Women’s work

So, we’re back in the school holidays.

Today, the kids are out — originally planned so that I can work — but as it turns out instead I will use to the time to get some things done that I need to do without the children around. (Others can achieve some of these with their children around: people, I commend you. It is not the case chez Particulars …) Writing a quick blog is my special treat so that I don’t go completely mad.

So far today I have done laundry. I have visited my mother and gone to the supermarket for her (she fell at the weekend, and can barely walk at the moment); and then she asked me to fix her printer. The driver had vanished off her laptop — the printer and the laptop are both 1,000 years old and are VERY SLOW and every time I am asked to fix whatever the latest issue is, I tell her that if it were me I would just start over with new kit. But my mum doesn’t think she should buy new ones (even though she can afford it) because they are only eight years old. AAAARRRGH! But it’s ME that gets to spend five hours trying to fix stuff. Anyway. Sorted the computer issue out, but all that took two and a half hours out of my day (and the kids are “only” out for 7 hours today).

Then food: we have a glut of veggies in our garden so I took our glut and turned it into a meal for tonight and some meals for the freezer. I find this quite satisfying and reasonably productive and relaxing, so a good thing. Courgettes and spring onions become ta-da: courgette, chicken and tarragon pie filling. Yum — and at least we have a decent dinner done for tonight. Still, takes time.

Then I decided to tackle the craft cupboard. OMG. Paper proliferates in this house at a rate of knots, and then there are the pipe cleaners, stickers, workbooks, pens, glue sticks, bits of fabric, things I don’t even know what they are … we have had some birthdays recently and I have been busy so it’s really rather scarey in the craft area. I am, as I write, half-way through (I hope).

Spending a day like this doesn’t make me feel good, though, because I feel that I never get enough done. I forget how long all each of these things take: and if I don’t do them at all (my sister’s strategy) it drives me up the wall. So by the end of today I will have done some worthwhile things — looked after my mother, cooked some decent food, created some order in the dining room: but there will still be loads I haven’t done — and — here’s the kicker — I will feel as though I haven’t done anything worthwhile. The things I have done are all “women’s work” and are not valued (in terms of their contribution to our quality of life) or accurately represented in terms of our cultural understanding of how long they take.

I wonder how I would feel about it if I were a single parent. A healthy dose of resentment ends up being directed at Mr P when I spend time doing this stuff. I resent it. I resent it. I resent that Mr P will NEVER get it. He just does not get what I do with my time, why I get tired and arsey. And it makes me angry that we are both intelligent relatively enlightened people and STILL this is an issue in our lives. Mostly in my life.

Sigh. We are going on holiday next week (guess who has done all the work for the holiday?) and hopefully some rest and time away from our house will make me less cross about it all.

Anyway, enough for now. The pile of shite in the dining room will not tidy itself.



School holidays suck real bad

I had an “aha!” moment today regarding my absolute loathing of school holidays.

I thought the issue was this: my children really really hate almost all forms of childcare that are available to us during the school holidays, and yet, alas, I still have to work. This creates, needless to say, tension and guilt.

So we negotiate the minimum amount of childcare I think I can get away with and still meet my deadlines, because they hate it so much — which always leaves me really struggling to fit work in (even though I schedule much less work over the holidays, I still can’t ignore it completely …). And I still feel really guilty because I farmed them out to whatever it is I farmed them out to (which in and of itself is a massive negotiation). I do feel guilty about it altogether: it’s their school holiday and I never had to do anything similar because my mother was a SAHM and so my school holidays were spent mooching at home.

And because I don’t have low-maintenance children (I am convinced they don’t exist, anyway, but please don’t tell otherwise because I’ll cry) I then also struggle to do all the other things in life that need to get done: particularly exercise (which helps me stay on an even keel generally so going without is an added stressor), but also food preparation (I lose the will) and generally keeping the house going. I do, of course, but the mess mounts up on top of the craft cupboard (which winds me up) and although the laundry and the dishwasher still get done it has the sense of spiralling out of control quite quickly. And yes, the children do “help” but honestly that feels like an added chore of mine to ensure the “helping” occurs.

There is another layer here: Frog, in particular, hates his routine being disrupted and is completely out of sorts during the holidays anyway because it’s all wrong. He doesn’t want to do anything, and moans like hell when I round everyone up and take them out; quite often will be spectacularly stroppy during the activity, whatever it is (though also, unexpectedly he can have a whale of a time — I can’t predict) and then moan about the fact that I made them do BORING (insert whatever the activity was). If I don’t round them up and take them out (“PLEASE can we just have a day at home ….”) then within half an hour of the three of them being at home, Mouse is winding everybody up for her own amusement and we have shouting and slamming doors. I have a very low tolerance for shouting and slamming doors, so it is not the happiest of households. And currently only one of my children will even consider watching a film or any TV at all so I don’t even have that a default option.

But my lightbulb moment today had nothing to do with my children: the fundamental reason that I hate school holidays is …. because I hate school holidays. I always have. I hated them as a child (I am more like Frog than I care to admit): my sanity and sense of rightness in the world is heavily bound up in my ability to control my environment; and I do that through routine. Throw my routine out of the window and I am out of sorts. I was out of sorts as a child during the school holidays — a problem I mostly solved by checking out entirely and just reading books — which alas, I cannot do when I am responsible for keeping the bodies and souls together of three small children and keep a house going –oh and do some work — at the same time.

More interestingly, I also hated school holidays when I was a teacher. It was one of the reasons I didn’t like teaching: I couldn’t stand the lurches from “working like a crazy woman” to “nothing to do for six weeks” — and I was SO MUCH HAPPIER when I got a 9-5 job, even though I only had 20 days holiday a year (apologies to any US readers for my use of “only” in that sentence …!).

It was remembering how much I hated school holidays as a teacher that I had my “aha” moment. Yes, having high maintenance children complicates the issue of how we manage the school holidays, but actually having these massive changes of routine have ALWAYS sent me over the edge. The fact that, having been sent over the edge by the change of routine in the first place, I also have to cope with a child who likewise cannot cope with a change of routine makes me feel the whole term-time / holiday-time structure to be the malevolent invention of someone who really hates me. And people like me (like Frog).

We cannot be the only people in the world to really struggle with this, can we?


My diet is pretty perfect right now (my own world view of course), and has been for a while.

Apart from chocolate.

I gave it up over Lent. And that was absolutely fine. I had no trouble with not eating it at all.

After Lent? Not so much.

The worst bit is, I don’t even like it much anymore. I keep trying new types of chocolate because — well, I’m just not liking it. So rather than celebrating that I am free from the desire to eat chocolate — yippee! — I am buying weirder and weirder types of chocolate in the hope I will find one I like. (Lime and seasalt chocolate: just no.)

I’m perplexed as to why it’s chocolate that is my bete noire. I was reading an interesting piece on the interwebs about the fact that chocolate’s hold over us is almost entirely cultural (ok, ok, that’s not what the piece is about, but it’s in there and is the part I found interesting…). And it’s true: chocolate has mythical, magical powers and it represents so much more than some sweet brown melty candy.

Today, I was reading a blog post about giving up chocolate for ever which I found thoughtful, and thought-provoking. The way she articulated the yearning and emptiness that she filled with chocolate resonated with me.

I don’t really want to eat chocolate. I don’t derive much pleasure from it, and often feel unpleasantly over-sugared straight after consuming it. Duh. And yet. And yet I eat it on a regular basis.

Today I had three (very small and rather unpleasant) chocolates after my lunch because they were there. Mr P had bought them for the children at the weekend, who are still overwhelmed with an enormous Easter egg collection (not bought by us), and I find it almost impossible to walk past the cupboard without them announcing their presence (especially the stray, unclaimed bits and bobs of chocolate). I put them out of their misery by eating them.

Later on, as I was avoiding writing a report for one of my clients, I discovered another unattended chocolate in the cupboard (slightly larger this time — a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup — again, actively not liked by me). Needless to say, that is no longer there either.

It  makes me cross with myself. I am an intelligent, reasonably disciplined person: I know it’s not good for me; I don’t actually like it that much; I don’t like how it makes me feel. And yet I regularly find myself reaching for chocolate because I want … what? It’s not chocolate that I want, so not surprisingly chocolate doesn’t really deliver it.

It’s because I want something different.

I want not to be in the place or mood that I am in.

I don’t want to feel angry, or trapped, or bored.

But those emotions don’t fit very well in my life. (In anyone’s life? In any woman’s life?) And so our culture gives us — and actively promotes as a solution to managing those feelings– chocolate.


On books, real books

One of my goals for 2016 was to read more books.

Real books.

Because I live in the middle of nowhere and getting to the shops is a real effort I did some random scatter gun Amazon purchasing and bought a big pile to dip into. They sat on the table in my study for a while and I even enjoyed just looking at them for a while, before I even started reading them.

There is something about the texture of book covers that I really like. And I like the colours of the spines, and the different fonts and title formats …

The reading itself is going really well (14 books so far this year (plus one I abandoned) — go me! And the kids are still alive). Needless to say, I’m loving it. For the last several years I have been moving away from paper books — books are clutter, the paper versions are so expensive, you read them so quickly, who has time to read books anyway …

Part of rediscovering my pleasure in reading, though, has been allowing myself the luxury — and commitment — of a proper book. I love the artwork on the cover; I love holding the weight of a book in my hand. The promise of a new story. The smell of a fresh book. I love having a book mark (I have an impressive bookmark collection, some of them made for me by friends I have not seen in twenty years) and being able to see at a glance, from across the room, where I am in the book gives me a sense of rightness in the world.

Having a book is like having a friend with me at all times. A book I am in the middle of enjoying is a physical object I can bring with me, wherever I go, and just holding it makes the world a better place, giving me a sense of delicious anticipation of all the lovely things I am about to read.

So books. They rock.

This month I am attempting a “write-a-(first-draft-of-a)-book-in-a-month” so my rate of reading has already declined through April (writing is going well so far, thank-you for asking, in terms of wordcount, and I have switched off my inner editor, as required by the process, but wow I can write a lot of derivative drivel quite quickly — but what is surprising me is how much I am enjoying doing it).

Looking forward to getting stuck in again in May. I probably will need to go shopping again, though.


I love Jamie Oliver

Really, I do.

IRL, of course, I don’t know him from Adam, and I’m not the sort of person to actually approach him in any way should I see him browsing in a shop or anything.

But, this morning, I already I have a chilli on the stove (because I know I need to cook in the morning or decent food in the evening doesn’t happen). It makes me happy that it is there, bubbling away, and that I no longer need to think about food for today as it’s all in hand. (Mozarella and tomato salad for lunch, if you are wondering, with rocket.)

Making the chilli reminded me of how much I love Jamie Oliver. The recipe I used is really my own: it’s not Jamie’s recipe because I don’t eat beans these days (the low carb thing). But Ministry of Food, the book I hooked out this morning, is one of my favourite cook books of all time, and I always come back to it. Sometimes the recipes are a bit OTT for my taste (chicken with crispy posh ham: OMG how can anyone eat that? It’s so salty and overwhelming!), and I ignore plenty of them (all the pasta dishes) but I return to it on a regular basis for inspiration and reminders of how much I love so much of the food in there. I cannot, at the moment, get enough of the broccoli with Asian dressing (to die for — Mr P gets it at least once a week and I have it more often as I use the leftovers for lunch the following day). I use it every week when I make roast dinners for my wider family:  roast veg (potatoes, parsnips, carrots), gravy, Yorkshire puddings (not that I actually eat any of those at the moment, but everyone else does and I know they are tasty!); I turn to it when I am coming up with a meal plan for the week and have run out of inspiration (oh yes! I could make tuna with salsa!); oooo curries yum.

So, today is the day I am thanking my lucky stars that Jamie exists and does the evangelising about food that he does.

Cooking from scratch: some days it really isn’t hard.


The carb thing

What is mostly on my mind at the moment is what I should be doing with my life (oh that small thing!) but I haven’t organized my thoughts in any coherent fashion yet, so today’s observation is something simple and unexpected (to me).

I have been low-carbing on purpose of late. I periodically low carb by accident but just because my food choices don’t include potatoes for a few days. I have recently read Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat and found it persuasive enough to deliberately cut out potatoes for a while and see how I felt about it.

I am not fat, but nor am I thin. I eat what I eat because I think it’s important to put food that’s good for you in your body, not because I particularly want to look like a fashion plate (which is lucky really, because I couldn’t even if I wanted to on account of not finding clothes terribly interesting once they have met certain criteria: warm, comfortable, clean, and make me look socially normal enough that no-one looks at me because I look like a bag lady…). So losing weight has never been terribly interesting to me. I like to eat. I don’t think my body weight is unhealthy (although I know there are several who wouldn’t agree with me). But you know, I’m in my forties and I’m OK with my body.

So, back to low carbing.

I have been shocked by it. Not because weight has fallen off me (which it hasn’t: I have lost a little; but nothing untoward — and anyway I’ve only been doing it a couple of weeks) but because of the impact low carb eating has had on my resting heart rate. Who knew? (I know, I know, lots of people probably knew but I wasn’t one of them.)

I used to write marketing material for Polar HR monitors a thousand years ago. I LIKE HR monitors and am very pleased now with having a FitBit HR. I watched my RHR go up and down and could pin point some of what was going on (stress = RHR of 80 bpm which freaked me out but I couldn’t figure out how to reverse it; being on holiday for a week = RHR of 70). I worked out that drinking alcohol had an immediate impact on my RHR, which surprised me and definitely fed into my evening decision of “shall I have a glass of wine” and my answer became “no” more often: not only was it disrupting my sleep, but also having a visible impact on my heart. I also worked out that was where some of my “stress = RHR” was coming from because stress also equalled being more likely to have that glass of wine. Or two. Or three.

What I hadn’t expected was my RHR to fall dramatically when I cut carbs out. And to go back up on the day after I eat carbs (but not wine). It’s like magic. My RHR is down to 65. (It went up a lot over the weekend of the wedding: stress, carbs and alcohol — no wonder!)

I know there are all kinds of indicators that change when you cut carbs out of your diet, but they were all beyond me to easily measure. My RHR, though, that’s easy. And it’s more meaningful to me than my weight. It’s like getting immediate feedback that those tiny things you do on any given day REALLY DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. You know, the minute particulars. Whether you have a glass of wine or not. Whether you decide that today, you will eat that chocolate. Well, it’s a wedding. What harm will one piece of cake really do?

It makes a difference to your RHR. Who knew? Not me.

Kneeling at the altar of Mammon

They say sitting is the new smoking. Mostly, that’s about general inactivity and how we should all move more (I read an article recently which I would link to if I could remember where I saw it which asked the question of whether it was particularly SITTING or whether it was inactivity and the answer in that article was that it was the inactivity that was the issue, so lying down was just as bad for you unless you are actually sleeping). However, for me, today, it is actually about sitting.

I am reasonably active (I don’t do any formal exercise but I run a house for five people and go for a walk every day as well as walking the kids to and from school, and usually clock up 15,000 steps a day on my FitBit) but I do sit down for work.

Currently, I have a pain in my butt. Which is radiating down my leg. Which is fine when I am up and walking around, but if I sit it really starts to hurt.

I went to see my chiropractor this morning, who showed me a model skeleton and explained to me that one of my muscles (wasn’t paying attention to the name of it) is pressing down on my sciatic nerve — and when I am sitting down, it presses harder on the nerve.

His advice is to sit as little as possible and to do various stretches over the next couple of weeks to try to ease the situation.

The thing is, not sitting is actually quite hard when you have a desk job. Today I have to get six hours work done — at my desk — and I really can’t sit down comfortably for that long even if I hadn’t just been told I shouldn’t.

So I am kneeling. I have a thick blanket under my knees, and because I have the good fortune to work from home, no-one can see me so I don’t feel too much of a pillock.

But it’s interesting. The phrase “kneeling at the altar of Mammon” won’t get out of my head; and it’s true, it’s exactly what I am doing. They say that your body and what you do with it impacts on what you think and feel — and your general perspective — and here I am finding that is so, in ways I wasn’t expecting.

It’s also true that I am (when I get a fraction of time to think about it in) re-evaluating what I do for a living. My work is something I do mostly for the money (there are other, independence and feminist things folded in there too)– so this feels pretty much like an in my face reminder that it is something I need to think about.

I am — literally and figuratively — kneeling at the altar of Mammon.