How To (Always) Win An Argument

If anything is going to destroy the cool, calm exterior of a Refined Mama (or one in the making), it’s losing an argument. So how do you make sure you win?  Three rules: always get the last word, never raise your voice, and take the wind out of the other person’s sails.

Sound complicated?  Well, it turns out it’s easy.  Hubby gave me the ultimate practical demonstration yesterday….

Scene: Hubby is tidying in preparation for visitors.  Unrefined Mama is sitting at the dressing table, doing her make up.  Hubby enters bedroom and references an earlier complaint by UM about him nicking all the pens in the house….

Hubby: You never get to complain about the lack of pens again.

Unrefined Mama: Why’s that?

H: I just cleared all that stuff off the dining table.  There were at least seven pens, all of them yours.

UM: And would you like to know why they were there, hmm?

H: No.  Because then I would be wrong.

Hubby turns on heel and exits bedroom.  UM is left open-mouthed at the dressing table, eye-liner poised, speechless at the genius of the line.

See?  Last word, cool and calm, and leaving me with no comeback because he actually admitted he was wrong.

I’m having this tattooed on my arm, so that I am never, ever left with no closing line again.  Take it my loves, take it and use it.


Refined style (or Slummy Mummy to Yummy Mummy)

Howdy.  Sorry, it’s been a while.  Uh, blame the ADD?

This week I’ve become a leeeetle bit obsessed with the idea of a capsule wardrobe, along with Seasonal Colour Analysis.  It hit home when I went to a music class with DD last week.  I walked into a room of well-dressed, stylish mummies, looked down at my saggy jeans and once-white-now-grey cardigan and thought, “Mmm.  Feeling kinda crappy here….”

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t go in for the whole best dressed, most preened, designer boots, mummy-cpmpetition rubbish.  I’m not skinny enough for starters.  And it’s not that I felt they were better than me because they were well dressed.  It’s more about feeling smart, not scruffy; wearing clothes that fit, not them wearing me or irritating me because they need to be pulled up or adjusted constantly; being able to just grab stuff in the morning and throw it on, know ing it all goes together.  Mostly about the scruffy though.

I feel really rubbishy if I feel scruffy.  Probably a whole lot to do with body-confidence issues, but at the end of the day, if feeling comfortable in your clothes and having an easy, defined style makes you feel confident, it all helps.  Especially during a period – ie. motherhood – that can leave many women feeling unconfident and a little bit lost.  It can also help you claw back that bit of yourself that you often feel gets drowned under ‘being mama’.

I’m 100% guilty of the whole ‘wardrobe full of clothes, nothing to wear’ syndrome (trained by my shopaholic mother).  Buy it cheap, buy lots, realise it doesn’t go with anything else later.  So a capsule wardrobe sounds like h-e-a-v-e-n to me.  The idea is that you have basic, key pieces which all go together.  So from say three bottoms, three tee-shirts, one cardigan, one jumper and one dress you can have…uh…um…(hang on, I’ve run out of fingers)…uh, many outfits!  Gok Wan seized on the idea not too long ago, with his 24 piece wardrobes (although that included handbags and shoes.  Step a-way from the bags Wan, you ain’t culling them in my lifetime).

Between 12 and 16 basic pieces seems to be the usual advice.  These consist of two (sometimes three) neutral colours and two or three ‘toning’ colours.  This blog explains it particularly well.

Black and white are sometimes advocated as neutrals, but the more professional advice (from people who do it for a living) seems to be that these are usually far too harsh for most people’s colouring, so neutrals such as brown, navy, cream, beige, taupe (what IS that anyway?), and grey are suggested instead.

Which is where the Seasonal Colour Analysis comes in.  This is a whole new level of online research obsession for me –  I was already a bit too caught up in the whole ‘capsule wardrobe reading’ stuff (what with being 20 weeks pregnant, on a very tight budget and having an 18 month in tow, real shopping, in actual shops, is something of a fantasy at the moment).  Learning about colour analysis has taken the Googling-obsession to a worrying level.

Again, the idea: your colouring (skin, hair, eyes) can be described by one of the four seasons – autumn, winter, summer, spring.  Winter and summer are cool – pink or blue undertones – while spring and autumn are warm – golden or peachy undertones.  Now obviously it’s a lot more complex than that, but that’s the basic starting point.  The seasons are then broken down further, into Light, Clear and Deep.

For a quick n dirty guide, this quiz gives you a rough idea of your season. Remember, it’s your natural colouring that you need to think about, not the black hair dye you just slathered on or the fake tan that makes you look warmer than a summer’s day in Arizona.  This site and this one give you more detailed information.  And this one, well it has the prettiest layout and most helpful palettes.

So tomorrow, I’m off to the thrift stores (I know, it sounds so much nicer than the charity shops somehow!) to find me a biker jacket in a light summer tone. Start small, hey?

Becoming A Refined ADDult.

For the uninitiated, that’s not a spelling mistake.  ADDults are adults with ADD or AD/HD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. It’s a condition most people associate with young boys, running wild in the classroom and bouncing off the walls at home.  But ADD (potentially a more old-fashioned/less technically correct term, but the one I feel applies to me personally) or AD/HD is a wide-ranging beast, and it’s media-portrayed image is a very narrow view.

For me personally, the realisation that there might be something in this came when I read an extensive description of ADD – it was my brain in text format.  Since my A-Levels at school, I have felt my previously intelligent brain slow down.  It used to be easy to learn new things: now it feels as if my head is full of treacle.

I forget everything: dates, meetings, sentences I’m in the middle of saying, what clothes I have on (unless I look down of course…), which is left and which is right.  I cannot map roads in my head.  To me they all run in straight lines, at 90 degree angles to each other: I still can’t figure out A – B in the town I’ve lived in for eight years.  Housework is a behemoth – not physically doing it, but being organised enough to do it consistently.  Listening to anyone, I either drift off into a daydream, or get distracted by my brain making some totally random (to them anyway) connection.  I get stressed to the point of tears when I’m trying to learn anything new that isn’t instantly instinctive, because my brain just shuts down and I can barely hear the person explaining it to me….

The list is too long to go on.  But you know what?  Finding out about ADD is the best thing (discounting Hubby and DD and yadda yadda yadda) to ever happen to me.  I’m not losing my mind, starting to descend into dementia.  There’s a tangible explanation.  I have spent the best part of my life so far hating myself – lazy, forgetful, hopeless, waster, clumsy, unthinking.  And hating myself even more for failing over and over again at my manic, self-flagellating attempts to change.  But now, I get it.  I’m not the godawful person I thought I was: my head works differently to others.

Life is so much easier.  I understand how my brain works, and work with it, not against it.  This is a big step towards being the more refined woman I want to become.  I know to slow down, and then I am less clumsy; to repeat questions, and then I understand instructions; to gracefully say, “I’m so sorry – my mind completely switched off for a second,” instead of pretending I heard and having no idea what response is expected; to write down everything I am going to do, and then I arrive on time, cool and calm, instead of half an hour late, hot and sweaty and flustered, fumbling tired excuses that no one believes any more.

If you describe ADD to anyone, I absolutely, 100% guarantee they will say one of three things: “Ooh, I think I’ve got that,” “That’s just an excuse for being forgetful/lazy,” or “Pff, everyone gets days like that.”  ADD has a lot of symptoms that will show up if the ‘neurotypical’ person (I love that term) is stressed, tired, or generally under the weather.  But someone with ADD will suffer ‘significant impairment’ from these symptoms.  It interferes daily with their lives.  I am not, as yet, not shouting my discovery from the rooftops: diagnosis is hard in the UK, where adult ADD is much less understood.  But I am working with it, on it, and learning as I go.  It truly feels as though I have taken my first steps towards becoming the polished mama, and not the unrefined girl.

Links: there are a million resources, but the best place to start is here, a very active ADD forum full of  information.

Other People’s Children

This past couple of weeks, I have stumbled into a minefield I’ve so far successfully avoided: other people’s children, and specifically, other people’s misbehaving children.

Although my DD (I’ll come up with a better pseudonym soon, I promise) is now 17 months old, I still feel like a teenage mum (I’m 28…).  You know – you think all the other mums know exactly what they’re doing and you’re the only one fumbling along with no rulebook.

But the bit that’s throwing me is when some other kid behaves in a way that you find inappropriate and there is no parent in sight to stop them.  A few examples from a soft play centre we started visiting:

1.  A very snotty nosed boy (yes, his nose unfairly turned me against him from the beginning.  I’m a bad person) whipped DD three times over the head with his knotted blanket.

2. A boy of around 4 barged into the Under 2s area and almost knocked DD off her feet

3. A group of five 3-4 year olds took over the small Under 2s area, making sure their parents weren’t around to tell them off first.

It’s all about confidence.  I had no hesitation telling Boy 1 that wasn’t nice and to stop it.  The second boy, I simply admonished, “Careful!”, steadied DD lightly and left her to get on with it. She just stands there looking worried and takes it, so I’m walking a fine line between sticking up for her and letting her learn to stick up for herself (or at least move out of the way!).

But scenario 3, I totally wussed out.  These children were a group, noisy and brash.  Between them they had at least five parents there.  After five or ten minutes, one parent came and told them to get out.

Someone Else's Child

"...And ANOTHER thing your irritating offspring did..."

Now I’ve worked jobs where I’ve easily controlled bigger groups of children than this.  But in that role, I was the authority – I was supposed to be reining them in.  I was allowed to.  In this role as mum, I find I have no idea how these rules apply any more.  It’s certainly not my job to admonish the children of total strangers, but in scene 1 it was clearly allowable, scene 2 probably ok.  But how far does it go?

The boy in scenario 1 eventually started going round mooching food off everybody.  I mostly ignored him and he gave up, but I could only watch in awe as the mum at the next table, in the broadest, most beautiful Texan drawl, asked him where his ‘mwommy’ was, repeatedly told him he couldn’t have their food as he might not be allowed it, and eventually corralled his big sister into going and finding his mum and telling her he need a drink and some food.

And you know what?  When his 6ft, glamazon, high-heeled, knee-high-booted, skinny-jeaned, caramel-highlighted mwommy eventually swooped him away…I judged her, reader.  Oh, to my shame, I judged her.

And now…teeth!

Homemade Toothpaste

So much prettier than a tube of goop....

Oh Lord, I really am becoming crunchier than I ever thought possible.  I gave up toothpaste.

Ha!  I know, if the thought of giving up shampoo made you go, “Yuk,” that’s probably left you dry retching into your tea.  But just to qualify, I haven’t given up cleaning my teeth.

As I said about shampoo, it’s hard to buy anything in this town that isn’t clothing or booze.  I had a lovely strawberry flavour Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, but it ran out and I kept using Hubby’s Euthymol (that stuff has SLS in.  Yeuch) which was causing me to breakout.

So I knocked up some homemade stuff from recipes on the internet:

1 part salt

3 parts baking soda

1 peppermint oil capsule contents

It’s brilliant!  Now fair enough, the first few times I pulled a very unattractive face at the saltiness of it.  But hey, it was no worse than the Euthymol burn.  My gums were pretty sore for a couple of days too, until I worked out that you don’t need to scrub with this stuff – just gentle brushing.

Now that I’ve got it sussed, it’s working working perfectly.  Obviously a definite conclusion is a long-term thing with teeth, but I’m not getting that furry feeling I always got by evening with commercial toothpaste and my teeth feel exceptionally clean after brushing.  The breakout has cleared up too.

I’m gonna have to find a crunchy-rating system.  I reckon I’m nearing cornflakes….

No ‘Poo: One Month!

Oops, it’s a month already?  I never thought I’d last a month without shampoo or conditioner.  I haven’t felt the need to use them at all (actually, a dab of conditioner once after dyeing it, to counteract a serious ‘strawberry-blonde’ effect!  Yeah, I know, hair dye: the most un-natural product ever.  Stop judging me).

My hair feels great, as clean and light and ungreasy as it did with products, but way silkier, smoother and softer.

I still seem to have skipped the ‘detox’ period.  The only time I’ve had bad hair is days when I haven’t washed it at all (ie. not even a water only), and then it’s not been any worse than a no-wash day when I used shampoo.

So my routine is down to…

Day One – Wash: 1 tbsp salt in chamomile tea

Rinse: 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp honey in water

Day Two – WO

And that’s it!  Making the wash/rinse is easy, I just add an extra mug when I make my morning coffee (although I do decant it into a plastic bottle before I take it into the bathroom.  Toddler + mug + bath = baaaaad.)

But why no detox?  I reckon these are helping:

  1. I was using natural shampoo and conditioner for a couple of years – no nasty chemicals to get out first
  2. I towel dry pretty thoroughly, scalp and hair
  3. My lovely, lovely, brush.  This thing saved me many a time when a particular shampoo stopped treating the itchies.  It’s the cheapest piece of plastic out there, it’s called a scalp massage brush and a hairdresser in Australia gave me it, with the mysterious words, “This will help you.”  I didn’t have a clue what she meant, but my brain was too heat-fuddled to argue.
  4. Scritchin’.  Mmm, nice.  With my hair under the shower, the first thing I do is thoroughly massage my scalp (gently!) with my nails.  It loosens anything that can’t escape cause of the thick hair
  5. I use one of those dye bottles that has a comb to dispense the liquid through on top – it gets the wash to my scalp much easier

So…that’s it.  I cannot see any way I would ever want to go back to shampoo/conditioner now.  It did nothing for my hair that this regime isn’t doing, it cost more, it was less convenient, less natural….

And in case you’re wondering, my hair smells lovely.  I kept making Hubby check 🙂  Not a single person around me has a clue what I’m doing, unless I’ve told them, and a few have even commented on how nice my hair looks!

Score one for the naturals!

No ‘poo: First Week Conclusions

Ok, so it’s not strictly a week, but with a toddler you have to blog when you can and make up your own timescales!  I’m over the moon about how my hair feels after the last two days concoctions and I absolutely cannot get over the fact that I haven’t used shampoo or conditioner since Sunday.  I’m sort of dreading suddenly going through a detox period that a lot of people mention, where you suddenly get the greasies, itchies or waxies (sexy nicknames huh?) – I feel a bit like I’m getting away with something at the moment!

This week I’ve ended up doing a ‘wash’ of some kind almost every day, which isn’t really the ultimate aim.  But I love making mixtures wanted to experiment with some of the different ingredients I had read about online.  And I’m impatient, so I couldn’t contemplate spacing these experiments out over weeks!

No 'Poo

Alchemy...the posh name for makin' mixtures

I’ve definitely reached some conclusions:

  • BS either disagrees with my water or hair
  • Salt is a great alternative cleaner
  • Beer is great for shine
  • I really like the tea/honey/salt/WV combos

Things I want to test out next week:

  • Whether the tea/honey/salt/WV combos are making my hair great on their own, or whether the grapefruit rinse is helping with that
  • How my hair behaves if I do a water only (WO) wash plus citrus rinse every other day, with a ‘concoction’ wash on the other days
  • Whether I can mix up a big batch of tea/honey/salt/WV and keep it in the fridge to use over the course of a week (as it’s water-based I don’t really want to keep it in the warm shower room or for longer than a week)

So, so far, so good.  If you’re still dithering (or going, “Ew!  Smelly woman!”), trust me – I could not have been more of a shampoo-is-my-crutch person, right up until last week.  I honestly thought my hair would be gross without it.  So my advice is…get over it, you big wuss, and give it a go 😉