Today has not gone according to plan.

It was supposed to be my day off. I had things planned.

But instead I am at home with a sick child. Sick children really cramp your style don’t they? I know she can’t help being ill or anything, but still.

So I am in a bit of a no-mans-land today. My head was all geared up for switching off for the weekend and being away from my desk, but now here I am, confined to the house for the afternoon, and I am rather at a loss for what to do. Working from home, my daytimes, evenings and weekends tend to get tangled up. I work during school hours but really I am snatching any free time I can find to sneak off to my study. I know I have been working a lot lately, and it has got to the point where I’m not quite sure how to do anything else.

Past about 9pm I can relax a bit, as my brain begins to switch off, but during the day it won’t keep quiet. It’s always buzzing, swirling ideas around, overwhelming itself with possibilities. Often it gets so wound up turning over ideas, plotting and scheming, that it has no energy left for actually doing anything. In fact, if I sit myself down to focus on an idea, my brain starts to panic, worrying that all of the other thoughts will have to pipe down, that they might get forgotten.

All of which of course often results in me doing nothing at all. I can’t bear the thought of having to choose and leave some ideas behind, and I don’t want to start something just to have another task interrupt, so I end up staring blankly at the screen instead.

That’s what I’ve been doing this afternoon anyway, until I gave myself a good metaphorical kick up the backside and wrote this instead. It may be nonsense, but it is words on a page, and it gives me a temporary sense of accomplishment at least. Plus it has kept my fingers busy and stopped me eating marzipan fruits for twenty minutes, which can’t be a bad thing.

I’d be interested to know how other people feel – does your brain brim over, leaving you paralysed to do anything at all? And how do you cope with it, how do you focus on one thing at a time? And more importantly, how do you manage to go into the kitchen without eating a handful of leftover Christmas chocolates every time?

Photo credit: eszter

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I have recently become a member of Judith’s Room, a new forum for women writers, through which I have been able to share my writing, read what other people have to say, and generally pass the time when I should be working. The group is launching a series of new themed writing weeks and is kicking off with the seven deadly sins – a different sin for each week. What a fantastic idea! I love it. So this week I am writing about envy…

Envy is one of my favourite sins – not the practise of it of course, lust and gluttony are a lot more fun – but the fact that it always makes me think of coveting my neighbour’s ass, and that makes me chuckle. What can I say; I have a childlike sense of humour.

My dictionary describes envy as ‘a feeling of grudging or somewhat admiring discontent aroused by the possessions, achievements or qualities of another, the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another.’ Envy therefore is a particularly destructive emotion, not only for the individual, but also for the neighbour whose ass is being coveted. Envy isn’t just about wanting what someone else has, it’s about the twisted pleasure you get from seeing someone else lose it.

The problem with envy is that once you let it suck you in, it will never be satisfied. A bit like a tapeworm, but without the bloating. Become a victim of envy and the grass will always be greener. It may serve to drive your ambition, help you strive to attain a higher status, gather more Stuff, but ultimately it will leave you unfulfilled, never quite able to get the Right Kind Of Stuff, to reach the status you feel sure will make you happy.

That’s not to say envy is all bad – it can play an important part in helping you to develop aspirations and motivate you to achieving goals, but the important thing is to be sure your goals are the right ones and that you are striving for the right reasons.

When I find myself envying another person’s job, husband, income (or indeed ass), and it happens often, particularly when I am feeling a bit rubbish about myself, I try to follow through the process in my head. I might start off by reading a well known journalist’s column in a newspaper and thinking ‘that’s not fair, I could write that, why don’t they realise I am FUNNIER and give me her job instead?’ Quite a normal thought pattern I’m sure. So then I try to think about what that would actually mean. It would mean I had a strict deadline every week, which would probably bring on some kind of panic attack, I would forget to feed my children, they would run away from home…. Worst case scenario perhaps, but it temporarily prevents me from descending into a pit of silent jealous rage at least.

What would the world be like without envy I wonder? When you begin to unravel the forces that drive us in our day to day lives, the seven so called deadly sins are really what make us human. How much of what we do is driven by our desire to have what other people have, to look how other people look? Without envy, would the diet industry collapse? Would everyone stop having affairs? And more importantly, would I ever be motivated enough to get any work done at all?…

Photo credit: Rev Guzman

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If you think of my blog as a life journey – as I’m sure you are, why wouldn’t you be? – then I am very much still in nappies. Less than two months in I am still finding my feet, toddling my way around the virtual world of blogging, gazing up in awe at the more established writers who all seem so much funnier and more interesting, hoping that when I grow up I will Be Like Them.

I was very excited this week then to be tagged in my first meme, especially once I realised what being ‘tagged in a meme’ actually means, as it appears to imply that other real live people are reading my outpourings, not just my mother and my closest friends,  who obviously feel obliged to support me. So thank you very much to Linda at You’ve Got Your Hands Full for helping me reach this milestone!

So, my childhood song memories…

I actually have a terrible long term memory. My sister, who is four years younger than me, is always trying and failing to get me to remember significant events from our childhood and I’m sure will never forgive the fact that I can’t even remember her being born. I do have snapshots though, isolated incidents rather than long swathes of memory, that have stuck with me so long I’m not sure any more whether I am remembering the event itself or just my memory of remembering it over and over.

A lot of my childhood memories are triggered by smell, particularly those to do with my grandparents, whose house always smelt of a comforting mix of Embassy No1 (my Grandad) and Gordon’s gin and tonic (My Gran). Even now if I pass someone in the street wearing Chanel No5 I am immediately a child again, sat on my Gran’s knee, catching a whiff of perfume from her handbag as she reached in for a handful of Anadin.

Songs don’t feature so prominently – my Mum only ever had ears for Neil Diamond and has never been a big music fan generally. Most of my song memories come from periods where I have spent chunks of time with my Dad. One that sticks in my mind was from a week we spent in a caravan in Durham – oh the glamour that was my childhood! My Mum was on an OU residential course and we had gone up to stay nearby in case she got scared and wanted to visit us. The soundtrack to that week will always be U2’s Joshua Tree, which I remember my Dad playing every evening as he cooked us dinner before we settled down to our daily dose of Monopoly.

While we were on holiday that week, I also remember sitting in a pub, hearing La Bamba and my dad offering me some kind of monetary reward if I could memorise all the words. At least I’m pretty sure that was the song. Memories for me have that dream like quality – you try to capture them and they seem to get further away and less clear, until you wonder whether they were ever there in the first place, or if you just made it all up.

Being a mother makes me think more about memory, and I am conscious of the fact that everything I do is creating memories for my children. I wonder which will stick out for them – the silliest of things probably – and I feel sad sometimes that lots of our happiest moments together will end up forgotten by us all. On the other hand, some things are probably best forgotten. When Belle was a baby, she would only tolerate car journeys without screaming if someone sang Agadoo to her over and over again. Try as I might, I just can’t wipe that memory…

Photo credit: Ben Dobson

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There are some women who seem able to remain effortlessly poised at all times. Others are more like Bridget Jones, stumbling from one mishap to another. Most women though can probably remember a time when they’ve found themselves cringing with embarrassment, wanting the ground to swallow them up.

If you can remember such a moment – a glass of red wine sloshing onto your friend’s new cream carpet maybe – then you can begin to imagine the mortifying shame that must have been felt by the clumsy art student who this week stumbled and fell into an £80million Picasso, tearing a six inch hole in the canvas.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York, where the accident occurred, have kindly declined to name the student and have offered reassurances that the painting can be restored in time for the Picasso exhibition in April. It still makes you cringe though to imagine that gut wrenching, slow motion split-second where she knows she is falling, but is powerless to help herself.

I had a rather embarrassing moment this week when, driving myself and a friend to a meeting, I misjudged a corner and crashed into a verge. My first thought as I struggled to avoid a telegraph pole, was not for my safety, or that of the car, but for passenger and my ego. Fortunately no one was hurt, but all I could think was how embarrassing to make such an awful mistake and to crash your friend into a hedge.

My friend Lucy has had more than her fair share of embarrassing moments, including a late night tumble that resulted in a trip to the dentist. “I’d been at a party full of important people,” she confessed, “and was very nervous, so I had drunk quite a lot. I was late leaving and could see my bus disappearing round the corner. I ran for it, attempting to leap onto the back, but I missed, and smashed my face into the pavement. I could hear people saying “Oooh!” but I got up and felt fine. When I woke up the next day and looked in a mirror though I realised that I’d knocked out both my front teeth…”

Unfortunately, unless you can maintain a permanent air of Judi Dench like grace, these types of mishaps are unavoidable. It could be that as women we are distracted by our multi-tasking brains, but more likely it is a combination of hormones and high heels, conspiring to turn us into Bridget style stumbling fools. Note to self: the next time you’re feeling clumsy, steer well clear of galleries.

Photo credit: Andrea

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In preparation for my first writing workshop this week over at Sleep is for the Weak, I am writing on the theme of false assumptions – those funny things that people think about you that seem to come from nowhere.

This is an interesting topic for me, as I’m pretty sure people are quite often not sure what to make of me. For a start, I’ve been told I look younger than I am – 32 this April – and the perception of youth can often effect the way people interact with you. A couple of years ago for example, a salesman came to the door, trying to flog gas and electricity. I answered, and he asked me if my mum or dad was home…

Age gives a woman a certain gravitas and I do often worry about not being taken seriously. Sometimes when I meet people for the first time I want to come right out and explain – “I may look young and have the voice of a child, but really I am a proper grown up who knows how to do stuff. Honest.”

Add to this the fact that I was pregnant at 16, when I looked about 12, and I’m fairly sure I must have attracted some curious glances in my time. Not that I have ever really been aware of it. I’m just me inside, and I forget sometimes that other people can see my face when they are talking to me.

Another occasion I remember well was when I got my GCSE results. I was particularly geeky at school, a straight A student and prize winner, and everyone I went to school with knew it. (I made sure of that – hence not having many friends at school…). My boyfriend at the time however went to a different school and when his friends – whom I had known for some months – found out my results they were stunned to say the least. “Blimey,” they said, “we’d thought you were pretty stupid!” Charming.

A couple of times in the last week people have made reference to me being terribly organised and orderly, an assumption which I challenged, not least because it made me feel terribly dull. Who wants to be thought of as ‘the woman whose files are arranged nicely’?

It’s true that I am fussy about some things – I do like my books to sit flush which the edge of the shelf, and have been known to arrange them in colour order – but I don’t think this makes me hugely organised. In fact, a quick glance around my study or bedroom would show quite the opposite. Piles of magazines, newspapers, unread letters and mountains of clean and dirty washing, merging together in one giant heap – hardly the hallmark of a neat freak.

And then of course there are the friends who see me scoffing sweets and quaffing wine like the grape is about to become extinct and assume I am some kind gluttonous lush with no self control. Oh hang on a minute…

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Being a parent is all about making sacrifices right? A might be happy giving up on a personal life, or my independence, but there is one thing I am NOT giving up. Read this post and discover the parenting sacrifice you really don't want to make.

Being a parent is all about making sacrifices, I understand that. My role as a mother defines so many aspects of my life – where I live, how I work and how I socialise. And as a single mother, my children also impact on my ability to form new, serious relationships. (At least that’s what I hope the issue is). It can be sad sometimes to see potential partners pass you by, but it is ultimately a sacrifice I am prepared to make.

I totally accept the restrictions of early motherhood. It is the choice you make when you become a parent after all and, as many teenagers, although not mine thank God, are fond of saying, they didn’t ask to be born. There are some areas of family life though where I don’t feel I should compromise or where I seem to revert to a childish competitiveness, not flattering in a parent. Board games for example. I know you are supposed to let young children win, or at least give them a chance, but I just can’t. I know it is The Wrong Attitude, but I don’t see the point in playing if you’re not playing to win. I used to try to hold back, but I couldn’t do it. I argue with myself that I am teaching them some kind of valuable life lesson, but deep down I know I am just being mean.

Another good example happened this morning. I had made the effort to get up 20 minutes earlier than usual, to try and avoid the stress of needing to leave for school, but having a child only half way through a bowl of porridge. My teen though had apparently got up 20 minutes later than usual, and was in rather a flap. “I don’t have time to wash the bread knife,” she announced loudly as she charged into my room at 8.15am, “so I can’t have any lunch today. Now have you seen my scarf?”

After watching her spend a good five minutes looking for the clearly crucial scarf, and with much stomping and sighing along the way, I glanced up to see her about to leave with my waterproof coat. “Hey!” I cried. “What are you doing?”

“I can’t find my coat,” she said, looking at me with palpable disdain.

“Well you can’t take mine,” I said. “I have to walk to school too you know.”

“Great! So what am I supposed to do then?” she shrieked.

“Why don’t you wear your other coat and a hat?” I offered.

“A HAT?” she spat back, as though I had deliberately made up the word just to annoy her. “I don’t have a hat.”

I know this to be a lie, and made moves to find one for her, but by this point she was too cross to reason with. “Don’t bother,” she said, “I’ll just get soaked.” Reinforcing her point, she took her school bag out of the waterproof one I had put it in, and stepped out into the pouring rain.

Sacrifice my career and love life? Sure. Just don’t ask me to give up my coat.

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This morning I woke up feeling vaguely ashamed of myself and with a stiff neck. And not in a good way.

Last night, on my way to a meeting to present myself as a ‘safe pair of hands’, a secure and reliable fundraiser whom you can trust to act professionally at all times, I crashed my car into a verge. A shameful and embarrassing case of driver error. I was driving in the dark, on roads I didn’t know, and was taken by surprise by a rather sharp corner.

As the telegraph pole loomed up in front of me at speed, I had a flash of the last time a similar thing had happened, and was grateful at least that this time I didn’t have a box of eggs on the passenger seat. The car lurched to a halt, my passenger and I stopped screaming and my inner critic immediately began to tell me how stupid I was. My sub-conscious is not very supportive at times – it is very hard on me whenever I make mistakes of any kind.

In the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere, it was hard to know how to proceed. Not far from our destination, we opted to hobble on, arriving at our meeting late, both looking slightly hysterical and me with my hands covered in mud and oil. Always a great way to make a good first impression on potential clients.

This morning, I went out in the harsh light of day to inspect the damage. The dent was tolerable, but I was slightly concerned to see that the front tyres now seem to be pointing in different directions. Now I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t right.

An evening business trip that was meant to make me money, has ended up costing me. The biggest dent though isn’t the one in my bumper, it’s the one in my pride.

Photo credit: Kevin

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In the name of research for Cuddledry’s month of blogging, I have been busy this morning reading a selection of mummy and daddy blogs, and came across a post from Ellen at In A Bun Dance, an outpouring of confessions, secret habits and thoughts. The list struck a chord with me, as I could empathise with so many of them, and it reassured me that I am not the only person who avoids the phone and sometimes hides from my children.

Inspired as I was, I have decided to come up with my own list, in the hope that everyone will then tell me how completely normal I am after all. So here goes with some things that not many people will know about me:

I am a little bit afraid of pineapples. It’s the little spine marks that get left behind when you slice off the outside. The first time I cut up a pineapple I screamed out loud.

I am very easily distracted and get bored very quickly. Even though my Gran always used to tell me only boring people got bored. I spend quite a lot of my time wishing something exciting would happen.

I hate housework. No big secret there maybe. I have been known to hide dirty dishes in cupboards when I’ve got guests.

I only like drinking out of particular shaped cups. When I order a latte in Costa I have to ask for a different mug.

I never put in exact amounts of petrol. I don’t understand why people try so hard to get to whole pound amounts. I look away from the pump, sing a little song to myself, and when the song ends I finish pumping.

One of my children’s favourite treats is ‘garage tea’ – when you are out somewhere and stop at a garage and buy Dairylea Dunkers, Capri Suns and Pepperami and eat it in the car.

I just ate some ‘Hotel Chocolat Christmas Collection’ for my lunch.

Please tell me this is all fine.

Photo credit – mrjoro

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Friday at last! This week has been a varied one to say the least. As well as being a single mum to two gorgeous girls, I also juggle three home based jobs – writing, marketing and fundraising. Add to this my obsession with checking my emails and blog stats and a chronic inability to concentrate properly on anything for more than five minutes at a time, and I often find my weeks become a jumble of writing features, lurking on forums and trying to flog baby towels.

To illustrate my point and to try and give myself a sense of having achieved something, I thought I would write a brief summary of what I’ve been up to this week workwise. Picture me doing the following, whilst of course at the same time blogging, emailing and maintaining some kind of relationship with my family:

Monday: Writing day today. Wrote and filed a feature on green baby products for The Source and a piece on breastfeeding and friendship for The Green Parent. Did you know that oxytocin, the hormone that causes the let down reflex, has been shown to increase levels of trust in humans, making the friendships you form while breastfeeding deeper and longer lasting? Well now you do.

Tuesday: Today I was very excited as I went out of the house for a meeting with real people. I wore a dress and everything. I am Marketing Manager for Cuddledry (remember them from Dragons’s Den?) and we were planning a revamp of the website. I came up with a fiendish plan for a relaunch of our blog with a month of guest Mummy Blogging – please get in touch if you would like to contribute!

Wednesday: Not a productive start to Wednesday. After dropping Belle off at school I felt a little bit overwhelmed and, unable to face returning to my empty house, I walked around for a bit trying not to cry until the snow made my feet too cold. However, after an hour or so of mild panic and several cups of tea, I managed to write a feature on food labelling for The Spark. In the evening I watched Avatar and felt rather silly wearing 3D specs over my ordinary glasses.

Thursday: Hmmm… what did I actually do on Thursday? …consults work book… Ah yes, I was in baby towel mode today, finding Mummy Bloggers for my blogging month – I have lots already, hoorah! – and trying to find a celebrity parent to be a judge for our Baby Bubble Beard competition. When I needed something non-towel related I pitched a few feature ideas, mooched about on facebook and ate some of the leftover Christmas chocolates.

Friday: This morning I had another meeting away from home (aren’t I the social animal this week?) with my two lovely colleagues from my charity consultancy. Next week we are pitching to run a capital appeal for the building of a new community hall, so we met to discuss our proposal and plan our pitch. And I had a lovely scrambled egg and smoked salmon breakfast. Yum. After a very successful visit to the St Margaret’s Hospice shop, where I bought a Next suit for £4, I returned home to write the appeal proposal, recruit some more bloggers, try and woo Dr Miriam Stoppard and think up marketing ploys for the women’s news website I have recently become involved in. Oh, and I just ate a bowl of porridge. Rock and roll.

Time for a little sit down.

Flickr image by Helico

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I had my first baby when I was just 17 years old. Not on purpose you understand, but that is another story… Now I was under the illusion that young bodies were stretchy and supple. I imagined my baby would form a neat bump and that I would spring pertly back into place two weeks after birth.

Oh how wrong I was.

At about eight months pregnant my stomach erupted into a mass of hideous purple stretch marks – it turns out my young skin just couldn’t take the strain. I know I’m not alone – a friend of mine recently wrote about the frightening array of pregnancy body nasties, and it turns out that all kinds of things can happen to you – cankles anyone?

Two babies and over two years of breastfeeding later and my 31 year old mummy body could certainly do with a bit of work. Not of the surgical kind of course, just the ‘me getting myself off the sofa once in a while’ variety. I kid myself that typing counts as exercise, but I know I am clutching at straws.

I was pleased therefore to read in The Mail today about It’s Complicated, a new rom-com starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. The Mail claims the film is testimony to the fact that ‘wobbly bits can be sexy too!’ I really hope that is the case, as I certainly have my fair share.

As a single mum, I feel more conscious than ever about the parts of me that are not so perfect. When you are in a relationship with the father of your children you can take comfort from the fact that at least they can remember what you looked liked before your tummy bulged over the top of your jeans. When you’re single, you have to deal with the daunting prospect of at some point having to reveal your naked body – stretch marks and all – to a new man. A scary thought indeed.

But then as It’s Complicated shows, perhaps we should be a little more accepting of ourselves and realise it’s not just women who feel the effects of ageing. At least I don’t have to worry about balding. Well not yet at least.

Flickr image by bies

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As a single working mum, I often find myself bogged down in the day-to-day nitty-gritty of parenthood, so busy finding everyone matching shoes and remembering to at least offer fruit regularly, that I forget to notice the wonder of life.

One of the joys of having children though is that they make you stop, think, and see things through their eyes. Their enthusiasm and imagination is infectious and if you spare some time to step into their world, you can gain a whole new and inspiring perspective on what you would normally take for granted.

Take last night for example. Yesterday was a busy day, and in my rush to meet deadlines I forgot to buy yeast for the breadmaker. A forgivable crime I’m sure in the grand scheme of things. On our way home from Badgers therefore, Belle and I stopped off at our local newsagents for a loaf of bread.

When we got home, I gave Belle the bread to carry in, and as she picked her way carefully to the front door (I obviously haven’t done anything sensible like clear the snow from the path) she looked at the bread curiously.

“Mummy,” she asked me, “is this bread sliced?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Already?” she asked, a look of amazement on her face.

“Yes,” I said again.

“Wow!!” she exclaimed.

If only we could all see the wonder in something so simple…

Flickr image from nettsu

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As many of you know, I have something of a soft spot for Lib Dem politicians… if you haven’t already, you can read about my Clegg-crush here at Mookychick.

Clegg’s appeal increased further today then when he openly scoffed childcare guru Gina Ford and her controversial childcare routines.  Talking about his experience of using Ford’s ‘Contented Little Baby Book’, Clegg is quoted in the Times as saying “With our first one, like all new parents, we religiously followed Gina Ford. Instructions like, stick him in a broom cupboard at 7.46am. At 7.48am, take him out, do not look at him . . . Absolute nonsense.”

I couldn’t agree more! Although millions of parents swear by Ford’s strict regimes, I have always been shocked by her attitude to raising children – not just because of the trauma I believe her harsh routines can expose babies to, but also the pressure it puts on parents. How can it feel good to have someone tell you to just sit and listen to your baby cry??

Books like Ford’s take the power away from parents, making them question their own judgement and instincts. As a species, we have managed to survive for thousands of years without parenting manuals like these – as women, we are designed to bear and nurture our children. We don’t need anyone to tell us how to do it.

Ford hit back at Clegg, warning him that his outburst could cost him much-needed support at the general election. I think she’s wrong – anybody who is prepared to stand up to Gina gets my vote.

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