to spend it somewhere nice!

I do not mean that in a depressing way, but more in a kind of victorious throw back your shoulders and stand in the wind way. No matter where we are in our lives, no matter what is happening, we truly need to make the most of every moment, even every second. We have to step outside our comfort zone and reject any delay of our dreams, embracing the now whilst facing ourselves firmly in the direction of a positive future. The past is gone, and we cannot waste time lamenting it nor praising ourselves for it. Every moment is a new beginning and it is never over until the fat lady sings. Seize the day and never surrender, that should be every 21st Century Housewife’s mantra!”

Even today, I firmly agree with what I said eighteen months ago and I still believe that Carpe Diem is the only way to go. Even in these days of economic uncertainty (or “meltdown” as the press insist on calling it), I think we need to realise that everything will work out in the end. For better or worse, we will come through these tough economic times and we will move forward. Life will go on, and we will get through this. I’m not saying we should rush out and spend willy nilly, but I do think that the panic the press are inciting is counterproductive. It’s creating so much negative energy and such a sense of lack, when we actually live in a very abundant world, particularly here in the west. Even when times are tough economically, it’s imperative that we think, breathe and speak abundance. Our brains only believe what we accept as truth. Therefore if you look for abundance and bounty in your life, you will find it. Equally, if you look for lack, you will find that too. I much prefer to look for the former.

I’m certainly no Pollyanna, but I firmly believe it is time for us all to start looking at the positive side of things. We can’t allow ourselves to be swayed by the evening news, who often take already fragile statistics, artificially project them forwards and come out with a picture that is very alarming indeed. Anyone can do that by manipulating statistics. Heaven forbid they admit that they just don’t know what will happen next. One would assume, from the “failing housing market” that no houses are selling – but I see “sold” signs on houses every day. And if the value of your property has dropped, it is only a problem if you need to sell it now. On the flip side, if you are looking for a mortgage, interest rates are dropping - so that is actually good news. For some, this might even be a time when they can hop on to the property ladder when before inflated prices made that impossible. Prices of large goods, like cars, are dropping and the deals being offered by car showrooms are getting better by the day. Equally, if you hold shares, it’s only a problem if you need to sell them now. If you don’t, just hang on. If what goes up must come down, so it follows that the opposite of that must also be true. Desperate times call, not for desperate measures as has always been suggested, but rather for well thought out, carefully executed measures. We must step back, get some perspective and refuse to allow ourselves to be drawn into the rising panic.

I know that some people have suffered true financial hardship at the hands of this recession and I feel desperately sorry for them. But when one door closes, another one always opens and things will work out for them. This too shall pass, and a brighter tomorrow will follow. The key is to stay positive. Like attracts like. Positive thoughts attract positive events, and negative thoughts, well, it’s not rocket science.

In the meantime, what we need is a bit of faith and optimism to ride out this rather torrential storm in a teacup. The sun still shines, we still laugh, we still experience joy, we still breathe. It is “never over till the fat lady sings” and quite frankly, I haven’t heard even so much as a whisper out of her.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just ticking along...

It’s been a busy week so far, but today was a lovely break in the middle. My dear friend Lel came up for the day and we had a wonderful time just chatting, having lunch and a good old gossip. It was a brilliant “girly” day and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m so grateful to have such wonderful friends.

I’ve been working very hard with my personal trainer, Pilates instructor and yoga teacher over the past weeks to get in really good shape for our holiday. I’m packing the suitcases now and I have to say I cannot wait to get to Cyprus and just chill out for a week. Alex has been going through more nonsense and bullying at school, and it is all getting a bit much. A break will do us all good.

I’ve said it before but I will say it again, exercise makes such a difference in one’s life. Whether it is walking, running, Pilates, Yoga or cycling, being active is key to getting the most out of life. I’m really blessed to be able to have access to the professional teachers that I do, but anyone can incorporate more exercise into their life on one level or another. It helps you keep fit in both body and mind. Exercise has helped me to deal with the grief over losing my parents and to cope with what has been a very stressful year. Yoga has been marvellous for that as well. I have not had a cold in months, I feel fit and well (if a bit stiff once in a while!) and I recovered from an injury to my back a few months ago with lightening speed. If someone asked me what one thing they could do to improve their life, the first thing I would suggest is exercise.

I’ve been working hard on my writing and have been rewarded with more attention from various publications which is wonderful. It’s encouraging me to have a go at finally finishing my manuscript for 21st Century Housewife. The draft has been sitting there for ages and I must get down to finishing it. I sent myself the first draft and secured the copyright almost five years ago! But it isn’t going to finish writing itself nor will it send itself to a publisher. It’s time for me to focus and get it done! I think I’ll take my computer on holiday with me….

Monday, October 20, 2008

Another Publication!

It’s been a wonderful day so far, made even more wonderful by the fact that “To Foie Gras or Not to Foie Gras” from my Blog Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife's Kitchen has been published by the Chicago Sun Times. To see it, please click here . This is its second publication; Reuters published it last week.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Who Pressed the Fast Forward Button?

This week has passed by in a whirlwind. It honestly feels as if someone has pressed the “fast forward” button. Thankfully as we approach yet another weekend, I feel as I might nearly have located the “pause” button.

In some ways, it was great to have the time fly by this week. The 21st Century Husband was away for three days, and I never complain if time flies until he gets back. But now he has returned from his business trip, I’m pleased that we have a fairly relaxing weekend to look forward to. I can’t say it will be a quiet weekend, as we’ve got quite a lot going on (Alex is playing first trumpet in a concert, I need to get the flowerbeds ready for the winter before the weeds actually form a civilisation and take over the garden, there’s still unpacking to do from our move, etc), but at least it should be relaxing.

I must admit, life has been anything but relaxing for the past couple of weeks. Almost all of the very little time I have spent with the 21st Century Husband has been shared with work. Everywhere we have gone, even when we have tried to squeeze in some family time, it has come with us. Now despite rather damning evidence to the contrary, I’m not complaining. We have a wonderful lifestyle and work is very much its raison d’être. We even have a much needed holiday to Cyprus coming up in the half term break and that is only a week away. But therein lies the rub. Without the career, there would be no lovely holidays – and so any discontent I might dare to voice is rendered mute by the fact that the medicine (the holiday) is made possible by the very poison (the very nature of my husband’s job) which creates the need for it. How’s that for philosophical on a Friday afternoon?!

I have to admit I’m getting the holiday feeling a bit early though. The weather here has been beautiful – mostly sunny and warm in fact. If it weren’t for the gorgeous coloured leaves you would think it was springtime. So today I turned an errand I had to run to the local post office in Purley-on-Thames into lovely stroll in the sunshine. Once I’d completed my errand, I carried on walking down to Mapleduram Lock. It was a brilliant walk, during which I met lots of people and animals out enjoying the weather.

Here is one of them in the photo on the left. One of the fields I walk through often has cows in it, and they are very friendly souls. This one even lifted her head up to be photographed!

We are so blessed to have scenery like this on our doorstep. It makes going for a walk a pleasure!

After the 21st Century Teenager got home from school we headed off into town to do some shopping. Sorry, I need to clarify that – as I am constantly being reminded “town” means London and what I mean here is Reading town centre, not London-town! Anyway, it was a very successful expedition. We were actually only after a black shirt for the aforementioned teenager, but spent a very pleasant couple of hours having coffee and shopping. We came home with rather more than just a shirt! It was a very successful afternoon.

And so the weekend begins. Wishing you a good one!