Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Life of Pie

On recently being invited by Hubby RC to read his rather numerous blogs going back several years, I couldn't help but notice, how food fixated so many of them were. We are,it seems,a family of foodies. My son will practically,every day call me on skype from uni,when he sees I'm on my laptop. The first thing he says is,"Guess what I had for lunch today?"Or maybe I ask him what he's going to have for tea.Our love of food is not the huge consumption of mass produced processed rubbish that you see on diet shows.The ones where they claim they didn't realise that consuming ten times the calories their body requires,would make them fat.
Ours is more of a fascination from creation to perfecting a recipe.My nan was a great cake maker and I would watch as she beat the mixture by hand, then folded, then baked and voila. Perfect light sponge cake.I was determined to master this skill.My nan was an honest critic.The day she told me the sponge I had made was exactly right, I knew I had cracked it.I went on to make apple pie like my mum,scrambled eggs like my dad and soon I took books from the library learning about food from abroad.
 When Hubby RC and I first lived together,he was in the middle of a love affair with chinese cookery.Ken Hom was his teacher at first. For a present for his birthday,we went and got all the spices and equipment he needed. We ate nothing but chinese food for months as he tweaked and perfectd his craft. For three months we used only chopsticks. When we were invited to a friends for dinner during this phase,we were both lost when confronted with knife and fork,they had become so alien to us.There was the vegetarian phase. Back then recipes were hard to come by if you wanted a "normal" meal, or they would contain strange and expensive ingredients that were only found in specialist health shops.We lasted a month and it was awful.So awful in fact that as I am writing this I asked Hubby RC about it.He had erased it from his memory (trauma of lack of meat), and recalled it with an "urgh" and disheartened "yeah".
 Our love of Italian food has lasted for years. Last Christmas Hubby RC was very excited with a new pasta machine I got for a bargain in a sale in a very posh kitchen shop. We have since added ravioli moulds. The hunt for premium 00 pasta flour had begun, the kitchen perioically becomes Papa Rock Chef's Italian pasta factory. The kitchen table is covered in flour and strips of pasta waiting to be rolled, simmered and sauced.
 Tonight we are up late planning the light buffet lunch for FIL's wake. There will be many elderly relatives, so flair has to be restained. Simplicity is the order of the day, small savoury sandwiches, pastries, quiches all made with dentures in mind. This will be followed with cups of tea with small butterfly cakes,little squares of brownies,cherry bakewell tarts etc. The dogs are hoping that MIL,who thinks all dogs are only moments away from starvation,will be seated somewhere near the chipolatas or the tiny slices of pork pie.Well the last cakes are cooling on the racks, Tomorrow we will shape,add cream,sprinkle icing sugar and they will turn into butterflies. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A Place for Everything and Everything in it's Place.

I like to think I am an organized person There was a time when our whole lives were ruled by schedules and routines. Our eldest child, Sophie had a disability, a form of autism. She was very clever and demanding but her understanding of the world and people around her was chaotic, frightening. Above all other things she needed was to know exactly when, how and where the next part of life would unfold. The unknown was an insurmountable terror. She needed routine in order to function.
 When she was first diagnosed, we were actually relieved that there was something wrong. This sounds odd, but we had put everything into being good parents and were not seeing the same results as other parents,some who were only making a half hearted attempt. Her disability affected her physically, balance, fine motor skills, interpreting signals from her body to the brain. One test that really scared me was, when they asked her to close her eyes,then asked her to point to where on her body the stick had just touched. There was no correlation. She was miles away every time. Her behaviour had always been challenging and she had very little in the way of social skills at first. Pretend play was totally alien to her. She could play in amongst a group of children but couldn't play with them.
 We were told that in order for her to feel secure and develop she had to have routine. So it began. Everything had to be scheduled, even meals. If it was Tuesday then we would be having pasta, so that was one less worry for her etc. Toothbrushing, bathing, bedtime, all with their own little rituals and procedures. Going somewhere new was a nightmare, we had to research every aspect of the building, the trip there and prep her for it in advance not knowing if she would cope. She couldn't tell when she was hungry or full and ate until she was sick a couple of times. Not knowing when she needed the toilet was overcome with routine. This kind of back fired on us as she went according to a routine not by demand so a day out could entail several trips backwards and forwards to the toilet for no reason.
 I taught her to make lists of things we needed for trips so she could feel in control as though she was navigating and predicting the outcome. She loved food shopping working from a list and gradually could bear surprises and extras even if they were not on the list. I'm sure she probably added them and amended the list as we went round.She started to plan Christmas about ten weeks in advance and compiled list after list of things that we had to have or it wouldn't be Christmas.These lists had to be strictly adhered to.
 The result of all this strategy and order was that it kind of flowed out into all aspects of life.There are set cupboards for things in the kitchen and each item has it's place. Utensils are hung in a certain order from the rail at the back of our range cooker. The one the kids find a hoot is how I can't just put canned goods in the cupboard, they have to be organized in rows with labels facing out. They like to go in the pantry and mess with them to "keep me on my toes". One that drove hubby RC mad for a while was how,when he helped peg out the laundry,I would have to go and repeg it the way I liked it. I have best china, christmas china and everyday china. The thought of using these at the wrong time used to fill me with dread. When my husband's late aunt used to stay with us at christmas she liked to help and dry the dishes. I would thank her, make her a cup of tea and when she was comfortable in the other room put the forks and spoons back in the order they should be in the drawer.
 You'll be glad to know that hubby RC doesn't have to live under this OCD dictatorship so much these days. Gradually over the last nearly eight years I have gradually relinquished most of these orders and rituals. Mealtimes are more flexible, once in a while we have takeaway. Although it was pointed out to me last night as I was dishing up roast potatoes(Thursdays)that it was Monday and I hadn't made a curry. I can stop the worry now that the whole week is up the creek because Thursday became Monday and Tuesday(pasta)might become Friday(pizza). You see no one minds anymore. I do still slip into set meals for set nights sometimes just out of habit,but most of the time it is the great unknown at mealtimes.
 There were times in the early days after we lost Sophie that it felt wrong to change things. But children have a wonderful way of lightening the situation. When I had relaxed a routine or changed round furniture they would laugh and say"Sophie's not going to like that". When her picture in the kitchen kept coming off the wall (no broken cord or hook), it would be "See told you so".It's strange how sometimes we strive to keep everything as it was when somebody dies,as though they are going to return and need it just the way it was. So much has changed in our household over the last eight years,I sometimes feel guilty that she would not recognize or feel at home in this house. I have had terrible guilt dreams where she returns, mising not dead and is confused and hurt,at how we have moved on without her.But life does move on and our other children need to see this, there has to be living after death.
 The hardest thing to change was Christmas. The lists(I still have them),were so precise that the only way to get through those first few Christmas's was to not have Christmas in any recognizable form. We let chaos rule.There was no set Christmas dinner. You could eat whatever you want as long as one of those things were sensible and you weren't sick.If you wanted a certain meal then mum or dad would prepare it at your whim.You could slob in PJ's all day. No special Christmas clothes. You could stay up as late as you want.The kids loved it. We loved it. Gradually we have been drawn back to a more traditional Christmas, but it did take about five years.My daughter Cicely's days of ferrero rocher for Christmas dinner came to a close,she likes them for breakfast now.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Learning to Say NO

Ever since I can remember I have had an overriding ambition to help people, to make them happy. As a child I always hurried to the kitchen to make tea for everyone, rode my bike to the next village to tend my nan's garden, dug worms for the bantams that my dad kept and collected the eggs, even when the little buggers tried to peck my eyes out.  I learnt to do the laundry and clean the house at an early age. You see both my parents worked, I could see that by doing these things it made their lives easier, I liked that. I felt my actions had meaning, they contributed, that made me feel useful. I took this mantra through my childhood and into later life. When I was 16 my nan had an operation, I just dropped into the role of live in carer, cook and cleaner until she was better. By then everyone knew I would be the one to do this, I always was. I didn't see then that I had become obvious and convenient. Don't get me wrong, I loved every minute of that stay, Nan was my role model, that time together I can look back on, knowing that none of the other grandchildren had spent that close, loving time with her. She was an amazing lady.

I left home a little after that, to become a nanny. I had a brief couple of months with a Kuwaiti family in London that ended when they wanted to take me back to Kuwait, my parents said no. Probably a good decision as it goes. Next I was a nanny to Matthew, whose parents were going through a trial separation, they also needed me to look after Anthony, who was deaf and a friend of the family. I also accumulated lots of extra tasks during that time that were not part of my job but his mum worked and was training as a nurse so I wanted to help. Soon I did all the jobs in the house, even got to know the whole extended family as they all needed a little favour. I never saw myself as taken advantage of, I was falling over myself to help this family. And I got my result. Mum and Dad reunited, the extra time I had given them had allowed them to talk, date and I felt good that I had had a hand, no matter how small, in this reunion. They are still together today and went on to have a daughter. Of course, I was out of a job.

When I was seventeen I moved to the seaside as I had managed to get a job in a computer components factory. Although I was primarily dealing with weighing out the tiny components for orders, I also became adept at covering reception, office and factory floor work when people needed me to fill in. During this time I met hubby no. 1. I rented a room with small kitchenette and shared bathroom. He was a friend of my neighbour, we went to pubs together, the beach, I met his family and worked in his dad's shop. Then I went to visit my family for the weekend, on my return he had a ring, he had missed me. I summoned up the speech that would explain we hardly knew each other, I didn't think of him that way, but the words died on my lips as he gushed on about how happy his family was, our friends, the surprise engagement party they thought he didn't know about. What do I do? Could I let all these people down? No. I carried on, thought maybe we could string it out, he wasn't the most reliable of people he probably would never get round to it. But he did. We did.
 By this time I worked nights at a retirement home and a few hours a day in his parents' shops paying off his gambling debts that his family had neglected to tell me about. So while I worked, he played. If I couldn't give him money he borrowed it from his family who were quite happy to oblige, as they had found a way to get the money back. Me. One day I sat in the kitchen of our little flat, with the remnants of the card game of the night before and thought, "Is this life? Do I have to live like this? Can I live like this?" I knew the answer was no. I was 18 and felt like 50. I admit, it took 5 ultimatums but by no.6 my father in law developed a conscience, helped me move out to a tiny bedsit, four flights up in the same town.

I started again, I worked and looked after me, for a while. In time, I started seeing a friend, who was kind, shy and didn't take without giving. We became inseparable, moved in together. We cared about people, cooking for and feeding the girls in the other flats who thought vodka and toast was a varied diet. We looked out for them, some asked me to take a spare key in case they lost theirs, I was a mother hen. One night I was woken by a strange sound like someone was choking, a scream. I knew who it was, I grabbed a key, ran to her flat. The guy was on top of her, his hands around her throat, I rushed him from the side and knocked him off the bed, the girl was hysterical screaming. I tried to comfort her, she clawed and flailed, so I gave her a resounding slap around the face. She took a breath then started to cry, breath, calm down. The police were on the way and the guy on the floor had started to rouse, so I sat on him until they came.

Different girls came and went. We looked after them all, storing stuff and giving baths to the girl who went to protest by living in trees, birth partner to the girl whose boyfriend was in prison for drugs. Phoning her mum, who had disowned her, to let her know she was a grandma. I once stood as a human barrier between the beater and the beaten and passed him his belongings through the door, escorted him from the premises, took his key and told him what would happen if he came back. All because she asked me to.

By the time we had a child of our own we had moved to another town. We fed the local kids whose parents smoked and drank away their benefits,became child minders to the kids whose parents didn't pick them up from nursery, because they were still in the pub. We had a little girl who climbed in through the window and slept on our sofa because it was violent at home. The woman opposite who couldn't pay her bills because she couldn't read them, so I helped her understand them and went to the post office with her to pay them properly.There were birthday cakes made, party dresses sewn from second hand bridesmaid dresses and street parties for VE Day.

We fostered too. First was my husband's little brother who didn't get on with his stepdad and needed support to finish school and years later his daughter who at 10 months was a burden on her teenage parents. Then the teenage mother who decided she did want her baby after all. All were found flats, furniture, food and money. Then we moved back to my hubby's hometown. My eldest son had a best friend who had family problems, he stayed on and off. Then my daughter's friend needed a family as her mother was ill and couldn't care for her. She lived with us until her mother died and a family member stepped up and adopted her. Then my son's friend returned from Spain with no home and needing a family to put him through school. We took them all in.

In amongst all this giving, saying yes, doing the right thing there came a day when we needed help. Our daughter was ill, we had three other young children, no money, no car and a daughter suddenly in a wheel chair.We learnt a hard lesson. We were on our own.  People suddenly didn't want to bother us, stopped calling or just plain left us to it. We were so busy in the struggle we found ourselves in, stressed beyond sleep and reason that we didn't notice at first. After my daughter died there was a silence, we were avoided. I realised we no longer had many friends.

My parents both suffered from cancer and died within 2 years of each other. Both times they needed nursing and care. I stayed for a month when mum was ill caring for her till the end so that she could die in her own bed. Then I stayed and cared for dad, to help him grieve. For twelve years we cared for my FIL, he could be difficult and demanding, he had a mental illness, life was difficult.

Now we are just us again, FIL recently passed away and this weekend for the first time in a very long time we are not looking after, caring for, cooking for, doing a little job for, babysitting for anyone. I want to say that, we are going to say no. That we will put ourselves first. But I look back and think of people we have helped, whether they appreciated it or not and know that I am glad we did it.  Maybe, it's not, "No", we need to learn but, "If I can."

Friday, 22 February 2013

Warm Toes and Frozen Fingers

Today we woke to the weather man on the radio telling us that it would be bitterly cold with snow flurries. At six in the morning, this is no way to encourage the national work force to get out of bed and face the day. He should have lied, told us it would be hot and sunny, so that when seven o'clock did roll around it didn't  find us still snuggled up under the covers.
 The first dog walk wasn't too bad. I had my furry boots on, a couple of extra layers and just the odd flake was coming down. By the time hubby RC had left for work, MIL had stopped in for tea and sympathy it was time for dog walk no.2. This is an hour long and required even more layers. My trusty boots kept my toes snug and if I marched along at a clip my legs were staying quite warm. However, my hands were absolutely frozen, three leads make it impossible to wear gloves and I lost sensation in my right hand and my fingers were going purple. We all rushed back down the road and back home into the warmth. The pain in my hands was horrible as they started to thaw out.
 Dinnertime rolled around and I was snug and warm with my cup of coffee watching the flakes drift by the window. My daughter was going to MIL's to walk her dog today, but she seemed a bit reluctant to head out. In a moment of  madness, I told her to stay in the warm, I would go and do Spot. So I got my bike out and headed off to MIL's. The wind was bitter on my face. I took Spot out for another 35minutes and then took him home. MIL made me a cup of tea, which I used for warmth, as MIL doesn't feel the cold, rarely has the heating on due to being hardened by several years living in the Highlands of Scotland. I was starting to wonder if it was colder inside or out. So tea consumed it was time to brave the snow and set off for the ride home. Halfway back I realised my hands were really painful again, had to dismount and take turns with one hand in my pocket while I pushed the bike with the other hand until the feeling came back and I could continue riding. My daughter did have a nice hot cup of coffee waiting for me when I got in, gradually I thawed out.
 So it was it some trepidation an hour and half later I stood looking out the window at the snow whilst putting on my boots again. Another hour of frozen hands beckoned and once more into the breach I went. I never thought that picking up dog poo would make me glad to feel the warmth through the bag, that's how bad it was today. There is one more walk tonight that is usually Hubby RC's. Just a short, round the block, last wee before bed thing. Some nights if RC has had a bath early, I say not to worry ,that I'll do that one as well. Tonight is NOT one of those nights. All the goodwill has been frozen out of me.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Dirty Dogs

I have many things that irk me, and I admit to being slightly OCD about some things. One of these is doggy smells and muddy paws. Our dogs have a large collection of their own towels and bedding. These are laundered two or three times a week, much to the chagrin of Custard our lab, who feels I whip away his bedding with malice, as soon as he has got it, to smell just right. He is the fussiest about his bed. He will sometimes rake out his covers and then just sit there, blocking the hallway, waiting for someone to notice his plight and come and refold his quilt, refluff his pillow. Then he is happy, and will plop back into bed. He is compliant when he is groomed and loves a rub down when it rains, before being let into the house. And then there is Frou Frou.


Today Frou was in the sitting room having a really good scratch, until she caught my eye. Paused mid scratch, her foot raised, and an,"I know what's coming next, and I want no part of it" look came into her eye.Like a shot, she was gone and heading for the stairs. I could almost hear her shouting, "Sanctuary, sanctuary, open the gate", as she made for the one safe place in the house. My daughter's room. But alas, there is a Judas in our midst and she was delivered to Mum, dejected, to face the flea comb and brush alone.
  I'm happy to say that Frou was harbouring no friends amongst her tangles, but did give up a couple of seeds,small wood shavings and some rather nasty crusted dog food round her chin. Looking sleek, glossy and with a perfect parting down her back in true yorkie tradition, Mum was proud of little Frou, who had survived the ordeal remarkably unscathed. Then the phone rang, hubby RC, for a lunchtime chat. Sensing mum's grip had relaxed, Frou sprang like a gazelle and landed like a wart hog to rub her face all over the rug and along the sofa. With a quick shake to restore the "dragged through a hedge backwards look", that she is rocking this winter, Frou gave me a look of utter contempt. Then she strode off to stare at my daughter, to see if there was any betrayal guilt there that she could milk for a treat.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Running Late

 So this morning we were running really late, this always happens a couple of times when the kids have no school. Put baguette in oven, race round the block with the dogs while hubby gets his bike out,retrieve baguette, make hubby egg and bacon sandwich, fill baguette with yummy stuff ,wrap and write soppy note on it, all the time dodging the audience of canines that have appeared at the smell of bacon.See hubby off and breathe. Then just as I fill the kettle youngest son appears to join the canine party that is still taking up a large part of the kitchen floor. "Bacon?" Two slices of bacon and half a baguette later he shuffles off back to his cave, just as MIL comes in greeted by the dogs who realize there is no more bacon to be had, so go and enthusiastically greet her at the door(there will be treats in her pocket). I finally get my cup of coffee and sit down with MIL for a chat about funeral arrangements for FIL who passed away 3 weeks ago.
  Later when out on my main morning dog walk I finally thought about my blog in between trying to stop my little yorkie cross, Susie,from barking at every bird, human and vehicle she saw and picking up poop. Not coming up with anything profound I wished to talk about just yet in my novice status I decided to apply a dear diary approach and just blog the morning as it unfolded. Washing hung, housework done I am waiting for my daughter to appear who assured me last night that she wanted to help with shopping and walking MIL's dog Spot. Having no car, we will have to take the bus to MIL's and then give Spot a good walk, then walk to the supermarket to get the shopping. This means rushing back to do the main afternoon dog walk for our own dogs before even starting the tea. If he's really lucky tea will be ready for hubby when he gets in the door and if I'm really lucky I will be siting down with a cup of coffee asking, "What sort of day did you have?", "Mine?Nothing much, quiet, you know."

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


 About to hit 47 in about 10 days time. Call it mid life crisis or life re-evaluation, but I feel it's time for a change. I think if my 16 year old self could reach out and see me now, they would be afraid of the future.  Although, not idealistic or ambitious, I had hopes that the future would be rich and fulfilling and that I would grow as a person. I find now that I am a shrunken version of the girl I used to be. Although I have wonderful people and things in my life, I feel that there is something lacking in me.
   Life has proved to be a lot harder than I could have imagined and there have been personal losses that have moulded me in a way that, both physically and mentally, have not been beneficial. My aim now is to reclaim some of the hope and love of life that was lost along the way in the last 30 years and start a fresh chapter, ergo the blog. Technology kind of past me by for a long time and this is one of the worlds I wish to discover. I know I can't be the only middle aged person out there who is tentatively dipping their toe into the pond that is internet blogging and I hope to find others as I go along, who like me, are just starting out and hopefullyI'll pick up some friends along the way.