My perfect day

Warm autumn days are perfect for family walks - no need for jumpers or sunhats.

Sunny, warm autumn days are perfect for family outings.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

The other night I was at the Taller de Habilidades Sociales para Padres – a local parents’ group run by a psychologist where we vent our frustrations, fears and anxieties about raising children.

One of the recent exercises was asking your partner (another parent in the group, or your other half at home) to “interview” you about what you think your most important skills are – self-esteem is a big part of this series of sessions. I am hopeless at these things, as they always make me think more about what I want/would like/hope to do, rather than what I can/already do. “I wish I was more xxxx”, “Why can’t I be more yyyy”, and so on.

All this day-dreaming got me thinking about how my perfect day would be, and I thought it seemed like a fun idea for a spontaneous blog post – rather than the anally over-planned ones I normally produce.

My ideal day would go something like this:

Weekday: Get up when the alarm goes off (rather than hitting the snooze button seven times and getting up stupidly late); shower, wash and blow-dry hair before husband, so there’s enough hot water; get dressed and prepare fresh, delicious, healthy snacks for school rather than the standard dinosaur biscuits. Children are already awake and pleasant-tempered. They get dressed in suggested clothes (three-year-old must dress herself, to astonishment of other mothers at swim class), or choose their own, without objecting vociferously to lack of favourite pants/socks/dress/T-shirt etc, or insisting on princess/fairy outfit/bikini/sandals. They eat breakfast provided without rejecting, spilling or knocking over anything; brush teeth unassisted, find and put on coat/gloves/scarf/hat, each remembers to pick up their bag and any extra items needed for today, get in car. At no point do I get impatient, lose my temper or shout.

While they’re at school, I do the usual food shopping, house cleaning, clothes washing, work at the computer, receiving emails accepting my pitches for articles and offering well-paid, interesting work for prestigious publication(s) with reasonable deadlines, with no hours wasted faffing about on Social Media; perhaps have a coffee with a friend, who tells me about an amazing new potential client.

I'm all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

I’m all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

Collect children, take to activities, park, birthday parties. Older child does homework without need for prompting, chiding or removal of distracting toys (explaining and helping are acceptable). The two children play nicely together, doing creative, constructive play – building, drawing, dressing up. Their father takes part too (now we’re solidly into the realms of fantasy).

The Knights of Flores.

The Knights of Flores – I adore Lola’s princess/lady-knight set, complete with scabbard.

Make healthy dinner – featuring our own home-grow veg* and other local, organic ingredients – which is eaten in its entirety and praised roundly. Older child reads story (in English) fluently to younger child. They have their baths amicably, clean teeth unaided and go to bed when asked first time.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Weekend: Children sleep in till 10am, then get into parental bed for stories and games. Husband makes breakfast for everyone, having already been out to get the papers – scrambled eggs on toast, fresh orange juice, cereal, hot chocolate (there’s a first time for everything). We go for a long family walk in mild sunshine with dog (woods, beach, hills). Identify plants, trees, flowers, animals; learn about history, nature, animals. Father teaches children about local crafts, environment, which berries they can eat (as in the lean Franco years), how to weave esparto grass etc. Getting messy, jumping in muddly puddles and splashing in streams all to be encouraged (waterproof suits, wellington boots and change of clothes advisable). Everyone has a roaringly good time.

Walking the dog is one of Lola's favourite occupations.

Walking the dog is one of Lola’s favourite occupations.


Post-prandial rest.

Post-prandial rest.

Have picnic in bucolic spot with healthy, tasty, home-made food, which children eat in its entirety without complaining or requesting alternatives. Then everyone has a siesta in the shade. Go home (with no squabbling on the back seat), play in garden, have dinner outside (barbeque if it’s warm enough), bath and bed as above. Remember to ask them what the best bit was, what we’ve learned.

Husband and I share a bottle of wine and mull over our lives. It’s been a screen-free experience: no TV whatsoever, for anyone, at any point; and I don’t look at my beloved but dangerously addictive iPhone or computer once. An active, fun, outdoor family – finished off with a decent dash of alcohol.

What’s your perfect day like?


*Our huerta (kitchen garden) is currently a work in progress – we’re still at seedling stage. Watch this space.

Friday’s main event (sadly, not the BIBS)

As I mentioned in a recent post (recent in terms of my characteristically unprolific output, rather than time-wise ), I’m a finalist in the BIB awards, organised by Brit Mums, a wonderful website which brings British (and Britain-dwelling) blogging mums together to give them a voice, offer inspiration, and provide support and a sense of community.

I am incredibly happy to have made it into the final of the travel section, along with seven other brilliant mummy travel bloggers (I’m not bigging myself up here – BIB stands for brilliance in blogging). The awards are being given out this very Friday – cleverly timed to avoid any England Euro 2012 matches.

However since I live here in Spain, and the Brit Mums Live event, which includes the award ceremony, is in London, I can’t go. We’ve just been over for the Jubilee, and will be back again in a month for our long summer visit, so it wasn’t feasible to hop on yet another super-luxe, all-the-hand-luggage-you-can-carry budget flight to London, much as I’d have loved to.

So this is my I-hope-I-win-but-won’t-be-surprised-if-I-don’t blog post. I wasn’t even going to do one, but a Spanish friend and blog-reader insisted that I acknowledge/reiterate that the awards are in a few days, I can’t attend, etc etc. They’re all for blowing your own trumpet out here. I think it’s an English trait, avoiding that. An English travel blogger friend recently “confessed” to being listed as Essential Reading in a respected travel magazine. I bet she didn’t feel guilty.

Getting nominated, and then shortlisted, and then becoming a finalist, for a blogging award was a very pleasant experience. I have to admit, my heart was racing as I clicked on the link to the finalists and scrolled down the lists of blog names – and yelped when I saw mine.

Sneak preview of son’s “graduation” T shirt, to be worn at tomorrow’s ceremony.

I’ll be following Twitter very closely this Friday, though I will have to be discreet, since the other reason I can’t go is because it’s my son’s end of school year (and educational era) show and party – he’s moving up from Infantil (3-5 years) to Primaria (6-12 years). Tomorrow is his year’s graduation ceremony, complete with outfits and two special songs. It’s a big week when you’re a five-year-old in Spain.

Not to mention the fact that his class is performing the Beatles’ Twist and Shout on Friday. Much more fun for me when I know all the words – at last, an advantage to being the only freak English mum. My anglo-andaluz boy hates dressing up, although it’s an easy outfit, so as a bribe, he’s been allowed to play the keyboard (yes, I know there wasn’t one. Artistic licence). And I have to be there to remind him not to sing in Eeeengleesh: “Tweeest and shout! (Tweeest and shout!)”. The three-year-old has it taped too now. And, of course, to immortalise the event for posterity and grandparents – between myself and my husband, we’ll shooting video and still images. I couldn’t rely on him to do it, could I?

Good luck to all the BIBS finalists for this Friday – I’ll be with you in spirit, if not in body. At least I get to wear a nice frock for the show; you’re not allowed to dress down at your child’s end-of-term performance in Spain. All the mums look super-guapa, so you have to make the effort. Time to start browsing in the wardrobe…

11 Questions: my answers

Many moons ago, one of my favourite bloggers, Bibsey Mama, a fellow mummy expat here in Spain for those who don’t yet know her fab blog, tagged me on an 11 questions meme. As I explained in a previous post, my blog has a split personality between travel, expat and mummy, three categories which can have a certain degree of crossover.

I was recently nominated, then shortlisted, now a finalist (yipee!), for the Brit Mums awards (see badge to the right) in the travel section (my mum content is probably less than my travel content, but as a mum I qualify). Anyway, I was invited to the awards ceremony, but unfortunately I won’t be able to attend due to a prior engagement: my son’s end of term show. They’re doing the Beatles. He’s got a guitar. He gets VERY nervous before hand and is not a natural performer. Missing it isn’t an option.

Anyway, Bibsey’s observations as mum of a toddler always make me chortle (how she didn’t get shortlisted for a BIB, god only knows – I haven’t read a funnier blog about motherhood), so answering questions from her is a delight: the blogger’s equivalent of eating a large bar of Green&Blacks dark chocolate with orange bits in, slowly and extreeemely indulgently.

I used to wonder what the point was of these questionnaire type posts, until I read more of them and realised they are totally fascinating, as they let you find out all sorts of juicy background dirt information on your fellow bloggers. So I hope this won’t be too dull – I don’t like writing about myself very much.

Here are her 11 questions and my answers:

1. If you can bear to, describe a mistake that you have made in the past and what you learned from it.

Just after I got married, my husband did a job for a friend. They fell out over money, and it cost me the friendship; I was pregnant at the time, and it was a very unpleasant experience for all concerned. I will never again mix business and friends. Big mistake. (Sorry, bit serious that one. This is supposed to be fun, isn’t it?)

2. I often wake up feeling like an old lady who’s been playing musical beds with a toddler all night. Strange I know. How old would you be if you woke up one morning not knowing how old you were and had to hazard a guess?

Either 25 or 55, depending on how (and where) I and my children have slept. We tend to play musical beds. If we all end up in mine, as often happens, child 1 has 50% of the bed, child 2 45% and me 5% (father gets relegated to the sofa).

3. And how old would you be if you woke up one morning having chosen how old you would be the night before? And why?

35 – I had met my husband, but we weren’t married and didn’t have children yet – we were living life to the full, in a nice flat in a cool barrio, travelling and going out. Not that I regret having kids, for one second, but that part of my life was pretty fun.

4. I have utter shoe envy where Claudia Winkleman is concerned. If you could walk in some one else’s shoes for one week, whose shoes would they be and why? (alive or dead, famous or not)

I don’t look much like her. Cate, I covet your shapely ankles.

Anyone with thin ankles, I’m not fussy – I have cankles which look especially horrible with dainty sandals. Cate Blanchett has nice pins and wears a frock well (and is a damn fine actress to boot. Ha).

5. Is there one particular blog post you have written that makes you most proud?  Tell us why and drop the link here.

My post about things I’ve learned since I’ve been living in Spain elicited a strong response, with lots of people getting hot under the collar – always nice for a blogger to see their writing provoke a debate. *Rubs hands together in glee.*

6. Going back to the Amazing Matron’s questions. You are the leader of a political party that has just won the general election, what would your first act as prime minister be?

Make all childcare free for working mothers. Women who have children and want to return to the work place (or never left it in the first place) are a hugely undervalued resource. Having subsidised nursery places for my kids has saved my career, and my sanity.

7. As a kid I used to wish that I went to school at Grange Hill – more than anything I wanted Trisha Yates’ hair. If you had to live as a fictional character, who would it be and from what book/film/play etc?

What a fabulous question – I love being sent off into realms of fantasy and make-believe. After much pondering, I’ve decided it would have to be Jennifer Beals’ character in Flashdance. Perhaps not to live as, but talking of school days, she made such an impact on an impressionable, terminally uncool teenager with curly red hair and glasses (not forgetting the cankles). Alex had the biggest and coolest apartment I’d ever seen, a job where she was equal to men, she got her dream, and she was utterly gorgeous – a face and body to die for. Never been remotely interested in dancing, but that audition sequence is one of my favourite movie scenes e-vah.

Watch it here - kicks off at 1:55 (sorry, no embedding).

8. The papers have a story on you, what would that headline be?

British expat journalist gets exclusive warts’n’all book deal with the Duchess of Alba.

9. I used to be able to down bottles of beer in one go via a thing called a beer bong (length of tube and a funnel). Did you have a ‘party trick’ in your twenties and do you still perform it now?

Blowbacks, and no.

10. It was quite a surprise when I conceived Bibsey and I am often to be heard saying to her things like “how did mummy and daddy make something as gorgeous as you?” and “what did we do to deserve you?”. Anyone might think that I didn’t know how babies are made. How are babies made? Where do they come from?

Babies are made of love and they come from the land of dreams.
11. I’m running dry here… erm, I promised seriously silly didn’t I? Perhaps, to end on a really silly note, you would like to share the silliest joke that you know (or can find on the internet).
An all-time favourite is: Why are there no aspirins in the jungle?
Because the parrots ate ‘em all (no? paracetamol!).
That’s it.
So now what happens? I come up with 11 questions for some poor, unsuspecting blog victims. Watch out!

Shortlisted: mummy, travel, expat blogger?

To the right of this post, there’s a pink logo which says “BiB” – this is a link to vote for me in the BiB awards – aka Brilliance in Blogging, run by the marvellous website Brit Mums. My category is “GO!”, in other words travel (it’s number seven in a long list). You can also nominate me in the Mads – just click on the pretty icon and then on the “Nominate” tab and fill in the form.

That’s the begging bit over with – if you want to stop reading now, that’s fine. Just so you know: I’ll send the boys round if you don’t vote for me. I know where you live. (If you take that seriously, it’s because you don’t understand English humour. It was a joke. Chill, dude. )

As someone who only does it – blogs, that is – when they get a minute, which isn’t very often, I was very chuffed to get on the shortlist, as there are some great blogs in there. There’s even a school contemporary of mine from 30 years ago.

It got me thinking about how I first started off blogging, back in 2008 (followed by a long break after my second child was born). Like many other journalists, I started blogging simply because everyone else was, so I realised I needed to as well – especially living here in Seville, where there’s so much to write about. It would be mad not to. It’s like getting a laptop, mobile phone, smart phone, Twitter account… you have to keep up (at the back).

One of the main reasons I dragged my heels was because I wanted to be selective about my blog posts – what I wrote about, and how I wrote about it. I find there are some bloggers who will write indiscriminately about anything and everything, and while some of it’s great, some of it *whispers* isn’t that interesting. Having said that, the great thing about blogging is that you can write about whatever you want to; all blogs are different, and they cater to every taste. You’re bound to find something you like out there. And, hopefully, someone out there will like what you write.

As a journalist with 20 years of experience, I’ve always preferred quality to quantity. Which is why I only post about once a week – twice is supposed to be the ideal. (That, and the squidgelet of time available after kids, house, paid work etc.) Less is more with blogging – keep ‘em keen. Remember I write for a living, so my perspective is different; also, I’m fanatical about grammar, which some aren’t. So I won’t read some blogs just becuase the blogger can’t write correct English.

But does all that really matter, you ask? To me, yes. I wince when I see a misused apostrophe. It pains me someone writes “would of” instead of “would have”. That may sound precious, but remember – I write for a living. So maybe other bloggers, who write without any training, deserve to win more than me, as a professional. Or maybe not. We all put in lots of time and effort. And none of us gets paid to write these blogs (apart from promotional or company-sponsored posts, which I haven’t done).

Finding topics for blog posts is never a problem, living here in southern Spain with all its craziness, but another of my struggles at the beginning was: who’s going to be reading this (if anyone)? For many years, I wrote for magazines, which have a specific target audience – we knew where our readers lived, how much they earned, how many times a week they ate out, how often they went on holiday, what level of education they had, what colour their knickers were… (OK, maybe not that).

We knew what to write about, and we could assume our readers’ familiarity (or lack thereof) with the subject, and we knew how they wanted to be treated – gently spoon-fed basic information without being patronized; or spoken to with confidence as knowledgeable/well-travelled/tech-savvy sophisticats.

At first, without a clear idea of who my potential reader was, I just bumbled on about what I’d done – bought a new Feria outfit,  or typical expat topics like the weather and cultural differences.

Then, as I got to know the blogosphere, I realised there are clear categories – including mummy blogger (which is what the aforementioned awards are for), expat blogger and travel blogger. The last two are obviously inter-related, as expats are by nature likely to explore, and the others can overlap too, but trying to straddle all three can get tricky. I read as many blogs as I can from all categories, but never as many as I want to, or feel I should. I’ve found some real gems out there: ones which make my laugh, and dream, and ones which hit me right between the eyes with their acute observations.  The blogging community is very supportive, with advice and suggestions always offered up by fellow bloggers.

As a journalist, I’m used to writing a post, and then editing and re-editing it ad nauseam until I think it’s OK to “publish”. I never just dash it off. And photography is so important now, hence there’s choosing, then fiddling with (wrinkle and cellulite removal, mine, mainly), the images too. However my technical know-how is seriously lacking; plug-ins schmugins. I can’t even embed a video. One of the things on my long list of Ways to Improve My Blog.

Inevitably, I end up blogging in the small hours, as daytime is for paid work and kids. Then, the next morning, I find spelling mistakes in my post and spend half the day correcting and rewriting. Ah, the perils of being a perfectionist. Who works late at night when tired. Not a happy combination.

So if you vote for me, you’ll be voting for someone who blogs for the love of it, risks exhaustion and familial ire for it, has quite strong opinions about it, and isn’t going to come out with insincere platitudes about other people who do it. Warts’n’all – that’s me. Ribbit.

Blog board picture credit

Ups and downs

Lately, my life seems to be a series of peaks and troughs. Nothing dramatic, thankfully – no deaths or major illnesses, or serious disasters. Just one of those times when a week without anything going wrong represents an unusual, and welcome, period of calm.

Last week, I was staying in one of the best hotels in Spain, according to Conde Nast Traveller among others. I’ll be blogging about it in detail soon.

This week, there wasn’t enough money in the bank account to pay the mobile phone bill, and our (other, thankfully) car died. It was a 20-year-old Volvo kindly donated to us, which lasted for a year and was extremely useful for my husband as a second means of fanily transport, especially for ferrying children around and leaving me free, occasionally, to get out and about without my carriage turning into a pumpkin, Cinderella-style, at 2pm when school finishes for the day.

Living half one’s life in a dreamworld can be confusing. When I am lucky enough to be invited to stay in such places, I try to make sure my car isn’t too dirty (failed this time, both inside and out); my suitcase is not too scruffy (oops, handle broken); and my clothes are appropriate (almost, though too plain. Forgot jewellery. No holes, creases or fallen hems, at least).

My knackered laptop looked completely out of place in my huge sea-view suite (I wish now I’d taken a photo of it in situ – at the time, it didn’t occur to me). When my host asked what my husband did, it’s hard to dodge the fact that, rather than being some dashing entrepreneur or successful lawyer, he’s an out-of-work engineer who’s been on the dole for two years. The bubble of our luxe-surroundings conversation bursts, and we come back down to earth with a bump.

All this isn’t to say I’m not happy with my life. I have two gorgeous, healthy children, who are as creative and bilingual and affectionate as I could hope them to be; we live in a small house which belongs to us, not the bank; I have a loving, if not overly industrious husband; an endlessly supportive and helpful mother-in-law; and a group of fantastic friends; and I love my work – well, who wouldn’t? I write for a living.

Swinging between wordly, confident journalist and competent, organised mother isn’t easy for anyone, and nor is being the sole wage-earner, though obviously it’s vastly preferable to both of us being without an income. But please don’t think I’m whinging, because I’m not; I’m just describing my topsy-turvy life.

Tomorrow I’m going to the reopening of a palace-hotel, built as Spain’s most luxurious by the then-king. I’ve already laid out my clothes, just to make sure I don’t inadvertently wear something which will embarrass me (it’s happened before). I’m looking forward to it, though I know I’ll have to do my Wonder Woman role-change spin before I leave the house.

What are you thankful for?