Losing the Way or Finding Yourself?

Tower Bridge at nightI had quite an evening last night. I was due to attend an Alternative Divorce Guide networking event, where I would meet other other divorce experts and do some civilised networking over cheese and wine at a very swanky London office. Sadly, Google Maps had other ideas. Tower Bridge is very beautiful at night, combined with all the other twinkling lights of the buildings overlooking the river. I was able to admire it twice, in fact, as I was directed back over it again after some torturous twists and turns. These continued all around Covent Garden and I felt a kinship with the horde of rather  bewildered-looking tourists wandering down Shaftesbury Avenue as the bossy female voice sent me down back alleys and up major roads, seemingly to no avail. The time ticked on and I was now destined to be an hour late to join my colleagues. In desperation, I turned into a small underground car park with a worrying array of very smart cars and an even more worrying nightly parking rate. Too late to worry about that now; I parked and rushed back up to street level to flag down a passing cab.

My journey back to the car was an altogether more leisurely affair. I love London, Nags_Head_London picespecially at night and it was fascinating to see how much Covent Garden has changed. New shops, bars, cafes, take-away street food joints and restaurants have sprung up everywhere – some so small that they are literally a hole in the wall. It made me wonder how any of them survive in such a competitive market, but then I began to get a sense that instead of worrying about the competition, the most appealing ones seemed to have simply concentrated on being quirky, authentic and true to themselves. We could all learn a lesson from that.

At first the array of choices for nightly entertainment seemed quite overwhelming. I passed theatres offering everything from Harry Potter to musicals, to old-time Agatha Christie. There were lively pubs, romantic bistros and enticing notes drifting up to street level from a basement blues bar. I started to enjoy the very variety of choices that had at first seemed so overwhelming. I felt young, adventurous and carefree again, like the free-spirited art student I was when I first lived up in London. It reminded me that at every moment in life we have choices and we can ultimately choose or create the environment that feels most suited to our mood or aspirations. It’s just that sometimes we are in so much of a hurry as we scurry through our busy lives that we forget to stop and really look around.

What delights have you been too busy to notice recently – and isn’t it time that you allowed yourself to lose your way for a little while in order to find yourself anew?

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Why The Breakdown of a Relationship is Like Renovating a House

single mum's survival guide logoI’m right in the middle of renovating at the moment and it strikes me how closely the process parallels the breakdown of a relationship. In my case, the renovation is currently focused on my kitchen. Several years ago, when my old kitchen was newly-decorated, I had high hopes for its longevity. It was clean and smart and fresh and I loved it. Admittedly, it didn’t have everything I wanted, so I had compromised on certain things but it made me happy and I was (as ever) optimistic about the future.

But then came the day when I realised that it had become a major problem. It was, quite literally, falling apart. Help came, as it so often does, from a familiar source and just when I needed it. My sister offered to buy my share of our family property in London, which would make possible – not only the kitchen renovation – but all sorts of other much-needed improvements.

My husband (always critical of my house because he is a dissatisfied soul and it has never been tidy enough or luxurious enough in his eyes) reluctantly agreed to help with the project. He listened politely whilst I enthused about colours and materials and how much better life would be once we’d made the changes. He even helped demolish half the cabinets and unload the new flat-pack furniture. But then he left, in the hope of finding a shinier, more aspirational property which was already perfect and would require no work and we were left with the chaos.

Luckily, the boys and I have always been a great team and so we got to work creating a new space for the three of us to enjoy and feel proud of. Clearing the rest of the room has been hard, heavy, back-breaking work and has required multiple trips to the tip to get rid of the old and make way for the new. The floor was the hardest. At first it seemed that the old tiles would be easy to chip away. But it was slow and painful work and all three of us suffered cuts and bruises. We uncovered lots of unexpected issues, including a gaping hole and places where what we thought was a solid foundation had been built on crumbling sand. It was time to enlist professional help to smooth out the floor and provide a clear, level base on which to build. But we can’t use it yet, because it takes time to dry.

Are we there yet? Not quite. There are more challenges to come and some days we’ve felt weak and discouraged. The contents of the kitchen seem to have spread all over the house; it’s slow and difficult to manoeuvre and it has made even the simplest of daily tasks exhausting.

My sons have been amazing, though, and we’ve had so many laughs working together on this project. We’ve nearly finished building all the new cabinets and next week it will all start to come together. All the blood, sweat and tears will eventually become a distant memory but the sense of pride and achievement will remain, as will the bond I have with my boys.

vivienne@thelifeyoudeserve.co.uk
www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com 
@SingleMumsGuide
The Single Mum's Survival Guide
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Feeling Overwhelmed?

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“Being a single parent is twice the work, twice the stress and twice the tears but also twice the hugs, twice the love and twice the pride.” — Unknown
I posted this quote on my Facebook page yesterday and received this honest and thought-provoking comment: “Don’t mean to put a downer on it but I rarely have time for double hugs as working full time, taking care of two kids and the rest is knackering”
Believe me, I really understand where this woman is coming from. There are days when it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other because you are so tired and it doesn’t feel like there’s any way off the treadmill, or any appreciation for what you do.
So how do you cope with this feeling of overwhelm? A recurring theme amongst all the women I interviewed for The Single Mum’s Survival Guide was the importance of asking for help. I know, it’s hard to do and perhaps you feel there’s nobody to ask anyway. You could do a babysitting swap with a friend, family member or another mother you trust. There may be a teenager or college student that you know who’d be happy to earn some pocket money. They could even come round whilst you are still in the house but upstairs or in another room if you’re worried about leaving your child for too long with someone new. The children get someone new to play with and you get some time to catch up on work, housework, studies, shopping or just plain sleep.
It’s also important to work out what’s really important. Take a good hard look at all you do and your expectations of yourself – along with other people’s expectations of you – and see if all of them are reasonable. I remember being criticised by my ex sister-in-law for not preparing all my own home made and organic baby food. After I had succumbed to the guilt of not measuring up/looking after my child’s health in the way she thought best I finally came to my senses and realised that I was looking after my baby perfectly adequately (I read all the packaging carefully and avoided additives) – it’s just that I was working, whilst she was a stay-at-home mum with more time on her hands. Other friends with babies stuck rigidly to routines and set times for baby’s bath, nap – even a walk in the park with the pram. That would never have worked for me, so our routines were more fluid and fitted in with everything I was juggling at the time (working, house hunting, going through a divorce etc.) As long as your child is safe, well-fed and knows that he or she is loved, the rest will follow. Make sure you look after yourself too, or you’ll be no use to anyone!
As I said to the single mum on my Facebook post: the hugs will come later – and you will be receiving them, not just giving them. It doesn’t feel like anyone notices what you do but believe me, it isn’t going completely unnoticed.

February – The Month of Love?

Single Mum's Survival Guide Illustration 13February is traditionally celebrated as the month of love. Statistics report that here in the UK £557 million will be spent going out on romantic dinners, £461 million on presents, £173 million on drinks, £211 million on flowers, £115 million on chocolates and £57 million on cards. So where does that leave single mothers? Some of you will be going out for that dinner, receiving the card and marking Valentine’s day with a happy heart. You may be embarking on a new relationship, in the throes of early lust or love and wondering if he’s Mr. Right. You may even be contemplating introducing him to your children. This Valentine’s day could be a perfect test, to see if he matches up to your romantic expectations!  In my book, I give you some suggestions for how to tell if he’s right for you.  Continue reading

You Can’t Enter Your Destination Until You Have a Start Point!

Single Mum's Survival Guide Illustration 16 001It’s hard to set a course for where you’re going without a starting point. Just imagine typing a location into Google maps and asking for directions, without entering a start point! In the next few days I’ll be sharing an excellent goal setting process which will set you on track for a happy and productive 2016 but before deciding where you want to go, you must first look at where you are now. This doesn’t need to be a depressing task – in fact we often forget all the many achievements we have accomplished because we are so busy focusing on what we still need to change or get done. Try this on your child over Christmas. You could find out what three things they are really happy with from this last year, three things they didn’t like and three things they liked and what they are most proud of. Celebrating successes is a fantastic tool to enhance your child’s self esteem – and yours!

Today’s gift is the gift of reflection as we approach the end of the year. It comes in the form of a video from author and coach Ben Brophy. You might want to have a pen and paper handy and pause the video whilst you answer the questions, like I did!

 

If you would like my help and advice over the Christmas period, do visit my website www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com, where you can find a free audio on Coping with Christmas or sign up for a free one to one session with me. single mum's survival guide logo

 

 

The Secret Recipe For Christmas Happiness

 

Xmas webinar slide 1 001Many families have their favourite recipes at Christmas, handed down from one generation to the next. I know that I was lucky with learning to cook and appreciate food because my mum was a stay-at-home mum who not only came from a proud line of Yorkshire women renowned for their culinary skills but had also done a Cordon Bleu cookery course when she was first married. Even today you could drop in to see my 86 year old mother and guarantee to be served a home made delicacy appropriate for the time of day. If it’s lunchtime it might be a mouthwatering roast with her home-grown vegetables and famous Yorkshire puddings or one of her East African curries. If it’s coffee or tea time it will be a melt-in-the-mouth Ginger Thin or during the Christmas period, a freshly-warmed mince pie. Many of us don’t have the time or the energy to bake these days – I know I often don’t. However, despite the potential sticky mess, it is well worth making the effort to cook with your children. You can involve them with age-appropriate tasks, from choosing the ingredients at the supermarket to preparing, mixing and decorating the finished result; it also pretty much guarantees that they will eat the finished result, which is a sneakily effective way of dealing with a child who is a fussy eater! Moreover, you are creating togetherness and fond memories and developing their skills and confidence.

Whatever your thoughts, hopes and plans this Christmas, I’d like to help you to make it as stress-free as possible, as well as passing on a few treats just for you. I’ll be sending you a little something every day between now and Christmas.

mince piesToday’s gift is the recipe my mum and I always use to make mince pies at Christmas time. In my opinion they are far nicer than anything you could buy and well worth the effort and time spent in the kitchen. Children love to help assemble these and for a fussy eater you could substitute a spoonful of jam for the mincemeat filling.

INGREDIENTS

560 g mincemeat (the sweet variety with chopped fruit, sold in jars)

350 g plain flour

75 g lard

75 g margarine

a pinch of salt

For the top:

a small amount of milk

a small amount of granulated sugar

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).

You will also need one (or two) trays of 6 cm pie tins, one fluted 7.5 cm pastry cutter and one 6 cm cutter.

Instructions

Make up the pastry by sifting the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and rub in the fats (bring them to room temperature and then cut them into small cubes first, to make it easier to blend). The trick with pastry is not to overhandle it or get it too warm at this point, so mix it quickly with your fingertips by lifting the pieces of fat up high over the bowl with the flour (so you are letting plenty of air in) and rubbing it gently and lightly through your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Use a knife to begin with and then your hands, then add just enough cold water so that the ball of dough leaves the bowl clean but is not too sticky.

Leave the pastry to rest covered in clingfilm (Saran Wrap) in the fridge for 20-30 minutes, then roll half of it out so that it’s as thin as possible but not breaking and cut it into twenty four 7.5 cm rounds, gathering up the scraps and re-rolling.

Then do the same with the other half of the pastry, this time using the 6 cm cutter.

Now grease the pie tins lightly and line them with the larger rounds. Fill these with a good spoonful of mincemeat, but don’t overfill as they split in the oven. Dampen the edges of the smaller rounds of pastry with water and press them lightly into position to form lids, sealing the edges.

Brush each one with milk and make three snips in the tops with a pair of scissors. Sprinkle with a small amount of sugar. Bake near the top of the oven for 25-30 minutes until light golden brown.

Cool on a wire tray and when the mince pies are cool, store them in a Tupperware or airtight tin. To serve: mince pies are best eaten when they’ve been warmed in the oven, either on their own or with cream or brandy butter.

If you would like my help and advice over the Christmas period, do visit my website www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com, where you can find a free audio on Coping with Christmas or sign up for a free one to one session with me.single mum's survival guide logo

A Nativity Nightmare?

single mum's survival guide logoA colleague was telling me about her niece’s Nativity play; apparently it was a little confusing because it was totally non-religious, so there was a Mary but no Baby Jesus! In fact, she wasn’t entirely sure it was called a Nativity play, but she couldn’t think how to describe it otherwise! However, the kids did brilliantly and acted and sang their little hearts out, so it was very heart-warming. I still have a photo of my eldest dressed in his costume as…a camel. He was about three and a half at the time and though I say so myself, the costume was a triumph of ingenuity. I’d cut up one of my Dad’s old dressing gowns and made him a hump and a tail and a pair of camel ears on a headband. In the photo, the headband has slipped too far down over his eyes but he is squinting manfully at the camera and putting on his cheeky grin.

They are far too old to be doing one now, but when it came to the annual school nativity play in their primary school I used to take a wad of tissues in my bag, as it always brought our family situation home to me in a very poignant way. Christmas and other holidays can sometimes present a problem; there are events, occasions and rituals that have a special significance or sentimental attachment for everyone and I have found at times like these that memories and emotions can still knock me sideways–even now. Even when you think that you’re all sorted and reconciled to the way your new life is these days, don’t beat yourself up or feel embarrassed if you occasionally find it’s all too much to cope with. You’re only human after all and you’ve been so brave and worked so hard to get to where you are now. However: not only do our kids have two homes, but they also have two Christmases and for children this can be quite a bonus! So there are always different ways of looking at it.

SMSG webinar pic 1If you’d like my help to sail through Christmas, I am offering a free hour’s Strategy Session via Skype or telephone. It might just give you the strength and the strategies to make it through the holidays in one piece and at peace with your situation. Click here to book your hour with me FREE SESSION.

You might also like to listen to my free audio, “Coping With Christmas”. Click here to gain access to your FREE AUDIO GUIDE.