Thursday, 27 December 2012

Festive greetings

I drafted a Christmas letter and then never finished it. A few neighbours received Christmas cards from us, but all our dear friends around the country were neglected for which I can only apologise.

So, I’m working on wishing everyone Happy Christmas by email or facebook – belated in the main – and then focusing on very best wishes for the New Year.

I wanted to write to everyone this year, because I wanted to take the opportunity to say ‘thank you’. I was really grateful for the support that such a huge number of people gave me with my fundraising year for Macmillan Cancer Support.

A quick re-cap for anyone I’ve failed to keep in touch with during this time (sorry), I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in June 2010 and so began all the treatment that could be thrown at me for a year.  By the end of chemo (July 2011) I was feeling healthy again. With a rush of energy and enthusiasm for life, it was a case of ‘Yippee! Now I’m going to do something positive’, and so started my year of fundraising for Macmillan.

I tried to thank people along the way, but in case I missed anyone, and anyway, why not say it again: thank you to everyone who has supported me by sponsoring me and/or helping with any of the fundraising events. The highlights this year were a 40km cycle (with Cycletta who organise women only cycle events round the country) and Stony Stratford’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning – part of Macmillan’s annual event but with our own local twist.

For the year of events running September ’11 to September ’12, I raised £3,500 for Macmillan. THANK YOU for your help in making that possible.

Also on a positive note, November brought the good news that my annual CT scan was clear for second year so I seem to be living cancer-free. Long may it continue.

Right, now onto other news. The year saw Bruce returning to work at the Open University. We’ve loved having him home again from his weekly commute to a miserable job in Wales (oh yes, 2012 really has been so good compared to the previous couple of years!). As well as enjoying his return to work, he has continued with his other interests, such as astronomy and tending to the allotment (and I still have the satisfaction of cooking allotment produce).

The girls are growing up of course although four and seven may not sound that old. This September Pippa started a new school (moving up to junior school) and Susannah started Reception so we’ve had a term of new routines and they’ve both settled well. The end of term saw the usual festive fun, with Susannah an angel in her Nativity play and Pippa playing Silent Night with the school orchestra. She plays cello, and what they lack in accuracy, they make up for by adopting a pose of studied concentration and their enthusiasm.

All three of us go to ballet although not at the same time. I love it, Pippa’s pretty keen, but Susannah (who may turn out to have the most natural ability) blows hot and cold. Well, she’s still young so who knows how it will turn out.

I have many New Year’s resolutions. I guess being a better correspondent should be one of them although I fear that it may be one of the less realistic. But, I do hope that warm wishes cross the ether and we may be in touch in 2013. Have a fantastic remainder of 2012 and may 2013 bring you much happiness and joy. Lots of love. x

Monday, 26 November 2012

Loving books and reading

I keep thinking about books. I am in a reading phase at the moment, and I've been lucky to pick some great books to dip into. Or rather devour.

I was overwhelmed with donations of second hand books for the Macmillan Coffee Morning in September. Overwhelmed in an incredibly grateful way, and overwhelmed in a physical way. It was impossible to display them all we had so many. I'm not sure how much money was raised just from the book stall but I'm guessing in the region of £150.

The left overs - a car load - were taken to the Willen Hospice warehouse for selling in their book shop. But not before I whisked a small box load away for my own rekindled (but not with a kindle) pastime of leisure reading.  

So, what I hear you cry (well, in my imagination I do), has been keeping me up at night? What are the page turners that distract me when I should be putting the washing away, vacuuming, clearing the pile of admin currently residing in a box in the kitchen?

At the moment, it is Jodi Picoult's My sister's keeper - an extraordinary story. I'm not used to book reviewing but to give you an idea of what it's about: it is a book that shows what can go wrong in a family when a child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Not an every day situation though, as they engineer a baby, Anna, whose cord cells (from the placenta) at birth could provide the life saving, genetically matched cells needed to cure their elder daughter. But, when the leukaemia returns, Anna is called on again and again as a tissue donor. She serves a lawsuit against her parents for using her body without consent. The story is told from many perspectives and you feel for the family members going through the anguish and torment. Slightly annoying is the relationship between the attorney and the woman appointed by the judge to give an account of the family and Anna's maturity for decision-making. But overall, I would definitely recommend this book as an absorbing, thought-provoking family saga.

Also, on the recommended list: The Friday Night Knitting Club. When I first got going on this, I thought it was going to be saccharine sweet, American frivolity. But in no time I was caught up in the twists and turns, and when tragedy did strike (it was not all saccharine frivolity after all) I actually cried. Probably on the chick lit end of the spectrum for some masculine tastes, but clearly this is not a problem for me. I felt like I'd snuggled under a fleecy blanket with a hot chocolate and found it an easy reading page turner.

A different type of story again, was Grace Williams Says it Loud. Now this was not always comfortable reading, describing as it did some sickening scenes of abuse. But it was also a touching love story between two individuals institutionalised and written off by society, but finding fun and adventure with each other despite the hardships. Another thought-provoking read I was grateful to have stumbled across.

I haven't converted to a kindle yet. I really like books as they are. The touch, the feel, the covers. Before kids, when I had some disposable income to call my own, I loved going into Waterstones and picking up their 3 for 2 offers. New books piled high waiting to be dived into.

Occasionally I think I would like to have a bookshop - probably with a cafe inside - in a strong, local community. Oh yes. A bit like Stony Stratford! But I suspect the right time for this may never come. I couldn't dedicate myself to such a venture with the kids the age they are and by the time I'm ready I fear there may be no books left as digital takes over. In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy these paperback novels. I may even write one myself one day!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

An unsettling day

As someone who used to have cancer, I am often asked is everything OK now. My usual response is "I hope so. It should be."

I am always living with the consequences though. The cancer was stage IV which meant my treatment was full on, and the surgery substantial. Thank goodness it was caught before any secondaries took hold. Life goes on and I don't always think about it, but my daily routines after surgery are and never will be the same as before.

Today is a significant day as I go for my annual CT scan. My response to "Is everything OK now?" will be more accurate in a few days time when I get the result.

Am I anxious? A teensy bit. But also: Bring it on!

I don't relish the thought of the barium drink and the injection of contrast media, not to mention the general tedium of an hour or so hanging round the X-ray department, but it will certainly be reassuring to get the all clear (for now) at the end of it.

The whole process is unsettling. Two years on from surgery, it makes you remember what happened. Yesterday I was tired and emotional after a long drive home from work (until I re-set my emotional clock with an hour or so of ballet - hurrah!). It is difficult not to allow the occasional nagging worry from creeping in. What if something shows up that shouldn't be there. I am well; there is no reason to suspect anything untoward, but the original diagnosis was so unexpected I have certainly learnt you can never be 100% sure.

I will get through this afternoon, and look forward to treats afterwards. My nurse appointment is later in the month, so until then I need to put any anxiety to one side. Indeed I can daydream about hearing the outcome as a positive 'nothing showed on the scan'.

A couple more years of quarterly blood tests and annual scans and I think they will declare me in remission. Then I'll go through a different sort of unsettling phase where there are no blood tests or scans to demonstrate that I'm still OK. When people ask if everything's alright now I'll still be saying: "I hope so. It should be." And optimist that I am, that's what I believe.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Making Memories

Just under an hour before half term holiday begins!

We're ready for a break. It was all change in September - with Pippa moving to middle school, Susannah into Reception. Pippa has settled well, Susannah seems to be getting the hang of it. At least she isn't crying when she's being left in the classroom any more. Well, not every time.

I hope their memories of their new environments are positive ones. I for one love Russell Street School, and Pippa missed it to begin with. But now she is so grown up with all the new activities and expectations - Middle School is suiting her.

This phase of childhood will be so full of memories, and in the holidays we parents can influence these more than ever.

In the summer I missed blogging about our holiday in Wales, but there I was excited to share my childhood memories of Pembrokeshire with the girls. We camped a short distance along the coast from where my grandparents used to live and I was all full of 'my earliest memory is of this beach... this is where we used to play tennis... we walked round here when we were children... we sometimes went horse riding here....'

Thirty or so years on I was building sandcastles on the same stretch of sand, loving the same views, thinking about the fun we had as kids. Nostalgia. And now the girls have their own take on Welsh holiday memories, also including ponies, sand and sea. The sun even shined some of the time.

Of course it was not all plain sailing. What was my favourite beach became Pippa's worst ever on the sighting of a couple of jelly fish. The best thing about our trip round Skomer Island for me was the puffin spotting and the exhilaration of the sea, for green-at-the-gills Pippa it was getting off the boat at the end. But it was a happy holiday and one that I imagine will be referred to over the years ahead.

This half term holiday we hand over responsibility for the memories to the grandparents as we leave the girls in Lewes for a few days while we continue to work. Hopefully it will be remembered for much more than 'the year we weren't at home for Halloween and missed Trick-or-treating'. This is the first holiday in Mum and Dad's new home and they have put a lot of effort into making it a welcoming place for the kids.

I was lucky to have had a happy childhood and I guess that's all any of us want for our own children. So then, good luck everyone in making special memories for your families this half term.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Something I struggle with: clinginess

Blogging has taken second place to everything else in the past few months. School holidays, return to school, fundraising for Macmillan.

There have been various themes that I’ve been considering for a blog post. In the end I am writing about one of the things I find hard as a parent.


Dearie me, it is hard work at the moment. Susannah doesn’t like to be left alone in any area of the house, except on the rare – and we’re talking blue moon rare – occasion that it suits her or she is distracted enough to forget. She trails up and down the stairs after me and drives me to distraction when she won’t even stay eating her breakfast in the kitchen for the whole 9 seconds it takes to go to the hall and back to retrieve a school book bag, lunch box or whatever else you are chasing your tail sorting out that morning.

Clinginess is so draining. They want to be near you and cuddle you all the time. In some ways that sounds sweet, but it can be suffocating. Sometimes we need a bit of space. I’d like to have a shower on my own. I have personal needs I would rather tend to alone.

It can become a cycle. You know your children need reassurance, but you still push them away to get that bit of space you need. When you try to create space, they cling more. Pushing them away without it being a rejection can become a challenge.

Susannah is four and you expect her to be more independent. She was doing her own buttons at the age of two, and capable of entertaining herself for sustained periods.

On the other hand, she is only four. A lot has happened in her short life, and she has had joining Reception year at school to contend with. I know really it is only a phase. Come teenage years I’ll be mourning the loss of cuddles.

What’s more, I am well aware that if a bit of clinginess is all you have to worry about, then you have a lot going for you. I was at the Macmillan Cancer Voices conference at the weekend. There you learn what hardships some parents bear and you know there are some truly terrible awful things that some families have to go through. Being told your child has a cancer they are unlikely to recover from for example. It is hard to imagine worse.

On a note of hope though, one mother I met who had gone through this experience was there with her daughter who had been so poorly (who doctors did not expect to live). That same daughter is now in her thirties and campaigning for support for survivors of childhood cancer. She may have long term health issues as a result of what she went through as a child, but she is very much alive and kicking, and her mother also here to tell the tale.

So, newly humbled I’ll try again to accept that my physical presence is needed. I’ll do my best not to push away. I’ll try and make the most of every cuddle. I can’t promise not to find clinginess suffocating from time to time, but I’ll try to do my best, which I guess is all that any parent can do when it comes down to it.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Family fun in Shropshire

It is this time last week that we were on our return journey from a weekend near Church Stretton in Shropshire. The clan gathered for a belated joint birthday celebration: a 40th and a 70th so billed as a combined 110th.

The Shooting Lodge was a great place to fit us all in - Mum and Dad, Uncle John, and us three siblings and families. Susannah was very nervous of the stuffed stag's head in the banqueting room (it was rather a grand place but probably not quite as posh as that sounds), but she got used to it soon enough and she loved the little room she shared with Pippa. The accommodation was augmented by a small annexe - a bedroom, weirdly with its own toilet in the room itself (no number twos was the deal there!). And the entertainment included another outhouse, this one with table tennis.

The weather wasn't great, but Acton Scott Historic Working Farm is worth a visit even in drizzle and it was a very short drive away from where we were staying. Indeed it is part of the same estate. We saw all the usual farm animals: sheep, lambs (the only animals to be handled on this occasion), geese, ducks, cows, horses (magnificent, huge shire horses), piglets (aw, too cute). There was a butter churning demonstration and various other ye olde world type of things to look at. A scrumptious cream scone in the cafe (in the converted old school house) kept me happy, and then we enjoyed racing through the maze. As you can see from the pictures you could also milk a cow - not a real live example, but probably more fun as far as Susannah was concerned - and play in a gypsy caravan.


In the afternoon, a few hardy adults went up Long Mynd. I say hardy but actually you could drive close to the summit and in fairer weather we probably would have dragged the kids up too. For the stretch we did, the terrain was not too tricky but you could enjoy views, fresh air and sky larks song.

Meanwhile, one of Pippa's highlights of the weekend was going on. Gentle conversation and then a small nature walk from the lodge itself with her uncle Martin. He is recovering from Lyme Disease (what a nasty illness that is) and only had energy for small doses of activity spaced out through the day. They were both happy.

Saturday evening was the focus of the general eat-a-thon that these family get togethers tend to turn into. If you find yourselves in mixed age company with a 2-year-old who needs bed around seven, then you could do a lot worse than arranging a caterer to come in. Our celebratory meal was prepared by Milly and we had wonderful local, seasonal delicacies such as asparagus on puff pastry and hollandaise sauce, and elderflower sorbet. The lamb was a little rare for my taste, but otherwise the whole experience was fantastic. Far more relaxed than encouraging a fidgety near four-year-old to cope with some fancy posh nosh restaurant. No need to decide on non-drinking drivers either for that matter.

By Sunday our table tennis skills had improved no end. The sun came out and so did the frizby. We barbecued (barbecues provided) and generally enjoyed the outdoors and the beauty of our location. The only down side was the start of a nasty tummy upset for the youngest member of our group. For the rest of us, it was easy to relax simply watching the swallows darting in and out from under the eaves of the house where they were nesting. And of course it would be hard to reach the end of a family weekend with this particular family without some music making.

I don't remember ever going to Shropshire before, but I look forward to a return visit and enjoying that beautiful countryside again.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Is pride a problem?

How often is being proud seen in a negative light? We are cautioned that pride comes before a fall...

Pride can come across as arrogance. Or if you are proud of something you can come across as boastful.

As adults do we know how to be proud for the right reasons, and exercise humility while enjoying success? And how on earth do we help our children get to grips with these social complexities? Being proud of yourself as a seven-year-old is to be encouraged as a boost to self-esteem but at the end of the day you need to keep your friends on side!

The ballet exam results came back the other day and P was pleased with her Merit award. The teacher was not pleased - not because she was not happy with the girls - indeed she thought they had been marked harshly and were worthy of Distinction. However for P, it was a slight improvement in marks from her Primary exam and although essentially all the girls in her class got around the same, P was actually the highest marked of her group.

So we've had plenty of conversations about how good Merit is, well done. Yes, you can take your certificate into school and tell the whole class. Yes, let's ring the grandparents and tell them the good news. Feel good about it. By the way, don't go on about it too much as your friends will think you are showing off and may feel a teeny bit jealous.

She's a sensitive kid and seems to have got the balance between being proud of herself whilst not bragging about right this time. And that in turn makes me proud of her.

Actually, I've been thinking about pride in general of late. When we are young we just want to grow up, gain new experiences and either fit in or stand out - mostly depending on whether you are an introvert or extrovert. But as you get a bit further into adulthood then perhaps you have the luxury of thinking more about your choices, or at least reflecting on your work, home, family, community. Or perhaps it is not a 'luxury' but some shift in circumstance that has undermined something you previously took for granted. Or you panic that time is running away with you.

A little less than a year ago I decided I would like to do some fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support, which quickly grew - with some post-treatment energy and enthusiasm - from a coffee morning and a fitness challenge of some kind into a year's worth of activity. The motivation was not specifically to do something I could be proud of, but I've realised as I've got into it, that this is a welcome bi-product. Now I'm starting to think that being proud of what you do is very much a valid motivation to underpin future choices. I'd like to do things I can be proud of, and that the girls will be proud of when they get older. "That was the year that mum cycled 40km for Macmillan, that was the year mum wrote her first novel..."

Well, a first novel is not on the cards. Yet. (Maybe a children's book by Christmas? Now there's a challenge). However, the sponsored cycle is ticked off and over the next couple of weeks I hope to get the hospital gift bags idea properly off the ground so watch this space for details.

I hope you'll agree with me that it is OK for everyone who is doing something to raise money for charity to feel a bit proud of themselves - even putting an olympic torch on ebay! - and so a wee bit proud I'll be. And while I'm about it: a big congratulations to all those ladies who have just completed a Race for Life.
My fundraising year (which does not include running) continues...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Training in the sunshine

Yesterday was glorious. Don't forget those rays of sunshine did actually break through the clouds, warm the air and banish the rain. Even if it was for just one day.

Lucky me, I got out on the bike: training for Cycletta again. This time for my ride, equipment I needed but didn't have included sunglasses (I picture some cool, dark, sporty shades - to stop bugs getting in the eyes as much as shielding from UV) and waders.

Rivers had burst their banks and fields were flooded. It quickly became apparent that I couldn't do the route I was going to do, and so instead of a minor detour finding other redways in MK, I decided to change tack completely and head for the roads of South Northants.

I'm really glad I did. I'm sure it was much better training. There were longer stretches of uphill, as I headed to the church in Hanslope - a landmark visible from miles around - and I really enjoyed getting into the countryside. On the way back I joined the national cycle route 6. Of course, as it went from road to track by a field, I should have heeded the sign saying route liable to flood, but I thought I'd just follow it anyway and see for myself. I can reliably inform you that the sign was indeed there for a reason. After a few large puddles there was a bigger expanse of water which looked deeper so I got off to see if I could walk round the edge. Sodden feet and nettle stings later I decided no, it was not for circumnavigating. It was another occasion for turning round and going back the way I came.

Still, all this to-ing and fro-ing took the distance up a little. Not quite reaching the 40km required in less than a fortnight, but a more strenuous ride than the last and slightly longer at 34.6km. Not bad even if I do say so myself.

Oh, and one last thing. Thank you drivers of Milton Keynes and South Northamptonshire - you showed me courtesy and consideration on the roads yesterday. I was grateful to be given a wide berth and space to cross traffic at roundabouts.

These efforts are open to sponsorship!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Biking it not running it

As the hoards pounded the streets of London in one of the biggest sports events of the calendar, I was in preparation to do my own marathon distance - only I chose wheels as my means of getting from A to B.

On the 13 May, I'll be cycling 40km (actually just under marathon length approximating to 25 miles) around Woburn Abbey in the women only Cycletta event. No great surprise that I'm raising sponsorship for Macmillan Cancer Support, which happens to be the main charity partner for Cycletta, and I am doing it as part of my year of fundraising for this cause.

I've been getting out on the bike most weekends and today was no exception. Last weekend and this I've been upping the distance and today B's iPhone informed me I covered 33.4km in a little over two hours. The longest cycle since I was in my early 20s. It makes me wistful to think how long ago that was!

Anyway, pretty good don't you think? I was pleased. Only 7km more and I've done the distance!

Today's cycle took in Milton Keynes Millennium Cycle route. One of the good things about Milton Keynes (yes, there are some good things you cynics out there), is the network of cycle paths and the amount of green space. OK, that's two things. The Millennium Cycle is almost all off road, and even the bits on the road are pretty quiet. It takes you around lakes, through parkland and beside the canal; past some lovely old houses as well as skirting the inevitable rather less attractive estates. There is plenty of wildlife if you're keeping your eyes open (which you need to do of course - not least because of all the dog walking that goes on!).  Last week on the same route I was fairly sure I saw an Egret (white, heron-like bird). Can anyone confirm if these are found in this neck of the woods?

Today I was also incredibly lucky to avoid the rain. The heavens opened two minutes after getting home.

We had rhubarb crumble for pudding. A good day all round then.

[To sponsor this effort:]

This was a publicity shot taken the other day. Pippa thinks it's very silly because I'm wearing lipstick and clearly I shouldn't be wearing make up for a bike ride!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Double birthday weekend

When I was a teenager I was not much of a cook. My repertoire consisted of macaroni cheese and not much else. I famously (infamously?) managed to cook a pizza on its polystyrene base when my pals were round.

So it is a little surprising that I've turned into a baker. OK, I've still got plenty to learn but I managed to make oodles of tasty cake for our double birthday weekend over Easter. It was Dad's 70th followed hot on the heels by P's 7th. And I made an accordion. Get me!

The weekend passed in a blur of butter cream, chocolate and catching up with extended family, including the much adored younger cousin for a day visit on the Sunday. It was lovely to have everyone visit. The girls miss their grandparents and it had seemed a long time since, as they might put it, they'd seen their 'silly, funny old granddad'.

Now she is seven, P is really growing up. No party! Instead this weekend it is a birthday treat and we (the four of us and P's best friend from school) are going to the theatre for Northern Ballet Theatre's Beauty and the Beast followed by a meal out somewhere. How nice not to be preparing sandwiches that would end up in the bin, cooking cocktail sausages, wrapping pass-the-parcel, buying tat for party bags and getting stressed about who moved or didn't in musical statues. We're going to have a lovely day.

The birthday cake is long gone, so there'll be none congealing in a fancy serviette for our guest tomorrow.   I'll probably be taking a rest from baking for a couple more weeks, as it has not done the waistline any favours, but it was very satisfying at the time. We have a family get together in June to celebrate this 70th birthday again joint with Martin's 40th of earlier this year. Now what cake can I make for that party I wonder... a musical note perhaps? All suggestions welcome!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Exams and watching week

It's a big day tomorrow: P's grade one exam. Four of of them will be going in at the same time and she is the youngest, only just approaching seven years old. On the whole they are looking good and they've been working hard, but there are wobbles from time to time - setting off on the wrong foot, or turning to the right instead of the left, forgetting their posture.

I just hope they can do their best and perform when in the exam. One girl is very anxious. Her face is so sweet and so serious as she concentrates on getting it right. She gets upset if she makes a mistake. The others seem to be taking it in their stride. I asked P how she felt after today's practice and she said she was jealous of how well the other girls are dancing; she feels she is not as good. You feel for them when they get caught up in what everyone else is doing and compare themselves unfavourably. There is an air of competitiveness from time to time.

The results could be stressful. Fortunately P was not too disappointed with her Merit and silver medal when she did her primary exam. Indeed it was a good result, but she was near the bottom of the class despite her potential and perhaps didn't do herself justice. This year she will be far more aware of how the others do and if nerves get the better of her it will end in tears. I think she likes performing so she should be OK. Probably I'll be more nervous than her! Anyway, she is far more grown up than last year with much better concentration so that will help her.

The last week of term is also an opportunity for parents to sit in and watch the classes. It was a disappointment, then, on Tuesday when S completely refused to participate in her lesson. I had been looking forward to seeing her. Really I think she is exceptionally good (as far as you can tell for a three year old). She copies and picks up what the older ones are doing. Her legs are turned out, feet pointed, body poised.

And she loves it. Such a shame that she had got the blinkers on - "I'm shy" - and she wouldn't budge. All the tactics were used to try and coax her, but she cried sorrowfully when coerced into joining in. I gave in. I didn't want to be so cruel as to force her.

It's a dilemma many parents must go through. How much to encourage, how much to push and how much to give way and let them be. You want them to feel confident and happy, but how can you best help them achieve that if they are finding a situation stressful. They need to feel secure that you love them no matter what, but sometimes they need a nudge, not a bolt hole. Then if they have a go and succeed, they will have that extra buzz from overcoming their anxieties. It will stand them in good stead for next time.

Fortunately, S will not have her first exam for a couple of years, so there is plenty of time for her to overcome her shyness. In the meantime she's seen how her sister has applied herself. Fingers crossed she will then see fruits of that effort. Either way, P will be a grade 2 pupil next term and I'll be proud of her.

Roll on tomorrow. Break a leg, girls!

This photo was taken after the exam - a bottle of hairspray to keep the curls down!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Cakes, cards and cash!

The night before the fundraising party I was ready apart from: 1. creating butterfly cakes from cakes which had been cooked and icing which had been made, 2. tidying then cleaning the sitting room, 3. tidying then cleaning other parts of the house, but not the hall and shower room which had miraculously been tackled already, 3. making all the rest of the cakes I had planned, 4. setting up the kitchen ready for an invasion of kids and mums ready for juice, tea and cake after school. And I had to get a mothers' day gift in the post for mum.

Not ready at all then.

Inviting people round is a good excuse to get some housework done. I'm pretty rubbish at getting anywhere near on top of it, but yesterday saw me with the dyson vacuuming under the sofa cushions and the like. I even dusted. A little. The rooms still looked somewhat cluttered, but I consoled myself with the fact that people were coming to socialise and help raise some money for Macmillan. They weren't coming to inspect the house.

Onto the baking. I'm getting better even if I do say so myself - a long way off the professionalism shown by other mums in the region, but better - and I am now aided by the Great British Book of Baking which was a birthday gift this year. The butterfly cakes were assembled while the heart-shaped shortbreads were in the oven. A quick trip to the post office and then the chocolate fairy cakes were next. By the time I got onto the lemon drizzle, Jackie was there to set up the Phoenix cards.

It nearly went horribly wrong. My first guest arrived (early by arrangement) while I was still decorating the chocolate cakes. I was doing and chatting and serving tea, generally creating a little whirlwind of chaos. I had forgotten to put the timer on the lemon cake and for a while even forgot it was in the oven.  Fortunately I remembered in time and it even had a little while to finish. Second guest arrived as the drizzle was being drizzled. I was still in scruffy clothes and pinny and that's the way it was for the rest of the afternoon.

The invasion hit at about ten past three. About three mums and forty-five children. OK, not quite that ratio, but once the kids had demolished the chocolate cakes and downed some ribena it didn't take long for them to go off into the girls' bedroom to shout at each other and throw things to make their presence known. Occasionally one of them would reappear to let us know who was being mean to who. The pre-schoolers changed into ballet leotards.

All in all it was a success. More people came. Cards were bought and order forms taken away for further purchases. Donations went into the Macmillan pyramid collecting box. Half way through I realised the washing was still hanging on the pulley in the kitchen, but no-one held it against me! The event has raised about 45 pounds so far, but there are a number of order forms to come in which will boost the commission back from Phoenix.

I was pleased but absolutely shattered. What joy, then, as I was just thinking about going to bed when we could hear that the girls had got out of bed. Evening wanderings are not a common occurrence, but when we got to the top of the stairs it quickly became apparent what was going on. Susannah had been sick on the landing. Too much cake?

Well, it probably wasn't too much cake as she continued to be poorly through the night. Not the best ending to what had otherwise been a very fruitful day.

I have a new role now too. I am a 'Phoenix Phairy' which means I can carry on raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support by selling Phoenix cards and stationery. So, if you like the products, order them from me next time I see you (I'll pass the orders onto our local trader) and some money will go back to the charity. I'll probably carry on until the end of my fundraising year ( Cool, eh?!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Thinking about friendship

This evening I was all set to do a book review of 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett, which I loved and found difficult to put down. However, having received some sad news today I feel distracted and so conscious of passing years.

A friend died yesterday. Perhaps I should say, someone I was friends with a few years ago died. How to describe it? Well, sitting here now with tears in my eyes I would say I was fond of her. But I haven't actually seen her for probably more than a decade and we have not been part of each other's lives. We once mixed in the same circles and then we moved on. However, we had many mutual friends and my sympathies are with those friends, her husband and family who must feel her loss so keenly.

Time marches on so quickly. Even though we were never very close friends, I was really looking forward to seeing Annie this summer at a friend's hen do. Our paths would have crossed again and it would have been one of those easy resumptions of friendship. You know those times? When you haven't seen someone for ages but within minutes you are laughing together as if it was only last week? I think of her as someone whose smile and laughter would light up a room.

Sadly, that opportunity to catch up is not to be. No swapping stories of having two young daughters, and living through cancer treatment. Her cancer returned and I can only imagine the pain that must have brought.

Could we do things differently? I am usually pragmatic about friendships lapsing. Life takes you in different directions, you can't expect to be in touch with everyone all the time. But those friends from your youth shared an important part of your past. Do you make an assumption that they will be a part of your future without actually committing to making that happen?

So, the book review will wait and I'll think of my friends instead. Friends I have now and the friends who although I am no longer in touch with, I have great fondness for. If you are a friend from my past, I do so hope you will be a friend in my future.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Double party weekend - again

It is all go for younger daughter S. It's a double party weekend, hot on the heels of a double party weekend last week. And once again I had the pleasure of a Saturday morning in Tumblers (soft play venue) in Buckingham, while B took P to her extra ballet lesson.

We are most definitely in that phase where the kids (especially the 3-year-old) have a better social life than the parents and our role is simply as unpaid taxi service.

I'm actually happy that S has been invited to so many parties this month as it is a reflection of the friendships she is developing at nursery. It is hard for P though who forgets that she is usually the one with the invitations and S who is left behind. I am getting very tired of hearing "I wish I could be going... It's not fair S gets all the sweets and cake..." She doesn't yet know that S came back from today's party with a whole Cadbury's buttons easter egg!

But we've reached the end of the day intact and appropriately enough they are playing ballet class together, taking it in turns to be teacher. Sounds idyllic doesn't it? Don't be fooled. It could quickly descend into a "She did this, she did that.... MUUUUUUMMMMM!"

Oh dear. And now we're having an argument about it being bath time. Better go and lend B some moral support....

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A musical night out

Waves crashing over rugged cliffs, flaming yellow gorse, purple heather adding to the beauty of the mountains. Ah, Wales!

Now imagine a soundtrack to go with it. A cymbal roll crescendo with fiddle and accordion. The bass kicks in and from soaring over the landscape, you are transported into a wild jig. It's a seated gig, but your feet have to tap, your hands have to clap.

YES! We had a night out and enjoyed the celtic sounds of Jamie Smith's Mabon, playing the Stables in Wavendon. An accomplished group of musicians - worth seeing whatever your musical tastes.

It is a rare treat to get out to listen to original, live music. And what a treat it was. Jamie Smith is a seriously talented accordion player. Such agility over the keys and what a sound. Fiddle player Oli also shone. The whole band were great and we knew we'd love the enthusiasm of our friend Iolo Whelan on drums.

Music is good for the soul. And (especially when you have small kids) so are nights out with your spouse! Roll on next time.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Putting on a performance

The term 'ballet mum' can conjure up images of an unbearably pushy parent. I hope I am not she. For me 'ballet mum' is not just about giving our girls the opportunity to get involved in ballet if they want to - which they do. Phew! - it is also a reflection of the fact I am still doing ballet myself.

In fact, it has been a real tonic for me recovering from major surgery: building up fitness, getting out of the house, feeling the satisfaction of nailing a double pirouette, feeling alive.

When I announced I was doing a year of fundraising ( in support of Macmillan Cancer Support, the principal of the dance school (and teacher to P and myself), said to let her know if there was anything the school could get involved in as they'd be happy to support my efforts.

She didn't need to say it twice! My original thought had been a day of open workshops with people paying to come and try something different - opening it up to the public. However, it was soon clear that Miss R would prefer a fundraising show. She is keen on giving students more performing opportunities.

It is not proving easy. Finding a date has been tough and a suitable venue equally so. The venue where her ballet show usually takes place is booked up a long way in advance and another venue we went to see is gorgeous but just not suitable for the number of dancers we'd want to include. We went to see a relatively new, imaginatively named venue yesterday: The Venue. It is in a school but extremely well-equipped and has ample space for a dance production with several performers.

The drawback is the price, but the capacity is good. Could it work? If we sell 300 tickets at a tenner each per show it could just about make some money for Macmillan. But how much and how risky would it be?

We keep going from trying to keep it modest and low-stress to a big all-singing, all-dancing (forget the the all-singing) affair. How about making it for the older students only? Perhaps Grade 2 up and not in the pricey venue but somewhere more low key.

Hang on a minute, that would mean darling daughter number two would be left out as she is only in the nursery class. But we can't possibly put on a show without giving her a chance to be in it.

Oops! I seem to have reverted to type. Ballet mum of the most tedious order.

Anyway, we have a plan. Enquire about availability of The Venue for the weekend after October half term. Give ourselves a bit more time to plan and prepare. It will fall outside of my original year target for fundraising but is likely to be far more successful. One way or another, the show must go on!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

World Book Day

OK. First post to this blog and may as well start with whatever comes to mind. Today we have experienced excellent recycling of costume from last year's ballet show.

It is World Book Day and there was a buzz of excitement dropping off at school this morning. Teachers were witches surrounded by princesses, Buzz Light Years, fairies, Harry Potters and other book characters (and film and cartoon characters which no doubt appear in spin off books).

I was rather proud of elder daughter P. A couple of years ago it would have been a Disney princess. Easy (there's a drawer full of such outfits), but lacking in imagination. Now she is a more sophisticated Year 2 and she decided she'd like to go as a dog. She loves dogs and the current book that fits the bill is 'Jake in Danger' which I believe Santa may have brought her this Christmas.

In the ballet show, for her tap dance, she was a cat with white leotard, tail and ears. The cost of getting a kid through a ballet show can be substantial - new tights (two pairs because two dances), leotard, tutu, tiara and other bits and bobs all paid for by parents. But, this is where you can see it as an investment. One white leotard and cat tail refashioned around a piece of white fur (2.99 from Oxfam) cut into a tunic and floppy ears, eyeliner on the nose and lo and behold, you have a dog outfit.

The nursery class joined in the fun too. S was the more traditional princess. Well, to begin with she was, but then 'I need wings, Mummy'. So she went from Cinderella to fairy Godmother in the blink of an eye. Her book was that Osborne classic 'That's not my fairy...'

Now. I just wonder if I can get that brown eyeliner off P's nose in time for this afternoon's Grade 1 lesson.

The original cool cat costume - P is on the right