Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Non-Washer-Upper's guide to Washing Up.

Ladies and gentlemen I'm delighted to introduce my first guest blogger on Mumtopia:  Danielle Raine, author of the stunning Housework Blues - A Survival Guide - the only book I know that addresses the sometimes joyless and unprecendented challenge that is being a modern woman with a home to keep. I used to think that I could choose between having happy, entertained children and a house like a bomb-site, but with Danielle's housework survival tips there's real hope that Housework Blues can disappear for good, along with the thick layer of dust that can be found on the mantlepiece, withhout sacrificing my mental health of feminist tendencies.  

Here's Danielle's The Non-Washer-Upper's guide to Washing Up, especially for readers of Mumtopia.

"A woman's just too tired to think about the dirty old dishes in the kitchen sink." ~ Eurythmics

The washing-up. Love it? Or hate it?

I once had a conversation with a man who couldn't understand why there were dirty pots in my sink. He asked me, in all sincerity, "Don't you like washing-up?" All I could offer in response was a Homer Simpson-esque blank stare. Like washing-up? What on earth was he talking about? He went on to explain that when he got home from work, he actually found it quite relaxing to put his hands in a bowl of hot soapy water and gaze happily out of the kitchen window as he got on with the washing up.

That was something of a revelation for me - I'd previously assumed that everyone loathed the dreaded washing-up and that some just got on with it more successfully than others. I had always belonged to the latter camp: Washing-up Avoider. In psychological circles, they would call it resistance. Whereas certain (unsympathetic) family members may refer to it as laziness. Whatever the label, I'm not a natural born washer-upper. Which is fine, we all have varying strengths and weaknesses. However due to a constantly grazing family, a comprehensive recycling regime and an aversion to putting plastic in the dishwasher, in my kitchen there is a never-ending stream of items to be washed.

So what to do?

Well, it has taken many years of messy kitchens for me to come up with an approach that helps (most of the time). This approach uses two ideas. The first idea is a perennial favourite of mine - delegation. I have a dishwasher yet for years I only made minimal use of it. But I eventually came to realise that I could, and should, exploit it as much as possible. Whereas before, I would leave large items by the sink, awaiting a willing washer-upper (usually a lengthy wait, in my home...), nowadays, I shove anything and everything in there (except plastic) and set the poor thing running almost constantly. This tactic has been particularly successful in keeping the kitchen sink clear (ish) but happily the dishwasher seems to like it too! It performs much better when used regularly than if it is left for a day or so. I believe they call this a win-win.

My second plan of attack is to analyse the time:angst ratio of the wash-up-now-or-later dilemma. I find a sink full of pots mildly depressing. If my kitchen is a state, the sight of it can really effect my mood. It's a downer. In fact, I have come to believe that, since I work from home, the state of my kitchen has a mysterious link with how my day will go. Feng shui enthusiasts would be able to explain this link but even without evidence from the invisible realm, if a messy kitchen gets me down, that's bound to have repercussions throughout my day. (I'm a big advocate of the mood=attitude=results school of thought, so for a successful and happy life, I try to eliminate causes of bad moods wherever possible.) So, I have developed a habit of assessing the time required to regain my clean kitchen and then compare this to the misery I will encounter if I don't. When you consider the job in these terms it becomes obvious what to do. You can spend approximately 10/15 minutes doing work (that you will have to do anyway) or you can leave it and allow it to depress/overwhelm you for the rest of the day. I find this analysis very helpful in deciding whether to bother. When you attach the result (clean kitchen) to something appealing (happier life), you become naturally motivated. Sometimes this is all it takes to make that all-important move tap-wards. Even better, the more you do this, the easier it gets! One day, you may even find that you have already finished the washing-up before it even occurred to you that leaving it was an option. For the Washing-Up Avoider in search of more order and harmony, that habit is like the Holy Grail.

However, for some (like me on a bad day) the instinctive resistance to 'do it later' can be strong. There may days when you need heavier motivational artillery. So for an added boost, keep in mind that if you do power through your resistance and get on with it straightaway, it will probably take less time and effort. It's a route to spending less time at the kitchen sink - who in their right mind wouldn't want that?

You could also try harnessing the power of music. Create a playlist or CD compilation of upbeat music and get in the habit of putting it on after breakfast/dinner (whenever you are most tempted to sneak away from the awaiting dishes). Any chore becomes less unpleasant when combined with tunes you love to sing along to. (You can check out my Washing Up Playlist here:

Another powerful trick is to call to mind the happy feelings you will experience when the job is done. Maybe it's because I am such a washing-up phobic, but I find enormous pleasure in a beautiful, clean and tidy kitchen. It makes me smile. It even makes me more inclined to cook something nutritious or bake something calorific. (Powerful results for an Undomestic Goddess like me.) Picturing this happy scenario is a form of visualisation, a technique that can drive Olympic athletes to the winners podium - so surely it can help with a few dirty pots and pans?

So there you have it. My Non-Washer-Upper's Guide To Washing-Up. And like all good converts I am evangelical about the benefits of claiming victory over your kitchen, so I really hope you'll give it a go. As for me, I've got a dishwasher to empty...

Check out Danielle's essential Make Peace with Housework Blog:

You'll find her on Twitter and Facebook too:

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Best buds at Bean & Bud

As many of you know, coffee is one of my greatest friends. We go back over twenty years (no wonder I could never sleep when I was a teenager). So Bean and Bud at 14 Commerical Street, Harrogate was a treat for me as well as Prima, when we spent our Club Morning there on Saturday. 

The atmosphere was less Ladies Who Lunch/ Spray Tan, as previously encountered at Queen Bean, and more welcoming and friendly. Prima enjoyed people-watching as we sat at our corner table, especially when one of the ladies said she looked beautiful in her red and white coat. 

Friday, 18 June 2010

Sleep is the answer

I am not wonderful and I do not believe in me today, but this was the Feel Good card I got, so there you go.

Ask me any of the following questions and the answer is always the same at the moment:

1. If you could do anything at all right now, what would you do?
2. What one thing would improve your quality of life?
3. What makes your children demanding, argumentative and defiant if they don't get enough of it?
4. What do you want to do at the weekend?



And I am not alone. At least two of my followers on twitter began their days at around 4.00 this morning.

Prima is a night owl like me; she has been in bed over an hour and has still not settled down. Not exactly in bed, more like rearranging her bookshelf, laying out various outfits for all occasions on the bedroom floor and jumping from various items of furniture, pausing only now and then to complain at the top of the stairs that she can't get to sleep.

Her younger brother is destined to become a milkman or a postman. Secundus is one of those people I just can't relate to much - a morning person. Oddly, the King is a morning person too.  But I can relate to him in other arenas.

The effect of Secundus waking up his sister once or twice a week at 6.30a.m. (an hour before her alarm clock) is long-lasting and dramatic. When tired, Prima's behaviour plummets after being good all day at school, and I get a good two hours of defiance and attitude from my five year-old before my husband saves the day by coming home from work. My cooking, never very good at the best of times, has reached an all time low as I am constantly distracted, trying to keep the peace or address various unwanted behaviour.

I am hoping that a recent CD from Holistic World will help my daughter get back to her reasonable sleeping pattern. It contains three short interactive stories (about five minutes each) based on the adventures of Eeny, Meeny, Miney and Mo, followed by calming relaxation music. The stories - Rainbow Bird, Crystal Cave and Unicorn Magic - are thoughtfully and imaginatively presented, giving children a chance to interact and really explore their imagination. These guided meditations are suitable for ages five and upwards, and feature specially composed music and sound effects by popular composer Niall. You can listen to music clips here. A nice touch is that the CD comes inside a gift card, which makes it a lovely present; you can see the design below.

I think another thing we're going to have to do is stick rigidly to the bedtime routine we have set up over the past five years and not skip bath even if we are all tired and it seems like too much hassle. We probably rush settling our children down a bit, because we are worn out and longing to have a break. We are desperate to wind down so we find it hard to help our children do that at bedtime themselves.We maybe also need to get some new story books as our children's imaginations develop and they want to hear more complex tales. There is still plenty of room for their old favourites, the repetition of which can be comforting and almost hypnotic (and not just for the listener!) but I think we might venture into new territory too.

Whatever the answer is, we sure do need to get back into good sleep habits. Any tips very welcome!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Wrong Shoes

After an enjoyable walk round a reservoir on Sunday, during which five year-old Prima began to limp dramatically, we discovered that her wellies were rubbing on her little toes. Feeling guilty, we applied plasters, which soon got fiddled with, stuck to socks, pulled off etc. The King trekked to Clarks after lunch to have both children's feet measured, in a bid to feel less neglectful.

The King returned with two children clad in smart new shoes. Luckily there was a sale on. All seemed fine and dandy. Velcro fastening, good grips, no miniature dolls or cars secreted in the sole.

However, Prima was extremely concerned that her shoes (which are for school) were the wrong colour. Indeed, they were pink with flowers on. Not black. Everyone would laugh at her, apparently. No-one would like the pink shoes.

Of course, no-one laughed; no-one in the playground even noticed, but Prima got me to explain to her teacher why she wasn't wearing "regulation" shoes. The lovely teacher didn't mind at all, especially as there are only six weeks to go til the summer holidays.

What I learned from this is not that I should never send my maverick husband on a shoe-buying spree, but how strong the pressure is to fit in and be the same as others. I remember not wanting to stand out, as a child, wanting to be the same as the others, accepted, not different. It didn't seem to matter to Prima whether she liked the shoes - it was what her peers thought that was most important. Whilst I'm glad that Prima wanted to follow the school rules, I was reminded of the vital nature of self-esteem and confidence, which have now given me the power to stand up for myself, to do the job I want, to dress how I like and to not care (too much) what other people think. Well, on a good day.

So how to get the good feelings flowing? Particularly on those days when you'd really like a day off from that Job for Life, which is motherhood. The Feel Good Friends affirmation cards help children to identify with different feelings and emotions, and ways to express these feelings. Used regularly, they will help to instill positive beliefs and enable children to recognise their unique talents and abilities.

Encourage your children to pick a card whenever they want. You can ask them questions about it and get them to think of examples and experiences in their own life that relate to it. Because of the conceptual nature of the product, it is suited to anyone over 4, including adults. The pack contains 28 affirmation cards and four ones to write or draw on yourself - for example - "People that care about me..." - as well as explanations as to the benefits of the cards and how to use them.

Choosing a card at bedtime will enable your child to go to sleep on positive thoughts. Many of us have to be taught not to worry but to concentrate on the good things. Choose a card in the morning, say the affirmation, and start your day on a positive note; stick it on the fridge or the wall so everyone will see it regularly. I just chose one at random and I got  "I am magical" (pictured left)

Feel Good Cards are a great way to cheer up an upset or doubting child, and remind them how special they are. Instilling positive beliefs in our children is perhaps the greatest gift we can give them. Not pink shoes.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Going home with the kids

Prima's primary school has a two week half term at this time of year. After the rotten Easter holidays we had not very long ago, I decided to make a plan. I felt I could stick a week at home with my 3 year-old and 5 year-old, but after that we would need a change of scene. As we aren't going to fork out on another holiday after visiting Bamburgh last month, I arranged for us three to spend time at my parents' in rural Staffordshire. This is what I learned:
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