R had it two weeks ago. G is on day 2 of her 5-day quarantine period. We are Chicken Pox central here. After being exposed to the virus on five separate occasions in their (very nearly) five years we were starting to think they had some strange immunity to it. Not so. Turns out sixth time is the charm for the girls.

R actually didn’t fare too badly with it. She had around 30 spots, large but evenly-spaced around her body. She had a temperature (had to dust off the still-just-about-in-date Calpol that we hadn’t used for months) and was sleepy and off her food for a couple of days but other than that, wasn’t too bad. She was well enough to do art and craft things, puzzles and demanded that Dh do phonics practice with her after lunch because that’s when they did it at school. The main issue was that the girls’ birthday party was on day 5 of her quarantine period, and had to be cancelled. It has been rearranged for early January and both of them were really good about it.

We were rather hoping that, if G were destined to get Chicken Pox, she would get it very soon after her sister. Instead her body decided to wait until the point that we thought she might have escaped it entirely. Yesterday morning she leapt into our bedroom wearing her Cinderella dressing-up dress and bellowed LOOK AT MY RASH DADDY! She is now covered from head to toe in tiny, red, extremely angry-looking spots. She is so itchy that every so often she actually howls in pain (she’s our drama queen but on this occasion I don’t blame her.) We are trying out all of the remedies that were recommended for R and didn’t need: bicarbonate of soda in the bath, calomine lotion and cream. She looks so sad and can’t bear cuddles for very long because they make her itch.

It’s horrible when they’re ill but I’m actually relieved that the girls have finally got Chicken Pox. All of their friends had it when they were much younger, so they are in a minority of children in their year that have had time off school with it. G should be feeling much better by the end of this week and might even go back to school on Friday if her spots have scabbed over (they might mass together and become one massive spot – scary.) She isn’t missing much: all of the Christmas activities at school are taking place next week and she should be absolutely fine for Christmas, the girls’ sleepover at Nanny and Grandad’s between  Christmas and New Year and their belated party in January.

However it’s the girls’ fifth birthday on Wednesday, which is day 4 of G’s quarantine period and means that she’ll be off school on her birthday but R will have to go in. We didn’t have any grand plans for their birthday as it is on a school day and their party was supposed to have already happened, but we have to make sure that R doesn’t feel left out. She’ll make damn sure of it anyway.

Batshit teapot

My sister J is a bit fabulous: tall, well-dressed, gorgeous, well-educated with high-powered important job and extremely well-travelled. In short, if she wasn’t so darned lovely I would be terribly, terribly jealous of her. Who am I kidding? I am terribly terribly jealous of her.

She also buys us brilliant presents. For example, for Christmas this year she bought me a months’ membership to Pinapple Dance Studios so that I could fulfill my ambition to have tap dancing lessons. For my birthday she bought me a Radley handbag.

I find her very difficult to buy for and just before Christmas, I was really struggling. We’d had some family photos done so I’d created a calendar featuring some of the best photos, a collage poster print of all of the photos and a couple of smaller presents. However, I really needed to get her something else. Something meaningful. Something lovely. Something that would always remind her of us.

I had a brainwave. There is a ceramic cafe in Greenwich called Biscuit so I thought I would take the girls there so they could paint a teapot for her. J loves tea. She loves tea even more than  salsa dancing and the Essex cricket team put together.

It all started well:

G and R with the unsullied teapot

It was all going well until they started painting….I think my mistake was allowing them to paint the same object at the same time.The idea was that they would do a side each, but they kept blobbing paint on the bits the other one had already painted changing their minds about what they wanted to paint.

I offered to paint the lid. My hand was batted away with a (loaded) paintbrush.

After an hour the girls declared that they were finished:

To keep you on your toes, they swapped seats half-way through.

Shall we see the full horror close-up? Brace yourselves…

It looks insane doesn’t it?

I took the teapot up to the counter so that they could take it away for glazing and the staff struggled to stifle their giggles. I knew it woudln’t be ready in time for Christmas so I had the photos developed and popped them in an envelope with the rest of J’s presents so tell the ‘story’ of the teapot.

Ten days later…I remembered that we needed to collect the finished article. I was too embarrassed busy to pick it up myself so I sent Dh.

Here is Batshit Teapot in its full, glazed glory:

J is coming over tomorrow to collect it. There’s only so many times I can say sorry…


So that was Christmas…

…and what have we done? Another year over. A new one just begun*

I haven’t managed to blog for almost a month because I’ve just been too darned busy living my ‘real life’. There was the girls’ 4th Birthday. All four parts of it – the party with friends, the lunch with my family, the actual day and the taking cake and fruit into nursery day. I decided to make hand-made Christmas cards…but only started doing them on 10th December so most of my evenings were spent sitting on a beanbag in front of the TV, watching Masterchef: The Professionals (Young Steve was ROBBED) while I glued bits of card to my hands and covered the coffee table in sticky fixers. I single-handedly wrapped 3 million Christmas presents (I was helping FC and the Elves out). I worked up until 23rd December. I got shitfaced quite merry at my work Christmas ‘do. The girls performed in their first nativity play at nursery and we had to deal with our first instance of proper sibling rivalry. The girls and I painted a ‘Teapot for the Insane’ as part of my sisters’ Christmas present.

I haven’t even got to Christmas yet…

My In-Laws arrived on the 23rd. They babysat that night so that Dh and I could go out for drinks and enormous Argentinian steaks. My SIL, her partner and daughter arrived on the 24th. Dh and I slept on a blow-up bed in the playroom. I did a Christmas Eve buffet for 9 people, Christmas Lunch for 12 people (my parents and sister came down for the day), Christmas Day buffet tea for 12 people and a Boxing Day cooked lunch for 9 people. I made eleventy million cups of tea and I don’t even drink the ruddy stuff.

Everyone went home on Boxing Day. R and G watched Fireman bloody Sam while I blitzed the house, did countless loads of washing, refilled the dishwasher 54 times, etc.The girls and I watched The Lion King for the first time and I had to answer A LOT of philosophical questions about life, death, relationships, etc.

I had a birthday, which was lovely. I am still in my ‘early thirties’. Round here I am still the young parent of the gang, which blows my tiny mind in quite a good way. In an attempt to reinforce my ‘down with da kidz’ credentials we bought a new stereo with an iPod dock and subwoofers. I have spent the last two weeks playing snatches of early 90s dance tracks and shouting LISTEN TO THE BASS ON THAT! I’m such an embarrassing mother.

We forced ourselves upon visited lots of people. Dh was ill (exhausted) over the New Year period so I was looking after two extremely hyperactive children and nursing him. I don’t like NYE anyway, so went to bed at 10.30pm with my new Kindle**.

Oh and the girls decided they wanted to wear their new knickers (Christmas presents) at night so they have been night training for the past week.G is doing pretty well (4 completely dry nights so far) and R is struggling with it a bit (1 dry night) so we’re doing lots of bed changes at 3am, lots of extra washing, etc.

I went back to work yesterday. My Head of Dept said I looked ‘genuinely relieved’ to be back in the office***

*Ta John and Yoko. Just be grateful you can’t hear me doing my highly questionable Yoko Ono impression.

**I adore my Kindle. It may change my life as much as my iPhone did…

***I’m not going to lie to you, I was nice to sit down in a good chair with a Starbucks hot chocolate, not talk to anyone for an hour or two and answer e-mails.

In short, I’m FECKING EXHAUSTED. The main thing is that everyone else (with the exception of Dh at New Year) had a brilliant time and as I’ve learned over the last four years, it’s not about me any more.

Happy New Year!

Life on fast-forward

What happened to December? I mean, where did it go? At the end of November it snowed and then December went WHIZZZZZZZZZZZZZ and now it’s January.

A quick recap.

The girls’ 3rd Birthday was their best yet. They really seemed to ‘get’ the concept of it this year – or at least the concept of presents, cards and a party. We gave them a dolls house – sorry, as dh tells everyone – a dolls mansion and lots of nice clothes. I always say it but every year I’m taken aback by the phenomenal generosity of our family and friends. The girls had so many presents and cards to open that we saved some for the following day. Their party went really well and they and their friends seemed to understand the idea of pass the parcel, with some gentle guidance. Dh was convinced that party games would be pointless. Au contraire my dear. There was lots of food. There was cake. There was cava. Everyone had a lovely time. My parents were pressganged (by me) into sorting out drinks and did a sterling job. Dh and I collapsed on the sofa when the girls were in bed, everyone had gone home and the house was vaguely tidy and allowed ourselves a small, stiff-upper-lip sort-of pat on the back.

There was a lot of snow. I don’t remember getting that much snow when I was a child. In the girls’ short lives they have seen more of the white stuff than we have probably seen in the last twenty years. Normally I’m a big fan of snow but the two occasions we got it – end of November/beginning of December and the weekend before Christmas – were really debilitating. Plans had to be cancelled or re-arranged. Nursery was closed. I missed a conference. My friends with children were posting up pictures of their offspring frolicking in the snow and I was indoors with one child (R) that liked the idea of snow but didn’t like getting cold and one (G) that refused point blank to even entertain the idea of venturing outside. Luckily the birthday and Christmas plans were unaffected.

We were all ill. I was at my work Christmas lunch, glass of wine in hand when I got an SOS call from nursery. The girls had temperatures of 102F and needed to be picked up. Luckily dh was at home and primed for such an event. He picked up two rather sorry specimens (R suffers when she’s ill) who perked up considerably once they were at home curled up on the sofa with Daddy watching Peppa Pig. I could have stayed out but felt so guilty and neglectful that I abandoned my glass of pinot grigio and dashed home to tend to my flock. Good job I did. Dh went down with the illness the next day and I spent the weekend nursing three rather grumpy patients. I was rather relieved to return to work on the Monday only to be struck down with the shivers. I spent most of the days leading up to Christmas in bed, alternating between the shivers and hot flushes. It was horrible. I felt a little better on Christmas Eve but didn’t really feel 100% until Boxing Day. Dh and the girls recovered pretty quickly.

Christmas was lovely, feeling mildly grotty aside. We hosted dh’s parents for three days (23rd – Boxing Day) and my parents (struggling with a virus themselves) joined us on Christmas Day. I cooked Christmas lunch and got lots of praise for my (home-made, in an attempt to prove my MPM credentials) Christmas Pudding. The girls loved it, although G freaked out a little bit on Christmas Eve because she was scared that Father Christmas would come through the ceiling in the night. Dh reassured her that FC would leave the presents outside and we would bring them in. We think her fears stem from the Christmas episode of Peppa Pig. Oh, the power of television! R tore through her presents (and some of G’s) like a tornado. They loved the wooden train set we gave them. I was pleased to see that they did well present-wise but none of us had gone OTT. I didn’t feel that they had been spoilt and there were no duplicate presents, thank goodness. The playroom looks like a toy shop though.

It was my 31st birthday. However, I’m now claiming that I’m 29. Dh and the girls took me out for lunch and I did a bit of retail therapy. I did very well with gifts and got lots of nice girly things for both Christmas and birthday: jewellery, perfume and lots of lovely gift vouchers and cards. I still don’t feel like a proper grown-up.

Dh and I both had the week after Christmas off work. It was a Christmas miracle. I always get the time between Christmas and New Year off but dh normally just gets Christmas Day and Boxing Day as leave. I don’t know what strings he pulled but it was lovely to have him around for an extra few days. We hosted a playdate with a couple of the girls’ friends from nursery. We both had a morning ‘off’ – I did Bluewater (I was a whirling dervish of shopping bags and hot chocolate) and the next day dh went to Lakeside for a spot of breakfast and a leisurely coffee. I’m very grumpy about the whole New Year extravaganza (I hate it) but dh and I played board games and had a couple of drinks and I made sure I was in bed by 11.30pm.

We took the girls to the cinema for the first time. The cinema near us does kids screenings on Saturday morning and on New Years Day they showed Toy Story 3. We were primed to watch the first half and leave when the girls got bored but they were transfixed for the duration of the film. I don’t think G actually blinked for two hours. Unfortunately they both had nightmares that night – of the shouting, sweating, scared variety – but they don’t seem traumatised by it.

We stupidly got the girls’ feet measured and G had gone up a whole size to 8.5 and R a half-size to 8. This meant new shoes for both (it was my turn to pay) and new wellies and trainers for G now and for R later. I always but things like wellies, sandals and trainers a size bigger than they need and I refuse to buy half-sized, so G is now in a 9 for everything but her fitted shoes. Luckily Mothercare had a sale on so I was able to stock up. We had to explain to R that her old trainers still fitted and that she couldn’t wear her new ones yet. She has consoled herself by wearing G’s old trainers and declaring them to be ‘new’. If it keeps her happy…

What else? Oh yes.

3-1 3-1 3-1 3-1 In Australia. Ashes. Cricket in case you’re wondering. My sister was there. I wasn’t jealous at all. Oh no. Look at what I would have missed if I had been!

Creating our own Christmas traditions

Christmas is steeped in tradition. It goes without saying. Every family has their own. When I was a child we used to wake up (well, I used to get ridiculously overexcited and wake at 5am) and find a pillow case with little ‘doing’ presents (colouring books, puzzles and fiction books) in to keep us (me) going until Mum and Dad woke up. We used to watch Carols from Kings on Christmas Eve – I try and carry that one on now, despite the desire of my in-laws to watch ‘The Soaps’. Grr. There were loads of others: my Dad making cheese straws; my Mum’s amazing Christmas dinner and her gorgeous home-made brandy butter; drinking cinzano and lemonade; eating vast quantities of cheese; playing board games and cards; visiting Father Christmas at a big London department store; leaving a mince pie, a carrot and a glass of brandy (not a whiskey man in our house) out for Father Christmas. Prawn cocktails! Top of the Pops Christmas Special! Cheese and pineapple on sticks! Playing computer games! I could go on…I won’t. Vol au vents! Playing snap (noisily) with my sister! Ok, I’m done.

Now I have a family of my own I can establish my own traditions – borrowing hugely from my childhood and creating a few new ones.

When I was pregnant I bought the girls a Christmas decoration each and every year since I’ve bought them a new one (or two), the idea being that when they grow up and move away from home, they’ll have enough decorations to furnish their own trees (I can foresee sisterly fighting over assorted fairies, jingly bell things and wiggly-legged Santas already).

The girls receive a new pair of pyjamas each that they can wear to bed on Christmas Eve and open their presents in on Christmas morning. I always read ‘The night before Christmas’ to them on Christmas Eve. They have a stocking each with little fun presents in. I make the Christmas pudding and cake in November. We’re teaching them Christmas songs. Over the years I know we’ll add other little customs to the mix.

I can’t wait to leave two pillowcases of pressies outside their bedroom door. We’ve already started playing computer games with them. I can’t wait to introduce them to the cheese board – not for a few years yet, mind.

I want R and G to look back on their childhood Christmases as fondly as my sister and I look back on ours. When they grow up and eventually stop squabbling over which decorations are theirs, I hope they put them on their own trees with many years of fond Christmas memories to look back on…and are inspired to develop their own little traditions as I have been.

Stalking Justin

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the girls love Something Special, so I was extremely excited when I saw that the presenter, Justin Fletcher, would be switching on the Christmas lights at Bluewater last Friday. I mentioned it to dh and he was unsure – would the girls get bored, would they get tired, would they want to go home (projecting, much?) – but I ground him down 😉

The switch-on was scheduled for 5pm so we made our way over to the Christmas Wonderland just beforehand. It was absolute mayhem as you’d expect – buggies and small people everywhere.

An aside. One of my highlights was looking into a pure white (WHITE!)pram and watching a 8(ish) month old hoover up a McDonalds Happy Meal  (chicken nuggets and chips) before my incredulous eyes. It made my Margot antennae twitch, I can tell you…

Anyway, to build up the excitement a band appeared and started warbling Christmas tunes. R tolerated this for a little while, dancing around in dh’s arms before adopting a puzzled expression, looking directly into is eyes and asking in a polite yet firm voice “WHERE’S JUSTIN?”. Dh tried to explain that Justin would be coming on soon. She appeared to be listening, nodded intently, paused for a nanosecond before looking at him again and saying “WHERE IS JUSTIN?”

After what seemed like five years  but in reality was just a few minutes, Justin Fletcher appeared on the stage. At least, I think he did. The stage was a blur in the distance and a small dot wearing a white shirt and black waistcoat was bobbing around on it. It sounded like him anyway.

At this point I forgot my sore throat and started shouting (hoarsely) “IT’S JUSTIN! IT’S JUSTIN! LOOK IT’S JUSTIN!” I may even have jumped up and down with excitement. The last time I got so excited was watching Steps at Wembley Arena during their Steptacular tour in 2000. I almost launched into the OO-A OO-A chant. I was a mere minute away from an OGGY OGGY OGGY moment. I attempted to take a photo and a video but all you can see is a blurry shape bouncing around.

The mere thought being in the presence of Justin was enough and then he started to sing. Oh, it was MARVELLOUS. He did ‘Jump, jive and wail’, ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ and ‘Old Macdonald’ before announcing that he was going to do a song that we’d all know – cue a couple of thousand grown men and women tunelessly singing the Something Special theme tune while their offspring gazed at them with ‘They’ve finally lost it’ expressions on their faces.

I’d like to be able to tell you more but at this point G decided she’d had enough and asked (politely) to go home because she was tired. This meant that we missed the big switch-on but to be honest I’m not sure that my throat could have stood any more excitement.

My friends, for a moment we were truly in the presence of greatness. Now. When is Justin touring again….?