In celebration of friendship, oh, and birthdays

This week saw yet another birthday come and go; in fact two birthdays.

The events warranted a girls’ night out of course.  It’s become something of a tradition over the years.  When one of us has a birthday, the birthday girl gets to choose the activity or restaurant for the evening, and everyone else pays for the treat. So on Wednesday evening seven of us gathered at our local Prezzo restaurant for a few hours of silliness and stuffing our faces.

The age of these lovely midlife women ranges from 46 to 57, and we’ve known one another for more than 20 years.  Initially the link between us was our children; they all went to the same kindergarten and small village primary school.  Over the years, we’ve become firm friends, and spent time together doing some amazing things.  Not too many years ago our entire families used to get together for parties at Christmas and New Year; we’d have barbecues and day trips in the summer.

Most of us have grown up children now, and jobs and businesses to attend to.  Some of us have grandchildren. There are a couple of friends who no longer join us, and there’s a couple we’ve gathered along the way.  Our lives have changed in ways that none of us could have foreseen 20 years ago; we’re also a diverse group of characters, but come what may, the bond between us has grown stronger and stronger.  These wonderful ladies are quite simply “family” to me.

The thing that prompts me to write this post is the photograph that was taken this week.  It occurred to me that there has never been a time when we’ve managed to capture on camera the entire group of us.  Either someone can’t make it to a get together or one of us is actually steering the camera.  This time we grabbed a passing waitress and asked her to take the shot.  It’s not a particularly good quality image, but we are all on there.

My wonderful midlife friends

So thank you to my wonderful midlife friends for a lovely evening on Wednesday; thank you for the flowers and gifts.  And paying for me to stuff my face.  Go grab a glass of something, and join me in making a toast – to friendship.  And long may we all be happy, healthy and here to celebrate many more birthdays.

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Midlife expectations too high?

Fred has always been a winner in my eyes; his restaurant is extremely popular too in our area.

We’ve been eating there for more than 30 years on and off.  And last night’s visit was a bit special for us, because we took our two daughters along with us for the first time to celebrate my birthday.  I know, I know, I’m also not sure why they’ve never been with us before to this amazing restaurant; they’ve been almost everywhere else we’ve ever frequented.

The same staff have served us all these years; Fred is obviously a very nice guy to work for.  Decor is attractive; food is excellent.  Well, usually.  But not last night.  Out of the four meals we ordered, three were deemed to be less than great.  What a disappointment.  Gutted.  Girls are now wondering why we kept harping on about Fred’s for all those years.

Well, we’ll not be harping on about it any more.  We do eat out quite often; we like good food.  It occurs to me this morning, however, that maybe our midlife expectations are set a little too high, bearing in mind that we are in the middle of a recession.  Perhaps restaurants are having to cut corners a little or a lot just to survive.

On the other hand though, surely a recession is precisely the time to go the extra mile, and satisfy customers’ expectations.  And more besides.  I’m sure we are no different from most other families in that we expect value for our hard-earned money, and only the best will do.  It’s not as if a birthday meal can be repeated the following night, now can it?

Did you voice your opinion, I hear you ask.  No, we did not.  Normally we would have, but Fred himself was absent.  He’s gone overseas to visit family.  We will, however, make an effort to chat to him once he’s back from his travels.  And will we give Fred the opportunity of having another bite of our eating out budget?  Probably, but not for a while.  Will I lower my midlife expectations?  I don’t think so.  Unfortunately for Fred, we live in a world where nothing is indispensable – and there are plenty more restaurants where Fred’s came from.

Midlife love this Valentines Day

It’s Valentines Day on Sunday.  Again.  That wretched life clock keeps ticking at an alarming rate, don’t you think?

So February 14th is all about love and romance.  Supposedly.  It’s also about a huge marketing opportunity for card manufacturers, florists, restaurants, hotels and many more besides.  So how much should one spend to make a loved one feel “loved” enough?  And what on?  Call me cynical if you like, but I’m not sure I need some smart marketeer to tell me how to convey the love I have for my husband to him.

All the advertising hype also got me thinking about the use of the word “love”.  Girls say that they love their shoes; they love their clothes, and bags.  They love their work, shopping, cooking, books and on it goes.  Girls love absolutely everything that’s good in their lives.  And they love all the good stuff with huge enthusiasm.

Men, it seems, are not quite so flippant as women about the things they love, but they’re not far behind.  I’ve never heard a man say that he loves his shoes.  I do know men, however, who love golf and will say so.  I know men who openly say that they love their cars.  Maybe all the girly “loving” going on in the world is gradually rubbing off on the male half of the species little by little.

We “love” so many things these days I reckon we should try to find an alternative word or words to adequately describe the most precious feelings we have for our partner, or our children.  I might start saying “I give you my heart” next time I hang up the phone to my husband.  It’s a bit of a mouthful though; and no matter what alternatives I think of, none seem to fit the bill quite so perfectly as simply saying “I love you”.

Which brings me back to the initial question – how much should one spend on a Valentines Day gift to make someone feel “loved”?  Well, since “loving” material possessions has become so prevalent, I’m going to steer away from shop bought gifts altogether.  So I’ll be spending zero on gifts.

My husband will know that I love him when we sit down to a special Valentines Day dinner that we’ve cooked together and share a good bottle of wine, and I’ll know that he loves me when he does all the washing up afterwards.  And that’s good old-fashioned midlife love for you.  Priceless.

Midlife woman “glutened”

Have been feeling a little off-colour this last week or so.  And then last night and today the full-on symptoms kicked in.   Good and proper.

As a midlife woman with coeliac disease ingesting gluten in any quantity at all is a big mistake.  It’s about five years now since I went through the unpleasant process of getting diagnosed, which actually was a small price to pay for the chance to feel well again.  I quite literally leapt off the floor and hugged the consultant when he told me I had coeliac disease.  I was over the moon just to know what was making me so ill.   And I learned really fast how to live with it.  It’s sometimes a nuisance; for instance eating out does have its problems, but other than that life’s a doddle once you know you have to be forever on your guard.

You see, gluten is a tricky little monster.  It has a variety of disguises and hides itself at every opportunity, as if its sole purpose is to trip you up and catch you out.   Gluten has a habit of  making you pay it the respect that it deserves.  And I do.  Constantly.

And that’s where I’ve fallen down this last week.  A local cafe owner told me about something called spelt bread, which she uses herself.  She did not, however, I now realise, during the telling of the story, explain to me if she was full-on coeliac or merely gluten intolerant.  And there is a big difference.

Anyway, I dashed off to the recommended store to hunt down said amazing loaf of spelt bread.  Now I didn’t just buy the loaf; I closely questioned a knowledgeable staff member about the ingredients and explained that it had to be gluten-free.  She disappeared to consult with the baker and his books, and returned to tell me that the yummy looking loaf in my hand was indeed gluten free and suitable for coeliacs.  Now this loaf had no food information labelling on it, as the bread is baked in-house, which was what prompted me to ask for information in the first place.

Once home with precious loaf, my daughter (who appears to be gluten-intolerant but isn’t diagnosed as such) and I couldn’t wait to slap it on the breadboard, carve off a couple of chunks and load it up with butter and strawberry jam.  I’m salivating right now just thinking about it.  God, it was delicious.  For someone who has been searching for an adequate substitute for good old-fashioned bread for the last five years,  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Because I’ve got so used to not having bread on a daily basis, the loaf lasted a while.  I went for a couple of days and had none at all.  At the weekend I popped into the same supermarket and picked up another uncut one.  And yesterday lunchtime, I sat down to a plateful of my favourite lunchtime snack – beans on toast, with two thick chunky slices of the lovely stuff.

Amazing.  The aftermath was horrific.  Obviously a gluten overload.  Checking on the internet it appears that spelt is an ancient form of wheat, different from modern wheat in that it hasn’t been messed about with!  And it also seems that some people who are gluten intolerant can actually tolerate the gluten in spelt bread.  It is not, however, suitable for coeliacs under any circumstances.

Right now I hate myself for being so bloody stupid.  The internet is a fantastic source of information and one I use all the time.  Why didn’t I check this out?  Maybe I really, really wanted to think I’d finally found some marvellous tasty sandwich material.  I now realise that if spelt bread was OK for coeliacs it would be widely advertised as such and it’s not.  Although several big players in food retail have made this mistake apparently.  No excuse though.  Food manufacturers should know that they are playing with people’s health and lives.  And mine’s been messed up big time this week.  I feel like shit right now.

There’s a series of emails on their way to this particular food retailer as I’m writing, requesting that they sort out their labelling on store baked goods, and asking them to train their staff more efficiently and accurately regarding food allergies and intolerances etc.

Moral learned today: If you have a potentially serious health issue, do not take other people’s advice without first checking it out.  Big Mistake.