I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

Festive Cheer

It’s taken a while for me to get into the festive spirit this year,  even though we are well into advent and for weeks Facebook has been awash with Christmas trees and pissed-off babies in elf suits. There is also another phenomenon that has crept into the nation’s consciousness which I believe has contributed to my festive malaise. ‘Elf on the Shelf’ is the latest costly Christmas extra I intend to ignore. (Last year it was Christmas Eve boxes which involves buying EVEN MORE PRESENTS. Wtf???).  I believe it was based on a book but you can now fork out £25 for an entire kit, complete with creepy elf doll that looks like the love child of the Child Catcher and Bride of Chucky. Already stressed-out parents must think of nightly tomfuckery for the sinister little chap to indulge in then photograph the result to splash all over social media. No thanks. I’m far to busy trying to finish off shoddily made homemade gifts.

Elf on the twatting shelf

Not in my name

In an attempt to get myself in the mood (and also out of the nightmarish bathtime/bedtime routine) I volunteered to help decorate the village hall with some of the committee members. Following a stern lecture from caretaker Philip, about the potential damage caused by sellotape and staple guns, we set to work with baubles, tinsel and fairy lights. An hour later, after some impressive precarious ladder maneuvers by an elderly member of the team,  it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and very nearly an episode of Casualty.

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Derek was heavily influenced by Edith’s exceptionally large baubles

The castle remained a tinsel free zone for a few more weeks but I ramped up the festive blackmail and wielded my power over the kids like a crazed despot, emphatically cancelling Santa for the smallest misdemeanor. I love this temporary influence and have succeeded in correcting all manner of irritating behavior.  They now wear socks willingly, without the daily tantrums, that have been known to culminate in me throwing their shoes at the portrait of great, great granny on the stairs. They also now go to the toilet unaccompanied once again, following a couple of bat incidents in the downstairs loo, which for some reason put them off going alone. Obviously it will all go to shit again in January when I have nothing left to bargain with but I am enjoying the extra minutes in my day now I’m not trudging to the toilet one hundred times. Great, great granny looks quite relieved too.

At last feeling a bit more festive (helped by the obligatory Christmas pud session) I cajoled the kids, and miraculously, my husband, into joining me for the Christingle service at our little church.  This was a big hit last year and I’m determined that it becomes a family tradition. The kids were surprisingly well behaved and sat patiently with their oranges, sweets and cocktail sticks, waiting for the prompt from Rev. Steve.  Our youngest treated everyone to a tuneful rendition of Jingle Bells during a prayer but no one seemed to mind. Even my husband lasted the 45 minutes without getting too restless. He’s still recovering from the 90 minute ecumenical marathon that was my sisters wedding so I was particularly proud of him, although he did scoff his dolly mixtures before the service even started.

Merry Christmas

I decided to go for an ironic strapline this year

At last, with less than a week to go, I am fully on board with the festivities and the tree is up, looking splendidly camp in the hall.  All our cards have all been delivered and raised a wee chuckle – apart from my mother who didn’t recognise her own grandchildren. It’s always an epic task and every year I vow never to attempt it again but we have quite a collection now and it would be a shame to stop exploiting the kids. Writing 175 of them was a marathon which I accompanied with a bottle of rioja and several episodes of Homeland. I shudder to think about the gibberish I must have written and am half expecting some concerned phone-calls regarding my mental health.

The end is in sight and I’m limbering up to violate my turkey with whatever comes to hand before praying to the God that is Mary Berry that it will emerge from the Aga in an edible format.

Merry Christmas one and all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oh Happy Day!

We’re going to need a bigger aisle…

I am still in a state of utter elation after my sister’s amazing wedding last weekend.  Not just because it was fairytale wonderful, but also due to the fact that the kids managed to go a whole day without a major meltdown or a minor injury.

It was always going to be an epic affair – the gorgeous couple took a while to find each other so have both accumulated many friends and a good few more relations over the years. I did think Aunty Mary slightly exaggerated when she shrieked, “it’s bigger than Ben Hur!!”, on the morning before, though. (There were no chariots for one thing). 

The enormity of the occasion really struck me at the rehearsal when I walked into the church and nearly burst into tears. It looked amazing, bedecked with stunning floral pedestals, all carefully selected by the groom  as my lovely sister doesn’t know her daffs from her dahlias.

Rev. Vanessa took charge

We were all handed a hefty pamphlet by the grumpy head usher (my husband) which turned out to be the Order of Service and the next two hours were spent in a shambolic muddle as we practised walking down the aisle (six times), the vows (it got VERY emotional) and where we should all be standing and when (it was like herding cats). It was all too much for my eldest who refused to come out of her pew, emphatically stating that she no longer wanted to be a flower girl.  There was also a heart-stopping moment when my two year old niece decided to explore the pulpit and ended up teetering on the edge of a high drop, with nothing to break her fall but some lethal looking candelabra. Luckily we were in the right place for divine intervention and she tottered down, unharmed, allowing us to continue with the pantomime, I mean wedding rehearsal.

The rehearsal did not go well

Hiding my concern from the worried bride, I reassured her that it would all come together on the day, everyone would miraculously know what to do and when and there would be no near-misses with toddlers and altar candles.  I almost managed to convince myself.

As is ALWAYS the case, my technique of fearing the worst (which I learned from my dad) resulted in a perfect day from beginning to end which we are all still smiling about. Amazingly, all four flower girls sat through the hour and a half long service without so much as a whimper. All the thanks go to the groom’s lovely sister in the pew behind, who plucked a never-ending supply of distractions from her magical handbag, including several Sylvannian Families, sticker books and some finger puppets. My own contribution was a klip-it tub of M&Ms, which in hindsight was a huge mistake. Not only did they rattle loudly as my youngest tried to prise them from my grip during a lengthy prayer, but then the lid sprang off, scattering the brightly coloured candy all over the tiles, just before communion. Luckily Father Jock politely ignored the discordant sound of crunching underfoot as the congregation made their way up for the holy sacrament. The girls were intrigued by this ritual and demanded to be given the ‘sweeties’ as well. I tried to explain that it was actually the body of Christ but was met with a rather incredulous shriek of, “WHY ARE THEY EATING JESUS????”.

It was very nearly perfect

It’s hard to choose a favourite moment of the day as it really was all so fabulous. My gorgeous sister looked amazing in her stunning dress and shone the whole day.  My dad looked so proud as he walked her down the aisle in his morning suit. More often sporting high-vis gear or a boiler suit, he very nearly upstaged the bride.  My mum eschewed mother-of-the-bride pastels and turned heads in stunning black and cerise. She looked amazing as always, but no occasion is so glamorous that my mum won’t get down on her hands and knees and clean the heels of ladies shoes after they’d been standing on the grass. I lost count of how many times I heard the words, “ I love your mum and dad!”, during the day. They are totally amazing and I will never moan about excess baggage or pineapples again.

Maids of Dishonour

My younger sister and I tried our very best but were too pre-occupied with little ones to be any real use as chief bridesmaids. That mantel was happily passed to the groom’s sister who, as previously stated, saved the day again and again. She very nearly missed her brother’s vows as she gallantly changed my niece’s nappy after she’d made her own special offering behind the pulpit.  We redeemed ourselves slightly during the band break when we delivered our heart-felt speech to our beloved big sister. It was a miracle we pulled that off due to transatlantic distance and zero rehearsal time but we got plenty of laughs and I celebrated with glass after glass after bottomless glass of Prossecco.

It was fairly devastating to say goodbye to everyone the following day (having successfully masked a monster hangover) and it hasn’t really sunk in that my sister is moving cities when she returns from her lengthy honeymoon (FOUR WEEKS!!), but the memories of the wedding will see me through any come-down blues and it’s impossible not to be over the moon that these two fabulous people have found each other.  There is also much to look forward to at home and we are well into my favourite season of the year. Not long until Halloween, the bonfire night pyre is well under construction and I’ve even started my Christmas shopping. Happy, happy days.

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January Blues

Half way through and I am a bit over January. It just seems to go on forever and with all the festivities packed away in boxes (or carelessly tossed into the indoor skip billiard room as the case was with a couple of fake Christmas trees and a plastic Holly wreath), it all looks a bit depressing and there is nothing to hide the dust behind. Having started the year a few minutes behind the rest of the country (I cocked up the countdown. My bad.), it has been a bit of a struggle to get back into the swing of things.

In your face, Jane Asher

In your face, Jane Asher

I did manage to muster excitement for our eldest’s 5th birthday and invited her entire class back for pizza and cake after school. The four of them had a wonderful time and my grown-up girl didn’t seem to mind that her Scooby Doo cake wasn’t the three tier effort, expertly iced with fondant figures of the whole cast that my sister-in-law had helpfully shown her on Pinterest a few days previously*. She appeared to be delighted with the £2.99 Scooby Doo cake topper hurriedly purchased from eBay which arrived in the nick of time and was rapidly stuck on top of some ready-rolled fondant. At least the sponge was homemade.

Me walking the dog

Me walking the dog

The weather isn’t helping my January blues as we are being treated to a Proper Winter this year. We’ve had lightening storms, no phone for a fortnight, gales, no TV for two rounds of over a week (I.e. no Peppa Pig. Every cloud…) and now we have snow. And ice. And more gales. I’m not really a softie when it comes to the elements, especially now we have a dog – I’ll happily don my fleecy onsie, duck-down jacket and novelty bear hat to take her out at 6.30am, rain or hail – but when weekend plans are disrupted and I have to tell two excited children that we won’t be going to the biggest soft play centre in the world Glasgow (once again, every cloud…), it’s a tad frustrating. I’m feeling our remoteness for the first time and the distance from old friends and my family seems bigger somehow. Still, it’s not all awful. Springtime is round the corner (and down the road a few miles) and all the snow makes everything look even more amazing. Also, with the lawn now carpeted in a delicate layer of crunchy white frost, it’s much easier to see the dog poo on my daily round of turd spotting. Silver linings all round.

*we had words.

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Farewell 2014

Me on Christmas Day

Me on Christmas Day

Christmas was wonderful although already it’s a distant memory of over-indulgence, Downton Abbey’s tortuous Christmas special and an epic two-hour Playmobil assembly session (hungover) that began at 5.30am.

We are now back home and preparing for the next Big Event of over-indulgence (but thankfully NOT Downton or Playmobil) – Hogmanay. We are hosting again this year as its easier with the kids and is a great excuse to use the posh room*. Also, there is the welcome bonus of being inundated with kind offerings of booze which kept us going until spring time last year.

As I fret over smoked salmon blinis (I think that plan will be shelved as I’m not entirely sure what they are) and Parmesan biscuits, I’m trying to steal some moments to reflect back on the past year.

Thank heavens then for Facebook’s clever ‘Year in Review’ feature as my memory seems to stop at two weeks ago. My vague recollections were duly confirmed: it was a bloody great year. The pictures, randomly selected by the algorithm, perfectly displayed a year of precious moments with friends, family, the kids, the puppy and an enormous catfish (WTF Facebook?). I couldn’t help thinking that something was missing though, that it was all a bit rose-tinted, and frankly, vomit-inducing so I turned instead to my status updates which gave a much more honest view of 2014.

Here are some of my favourites:

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I’m not going to bother with resolutions for 2015 as I failed miserably at last years  (dust regularily?? Was I on drugs??) but I can only wish for more of the same happy, special moments, although I can live without the gigantic catfish, if I’m honest. See you next year!

*i.e. the only one that hasn’t been trashed by the kids. Yet.

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Oranges and Angels

There are three more days until Prosecco Day Christmas Day and I am safely ensconced at my parents’ house with the girls. My husband is sensibly minimising exposure to the chaos and arrives on Christmas Eve. I am feeling pleasantly calm about the whole thing, having gone through the stress of having to be hyper-organised before we left. ‘Santa’ presents (for how long must we peddle this lie???) were dispatched, all wrapped, last week with my parents who came down for the unmissable school concert. Shoddy handcrafted efforts have been hurriedly finished off and wrapped before I change my mind and rush off to M&S. I’m even up-to-date with my Christmas cards , which is a miracle considering they were a week late arriving from the printer.

I strongly suspect that this is the last year of our exploitative festive greeting. Even the youngest was reluctant and I had to change the theme at the last minute as they refused to be wise men – “WE ARE GIRLS”. A mere nuance if you ask me but I respected their wishes and hurriedly hacked up a duvet cover to make angel costumes. Only the dog seemed up for it and is the only one in focus but we got there in the end and some have said it’s our best yet.

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I am unapologetic for that pun. Deal with it.

 

As part of my ongoing, ‘Christmas Is Not Just About Santa’ series of daily lectures, I took the girls to church on Sunday so they could hear it from an expert who I hoped would carry more clout. It was a special family service and lovely minister Steve had organised some activities to hold the children’s interest. We had all been handed an orange and a bag of sundry items on arrival and after listening to the story of the first Christingle, we were encouraged to make our own. Soon the dulcet sound of muttered swear words echoed round the little church as we tried to pierce our oranges with a birthday candle then secure a ribbon round it with cocktail sticks. I was doing quite well until I discovered my youngest was happily munching away on my ‘fruits of the earth’ (dolly mixtures) and the eldest had expertly peeled her orange representing the world and was greedily scoffing the lot.

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This was not achieved.

By the time I got over the shock of her eating a piece of fruit without emotional blackmail or threats of violence, Rev Steve had moved on to Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

I shudder to think what their interpretation of the true meaning of Christmas is now but it was a lovely service and I feel spiritually nourished and prepared for the festive onslaught ahead. Did I just hear a cork popping?

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Puddings and Panto

When shall we three meet again? Next week for wreath making of course!

When shall we three meet again? Next week for wreath making of course!

The Christmas Countdown is ON and I can already tick Christmas puddings off my festive to-do list. A lovely morning was spent with two pals, pooling our ingredients, weighing, measuring and blatantly guessing before chucking it all in a giant toy tub (sterilised) before taking turns at stirring. I stayed faithful to Delia as she’s never let me down before but we doubled the recipe as we were aiming for four puddings. Stirring help was drafted in from the Inlaws downstairs and auntie and uncle from across the way and everyone had a wish or two. It was very special and reminiscent of the times I used to make the puddings with my granny. We’d always have a stir, then a wish then a wee kiss and a hug.

They smell a lot nicer than they look

They smell a lot nicer than they look

We made four puds altogether which were cooked in two batches in the Aga and the kitchen smelled Christmassy for days. The cooked puds have now been parcelled up in foil and distributed accordingly. I’ve stashed our own one in a cool cupboard in the dining room where it will no doubt sit, forgotten all about for decades until my grandchildren unearth it in a clear out in 2045. A wee reminder nearer the time would be appreciated.

Nothing says Christmas like upcycled blankets and crochet balls.

Nothing says Christmas like upcycled blankets and crochet balls.

Homemade decorations have also been achieved along with several hand crafted presents for some unlucky recipients (I can almost hear the audible mutterings of “why can’t she just go to Lush?”). The reason for this crafty flurry is that our youngest now goes to nursery five mornings a week allowing me three whole hours of festive-fannying-around-time. It’s sheer bliss and I intend to enjoy every second until I am forced back in to work by my husband who keeps subtly hinting that whilst my woolly stars are very nice and everything, they won’t mend the leaking roof or load the boiler.

This. Sort of.

This. Sort of.

As if I didn’t have enough to do with unfinished, mediocre crafts, I only went and got myself involved with the local pantomime which is being directed by Martin Scorsese my mother-in-law. Due to my almost global (3-mile radius) reputation as a kid’s face painter, she asked very nicely if I’d do the make up for the production of Dick Whittington. Of course I jumped at the chance – chiefly because it gets me out of the kids’ gruelling bedtime routine (which is, in itself, a pantomime) for three nights.

Curtain up was last night and the smell of the grease paint and roar of the crowds* will stay with me forever (well, give it a couple of days). I am watching the matinee today with the kids and am hoping the littlest one won’t have an epic freak-out when she sees Grandpa prancing around the stage dressed as a giant rat. As a precaution, I have volunteers on hand to escort her off the premises because as we thespians say, the show must go on.

*this is a small village. It’s all relative.

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Muddy Puddles

It’s my favourite time of year again already – the clocks have changed, the days are shorter, everything is a little bit soggy (and that’s just inside) and my ironing pile is dwindling by the day as bookings finally start to slow down.

4  years with no sleep is starting to take it's toll

4 years with no sleep is starting to take it’s toll

On the social front, however, this time of year seems to have the most going on of all the seasons as numerous events provide excellent excuses for a party. Halloween kicks it all off and great fun was had (by me) carving pumpkins, face-painting witches and vampires and baking sundry ghoulish items for the playgroup party. We even managed some guising this year as the kids are a wee bit older – downstairs to granny and grandpa and across the lawn to Aunty Carol’s. Zoe’s well rehearsed joke* earned her yet more sweets to add to the enormous haul she’d brought home from school, blatantly undermining the patronising A4 leaflet we’d been handed recently about healthy snacks.

Sugar levels were still fairly catastrophic for the next big event a few days later – our youngest’s third birthday party.  Learning from previous experiences, I did things slightly differently this year and served alcohol. Not to the kids obviously, but as the grown-ups considerably out-numbered the little ones, I thought it was only right. It certainly took the edge off it. When pass-the-parcel descended into the usual hysterical chaos (and that was just the winner) we just knocked back some more prossecco and topped up our glasses.

Chuffed with this effort

I’m improving

I wasn’t really planning on a theme and my heart sank slightly when India demanded a Peppa Pig cake but a quick search on Pinterest (at 3am, thank you insommnia) revealed some less challenging options. Basically a round chocolate cake with some plastic figures stuck on it, surrounded by chocolate fingers. Easy peasy. I decided to continue the theme with some of the games and laboured for hours on a papiér mache Peppa Pig piñata. It was a work of art but then I decided I couldn’t bear to watch the little ones bash the crap out of it so I turned it into a treasure hunt instead. We also had musical muddy puddles and pin the glasses on daddy pig, but to be honest by then we’d all drunk far too much and forgot to actually play them. The kids went home happy and the mums were driven home tipsy so all in all it was a huge success. By the time her actual birthday came around two days later, even India herself was a bit over it and squawked, “why am I STILL getting presents???”. Quite.

"Isn't that Bubba's favourite chair???"

“Isn’t that Bubba’s favourite chair???”

An estate bonfire party concluded the celebrations and was a lovely occasion to gather everyone together for the first time in ages. And more importantly a chance to rid the castle of some lingering items belonging to the in-laws. Luckily it was dark when they arrived so my dear old father-in-law was blissfully unaware that his eBay rug which had seen many, many better days had been cremated along with other broken pieces of furniture and empty gadget boxes that had long outlived their original contents. I just have to pray that he doesn’t come looking for the box that once contained the analogue portable telly that was scrapped years ago or the three legged chair that succumbed to woodworm in 1986.

Now we are almost midway through November and I think it’s safe to start mentioning the C-word. (Not THAT one, although since my mother used it in a surprise outburst on a family holiday in ’98, it has definitely lost some of its potency). I’m loving the Christmas Countdown twitter feed and my excitement is building by the day. Next week I have a whole day of Christmas pudding making with my ‘Good Life’ chum, Tracey. We’re doubling Delia’s usual recipe so should end up with two large puddings each. Last year it took a team of five just to stir it but was such a wonderful activity to mark the start of festive loveliness and there’s nothing quite like a homemade plum pud on the day.

It’s probably a tad too soon to start hassling Niall about Christmas trees but I’m looking out my festive playlist and will have no qualms about blasting out a bit of Mariah Carey whilst mixing up the pudding. 44 more sleeps!

*”Why was the sand wet? Because the sea weed.” You’re welcome.

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Post Match Analysis

Christmas 2013 is already a distant memory of bubbly and presents and sprouts and pudding and my first ever turkey which, after weeks of worry and panic and dread and fear was actually really delicious and not “dry as old Harry”*, in the slightest. It was a wonderful day and I’m quite sad it’s all over. We are still eating the turkey, of course and the (fake**) tree is still up but people keep leaving and soon there will be no tolerant relatives left to amuse the children. I might have to start interacting with them again. They particularly miss my dad who, over the course of a week, was cajoled into being a dog, Joseph, ‘baby Olivia’s daddy’, a hospital patient and a donkey. They are also missing morning cuddles with granny, as am I. How I enjoyed shoving them through that bedroom door at silly o’clock whilst I snatched another hour of precious sleep. I also managed to avoid the dreaded ‘bathtime’ for five nights thanks to fabulous auntie Ya Ya, which gave me plenty of quality time with mum to argue about pineapples.

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The main event

I have bonded with the Aga again after my triumphant turkey and graciously forgiven it over the burnt croissant and Parmesan biscuit incidents on Christmas Day. It really was pretty easy and not at all stressful. I put my trust in Mary Berry and she didn’t let me down. The operation began on Christmas Eve, whilst other family members enjoyed a late night church service or the Two Ronnies Christmas Special. After stuffing the poor bird up to the gunnels with whatever was to hand, I slathered it in butter, coated it in bacon and blasted it in the top oven for half an hour. It’s ordeal continued in the lower, cooler oven, where it sat, encased in tin foil, for a further 13 hours, totally oblivious to the Santa-induced carnage going on elsewhere. I released the traumatised bird from its torrid prison a couple of hours before lunch and left it to rest whilst I got drunk on prosecco and made the gravy. My epic turkey was eventually put out of its misery by my father-in-law and his expert carving skills and was laid to rest on all our plates beside it’s festive chums, the sprouts, the roasties, the bread sauce and the cranberry. Delicious.

The rest of the day is a merry blur of bramble wine, Christmas pud, charades, chocolate, Toy Story, and snoozing. I vaguely remember the Queen’s speech although I may be getting confused with an episode of Peppa Pig. I wish it could be Christmas every day.***

* ©Granny (1912-2013). We never found out who poor old Harry was.
**I don’t want to talk about it
***I really don’t

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Santa: nil, Baby Jesus: 1

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Wise men and glitter fun

The turkey has been ordered, the Christmas cards are on their way around the world and the staircase has been garlanded.  There is still a big Christmas tree-sized hole in the hall but I’m trying not to nag Niall about it, even though this is his ONLY pre-Christmas task whilst I have written 150 Christmas cards, bought and wrapped all the presents (including my own from him), stressed myself silly about turkey and engaged the children in countless Christmas crafts involving glitter. I might allow myself a small nag*.

We have had several encounters with “Santa” this week, with varying degrees of delight and horror. India, aged 2, is justifiably terrified of the white bearded figure in red who has been popping up all over the place, and worst of all, at playgroup. The mere sight of him entering the hall, sack in hand, induced prolonged hysterics which would not even be stemmed by a present. She can not be bought. Her big sister faired slightly better in that she willingly accepted the gift but insisted on a go-between (me) and refused to make eye contact with the jolly fellow. Weirdly though, they both seem comfortable with the idea that he is going to enter the house on Christmas Eve via the chimney, scoff a mince pie, leave some gifts then bugger-off to re-join his sleigh and flying reindeer he left on the roof.

I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about the whole Santa-lie that we are forced to perpetuate, year on year until some cheeky gob-shite at school blurts out the fateful words, “it’s just your mum and dad”**. I hate the commercialism of Christmas that Santa reinforces and have started my own campaign to drill home the true meaning. The children love the nativity story and baby Jesus gets a lot of air time around here. Last year Zoë and I cuddled up to watch a film of the Christmas story, complete with circumcision, a traumatic birth scene and a gruesome beheading. It was screened a 2pm so I assumed it would be suitable for a nearly-3 year old. She thoroughly enjoyed it though so I’m hoping it will be on again.

The Christmas activities really snowball*** this week with the pinnacle being the school concert, complete with the nursery nativity and rendition of Five Tubby Snowmen. Zoë is playing an angel and I predict that I will be in pieces, either with laughter or tears or perhaps both. Term ends on Friday and then the excitement will really start to build. I mean my own, of course and I hope I won’t be burned out by the 25th and be too knackered to enjoy it. I will perhaps slow down with the glitter activities and focus on more important tasks such as getting the sprouts on and decorating the tree*.

Ten more sleeps!!!

*GETTHEFUCKINGTREEUPNIALL!!!!
**in my case it was my big sister. I can still recall the brief devastation followed by reluctant acceptance.
***see what I did there…

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Seasonal Blackmail

My every waking moment continues to be occupied with all things Christmassy and I can’t help but wonder, what did I do before, when I wasn’t drying oranges, making play-dough stars, crocheting snowflakes or playing God with my Christmas card list? I’m starting to dread January, when there will be NOTHING TO DO. I’m so ahead of myself that my clothes are already too tight and the gluttony hasn’t even begun. Having said that, I STILL haven’t ordered the bloody turkey…

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Blatant child exploitation

The biggest tick off my Xmas to-do list was our Christmas card which is now one of those traditions that must be upheld, come hell or high water. It began, innocently enough, when our first-born was a baby and we thought how cute it would be to stick a tea-towel on her head and snap her surrounded by toy sheep, dressed as a biblical shepherd. People LOVED it and it stayed on many a mantelpiece well into the spring. The following year we upped our game with the convenient arrival of our second daughter who was type-cast to play baby Jesus. With the addition of a few tin-foil props and some shoddy PhotoShop(tm) effects we triumphed once more and there was no going back. As they are still little and not yet jaded or cynical, it’s relatively easy to get the children to play along but I realise that eventually they will rebel and refuse to be part of this shameless act of child exploitation. I think we have another two years, maximum. I am delighted with this year’s effort though, and for the first time we’ve splashed out and had it properly printed. This means no blank card and pritt stick marathon for me which will free up at least three evenings to thread up my dried oranges and hang the paper chains.

The children are almost enjoying the preparations as much as me and are just young enough not to be demanding of every toy in the Tesco Gift Guide but still old enough to properly enjoy all the glittery, crafty homemade stuff (when my blood pressure is low enough for me to let them join in….). They are also at that truly wonderful stage where they respond brilliantly to Christmas blackmail. I have been shamelessly wielding the threat of Santa not coming and disallowing advent sweets for petty misdemeanours. Behavior has been transformed and mealtimes are almost bearable. This is another reason to dread the new year. It’s a long wait til the Easter bunny and I don’t think he has the same clout.

In other, non-festive news, we have waved off our last lot of WWOOFers, I have successfully catered a lunch for 22 people and best of all, I have become a Guest Blogger! Happy days.

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