Things I’m currently failing at…

Oooooh FAIL is a loaded word, isn’t it? I feel like I may have come across a bit strong there, in the title, but there it is.

In the interests of transparency, to avoid a second expenses scandal that might rock the nation, I’m releasing my records of expenditure into the public domain. No duck houses, I’m afraid, but in the last six months, despite all efforts to the contrary, I have spent money on the following:

  • Nappies. Still using a disposable every night. So one every 24 hours. And you know what’s worse? I haven’t even tried putting a reusable one on her at night. I. JUST. CAN’T. FACE. IT. I’m not brave enough. That might make me a coward, but at least I’m a coward who can just about keep her eyes pinned open during daylight hours (given an adequate supply of caffeine and sugar-laced snacks).
  • Wipes. For a long time we used these veeeeeery sparingly. At home, cotton wool was just fine, so wipes were stored in the handbag for out-of-the-house emergencies. Then came weaning. And suddenly there are wipes EVERYWHERE. Wipes stuffed in my back pocket, wipes hanging out of my bra, grubby wipes hiding between my sheets when I climb into bed. So I tried to make my own, based on this guide. And, well, this is really no reflection on the guide. This is truly a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ moment because… urghhh. I was just not up to it. SO much work. SO much washing. So. Much. Poo. Maybe the real reusable ones are less vile and exhausting? Maybe? But what if they’re not, and it just finishes me off? Such an ignoble way to go…
  • Toothpaste. I know what I said. I know what the expert said – you really don’t necessarily have to buy special kids toothpaste if you can get your kid to spit the ordinary stuff out after brushing. But I can’t. I’ve spent the last 18 months trying. His ‘spit’ is still more of a ‘dribbling gurn’. So the kids toothpaste is still lying on the sink, laughing at me in lurid colours.
  • Ice cream. A new one, this. I have a very cunning friend who’s convinced her kid that the ice cream van man only plays his tunes when he’s out of stock. I tried this, but while J struggles to follow lines of reasoning about, say, why it isn’t wise to dismantle radios and stick the parts into socket, he’s surprisingly sharp when it comes to the nuances of ice cream supplies. The thing is, I’m happier giving him a mini-milk than a big, fat, fluorescent Twister. But mini-milks are specifically for kids, aren’t they? So they’re banned, right? Which leaves me in  a massive, messy, sticky MORAL QUANDARY.

Weaning for free – the story so far

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I quite often find myself thinking how similar are the businesses of being a mother and being a pig farmer. Babies and pigs: both born pink and wrinkly, make lots of weird grunty noises (particularly when feeding), then they grow gloriously fat and turn their lovely homes into mucky slums…

Now we’ve started weaning the similarity has never been more striking. Over the last month Frida has started wolfing down anything and everything. She is almost embarrassingly undiscriminating. It’s unladylike. Anything I can find at the back of the fridge and mush up a bit she’ll eat, shouting furiously at me right up to the moment it’s actually made contact with her cross red lips and then smearing it all over her fat little fists and face with a look of businesslike dedication.

So yeah. It’s been a month. And so far, we’ve not had to buy a single jar, pouch or box of baby food. I was a bit worried in the first week. I wasn’t sure how we’d manage. It felt like I lived in supermarkets when I was weaning Johnny. Our house looked like something off one of those Channel 5 documentaries on compulsive hoarders – you couldn’t move for primary coloured pouches and boxes and there was a thin film of powdery baby rice over the whole family and all the furniture for what felt like months.

But a month in, I’m feeling pretty cocky, which must mean a disaster is just round the corner, right? I must be one hubristic fall away from a massive Tesco bill…

So here’s the jist of it. We tried baby-led weaning, in fact, we’re still trying it. I really wanted it to work. I love the idea of watching her confidently shovelling food into her mouth. I wanted to be that mother others glare enviously at in cafes, while my baby elegantly and self-containedly works her way through a primavera salad.

But babies are very good at bringing you down to earth with a crash, aren’t they? Frida doesn’t just get cross if she cant get food into her mouth fast enough, she gets LIVID. And so we’ve reached a compromise. I feed her from a spoon and put some finger food in front of her too. She gums at it for a bit, flings it despotically to the floor… But it works for us.

We haven’t had to buy any special baby products or ingredients. But I also haven’t really been making any special meals for her from what’s in the fridge either. I’ve slowly been remembering meals that we can all eat, small pig included, and I’m adding to our repertoire as the weeks past. It cuts down a huge amount on money, time spent cooking and washing up, and general faff…

BREAKFAST:

Mostly, we’ll all eat porridge. I’ve also started steaming and pureeing some fruit and we all eat it on yoghurt. If we’re having toast I’ll cut some into soldiers for her to play with or mush into the table.

LUNCH:

Soup: I’m making a big batch of vegetable soup at the beginning of the week, using whatever’s in the fridge, or plentiful at the stall at the end of the road, and some low-salt stock. I leave it thick so that Frida can eat it for lunch as it is and I can thin it out with some water and have it too. Theoretically, of course, J could eat it too but he’s a massive soup refuse-nick at the moment. We’re working on that.

Other favourites at the moment are baked potatoes (sweet or bog standard) with fluffy middles she can easily get down, chicken liver pate (using a recipe in the River Cottage kids book but its delicious for adults too, honestly), or a scruffy buffet of smoked fish, feta, avocado slices, hummus…

SUPPER:

Shepherds pie makes everyone happy.  This week, I also made this sweet potato, lentil and coconut curry and added some lamb in the pressure cooker. It went down well with everyone too (okay, I lie, it didn’t go down ‘well’ with J but it did go down…) A soft piece of boneless fish and some vegetables to slobber over seems to keep her busy too… Basically, anything vaguely mushy that’s low on salt and heat seems to meet with approval in the pigsty.

I like doing things this way. I like the savings we’re making, obviously, but it also feels good to eat the same stuff as a family. A bit more relaxed, a bit more natural. A bit less pressured since it’s all from one big pot. And something else that I hadn’t anticipated: there’s something deeply, almost animalistically, gratifying about watching her wolf down such a wide selection of tastes and textures. The satisfaction is so completely, disproportionately fulfilling that it must come from some dark, evolutionary place. What do you think? Any other recipe ideas for us? Ideas for introducing more baby-led stuff without provoking the piglet?

Guest post: gardening for dummies (that’s me…)

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[This bit's by me, Hattie, in case you were confused....] We’d never had a garden before. We lived in a tiny studio flat in a cool part of town and our idea of healthy living was downing a Berocca just after getting out of bed and just before going out dancing again. Then we had babies. We moved out to the scruffy edges of town and into a palace. At least, it felt that way, to us. To others, it was a small terraced house, crumbling from its roof tiles down to its foundations, with a long stretch of brambles and rubble behind it that had long since been colonised into a flop house for feral foxes.

We started on the garden first, filling thousands of rubble sacks, slowly and sweatily. It took months. Over a year in fact. The foxes were furious. They would press their noses menacingly against the kitchen window, following the baby with their orange eyes. But over the months, the garden that had been smothered for over a decade started to reveal itself and, one by one, the squatters moved on to pastures grottier.

Our third summer here is just beginning. The yard is starting to look like a real garden. Buds are unfurling in the beds, peas are shooting up in the vegetable patch and while some four-legged terrorists dug up all the carrots one night this week, the kids can finally lie in the grass without being stalked from the tops of fences and the roofs of neighbouring sheds.

The only thing that’s lagging behind is me. Try as I might, I still can’t seem make much grow in the raised patch I made Tom build for the huge haul of greens I imaged harvesting and feasting on with the kids. Whether it’s pawed-up by our feline friends in its infancy or left bullet-holed by slugs just before maturity, scarcely anything seems to make it onto our plates.

I’m not too despondent. J still enjoys planting, watering and watching, even if he’s yet to enjoy the thrill of digging much up. But… Any tips for foiling foxes or stopping slugs? It would be nice to finally feed the family instead of the fauna this summer.

In the meantime, here’s some guest content on veggie growing. Maybe some of these tips will help me…

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My top secret project

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We interrupt this service for a special announcement…

Over the last year or so – when I haven’t been up at 2am staring, watery-eyed, at Freecyle pages and furiously willing toddler training pants to appear online – I’ve been working on another project, one that I’ve found really, very exciting.

It seems like the fate of older women has been in the press forever. Remember Moira Stewart and Anna Ford leaving the BBC back in 2007, amid accusations of institutional prejudice against older women? Except it wasn’t just at the BBC, was it? While men grew ‘wiser’ and ‘venerable’ as they aged, women, it seemed, became less and less prominent in public and professional life as grey hair set in, gradually fading into obscurity as if they were given a fresh lick of invisibility ink at each birthday.

And then suddenly, very suddenly, something changed. Out of the blue came suggestions that, come 2016, America might see its first Grandma President in the figure of Hillary Clinton. And rather than sneers, the suggestion of spare nappies, reading glasses and copies of That’s Not My Tractor sharing space with policy documents among the shelves of the Oval Office  has been met with serious discussion.

Helen Walmsley-Johnson, in her column for the Guardian, began shining the style spotlight on older women (rather ironically, given her pen name ‘Invisible Woman’).  The fashion floodgates opened (see, for example, the new film Advanced Style or McCarthy and Stone’s piece on fashionable old ladies). This year’s Golden Globes was championed as heralding a “revolution” for older actresses – their nominations featuring leading film actresses with an average age of 52.8 years.

It feels like something’s happening. So it’s a thrilling time for the project I’ve been working on finally to be made public. On October 3, 100 Leading Ladies, a portrait of influential senior British women will be published as a book and, at the same time, open as an exhibition at top London arts centre, Somerset House. Award winning photographer Nancy Honey has photographed (yep, you guessed it) 100 of Britain’s most influential women over the age of fifty. I’ve interviewed each of them too.

From well-known women like Germain Greer, to those who’ve transformed our lives more quietly, like Averil Mansfield, the UK’s first female professor of surgery, there are politicians, scientists, restaurateurs, CEOs, authors, Britain’s oldest working super model… Many of them are the first women in their fields. All of them lived through a remarkable era of change that has affected us all.

It’s been quite a journey. One hundred women, one hundred portraits, one hundred unique stories. We hope that the book and show will help celebrate the brilliance of older women and that the stories these amazing women share will also shine a guiding light on the paths they took to success – professionally and privately – so that younger women can also find their way.

Drop me a line if you want to be kept up to date with the project  - given my usual propensity for neurosis I’ll likely be moving in to the exhibition with my sleeping bag for most of the opening week so if you get in touch we can organise a bit of a party. x

Holiday and birthday thoughts

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(The bell tent we borrowed last summer. Which came with no poles. Which we realised after driving four hours to the camp site. Which forced Tom to forage in the forest like a fair-weather-Bear-Grylls for branches to prop the thing up…)

So, I’ve been thinking about my last post (and thanks for being so kind about it, by the way, though I think I might be as allergic to compliments as I am the heatfelteness – British, much? Me?)

One of the ideas I mentioned in it was about spending money on things for the whole family to enjoy together, rather than trinkets for individual members. I won’t lie, it’s something I’ve been struggling a little with recently since I have an, ahem, significant birthday on the horizon.

What does one ask for when one turns sweet sixteen (or close enough… roughly… if you’re taking a global perspective, starting with the Big Bang…)? There are plenty of things I don’t have which grown up women are supposed to possess. A serious, expensive handbag, for example. A pair of shoes that cost more than your weekly shop and are worth having resoled. A haircut from the kind of place where they give you a free head massage that lasts for more than 30 seconds. A trip in which you travel first class (anywhere, on any form transport…) A leather passport case. A collection of wine that didn’t originate from the corner shop (have I already told you about the bottle that proudly claimed to be ‘an ideal accompaniment to sandwiches’?)

The list goes on. But as I sat there considering which I’d want the most, I found myself feeling a bit… meh. Sure, they’d all be lovely. But none of them felt like they’d be that… life changing. And when I started thinking about what might be life changing, the strangest thing happened. A thing that the old me would have found quite alarming. The object that popped into my mind was… a tent.

I know. Urgh. A damp-sponging, insect-ridden, dubious-smelling, rain-dripping, neck-cricking, finding-yourself-flung-to-the-other-side-of-the-field-in-the-wind-and-staring-into-the-eyes-of-a-disgruntled-bull-risking tent. But the idea stuck. And it started to look less idiotic, more idyllic.

Now there’s four of us, the chance of us ever being able to afford the kind of hotels I’d really like to spend time in have shrunk from puny to preposterous. So why bother with the compromise ones? Why not consider camping? Not the crappy, (literally and figuratively), cramped, kind of camping. But if we were camping in a really lovely tent – with space for the whole family – cooking our own meals outdoors on a decent camping stove, we could afford to go on adventures together we’d never be able to stretch to in hotels and restaurants.

And so the Bell Tent dream was born. Instead of asking for lots of little indulgences for me, I’m tentatively suggesting that friends and relatives club together to get a tent. A good one should last us our whole life as a holidaying family (until the kids decide that they’d rather be strung up and tortured than spend a week with us). We can take it on spur-of-the-moment, hop-in-the-car overnight escapes in the countryside. Or further afield, to France, the mountains, the seaside, maybe even Scandinavia. The kids should love it (until the stage mentioned above). We’ll adventure together, cook together and – sure – occasionally sulk and curse and wring mud from our sleeping bags together… It’ll bring us together. And yeah, so it’s really a present for all of us, not for me. But actually, when I really thought about it, that’s the best present anyone could give me.

And the best present YOU could give me? Practical suggestions. In the field of airy-fairy idealism, I come top. I challenge anyone to beat me. But when it comes to practical application, I am really very hazy on the details. I refer you to the pole-less tent trip mentioned above. So save us from similar slip-ups. What does a family really needs to camp without going crazy? Ideas?

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(Cheers to doing the next one up to slightly higher standards of interior design!)

Speaking of which. Gala Bingo and Park Resorts are running a competition that they want you to know about. Up for grabs are a caravan holiday home with Park Resorts and park fees for two years (worth £50,000), as well as 12 holidays to park resorts across the UK. Slightly less muddy and wild than camping, but I’ve always liked the idea of a caravan holiday. It has a kind of retro, jolly, knees-up, Best of British vibe that I find really appealing (as does Bingo, in fact, though I’ve never actually had the chance to visit a hall).

Details are as follows, ahem: Qualifying games will take place between the hours of 8am to 10am, 12pm to 2pm, 4pm – 6pm and 8-1am with 3 games per hour between 19th – 31st May 2014. All qualifying games will take place across 90 ball rooms City and Gala Live and be titled ‘Holiday Home Giveaway’. All full house, 2 lines and 1 line winners from any qualifying game will receive 1 free ticket to the final game. Each evening during the promotional period up to and inclusive 30th May 2014, there will be a Parks Resorts Holiday game at 10pm where the full house prize will be a 7 day Park Resorts holidayThe final game will take place on 31st May 2014 in the Gala Live and City Rooms.

I do feel this post should have a public health warning, like the Jack Daniels adverts: pace yourself, drink responsibly… REMEMBER TO ENJOY YOUR ‘NUMBER TWO, ME AND YOU‘S’ AND YOUR ‘NUMBER EIGHT, GARDEN GATE‘S’ IN A MEASURED FASHION!