Sunday, May 25, 2008

Friday 23rd May - Chelsea Flower Show and The Lights of London

On Friday my wonderful friend Lesley (Lel) and I spent the day at Chelsea Flower Show. Guy dropped us off at Reading Station on Friday morning and we went into London by train.

Chelsea was amazing. Both Lel and I were concerned that it might be overcrowded and uncomfortable, but it was so well organised and everyone was so polite that you were able to see everything and yet never once feel pushed or squashed, despite the huge crowds. It was British organisation at its best and everyone knew how to queue which was wonderful.

The show gardens were beyond our wildest dreams, and our particular favourite was the George Harrison memorial garden. It started with an overgrown patch of grass on both sides, with a rusty bicycle leaning against a wall. In the middle, a mosaic path began with the Liverpool skyline. The mosaic then disintingrated into wild and exotic colours along the path, leading the eye through oceans of multicoloured flowers on either side, all the way up to a beautiful white pavilion. The canopy overtop was Indian in design and underneath there were very comfortable looking chairs and sofas, all wicker and white. To the left of the canopy, a water feature with a hologram of George himself in his hippy days - with a huge hat, long hair and an umbrella - made relaxing water noises in the background. It was idyllic. Of course the idea was that your eye journeyed through George's life from Liverpool, through psychedelia, all the way to the spirituality that marked his later life. But it was simply beautiful, and made you sigh just to look at it. All the show gardens had their own beauty though, and even the indoor pavillion had the most amazing displays.

The highlight of the day came quiet early on, when a BBC film crew appeared at one of the show gardens we were looking at. The very friendly producer explained that Alan Titchmarsh was going to be filming there. A buzz of excitement filled the crowd. Alan Titchmarsh is the rock star of the gardening world in England. Lel really wanted to meet him, so we waited to watch the filming. I've spoken to him before at the Gardener's World show at Birmingham. He is a lovely chap, really friendly with time for everyone. However I must confess I don't quite understand the depth of devotion some of his fans have. One young girl, who could not have been more than twenty, went on about how wonderful he was and sighed that she "just loves him". I'm always interested in watching anything to do with filming and television though, so I was quite happy to wait and watch. Luckily we were in the very front row, so we had a really good view. It was fun watching the shoot, and then at the end, Alan Titchmarsh went to head off, but was called over to where we were by Lel and another lady. Bless him, he came over and chatted, and even let me take a photograph of him with Lel. I was so pleased for her. He really is a lovely chap and absolutely made the day.

We headed off for more of Chelsea and had a fantastic time, buying plants and bulbs all to be delivered to us later in the year. We saw some incredible tulips, the like of which I have never seen before. I ordered some of them so should hopefully have a very unique display of tulips next spring. It's one of the nicest days I've had in ages, we had such a lot of fun.

We met Guy and Alex at the Apple Store in Regent Street at 5.30, and headed off for some London shopping. Then Guy treated us to dinner at a restaurant called Piccolino just off Regent Street. The staff were incredibly attentive, taking our shopping from us and seating us at the bar. We had a drink and then moved to our table for some of the nicest Italian food I have had in ages. We all had such a laugh. It was a great evening.

Before we set off for Paddington and the train back to Reading, we walked from Regent Street up to Piccadilly Circus, where we took the photograph above. You can see from our faces what fun we are having! London at night is such an amazing place. I do love it, and even now feel like I need to pinch myself when I realise that I live so close to a city I used to only dream of as a child.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Getting Closer to Nature

One thing I love about living so near the countryside is that having a bird feeder is very worthwhile. In our previous house, we had very few visitors due to the fact that there were a disproportionate amount of cats living in our area (not to mention my own lovely boys who were still alive at that point) and new houses were being built at such great speed that anything remotely resembling wildlife was being steadily driven away. The house we live in now is set on an estate (subdivision) but we are literally ten minutes walk either way from countryside, the Thames, fields and even a forest. Kites and eagles playing in the wind currents fly over our house, and the other day the vivid blue flash of a Kingfisher caught me by surprise as I drove along the road.

Little English robins (so different from their larger North American cousins) visit my bird feeder, as do sparrows, wrens and finches. Some of my favourite bird visitors are the rather embarrassingly named "tits". My husband fondly recalls being made weak with laughter at the age of eight when his Grandmother, who also enjoyed feeding birds, suddenly called out one day "My tits are in the tree!" The fact that one of the prettiest members of this bird family is called a blue tit still makes me giggle.

Pigeons and doves mate on our fence. I have to say the speed with which they do this is quite staggering. There is a lot of posturing and nuzzling and then suddenly the male bird hops on and it's over in seconds. It seems impossible they could get anything at all out of the experience. We also get Magpies and ravens - proper Tower of London size ravens - both of which I chase away with a sharp knock on the window when I see them. Sometimes they fly away, sometimes they just stare back at me with a "make me" kind of look. This makes me sigh rather heavily as there is no way I am going out there and having a contretemps with that kind of bird!

Yesterday I saw a goldfinch for the very first time. He was a beautiful little bird with a red dot on his forehead, and so unfamiliar to me I was forced to consult my son's "Book of British Birds". He really was a gorgeous specimen. Sadly I have not seen him since yesterday, but I do hope he will come back.

We also get squirrels. In fact we have two squirrel visitors, both of whom like to believe that our garden is their personal territory. Some days they tolerate each other, but other days it is proper pistols at dawn fights where they fly off together in a ball and it is almost impossible to tell where one squirrel starts and the other begins. Unlike many other British folk, I don't mind the squirrels visiting. One lady I know (who is otherwise lovely) surprises me by the vehemence with which she states "I'd like to shoot the little buggers". Apparently they dig up her bulbs, eat them and create havoc in her garden. I have never had that happen. I think there is an unwritten squirrel rule that if you feed them, they leave your other stuff alone. I am almost certain of this because my friend Alice also feeds the squirrels and has no damage to her garden either. I'm not about to tell the first lady I mentioned this particular fact though as squirrels are something best left unmentioned in her presence.

The nice thing is that the longer we have the bird feeder, the more comfortable the birds and squirrels become. Instead of starting at our every movement, most of them are now pretty relaxed about feeding. It's lovely standing there in the morning looking out of our kitchen windows with a coffee, just watching the birds. It really slows you down and makes you appreciate the beautiful world around you, and it is a wonderful way to start the day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Alice in Wonderland

Those of you who have been following my blog, or who are familiar with my website , will know that I have been working towards becoming a proper runner. My reasons for doing this are not just fitness oriented, this is also an exercise in banishing some very nasty demons that haunt me. You see, I was not a terribly fit child, and I developed very quickly from child to woman. This led to teasing, bullying and finally anorexia. Despite the fact I am now quite fit and reasonably slim (although I am the kind of woman who will always be on the voluptuous side of slim with lots of curves), I am still uncomfortable with my body. My parent's deaths have made me realise that I need to move forward with my life and embrace the future. I know that one of the things that will help me to do that is to finally get comfortable with my body and blast away the demons from my past.

These demons take the form of several very nasty children in the school I attended, in particular ten girls in my Grade 5 class. Although they are now grown up and, I am sure, much nicer people, their ten year old selves still haunt me whenever I try to exercise in public. I remember them taunting me in PE class as we ran through the village of Elora in southern Ontario, pushing and prodding at me as I struggled to keep up with them, and our very fit PE teacher. When I run outside with Judith I can almost see them out the corner of my eye, lurking in the shadows. I half expect them to jump out at me, laughing and poking at me. In order to banish these demons I decided that I wanted to learn to run - and to run outside in public.

To that end I have hired a wonderful personal trainer named Judith, whose patience and encouragement are inspiring. So far I have been doing pretty well. Not long ago, after several weeks of running on my nice safe treadmill in the garage, Judith managed to coax me outside. We've been doing one run a week outside for the last five weeks and it has been going pretty well. I still struggle though and although I can run for long periods on the treadmill without stopping, I often find myself gasping for breath and having to stop when I run outside. This usually happens just after we have gone past or are about to go past other human beings who have much better things to do than look at me, but who I am convinced are wondering why such a fat and ugly girl would possibly go out running. Judith has spent ages assuring me that I am neither fat nor ugly - and in fact was backed up by a very nice man who wolf whistled at us the other day with not an ounce of sarcasm in his body. I am very grateful to Judith, and to that particular man, but I still feel uncomfortable running in public. Which is why Judith's suggestion that I might want to try running outside on my own - filled me with terror.

Up until today, if Judith was not coming with me, I would run on the treadmill. The closest I got to running in public on my own was on one very hot day when I opened the garage door and shut the gates at the end of our drive so that I could get some air! But today dawned beautiful and sunny and the lure of running down by the Thames was actually beginning to tug at me. With a huge amount of trepidation, I set off, on my own to go for a run.

I ran for fifteen minutes without stopping (except to open the gates on the public footpath - and I admit I opened these gates slowly so as to allow me an extra breath or two!) before I stopped to walk for a few paces at Mapleduram Lock. I then set off into the fields beside the Thames leading to Pangbourne. The air was fresh and clear and the sun was glinting off the water...and the rabbit hole I have always managed to avoid was lurking just outside of my vision. I did not even have the excuse of a white rabbit...I simply fell into the hole. Luckily it was not as deep as Alice's rabbit hole and I only twisted my ankle mildly. I was so embarrassed to be lying spread eagled amongst the buttercups that I got up at lightening speed without even thinking and continued to run. Luckily there were very few people in the field and any that were either did not notice or pretended not to out of politeness.

As I continued to run, I was slightly disappointed about my fall, and wondered why such a thing had to happen just as I was beginning to feel a bit more confident. I mean, for goodness sake, I was really making an effort here. Why had the universe decided to smite me? Then I suddenly realised that practically the most embarrassing thing possible had just happened to me and here I was still running, none the worse for wear, and even actually almost enjoying myself.

I carried on past a couple more gates before turning around and running back the way I came - avoiding the rabbit hole this time! I ran more than I have on any run outside before, even running a bit on some of the very steep hills you have to climb up to get back to our house that I normally always walk. I felt so exhilarated when I got home - and somehow changed - a bit like Alice after her journey in Lewis Carroll's iconic story.

As I shut the door behind me and went to get a well deserved glass of cold water, I felt an incredible sense of relief. I could almost hear the laughter of the demonic little bullies fading into the distance as they vanished into thin air - all thanks to a tiny bit of courage and a strategically placed rabbit hole!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

And Even More...

You may recall that a few months ago I was delighted to report that my son Alex got a placement for his work experience week with the University of Reading History Department. If you missed that blog entry, basically every young person in England does one week’s work experience in Year 10. Finding a placement can be quite a challenge, and often parents are required to help source a placement for their child. Because of the deaths of my parents in the last few months, I really was not able to help Alex find anything and so was quite worried that he would end up replenishing the shelves in a grocery store somewhere. Now I do not mean to offend anyone who stacks shelves, but it is just not a very interesting work placement for a fifteen year old boy. To my great delight, Alex was offered a placement with the University of Reading. I was told that the placement was not at their main site, but rather at a satellite site a few miles away. I said it did not matter, and that I was happy to drive Alex there and back. When I queried the nature of the work, the lady from the education authority said it would involve looking at and categorising artefacts. It sounded amazing and both Alex and I were delighted.

Not long ago, I realised we had not had any further information about the work placement and as it is coming up in July, I was beginning to be concerned. Imagine my relief when a letter arrived this afternoon from the education authority!

Or not, as the case may be….

It turns out Alex’s work placement is on an actual excavation site in a place called Silchester, not far from here. Alex is not a real outdoors, get your hands dirty kind of kid, so this was a bit of a surprise. We were both reassured when the letter stated that placement students under the age of 16 are not allowed in the actual excavation trenches for health and safety reasons. So there is only one problem with this assignment, which is actually a brilliant one and could be totally fascinating if the British weather cooperates and Alex does not have to spend an entire week soaking wet and cold. The problem is this. Alex is not so keen on the part of history that involves bones.

Sadly, the excavation site he is going to is called Calleva Atrebatum. When I Googled it, the first entry I found translates Calleva Atrebatum. It means “City of the Dead”. Fantastic.

It’s really important Alex does not find that out, or it is going to put him off terribly. Unfortunately, part of the work experience experience involves going for an interview which Alex will have to do in the next couple of weeks. So he will need to prepare for said interview by doing research on the internet. I’m in big trouble.

I’m going to spend a lot of the next few weeks trying to emphasize that part of history which involves artifacts, and not bones. I’ve already started going on about the coliseum and the amazing architectural finds. Alex is on to me though. He has a ringtone on his phone that has sirens and a voice saying “Bulls**t Alert” when he sets it off. Strangely enough it went off twice during my conversation with him about the work placement! Hopefully he’ll be able to see past all that and really get into the super opportunity this is. It’s one I would have been eager to accept during my “I want to be an archaeologist phase”. It lasted about two years in my early teens, until I realised that you needed patience by the bucketful to be an archaeologist – and patience has never been my strong point. And I have to admit, I was put off by the bones and death side of it as well. Poor Alex!

On the plus side this is an amazing excavation site. If you want to have a look, just Google "Silchester" or "Calleva Atrebatum". As for me, I’m off to find some websites that are big on the architectural side of Calleva Atrebatum, and not quite so big on translation!

Monday, May 19, 2008

More (Gulp!) Surprises

We made some great progress with the garden on Friday, purchasing lots of lovely plants at our local Wyevale nursery, and also at the amazing Big Plant Nursery where we found a well established Robinia tree, a beautiful lilac and two other gorgeous blue plants which I erroneously thought were California lilacs– but I don’t care they are so pretty! The plants are all “big” and established so I’m having them delivered next week. I’m also getting the nice lady who was there to come along and give me some advice for what else might look good in our garden.

So after a day of gardens and gardening, it was not shock when Guy said he would like to go back to Wyevale on Saturday to have a bit more of a look round. I was a tad surprised when Alex said he wanted to go along too, but I was so pleased I did not think much about it. Alex never comes shopping with us unless there is something he wants. I could not figure out what he could possibly want from the garden centre, but as I said I was far too pleased to ask questions. Guy explained we were going to go a different way to Wyevale nursery. This again was no surprise as Guy always goes to places sixteen different ways – and never returns from a place in the same way he went to it. He swears it is not a deliberate attempt to confuse me, but sometimes I wonder.

We set off in Guy’s car and began to chat amongst ourselves. We were headed in the general direction of the garden centre, and although we were taking a different route I did recognise most of it. Alex began to talk about cars. Alex loves cars, as does Guy, so this is nothing unusual. However it didn’t take long for the conversation to go the way it usually has recently, with both of them assuring me that it really was time for me to have a new car. I have to say that I do agree with them. The car I have now is a blue Peugeot 1007, which is a fun little car with sliding doors that I bought when Alex was about twelve. At the time, it suited us as it is cute and funky. Sadly I have never been happy with it though as I really do not like the way the semi-automatic gearbox works. I find the way the car takes ages to get going terribly frustrating. Once you wind it up, it does go at a reasonable speed, but I never found it lived up to its “fun” image in terms of driving. And I have the Sport version! So I have wanted something different for a long time. But I am a frugal soul and buying anything new always involves a lot of thought and consideration.

Suddenly we were pulling into the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge dealership.

“I thought we were going to Wyevale.” I said weakly.

“Well, Alex and I have found a car we think you will like. It’s just behind you.”

I got out of Guy’s car and turned round to look at a gorgeous little sports car. The first thing out of my mouth was,

“But it only has two seats!”

I was then bombarded by a list of reasons why I do not need a car with four seats anymore and how one large car is enough for any family. Alex virtually dragged me over to the car It was a Chrysler Crossfire Roadster in a gorgeous silvery blue and it was a convertible. I was lost. My dream car was sitting in front of me. But I wasn’t admitting anything to Guy or Alex, both of whom were practically jumping up and down with excitement.

I listed several reasons why it was not practical, and even went so far as to say I was not sure I liked it which was a complete untruth. Before I knew it I was sitting beside the general manager of the dealership on my way to do a test drive. Well, it drove like a dream. It’s got a 3.2 litre engine which beats the heck out of the 1.6 litre I’m driving now. The gearbox is automatic and its really quiet even at 70 miles an hour. I was ill prepared for my surprise test drive, and I was not even wearing driving shoes. I also had to put the roof back up as being England it was freezing cold and my eyes were streaming so much from the cold wind I could hardly drive. But just like Guy and Alex thought I would, I fell in love with the car.

On our return to the dealership, Guy went out for a test drive. As Alex and I waited in the reception area, he listed every reason possible I had to buy the car – even resorting to “If you don’t buy it I’ll be very disappointed in you. I thought that was my line!

After Guy’s return and a family conference during which I was told not to be so silly of course I should have the car and not feel I have to be practical and cautious like I normally am, my Peugeot 1007 was traded in and we bought a truly amazing little sports car. It is due to be ready next week. I can hardly believe my luck. I really am blessed to have a husband and son who really encourage me to step firmly outside my comfort zone and make my dreams come true. So, from next week, if you see a cute little Crossfire with a very happy blond housewife driving it, that will be me!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Mummy-ometer Meltdown

As Guy is on holiday today and Monday, last night I decided to cook a nice relaxing dinner. So I grilled some steaks, roasted some asparagus, opened a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir and we all sat down for a nice relaxing dinner. Or not….

Just as we were tucking into our food, Alexander took a deep breath and said, “I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I want to go to boarding school for sixth form”.

Sixth form is Grades 12 and 13, so this would be in September 2009 – next year. My Mummy-ometer was going off the scale. Boarding school? Next year?

In my experience women in England fall into three camps when it comes to boarding school. There are those who disapprove of it, thinking it is an outmoded institution for the modern era. That definitely is not me. Then there are those who think it is a wonderful idea, and then there are those who think it is a wonderful idea for other people’s children. I have always fallen firmly into the latter group. Boarding school sounds fantastic, all jolly hockey sticks and that sort of lark, but I never wanted Alex to actually go to one. For the last few months, I had been coasting along nicely, ruminating about how difficult it was going to be when he goes off to university in three year’s time. Suddenly I’m faced with the thought of him virtually leaving home in only a little over a year.

“Would you Darling? Which one exactly?”

Alex replied with the names of two schools, both in the Midlands where we used to live. He has friends at both of them.

Great. Not only does he want to go to boarding school, but he wants to go to boarding school 150 miles away. AAARRRRGHHH!

In the split second I had to think, I remembered my Mom when I said I wanted to go to England. She never once said it was a silly idea, never once discouraged me and never, ever said “I’d rather you didn’t”. She encouraged me without fail for the two years it took me to save up, and then she and my Dad bought my airline ticket for me. They not only encouraged me to make my dreams come true, they facilitated them. So what could I say? It’s a huge investment, but we are in a position to do this for Alex so how can I possibly refuse?

So I told Alex it sounded like a great idea, and said that I’d send off for the Prospectus for both schools in the morning. When he queried how I felt about the whole thing, I remembered my Mom again and said, “Look Alex, Dad and I didn’t have you so that you could stay with us forever. We had you so that you could grow up and fulfil all your dreams.” And I said it without any hesitation or one single tear.

I can understand why Alex wants to go to boarding school. Very few of the kids at his school actually care about their studies and Alex really does want to make something of himself. It is hard to fulfil your potential in the environment he is in at the moment. And even I have said that the only way he was going to sixth form at the school he is at now was over my dead body. Alex needs the kind of focussed environment an independent / private school provides. Alex is going to have to work very hard, and he’ll need to get super results in his GCSE’s to be offered a place at either school. So we needed to contact both schools in order to keep our options open.

And this morning, as promised, I called both schools first thing and set the wheels in motion. I even got in touch with another independent school just to give us another alternative. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as a Mum, but you know what? I’m way better at this Mummy stuff than I thought I was…and I’m a hell of a lot stronger than I thought I was too.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Peonies and Pimples

Suddenly this morning everyone is wearing coats again. Our weather is positively schizophrenic! It’s now only a very damp 15 degrees Celsius. I just pray that little blip of sunshine and heat was not the entire British summer! (Sadly, it has happened before.)

I bought some peonies today. They looked decidedly more summery than the weather, and they are my absolute favourite flower in the world. They look gorgeous sitting on the dining room table, all their billowy pinkness on show. I tried to establish some peonies in our garden in Derby and even after four years of trying the plants had still not taken properly and only gave the odd bloom. They were nothing like the peonies I remember in our garden on Krug Street in Kitchener when I was a little girl. There were at least four huge bushes in the garden along the fence on the left hand. They were planted by the people who lived in the house before we did. Every summer they would burst into bloom, dozens of flowers on each plant. It became a tradition that one day every summer my Mom and I would pick a huge bouquet of them and drive to the cemetery in Stoney Creek to lay them on my Grandma’s grave. The ones we took to my Grandma’s grave were the only ones we ever picked; Mom always left the rest on the bushes because she did not want to spoil how pretty they looked. I used to enjoy the journey to Stoney Creek with my Mom. I had never known my Grandma and although I missed having her in my life, the sorrow was not as acute as it would have been if I had known her. I understand now how hard it must have been for my Mom, as when we first started going my Grandmother – her mother – had been dead less than ten years. It must have been awfully painful for her. As for me, I always found the day kind of fun. I was amazed by the size of the big headstone with the family name carved in it (which did seem to get somehow smaller as I got older) and I liked walking through the old cemetery, looking at the graves of the people who had died so many years before, many of whom were related to me. Actually, today is one of those strange days where the present and the past seem to blend into each other, and I keep getting surprised by memories that pop into my head at the most importune moments. It’s nice in one way but dreadfully inconvenient in another as my eyes keep filling up at totally inappropriate times!

I have a pimple on my cheek so big it needs its own postcode. I’ve covered it with concealer but of course you can still see it. My skin has been fantastic for months on end, even through the really stressful times, and then suddenly I’ve had three pimples in the last two weeks. I think it is grossly unfair that a face that has fine lines (okay maybe even a few wrinkles) should also have pimples. It just isn’t right. The idea that my face is going through a second adolescence when I am practically middle aged (okay probably a bit more actually than practically) is quite alarming. I hope the hormonal temper tantrum taking place on my face settles down soon!

Thursday 14th May

Well, our gorgeous sunny weather seems to be taking a bit of a break, but I suppose I can’t complain after nearly a week of the good stuff! It’s been very chaotic here these last couple of days, so I did enjoy my yoga class today. I’m much more chilled out now than I was first thing this morning. And as for yesterday, well, that really was stressful!

We started off yesterday morning with the news that Guy will have to go to Singapore for five days in June. I’m not very happy about that. Guy travelling is a side of being a Corporate Wife that I have never liked. It can’t be avoided this time though, so I’ll just have to deal with it. Thankfully he is going after my birthday. On the plus side, Guy has some holiday he needs to use up so is taking lots of long weekends beforehand, plus he has taken three days off round my birthday and he will also be at home the Friday he gets back from Singapore and the Monday afterwards. So I really cannot complain – he’s only going for five days after all. I’m lucky he hates being away as much as I hate it when he is away!

We did do some nice things yesterday though including booking The Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus, London, for my birthday dinner. I have always wanted to go there. It looks so beautiful from the outside and the menu – by Marco Pierre White – sounds wonderful. I had thought we might go to tea at The Ritz on my birthday but it turns out you have to book months in advance. Never one to let something like that be a setback, I have embraced the lesson and booked afternoon tea at The Ritz …in September!

This morning started out a lot more quietly with Guy working from home for the first bit. He then very kindly sorted out something that has been worrying me for ages – registering with a doctor in our area. You see, for the last six months we have remained registered with our doctor in Derby. Thankfully we have not needed a doctor as that is a heck of a long way to go if you are not feeling well! The reason for my hesitation is that I am pretty doctor phobic. I go for all the tests you have to have of course, and thankfully I am very healthy so rarely go to the doctor for anything other than those usual regular health checks. I’ve never had much luck with doctors really. It all started when I was a kid. I had a really nice doctor when I was little. He even did house calls from time to time. However, once I got into my teens I decided I did not want a male doctor anymore. Poor Mom had to find me a female doctor. The only one she could find (female doctors in general practice were pretty rare those days) was middle aged and her office was in a scary old house. And (I am absolutely dead serious here) she had a paddle with the words “grip firmly to avoid frustration” painted on it hanging on her wall! Of course she never actually used the paddle on me but just seeing it hanging there was enough to scare me silly. She’d actually tell you to look up at it when she was giving you an injection! Remember, this was the 1970’s and corporal punishment, whilst frowned upon in some circles, was still horrifically acceptable. Then, when my Mom was ill with cancer when I was eight our friend Jenny, who I was staying with, had to take me to this doctor. After the doctor saw me, she sent me out to the waiting room and asked to talk to Jenny. I immediately decided that she was telling Jenny that I was dying and only had six months to live or something. I was nearly ill with fear for days until I confessed to Jenny who very kindly (and without laughing thank goodness!) explained the doctor was only asking after my Mom. Sadly though, all this has left me with a nearly pathological fear of needles, tests and anyone medical. Even having my blood pressure taken terrifies me. It takes me ages to work up my courage to go for tests (although I do go of course) . So the idea of walking into the doctor’s office and registering had me just about ill with fear. Thankfully Guy did it for me, and filled out all the forms for the three of us. He came back with a leaflet explaining the office’s procedures and it sounds a really nice one – with lots of things on offer (not that I’m rushing in mind you!) and plenty of help if you need it. So that is a huge relief.

I had my yoga class this morning as well. My instructor comes to the house and it is one on one, so I am learning all the poses – the ones I always thought I knew how to do(!) - properly! It is wonderful as she is a very spiritual person and the yoga goes beyond the actual asanas (poses) to the philosophy behind them. It is extremely relaxing and is really helping me to work through the physical and emotional toxins I’ve got swirling round in my mind and body since Dad and Mom passed away. Since I’ve started working with her I’ve had fewer nightmares and I’m sleeping much better. I’m a great believer in the holistic side of things, although of course as a compliment to doctors and medicine – not instead of them!

The sun looks like it might venture on out, so I think I’ll go off and do the grocery shopping now. I’ve just put some ingredients in the bread maker so there should be some nice smells wafting through the house when I get back!

Dior and The 21st Century Housewife - 9th May 2008

What a busy day yesterday was! It started with a bit of a rush to get Alex to school and Guy to the station. Then I spent some time getting ready for the weekend. Our friends are coming to stay with us which I am really looking forward to.

I had Pilates at 10.30. I explained to Kelly, my Pilates coach, that my arms were really stiff from yesterday’s yoga. Well, apparently the cure for stiffness is extra work….ouch…but actually in the end they did feel better. I feel like I am getting so much stronger, and I know that my shape is improving, although I was very disappointed that my hip measurement has not actually gone down. But my legs are thinner and the part of them that gravity had been pulling down (that’s my polite way of saying my bottom!) is actually moving back up so that is encouraging.

After Pilates it was a rush back home, with a quick stop at Waitrose for things for Alex’s lunch tomorrow, to get back in time for the curtain fitter, Julian, who was due to arrive at 1pm. I was thrilled as he began to bring the curtains in, they all looked so gorgeous. This was the last of the curtains, except for the library ones, which we are choosing next week. Julian has drawn a design for them which I really like. It’s a big, complicated window which looks lovely from both inside and outside, but has proved a bit of a challenge to curtain. So I’m pleased to finally know what we are doing, and I only have to choose the fabric now. I think from what he is saying Julian has practically chosen something already actually which based on past experience I will probably like. He has some very good ideas, most of which I do like, although I am a bit slow to take some of them up as I have to do things at my own speed. I struggle with too much change at one time!

Anyway, whilst Julian carried on with the curtains I had an appointment with Judith, my personal trainer. It was a bit hot for running outside but we had a go anyway and I did quite well. I’m still struggling with the concept of running in public, although the encouraging comments I received from one chap on a bicycle (and they were very encouraging indeed!) made it all seem much more manageable and gave me a bit of extra steam for the very difficult bit at the end which is virtually all uphill. When we got back we did the strength and toning exercises. I mentioned to Judith about my arms, and she did sort of let me off on some stuff, but apparently personal trainers believe working a sore muscle is the way to go as well!! They do feel a bit better this morning, so perhaps the professionals are right!

Julian finished the curtains just as I finished my workout. Actually, I think he was a bit shocked by how haggard I looked but he managed to hold back his laughter as he pointed out that my mascara was definitely running! Never mind. The curtains and blinds are just wonderful and it is so nice to have them up.

After Alex got home and Julian left it was a real rush to get ready as we were due at the Dior Joaillerie launch of the new fine jewellery collection in the Penthouse at The Metropolitan Hotel. It was an engraved invitation affair so figuring out what to wear was a bit of a challenge. I decided to go for a navy and white day dress with my favourite Dior bag (in an homage to our hosts!). Alex and I took the train into town and met up with Guy in Regent Street. We then went together by taxi to the hotel. We were greeted at the door and ushered upstairs to the 10th floor. Our invitations were checked and we were welcomed into the Penthouse, which has a stunning view over London. I chose the right thing to wear as my handbag was noticed immediately by our hosts. It is a very classic design that they have done for years and that they reinvent annually in new colours. I do have a bit of collection of fine handbags but I think my classic Dior one is probably my favourite. Actually, Alex has described me as “having a handbag addiction” although I only ever buy the ones I really love and I do wait and save for them! Anyway, back to the jewellery, which was designed by Victoire de Castellane. The collection was called “The Seasons at Milly-la-Foret” and was displayed in several alarmed cases in a room decorated with white forest like branches. A mime, wearing a gorgeous necklace, ring and classic Dior watch, moved amongst the guests showing off her wears at close range. The necklace had me spellbound until she turned around and I noticed there was a jewelled skull on the clasp. That kind of spoiled it for me, as I don’t do skulls. I much preferred the little frogs that were wittily placed on some of the other pieces. Champagne was pressed upon us and I have to say Dior were very generous as our glasses were not allowed to be empty for even a moment. It was a fantastic place to people watch as well. Chanel jackets were rubbing shoulders with very fashionable casual wear. From the WAGs on their own having a chat over champagne in the corner, to gorgeous woman who put me in mind of Eva Longoria’s character on Desperate Housewives standing next to her husband admiring the view, it was a real cross section of fashionable London. One older lady wearing vintage Chanel discussed rings with her husband. Next to her, a beautiful girl in a white dress, who must have been a model she was so tall (taller than Guy!), showed a lot of interest in some of the enamelled pieces. The people were almost more fascinating than the jewellery, but it was quite interesting too! The only thing was most of the pieces were really big – I mean almost huge in some respects. I smiled as I recalled how my Dad would have called them “knuckle dusters”! Of course really large rings are very fashionable at the moment, but if I’m honest I would probably wear them only rarely, and for that sort of investment you would want to be wearing them rather a lot. They did have one pair of earrings that looked like something I would choose, and a pretty necklace that I would easily have worn as well. However it was almost impossible to purchase anything as they only had a small private room for viewings and only a couple of people could be seen at a time. One gentleman left in a huff with his very beautiful and fashionable wife, complaining to us that he had been waiting for over twenty minutes for a viewing and had not been seen to. It was a very interesting evening though with some amazing pieces. You can see some of them on the Dior website, just click here and go to the section on “The Seasons at Milly-la-Foret”.

We spent about an hour at the reception and then left to go have dinner in Mayfair. We had to take a cab, even though it was only round the corner, as by now my rather fashionable shoes were causing me some serious pain. Despite that, it was a really pleasant evening with super company, nice food and good wine – although I have to admit that in the end I had to walk from the train to the car park in my stocking feet! Oh, the glamour of it all!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bank Holiday Monday- but not as we know it

We woke up about 9am this morning. Guy misread the clock and thought it said 10am, but that was okay as it is always nice to have an extra hour. I made muffins from a mix for breakfast. I managed to find Betty Crocker Apple Cinnamon Muffin mix in Waitrose. It was quick and easy, and the muffins were delicious with a nice hot cup of tea. The weather people had predicted torrential rain for today, but actually we had quite a lot of sun and it is finally starting to get a bit warmer. Today was the first day the heating never came on at all.

Guy still had to work today, and is now preparing to go on a call that will probably last well into the early hours of tomorrow. However, we did manage to get quite a lot done despite that. We’ve put up loads of pictures and even the cuckoo clock, which has made it feel so much more like home. I’m desperately trying to clear the dining room and get everything organised as we have friends coming to stay next weekend. I’m so looking forward to seeing them, but I really want it to be ready, and my definition of ready is way more complicated than most other people’s. Where I write “ready”, I actually mean “perfect”. It’s not healthy, but it’s me.

Tonight for dinner I did pizza as I thought it would be easier. Also, as I am not really connected to that kind of meal, so if it is rushed or even if someone is on the phone while they are eating it (thank goodness that didn’t happen), I’m not hurt or upset. Waitrose do some really nice vegetarian pizzas, which are the only kind I ever really buy. We had their Fire Roasted Peppers Pizza which is always delicious. I do add grated mozzarella to top it off as I don’t think it has enough cheese, and on one of them I put lovely slices of beefsteak tomato on top before I added the extra cheese. Both were yummy. I do like to have a salad with pizza, and as we were not having any meat, I thought it would be a good idea to include nuts. I really fancied a Waldorf Salad, but did not want all the mayonnaisey richness of it so I decided to invent a lighter version. It was very successful, and I include it here.

The 21st Century Housewife’s Lighter Waldorf

1 bag of mixed salad leaves
4 or 5 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 red and/or green apples, skins left on, finely chopped
A handful of walnuts
2 tablespoons walnut oil (or olive oil if you have not got any walnut)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Put the salad leaves in a large bowl and top with the chopped celery, chopped apples and walnuts. In a small lidded container, mix together the oil, vinegar, mustard and sugar. Put the lid on and shake vigorously. Pour over the salad. Toss and serve immediately.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Lovely Sunday

Today was my favourite kind of a Sunday. We didn’t get up till 10.30am. Okay, when we woke up the first words I heard were “Oh s**t, it’s 10.30!” as Guy had a conference call at 11am, but despite that it all went very well. I really slept well last night, aside from the couple of times I woke up coughing. Apparently that was not the case for Guy, who did not sleep at all well until around 7am, when he fell asleep very heavily. He has been working such long hours trying to keep up with both England and America that it is almost as if he has created a kind of artificial jet lag! Never mind, it all worked out fine as while Guy was on his call I made brunch – pancakes, bacon and eggs. He finished just as I had everything ready. I used my new Princess Table Chef and it was wonderful. It was so much less stressful than trying to cook brunch on my gas hob (whose days incidentally are numbered as it is going to be replaced with an electric one just as soon as possible – I hate gas!). Everyone said it was all delicious.

We were joined for brunch by Alex’s friend who had turned up about 11am. He and Alex decided they would like to go see the new film Iron Man which I also wanted to see, but I am way too uncool to go with two teenagers to the pictures! So instead, Guy and I dropped them off and did a little light shopping at The Oracle . Then we made a quick stop at Waitrose for groceries and headed home to wait for Alex to call to be collected. After Guy and I got home we hung up some more new light fittings and also placed an order from American Sweets . I love their stuff, and it is so much easier than trying to bring things back in my suitcase!. I’ve only ordered from them once before, but the order arrived beautifully packed, with sweets in between the packing paper. I spent £72 so I hope I have a similar experience this time!

I made sausages and mash for dinner with my 21st Century Housewife’s Cheat’s Onion Gravy (recipe follows) which was a great success. I had bought a lemon meringue pie filling at Waitrose, one I was hoping would be like the Sheriff’s Lemon Pie Filling my Mom and I used to buy. I made it up according to directions and produced a beautiful looking pie, but one that tasted slightly less than satisfactory. It was kind of, well, gutless is the best word I can use to describe it. Where Sheriff’s used to taste really zingy and delicious, this was kind of vaguely lemony in a weird kind of way. I think I might go back to making lemon pie filling from scratch – and remember to smuggle some of the Sheriff’s stuff back with me next time we go to Canada!

Guy and I sat outside and had a glass of wine after dinner. We are so pleased with our lovely garden. It has so much potential, and it is really quite private and very large. We sat on the bench Mom and Dad bought me for my birthday a few years ago and it was just idyllic. I felt really blessed to be sitting there looking out into my beautiful garden and back into the really gorgeous (if slightly untidy) kitchen! It’s taken us a long time, but I really do feel like we are finally beginning to settle.

The 21st Century Housewife’s Delicious Cheat’s Onion Gravy

1 large white onion (preferably mild Spanish or similar), peeled and finely sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 to 2 cups prepared gravy, either canned or made up Bisto or similar

In a small saucepan, heat the oil. Fry the onion in the oil over medium heat until soft and beginning to brown. Sprinkle the sugar over and stir in, continuing to cook so that the onion caramelises a bit. When the onions are a lovely caramel colour and slightly softened, pour the prepared gravy over. Simmer together for about two or three minutes and serve.

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Guy worked till 2 am last night and quite a lot of today. It’s overwhelming at the moment, but at least he is doing it from home.

We popped out in the morning to look for a double bed for Alex. He is just too tall for the single bed now. The other morning I went in to wake him up and both his legs were on the floor, poor lad. Unfortunately we could not find anything we liked so the search is still on. We were near a McDonald’s and I was almost dragged in, but managed to avoid it by offering to make homemade burgers for lunch. I didn’t have to offer twice! I cooked them on my new George Foreman grill. I can’t get over how brilliant that thing is, it cooks everything so nicely and so easily. Plus it’s easy to clean as well. I cooked steak on it last night with great success.

The weather was beautiful this afternoon so we went for a walk in the sunshine. We tried walking a different way and found some more gorgeous countryside. We took some photographs so I’ll try to put them up in the next few days. We are so lucky to have such amazing fields and woods so near to us.

After we got back from our walk I had a bit of a domestic goddess moment and decided to make chocolate chip cookies. It’s been ages since I’ve done something like that. They are the first thing I have baked since August, since all the chaos started, and I think they tasted extra good because of that. It was like turning a corner. Anyway, instead of using my old faithful recipe that I’ve been using for thirty years, I decided to try a new Martha Stewart one from her book " Cookies". It was very good, but the cookies really spread out a lot. In fact, the first pan full was kind of one big cookie until I cut them apart! They taste delicious though, soft and chewy just like the recipe promised, and by the third pan full I had got the hang of spacing them out. Having said that I think I will go back to my old recipe next time.

I’ve still got this annoying cough, but I didn’t let it stop me from having a run this afternoon while Guy was on the phone to the States. I had a great run yesterday, but today was even better and for the first time I ran for over half an hour without stopping to walk even once. I’m so pleased.

I am hoping Guy will finish with his call soon (it has been over two hours now!) and that will be able to get a bit more family time in this weekend. Fingers crossed!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Thank God It's Friday

I really thought I was over this cold, but it has now turned into an annoying chesty cough which managed to disturb my sleep rather catastrophically last night. As a result I had to drag myself out of bed this morning. I even gave Alex money to buy his lunch instead of packing one for him, and aside from bringing him a coffee to wake him up, did not even get up until just before he went to school. Not such a domestic goddess this morning then!!

I’m feeling a lot better now though and have managed to get quite a lot done. I still have not got my run in yet a I have been playing secretary, typing up parts of a presentation for Guy. I’m glad to help – it’s just that for the moment, he’s a MAC and I’m a PC. I’m still working on getting my head round the Macintosh system, and as brilliant as it is, I do find it a challenge. I know there will be a day when I am waxing lyrical about how wonderful it is and trashing Microsoft, but for the moment I’m still pretty indoctrinated in the PC way of doing things. This makes it hard when you are working on a MAC! Still, after three hours of working with Keynote, Apple’s desktop publishing program, I am pretty impressed. I did, however, have a couple of moments of head banging frustration trying to figure out exactly how things are done in MAC world. I’m eager to learn though, as Guy says if I would just work on a MAC I could get the website looking much more professional and exciting. He’s also promising to buy me a MacBook Air. This is a huge carrot, and there appears to be no stick at all!

The weather has been quite strange today, sunny one minute, torrential rain the next. Luckily the gardener picked the perfect moment to arrive to cut the lawn, and just finished in time for the heavens to open. This was not so nice for him, but for us, it is lovely as the grass now looks tidy, but incredibly lush at the same time.

I’m hoping we will have some time to relax this weekend, which is a Bank Holiday weekend, meaning we get Monday off. It’s been manic for Guy at work and he has been doing 20 hour days in preparation for an important conference next week. I’m hoping this weekend will be a lovely island of peace and tranquillity…but sadly, here in the 21st Century Household that is pretty unlikely. We don’t do tranquillity very much really – it’s more organised (or not so organised) chaos most of the time. Still, surely with three days to play with we ought to get a break at some point – watch this space!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Feeling better all the time....

May Day has always seemed like the first day of spring to me – despite the fact that officially, it’s not. No matter where I have lived (obviously never in the southern hemisphere) it has always been a pretty safe bet that by the 1st of May the weather will be reasonably spring like. It’s trying today, with the sunshine fighting its way through the clouds as often as it can. We’ve had such a lot of rain this week, you can understand why William Blake referred to England as a “green and pleasant land” in his hymn “Jerusalem” – which is, incidentally, one of my favourites. Although not typically a wedding hymn, we had it at our wedding – not only because I liked it, but also because it kind of alluded to how I was choosing an English man, and choosing to live in England with him. Anyway, it is very green outside – lush thick carpets of grass, flowers and lots of green gorgeousness.

I feel so much better today. I’m still coughing and spluttering a bit but the exhaustion has gone and I feel like I’m on the road to recovery. Isn’t it funny how you sort your head out, get a bit of rest, and suddenly you feel better? We really do not take good enough care of ourselves. We need to remember that we are important too, and we need to be kind to ourselves as well as everyone else.

I am so pleased that I am feeling better as I have not had a run since Monday so I really do want to run again tomorrow. I daren’t risk it today as I’d probably stir up all my congestion, end up spluttering and be very embarrassed. I did go to Pilates today though, which was wonderful. Everyone very kindly ignored my coughing and spluttering and it did me the world of good. I feel I am really making progress and getting stronger. Apparently I have very stiff calf muscles though so I have to do a calf stretch thing that I do not like at all – so it must be good for me! I was always so proud of my flexible hamstrings, and now I find out I’ve got stiff calves! Oh well.

Guy has been working very long hours in preparation for meetings next week. He is running on adrenaline so seems to need very little sleep. He works at home whenever he can, but a typical day sounds exhausting to me. For example yesterday he left at 6.45am and worked through until 8.15pm. By the time he got home it was nearly 9.30. The only time he really took out was to eat dinner and the rest of the time he was on the phone and his computer. Yet he still manages to phone and text me regularly during the day. It’s nice to be thought of even amidst the chaos.

We were all a bit nervous this morning as today was the day Scissor Boy (SB) was supposed to return to school. I’ve been praying he would not be allowed to, but we had heard nothing so it looked like God had a different plan. I should have had more faith – by 10am Alex had texted me to say that SB had been permanently excluded. Hallelujah! Thank God for answered prayer. Apparently SB can appeal the exclusion but frankly I don’t think he has much hope. In the first instance I’m still praying and in the second, apparently they have said he is a health and safety hazard to the other students. He sounds like a bit of a health and safety hazard to himself as well. I do feel sorry for him as he obviously has a terrible life, but you can’t go around attacking other people just because you are p***d off with the world.

I really cannot believe it is May already. Where have the last five months gone? I’m barely used to writing “2008” and we are nearly half way through the year! I’m so grateful for how everything is finally coming together though, it is wonderful. I’ve got to go, Alex has just come through the door saying “I’m sick” in a very nasal voice. Looks like he’s caught my cold poor thing. Oh dear, I will be popular!