Archive for February 2012
So, my baptism by fire into the world of homemade dress-up costumes is over. DD is going to school tomorrow dressed as…. Angelina Ballerina.
It’s not her favourite book, not by a long shot, and she hasn’t watched the DVDs since she was about three, but I was able to cobble the outfit together from things she already owned, plus Dhs 12.50 (£2) for some face paints. All I had to do was make a white tail from a white sock stuffed with more white socks, make the ears from paper and attach them to a suitable headband – and I have to say, sitting in the sunny kitchen with the breeze wafting in, a cup of tea and the radio on, the cutting and sticking was [whispers] quite pleasant.
Okay, I started this whole World Book Day (WBD) thing with a measure of reluctant enthusiasm. I love books and I love reading and, while I’m desperate to foster that love in DD and DS, I don’t truly feel a costume is necessary.
Far better, in my mind, to take in their favourite book and prepare a two-minute talk about why they like it. But I’m not a teacher so what would I know.
Anyway, as the days have passed, I’m now viewing WBD with about as much enthusiasm as I would an invitation to a cockroach convention. In my bathroom.
Since jettisoning the idea of the nylon Dorothy costume five days ago, we’ve been through Lola (too young), Daisy from the Kes Gray books (this is actually DD’s favourite character), Horrid Henry (she was worried she’d be laughed at for going as a boy), Little Red Riding Hood, the Sleepover girls (she doesn’t want to wear pyjamas), Pippi Longstocking (she’s never read it), Milly Molly Mandy (I haven’t found a red-and-white stripy dress and she hasn’t read it) and Darrell from Malory Towers.
So the entire family spent Saturday afternoon trawling Outlet Mall for a Daisy outfit. The orange t-shirt was easy enough, but nowhere I looked had pink dungarees, at least for a child over the age of 12 months. In desperation, I bought a sparkly red skirt and a pair of red sparkly shoes and said she could add a white t-shirt and a red cardigan and go as Little Red Riding Hood. I’d even make her some little cupcakes to put in her basket.
Hallelujah – all settled, I poured a glass of wine and put my feet up.
“Mummeee?” came the whiny voice the next day. “I don’t want to go as Little Red Riding Hood. She actually wears a blue dress and a red coat with a hood and I don’t have either of those…”
Then came the Horrid Henry hour, quickly followed by Darrell from Malory Towers. While in my day Darrell (my childhood heroine!) wore a brown school frock and cream blouse, the new 21st century Darrell wears a white shirt and red tie and, presumably, a grey or navy school skirt.
Easy, I thought.
But no. Today – on a beautiful sunny afternoon of 25˚C when my children should have been playing out in the fresh air – I learned that nowhere in Dubai can you buy plain school uniform. DD, DS and I trawled Mall of the Emirates looking for a ubiquitous white blouse and a plain grey school skirt. M&S, Debenhams, BHS, Next, Mothercare and, finally, Benetton.
Nada. Rien. Niets. Nothing.
“We only stock school uniform in September,” said the lady in M&S helpfully, “because we only carry seasonal clothes.” (Don’t other children go to school all year round?)
“Sold out,” said the lady in Debenhams.
“Huh-huh,” sniggered the lady in Benetton, as if I’d asked for clothes for my cat.
“Darling, we’re going to have to re-think Darrell,” I told DD as she wept quietly in the back of the car. “Little Red Riding Hood. Angelina Ballerina. Cinderella. Clarice Bean. Lola.”
“Darrell,” she said. “Or nothing.”
I’m beginning to think World Book Day spent reading a book on the sofa at home mightn’t be such a bad idea after all.
I was thumbing through a copy of British Grazia the other day, looking at what London’s fashionistas say I should be wearing this week (I’ve only just made peace with skinny jeans, the thought of printed pyjama pants as daywear still makes me laugh out loud) when an article by editor-at-large Polly Vernon caught my eye.
It was about how she – a “self-confessed mirror junkie” – tried to get through a week without looking in the mirror. She got the idea from Kjerstin Gruys, an American woman who decided not to look in the mirror for an entire year before her wedding because she didn’t want her wedding “to be about her obsessing with her looks.” (Doesn’t she sound nice? Doesn’t she sound like she’d never live in Dubai?).
I enjoyed reading about how difficult Vernon found it to avoid looking at herself in every car and shop window and in the mirrored sunglasses of every passer-by. But then I thought, “she’s a beauty editor and she’s very pretty. If I looked like that, I, too, would like to look in the mirror.”
But, since a disastrous haircut circa September 2009, when I learned never to look at my hair in a mirror – and especially not at the back of it – because it would just make me cry, I’ve discovered a liberating fact: If you don’t look in the mirror, you’re free to convince yourself that you look beautiful / radiant / young or, in my case, presentable, most of the time, even if you don’t.
And, if you’re not constantly looking in the mirror and thinking “My eyes are too small. My eyes are sunken. My lips aren’t pouty anymore. Should I get fillers? Do I need a brow lift? Where did that grey hair come from? My hair’s so lank. Should I go brunette?” it’s amazing a) how much happier you feel and b) how much more you can get done in a day.
I dare you to try.
Read Kjerstin Gruys’ blog A Year Without Mirrors here.
Just as I feel I’m getting into a nice school routine with DD, knowing which homework to do on what day, for example, packing her off with the right kit and picking her up at the right time, the school throws a curve ball that knocks me right off track.
It came this week in the form of an email from our class rep stating that the children must attend school on World Book Day next week dressed as their favourite book character. Furthermore, the character couldn’t be from a TV or film that had spun off into a book; it had to have originated as a book.
Of course I’d heard of the horrors of Book Day from parents of older children but I’d somehow hoped that, like sending kids up chimneys, it would be abolished before my turn came to create a fancy-dress costume from two tissues, an old roller blind and a Cornflakes packet.
Sadly not. And let’s face it, when it comes to anything that involves creativity of the arts and crafts variety, I’m as useful as a juniper berry in a French vineyard. Still, procrastinating does not a Little Red Riding Hood costume make, so I started by trawling the internet for ideas.
I presented DD with the following list, all of which I thought I could achieve with minimal effort and a stiff g&t: Little Red Riding Hood, the cat in the hat, Daisy from the Kes Gray books, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella (rags or riches), the ugly sisters, Rapunzel (I even offered to buy a Rapunzel wig!), Milly Molly Mandy, Darrell from Malory Towers, a pirate from Peter Pan (given she already has a pirate costume), Burglar Bill, Mr Strong, Little Miss Sunshine, Angelina Ballerina, Judy Moody, Lola from Charlie & Lola, and, finally, Little Princess.
DD was unimpressed.
“Hannah Montana?” she asked. Banned: Television before book.
“A Teletubby?” Ditto.
“Oh alright,” she sighed. “I’ll go as the Little Princess.” (I just know she was thinking about the red shoes from “I Want New Shoes”.)
But Little Princess is really aimed at three-year-olds. I realised DD would be a laughing stock among the girls of her class who, being 7 going on 17, will no doubt be coming as something from Sweet Valley High or, worse, The Vampire Diaries.
In desperation, I presented her with the iPad and let her trawl Amazon for ideas. After much deliberation she chose a flammable, nylon Dorothy costume from The Wizard of Oz (it’s the ruby slippers, I’m telling you) that would cost £20 to buy, plus the hire of a private jet to ship it over in time.
Maybe we’ll discover tonight that Dorothy’s “out of stock”. I still have high hopes for Lola (bunches, hair clips, pinafore – cute, wholesome, free). How about you?
Anyone who’s seen what time the return flights are from destinations such as the Maldives and the Seychelles will know what I mean. These flights are almost always around 1am to 3am and, with hotel check-outs usually falling around midday, it not only means a miserable day in civvies with your suitcase sitting in reception but, worse, that all the good of your holiday’s undone as you struggle to stay up for 36 hours with over-tired children (to take a four-hour flight).
So I was overjoyed this year to see that a new 8.30am flight had been added to the Seychelles-Dubai flight schedule.
“There’s a day flight!” I squealed down the phone to DH, while clicking “buy tickets” with the other hand. Honestly, it was the deciding factor in booking the holiday.
So, roll on to the evening before the “day flight” back from the Seychelles. Our provisional bill appears under the room door, along with a suggested itinerary for check-out the next morning. Here’s what it says:
4am – Check-out at hotel reception.
4.15am – Breakfast at hotel reception.
4.30am – Buggy to jetty.
5.00am – Speedboat transfer to Mahe.
5.40am – Car transfer to Mahe Airport.
6.00am – Check-in Mahe Airport.
8.30am – Flight.
So, given we had to get up, get dressed, get the children up, get them dressed, put the last things in the bags and do a final check of the room, that meant alarm at 3.30am. So much for a good night’s sleep.
It’s jealousy, I’m telling you.
Having spent a significant chunk of last week toasting my pale skin on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, I was wondering what it is you think about, or even worry about, when you find yourself in such an idyllic situation.
Do you lie there on your sun-lounger, cocktail close to hand, thinking about whether or not you can take a cutting of that luscious hibiscus home with you? Do you debate the relative merits of the freshly baked coconut muffin versus the mango one at the breakfast buffet? Or are you planning the next day’s spa treatment?
I can tell you what runs through my mind almost every evening when I’m on a tiny island in the midst of the Indian Ocean: My tsunami get-away plan.
I’ve never been caught in a tsunami so I have no excuse to be so obsessed with it. But there’s definitely something to do with lying there, with the ocean waves crashing on the shore just metres away from my (sea-level) four-poster bed, that makes me start wondering what chance we’d have should there be a tsunami in the middle of the night (zero chance, I think, realistically, given I’d likely be blotto on too much holiday wine).
So I fall asleep listening to the waves, waiting for the tell-tale silence that would mean the sea’s receded in preparation of the killer wave. In my head, this abnormal silence would wake me up, I’d grab the family and we’d run to higher ground (not always easy on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean), climb a palm tree (with two small children?), or get onto the roof of our luxury single-story villa (not high enough, I fear).
I can’t sleep until I’ve decided which of these plans is best and figured out how to execute it half asleep and in the dark. Which child, for example, would I grab, and which would DH get?
On last week’s particular island, I was delighted to see we weren’t far from the spa, which was conveniently arranged vertically up the mountainside. Bingo, I thought. I’d wake everyone and then we’d dash 300 metres to the spa and scramble quickly up the mountain.
With that thought safely in mind, I had the best sleep I’ve ever had on an Indian Ocean island. It’s not normal is it? (I didn’t bring the hibiscus home).
I’ve never been one to be too fussed by the eternal quest for youth – wrinkles, I believe, will come no matter what – but, since turning 40, I have to admit I’ve started to notice small changes in the texture and tone of my skin. A little sagginess, to be precise. A little dullness. Some unfortunate crumpling in the morning.
And, for a girl who thinks she’s still 25, it’s a bit disconcerting. My mumhas old skin – not me (she’ll kill me for saying that, so I’ll just add, that she actually has amazing skin for her age. “Just soap and water, dear, and a bit of goo from Avon.”)
Over the years that I worked as editor of a woman’s magazine, I tried creams, lotions and serums from every major and minor beauty house. I tried cutting-edge creams featuring scientific breakthroughs; organic herbal creams; creams that utilised the sound of potted whale music; ones that gave you electric shocks; and ones that had to be wiped on gently with the fur of a female rabbit under a full moon to the sound of violin music to reach their full potential.
Some have been okay; others most definitely not worth selling a kidney to buy but, again, none of them will do as much for you as will a good cosmetic procedure.
I have nothing against Botox and fillers, but I’m reluctant to go that route purely because I don’t think the results are as precise as customers may like to believe. Let’s face it: We’ve all seen faces in Dubai that show the evidence of Botox gone ever-so-slightly wrong. Yes, I mean you, Mrs I-Can’t-Smile. And you, Mrs Droopy Brow. And you, Mrs Lopsided.
So this year, as the facial crumpling started to last beyond 10am, I tried a couple of non-invasive treatments (infra-red skin-tightening to boost collagen – don’t bother). Today was the turn of facial acupuncture.
I’ve had medical acupuncture before, with major success, so I knew what to expect. I’d also read a little on the internet about it. Apparently, a course of 4-5 weeks can be as effective in lifting and rejuvenating the face as Botox, but without the poison and paralysis bit, and with the added bonus of increased circulation which leads to the holy grails of G.L.O.W. and R.A.D.I.A.N.C.E.
Sounds good, yeah?
So, after a consultation (“How much do you drink, Mrs Dubai?” “Three glasses a night, doctor.” “What? Water?” “No. Sauvignon.”) the lovely doctor explained he was going to work as well on detoxing my body and boosting circulation as there was no point in working only on the face (it’s a “holistic” treatment, natch).
“Will I be able to see a difference after today?” I asked eagerly.
“Yes,” he said. “Some people notice their skin is very shiny.”
Great – an hour of needles and I get a shiny face.
So the good doctor slid 14 needles into my face (only a little ouch-y on two) and then 14 into my body and left me alone “for 15 minutes”, with a lovely heater directed on my bare tummy. “Don’t move,” he said, “or it might hurt.”
Grateful for the extra nap time, I promptly fell asleep to the sound of tinned birdsong. Much later I began to worry that the doctor had forgotten me and nipped out to Starbucks – but how can you jump up and open the door when you’ve 28 needles stuck in your body? I dared to lift my be-needled arm and look at my watch. Forty-five minutes had passed.
I’d better bloody look 25 after this, I thought.
And do I? Of course not. But I will try to go once a week for the next 4-5 weeks, after which the doctor said we should definitely be seeing some quite permanent lifting and radiance results that require only limited top-ups.
Believe, or don’t believe – it’s got to be better than Botox. You can read more about facial acupuncture for anti-ageing here. Meantime, I will keep you posted.
DH doesn’t travel very often, so it’s a novelty for me to spend a week’s worth of evenings alone at home. But I’m an enterprising girl, so I looked upon this week as time in which I’d be able to get a few of my long-term tasks done.
I was going to get the photos dating back to 2010 into albums with captions and I was going to make significant headway with the scrapbook of DS’s first year of life (he’s nearly three). I had visions of working at the kitchen table in the evenings, the radio playing softly as I sipped liver-cleansing tea and finally got the pictures of our family life categorised into memory books.
I was going to read an awful lot of magazines; I was going to watch the chick-flick movies that DH has taped for me but refuses to watch himself. I was going to cook the dinners that I love but DH hates (anything with goat’s cheese). I was going to read trashy novels in lavender-oil baths and have ridiculously early nights. I was going to go late-night shopping all alone with time to try things on. I was going to reassess the children’s apps I have on the iPad and download exciting new ones. I was going to do yoga in the middle of the family room, and cycle every evening instead of drinking gin.
Oh, the plans.
Needless to say, when you go to bed early, the evenings aren’t that long – and, when you’re in the midst of the spin cycle that is the school week, five days isn’t long either.
The stack of photos still lies untouched; the scrapbook doesn’t exist; the baths never happened; neither did the cycling, the yoga and the shopping.
So what was I doing for the last five nights? Here’s what I did manage:
- I got the children to bed by 7.15 every night.
- I created a lot of space in the freezer by eating curious boxes of unidentifiable food for dinner (with no stomach-aches).
- I watched “Julie & Julia” (over two nights!).
- I researched the best children’s iPad apps.
- I made 10 packed lunches.
- I drank too much wine at book club.
- I read the whole of “Two Lipsticks and A Lover” by Helena Frith Powell and learned from it that I need new underwear.
- I created a delicious pasta sauce involving left-over spinach, crème fraîche, mushrooms, onions, garlic and Parmesan.
- I took out travel insurance.
Not what I planned, maybe, but not too shabby either. What did you do?
Following my disclosure that DD likes homemade apple and cinnamon pancakes (they’re actually apple and all-spice if we’re getting technical), I’ve been inundated with people saying how amazing it is that I make them in the mornings.
Well, small confession here: I don’t actually make them in the mornings (would you?). While I have moments when I can be pretty good at home, I’ve not yet entirely surrendered my life to the art of housewifery. I make the pancakes on a Saturday afternoon, when a glass of wine is so close I could almost smell it (ie about 4pm), then freeze them in layers of greaseproof paper.
In the mornings, I just whip two out, microwave them back to life for one minute and drizzle with maple syrup. Delish.
225g self-raising flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar (can use less)
All-spice or cinnamon powder (as much as you like)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1.5 red apples, skinned and grated
Spray olive oil for cooking (I used to use butter but it makes them very heavy and artery-clogging). I now use PAM spray oil and it makes a much lighter pancake.
Combine flour, sugar and all-spice (or cinnamon or nutmeg) in a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Whisk egg and milk together. Add egg mixture to flour. If you’re feeling strong, whisk until smooth – I use the electric mixer for about 30 seconds at which point I get bored and stop.
Stir in the grated apple and the wheat bran. I put as much wheat bran in as I think I can get away with without DD noticing. Usually a generous shake and a bit.
Heat a large frying pan. Spray with cooking oil. Dollop in the mixture to make pancakes about the size of the palm of your hand and cook gently till bubbles appear (I can get about three in one pan). Flip without sticking them to the ceiling, cook till light brown and da-nah! Breakfast done for a week.
Layer with greaseproof paper in plastic containers, and freeze.
Reawaken with 1 minute in the microwave. Serve with maple syrup, then read the Daily Mail online while the kids enjoy.