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21 posts from February 2006

28 February 2006

Martedi grasso

As someone who's half Italian, today is one of the days when I regret Britain's Puritan past. While the rest of Catholic Europe revels in masked balls, fancy dress, copious alcohol and Nutella*, we British make do with a few pancakes, made from the abomination that is pancake mix, chastely consumed in front of the telly.( A propos, could someone please explain pancake mix to me? How exactly pancakes possibly be any simpler to make?)

Anyway, Shrove Tuesday was one of the family celebrations that I had in mind when I decided to have a baby. So this morning I gave the Husband strict instructions to come home from work as early as possible, so that we could sit down as a family and enjoy pancakes for the first time with our rosy-cheeked, gaily chuckling, daughter.

The Husband, of course, returned home late. I, of course, was in a foul mood because the Minx had been grizzling all afternoon. The Minx, cheeks rosily-sore with snot, was in a foul mood because I had been grizzling all afternoon.

Nevertheless I dusted down my trusty copy of Delia's Cookery Course and mixed up some pancake batter, thinking what a model mama I was to be working on building those all-important family traditions. At which point the Minx promptly threw up the so-called chicken korma out-of-a-jar which she was being fed (her current cold is giving her certain cough/food/drool management issues) and then turned up her decided little nose at my delicious pancake with apple puree.

So she was packed off to bed and we spent the rest of the evening making and eating pancakes (with lemon and sugar - I am incapable of having Nutella in the house) while working on the mirror mirror website. Carnival indeed.

26 February 2006

Retribution

As regular as clockwork the Minx starts a new cold three to four days after attending nursery. Today's cold has been particularly nasty, resulting in early rising, lots of crying and general grumpiness, punctuated by the most astonishing amount of sneezing.

I feel terrible seeing my poor little girl so sad and know that tomorrow we're going to have to spend the day miserably at home instead of going to the Anna Piaggi exhibit at the V&A as planned. I just wish it didn't feel so much like retribution for sending her to nursery in the first place.

25 February 2006

It may be winter outside

Today we went for a walk en famille in Kensington Gardens. It has become a regular weekend habit as one can always guarantee a veritable cornucopia of 'giggies' (doggies) to send the Minx into paroxysms of delight.
It was bitterly cold with a biting wind, but the sun was glorious, the sky was a clear, crisp blue and the Serpentine was (honestly) the same colour as the Aegean. To cap it all we met a very nice dog called Myrtle, who let the Minx stroke her ears, and bumped into our lovely Australian friends and their baby, of whom the Minx is inordinately fond and whom she likes to cuddle rather viciously.
After coffee at Island (this was not, in truth, a very strenuous walk), we took the Minx for her first ever go on the swings (a big hit), watched an immense ochre sun set behind Kensington Palace, and admired the profusion of snowdrops and crocuses in every hidden corner of the park. Finally, spring really has nearly sprung.

23 February 2006

Charm bracelets

The Husband is not renowned for his initiative in the present-buying department; much preferring the tried-and-tested, 'ring-all the-things-you-want-in-the-catalogue/magazine' method (a direct precursor of the mirror mirror wishlist).

However amongst other things on Valentines Day he bought me Charmed Bracelets by Tracey Zabar which he had chosen all by himself. Can you be divorced for being patronising, I wonder? It is an utterly charming (!) book, full of good ideas about putting together a collection of charms and of course lots of scrumptious pictures.

As you may have gathered, mirror mirror has a bit of a thing about charm bracelets and I used to long for one full of miniature delights as a child. So on reading the book, it occurred to me that it would be lovely to put one together over the years for the Minx. To start off with I'd like to buy a baby shoes charm to celebrate her first steps, a cat charm to celebrate her first word, a dog charm because she is so fond of them and maybe some garnets since they are her birthstones.

Which is where you (lot? few?) come in. I need advice. I'd like to create something a bit like the bracelet you can see here (though with fewer photo charms) - heavy and rattly and colourful, incorporating enamel and stones rather than just plain metal charms, but I hardly know where to begin. Should it be silver or gold? Will gold get too expensive? Can you get colourful silver charms or do they tend to be plain? Where can I source vintage charms? (I've got my eye on some cute little golden shoes on eBay at the moment). Can I get special charms made?

Of course we must all hope that fashion's going through a boho phase when the time comes to present it to her, as I can just imagine her rolling her eyes in teenage horror at my quaint, old-fashioned, ideas.

(The Husband has just asked whether we will be buying commemorative charms in the shape of a tiny spliff, a tiny scowling face, a tiny tube of glue etc.)

The Apprentice

Oh how I love, love, love this programme!

They seem to have found an equally objectionable bunch of arrogant monsters this time round, so I just know it's going to be fun.

Have got my eye on the inscrutable Vietnamese guy and the cool, tall lawyer girl, and while yes, I know that Syed is hugely arrogant and irritating he does have a certain not-unappealing easiness on the eye...

Me me me

Well, a rich gypsy appears to have tagged me with a 'meme' (note use of cool blogspeak, have become trendy blogging-type person), which appears to mean that I am forced to answer lots of questions of a deeply personal nature. Being a shy retiring little flower, I do so hate talking about myself (says the woman who positively enjoys job interviews - Ed,) but hey...

What were the three things you wanted to be growing up?

When I was very young I wanted to be in Pan's People because they got to wear nice frocks, danced a lot and had lovely hair.

At secondary school I remember telling everyone that I was going to be a) a journalist and b) a millionaire, until I worked out that journalists had deadlines and a) was pretty much incompatible with b).

Thereafter I variously decided that I was going to be an air traffic controller (at the risk of offending the many thousands of air traffic controllers who are no doubt avidly perusing this blog, I'm not sure what I was thinking of at this point), an interpreter and a diplomat. I gave up on that idea when I realised that one had little say about where one was sent (so it was unlikely that I'd be sent immediately to a glamorous little embassy in Paris or Rome) and also that I am the most undiplomatic person on the planet.

So there was nothing for it but to become an investment banker, which I did for eight years, before realising that I absolutely loathed it.

I'd still like to be a millionaire though.

[I think I will answer the next questions as part of an occasional series, before I manage to bore all three of my readers to death]

22 February 2006

Picasa

If you're remotely into photography, Google's Picasa software will transform your life.

It organises your photos into easy-to-view files and has a basic yet comprehensive suite of really easy-to-use photo-editing tools, which will cover most of your editing needs. I can't explain how much easier it is to use than Photoshop (which I still use for more tricky editing tasks).

Mostly I really hate software (which admittedly is a bit of a disadvantage if you're running an online shop). It's either full of bugs or has been designed by people whose brains work in strange and wondrously illogical ways, which means I spend a large part of my day engaged in software-cursing. Picasa, by contrast, is always helpful and almost cuddly.

It also has a rather sweet 'collage' tool.

21 February 2006

Bye bye baby

Img_5615

Am very proud mama.

Today my baby girl lurched forward two tiny, shuffling, protesting, UNSUPPORTED paces and became a toddler.

20 February 2006

Spring has sprung

Garlsmbeak1_1

Springear2
Peacockear2

Spring has sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where the birdies is?

Actually Spring hasn't sprung, it's miserable out there and the birdies, if they've got any sense, are lying on sun-loungers somewhere warm drinking pina coladas.

But never mind. We've been photographing all weekend so we could add some gorgeous springlike goodies to the mirror mirror website - exquisite rose-strewn beakers from the wonderful Karin Eriksson (she of the most beautiful blog on the web); the fabulous earrings from Darling It's Perfect that I've been banging on about; and another pair of deeply elegant crystal earrings from the same company.

We've got more stuff to go on, but in the meantime don't you think you deserve a little 'it's February and I'm miserable' treat?

.

19 February 2006

Family Tree

Img_59141_1I've never known much about my father's parents. 

My father died nearly twenty years ago now and he himself had very few memories of his parents who were killed during the war.  He would have been about nine when they died, but never knew them very well, as he was evacuated to Cornwall at the age of six and before that had been in and out of hospital.

I was never even quite sure of my grandparents' names and the only photo we have is of my grandfather. I must admit that one of the main reasons for going to visit my aunt was to see if I could find out a little bit more about the family before it was too late.

Well, my aunt excelled herself. Not only was she full of memories and anecdotes about her parents - she is two years older than my father which made all the difference memory-wise - but she also had a treasured photo album, full of pictures of her parents, pictures of herself and my father as children and even pictures of my father as a baby. 

And so for the first time I came face to face  with my grandmother.  Facially we don't look very alike, but I have her eyes and for the first time can see where my tendency to plumpness and ample bosomage comes from.  The above is the earliest and most formal photo my aunt has of her.  The others show a very jolly-looking woman whom I wish I'd known. 

I am now full of questions.  How come she didn't have her children until she was 39 and 41 respectively?  How did she manage to nab herself a handsome toyboy 11 years her junior? (The Husband is 7 years younger than me, so running after young boys is clearly a congenital proclivity.)  And what was it like to have your six-year old son and eight-year old daughter evacuated and hardly see them for years?  Using the new information I have I was able to find her on the 1901 census. She and her sisters are there,  living with their Welsh parents in a grocer's shop in London.  I appear to come from a long line of shopkeepers, so it's nice to know that in other ways I'm keeping up the family tradition. 

The end of her story is a tragic one.  My grandparents moved from London to Cheltenham, presumably to be closer to their children, and, according to their ID cards, both worked in an aircraft factory there.  They were killed by German bombing in Weston-super-Mare - the family story is that they were on their way to see the children in Cornwall. When I Googled for their names on the off-chance, the first thing that came up is the Weston-super-Mare Blitz War Memorial, an online list of everyone who lost their lives due to enemy action in the town.  It is somehow nice to know that their names will live online for posterity.

My aunt believed that her parents were killed by a freak accident, by a German plane discharging unused bombs on its way home.  The reality is more sobering.  The same lovely person who researched the War Memorial has discovered that in fact heavy bombing of Weston-super-Mare was a reprisal for the bombing of Bremen, because they thought Winston Churchill was in the area after returning from the US. 

My father hardly knew his parents, my aunt still misses them even now and I never got to meet my jolly-looking grandmother.  Who knew that the bombing of Bremen would have such profound and tragic consequences for us all?  As I look at the photos of the grandparents I never knew, the politics of the war have finally become personal and I'm finding it all both intensely moving and very sad.

17 February 2006

True Brits

Madonnabrit

Some questions.

Aren't the Kaiser Chiefs just a Jam tribute band? 

Weren't Prince and Kanye about a gazillion times better than anyone else?

Is anyone else thrilled that Coldplay have decided to take a break? 

What is Chris Martin doing with a Kevin Keegan perm? (Poor Gwyneth).

How did James Blunt survive in the Life Guards with that voice?

Was this the final nail in the coffin of Chris Evans' career?

When will someone tell Madonna (whom I admire greatly) that her long stringy hair looks awful? Totally wrong colour and completely wrong for her face shape.

Feel much better having got that off my chest. Next stop the Oscars I think...

16 February 2006

Just the two of us

1clanger_small Went to see a supplier today (remember the gorgeous Darling It's Perfect earrings? - well they're going to be on the site VERY soon). 

I put on dangly fan earrings (impossible to wear with a grasping baby), lots of lippy (no danger of it being wiped off with snotty kisses) and walked out feeling very light and carefree and strangely underdressed. 

It took me some time to work out why - instead of my usual huge changing bag full of bottles of milk, sippy cups full of water, miscellaneous snacks, soggy rusks, mussies, nappies, bibs, assorted large picture books, Small Clanger, telephones (Minx's and mine), bottles of suntan cream (heaven knows why in an English February) and a small plastic tambourine, I just had a small handbag containing purse, keys, phone and lipstick.  Of such pleasures heaven is made.

The meeting was in Clerkenwell and afterwards I called the Husband, who works nearby, who took me for a delicious lunch at the Zetter.  We looked at each other awkwardly, conscious only of the large, buggy-shaped, absence at the table.  What on earth do couples, going out for their first lunch sans baby talk about?  But of course, we talked about her.

Breakeven

BreakevenAm feeling a bit despondent at the moment as orders have tailed off dramatically after Valentines Day and and the Independent-fuelled flurry earlier in the month.

The problem is that mirror mirror is currently in the wonderful world of 'breakeven' ie. we only just about make enough each month to cover our costs, which is all faintly depressing (particularly when Christmas, when we do much more than breakeven, is so far away). Sometimes this business feels like pushing a huge boulder downhill.  It seemed to gain momentum over Christmas but it's got bogged down a bit now and I need to push at it a bit more again.

I know in my heart of hearts that online retail is a volume business, that I just need to keep going and hopefully the volume of orders will continue to build gradually so that we flip easily into profit each month.  However we're not quite there yet and every time we get a dip in orders I worry that it's all going pear-shaped and I will be left with thousands of pounds worth of unsold stock. (The Husband says I overdramatise things somewhat).

I didn't make the above graph, but am finding it strangely reassuring as it's telling me that this is the classic pattern for a small business.  I read somewhere that the start-up period was basically a competition to get the business to a stage where it can cover its basic costs before you run out of money to invest. Once you've got to that stage you know you've won and can then focus on growing the business.  Scarily though most small businesses never get there.

15 February 2006

Rebecca De Winter

029_1 "THIS season I have been inspired by a strong spirited, mysterious and yet utterly glamorous woman with more than a touch of Du Maurier's Rebecca De Winter," Amanda Wakeley wrote in her show notes. "She lives dangerously, drives too fast, flirts expertly and dresses immaculately."

I want her to shop at mirror mirror ...

(This image from Wakeley's new collection shows what I'm going to wear when I become a foot taller and ginormous post-breastfeeding boobs shrink into beestings.)

Jake the Rake

Img_5628_5The Minx got more Valentines cards than I did.

One from her father as is only natural and proper (though I wonder how long it will take for her to become horribly embarrassed by them?) and one from the little son of one of the very nice mothers I've been hanging around with recently (well apparently he'd instructed his mother to buy Lulu a card).

The only thing was that he also gave a card to another baby girl at the same time.  It seems that boys are not to be trusted even at 8 months. Here are all the components of this love triangle 'playing' (and I use this term loosely) together.

13 February 2006

Saint Valentine

Val288aWhat a difference a year makes. 

This time last year I was still recovering from a dreadful labour and birth, breastfeeding was going badly, my baby was underweight and looked like a little wizened gnome. She was so small that I was too scared to take her out in the cold, even if she'd had a snowsuit small enough to fit her.  So instead of going out to buy a card for my husband, I painted her tiny foot with red watercolour paint and printed her footprint on a piece of card.

This year we're all going to breakfast together on our traditional Eggs Benedict and then we'll open the Valentines card the Minx 'made' for us both at nursery. Much preferring this year.

HAPPY SAINT VALENTINES DAY

Express delivery

06476_86_1Some rather unexpected coverage today in the Sunday Express 'S' Magazine.

Last November we took a stand at the House & Garden Spirit of Christmas fair and were rather sadly excited when Linda Barker (a very well-known celebrity interior designer here in the UK) came and bought loads of stuff.

Well, here she is in today's magazine showing off our extremely delicious Creation Mathias bath confetti which we import from France.

Am I being ungrateful to wish that she had a slightly more upmarket 'brand'?*

*I have to say that she did seem extremely nice when we met her.  I just wish she didn't also endorse Curry's and DFS

12 February 2006

Travels with my aunt

Img_5941As promised (we aim to please here at mirror mirror), here's a bit more about our trip to Southern California.  It's not really about business or babies, but hey!

As we were going to be on the West Coast in Seattle, it seemed sensible to travel down to visit my aunt down in Orange County (just south of LA).  Actually it wasn't very sensible at all, it was only after we booked the flights that we realised that she actually lives 1,000 miles from Seattle - America sure is BIG.

But in the end it was definitely worth it.  I had last seen my aunt about eighteen years ago at my father's funeral - we've never known her very well as she moved to Canada and then the US when she was about 20.  Nevertheless there was the immediate shock of the very familiar - she looks a bit like my father, but even more like my father's (and her) aunt, an old lady whom I knew when I was a child.  Her wry, slightly deadpan, sense of humour is also very much like my father's - and completely un-Californian.  And therein lies the rub.  For my aunt, though living in paradise, is a rather sad and lonely woman.

She lives with her cat in her slightly-Austin-Powersish-but-nevertheless-beautiful house with views over the ocean, listening to Tom Jones and surrounded by photographs of herself in her 1960s heyday. She is slim, immaculately well-groomed and elegant, and looks to be in her early sixties rather than 75.  Money is clearly no object.

But her life has been tough. She and my father were orphaned during the war, she then lost her only brother (my father) when he was still quite young, her husband died only a few years later and her only child, her daughter, died last year of cancer at the age of 48.  So now she has no-one and seems to find it impossible to make real friends in California, with Californians.

She talks of coming back to England, which she fondly imagines is an oasis of old-fashioned good manners and intelligent conversation (I didn't disabuse her), but knows no-one here either and doesn't think she could cope with the weather.

We had a lovely time together and I learnt lots I didn't know about our family history which was fab (may blog a bit about this as well).  But it's left me feeling sad and thoughtful.  Not sure what to conclude except that money clearly doesn't buy happiness.  It also gives an new interesting perspective to the 'should I have another baby' debate (which I will DEFINITELY blog about later).

The above photo was taken from the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. How can I in all honesty tell my aunt to come back to England?

11 February 2006

Moderately tasty mummy

PedicureThis morning I escaped to the hairdressers to get my hair cut and was BULLIED (this is for my husband's benefit) into having a pedicure at the same.   Two hours of being worked on at both ends with me reading magazines in the middle - utter bliss -(though the amount of dead skin which was removed from my heels was somewhat alarming).

I would never have believed before I had a baby how pathetically grateful I would become for a bit of 'me' time.  Or how pleased I would be to look almost like a human being. I can't even find any snot on my shoulder.

09 February 2006

The Minx

Img_5455All of a sudden my baby girl seems all growed up. 

In the last few days she seems to have acquired incredible manual dexterity - she can feed herself with her fab spoon-on-a-telephone-wire, point to various pictures in books very accurately, throw things properly and even reach out and pick things up without having to look directly at them.

She gives us the most wonderful hugs, can say about five words -mostly beginning with 'c' - and understands a whole lot more, loves music and dancing, and adores cats and dogs.

She's still not walking, though doing everything but - practically running behind her brick walker, standing unaided for long periods of time, cruising on tiptoe and standing supported on one leg.  I don't think she sees the point of walking at all when she can crawl so easily.

Most importantly of all SHE HAD A GREAT DAY AT NURSERY TODAY AND CAME HOME IN A GOOD MOOD.  I know I'm supposed to be all nostalgic for the baby days, but goodness me I'm enjoying these days so much more... And am I a bad mother to enjoy her absences so much?

Purple Cow

PurplecowJust back from our madcap trip to the West Coast of the US.  More successful than I ever dreamed possible - thanks to all the planning we did  and the fact that the Minx somehow metamorphosed into a little angel along the way.  Though it was a bit tragic to see how excited she was this morning to be back with all her familiar toys, particularly her beloved piano.  She was even beside herself with glee when we put her in her high chair. 

Anyway, the trip to Seattle may have interesting ramifications, so I will blog about it at a later date when the ramifications have become clearer.

Our trip to California to see my elderly aunt was also hugely thought-provoking on many levels, so I will blog about that at a later date when my provoked thoughts get themselves into some sort of order and I don't have so many Valentines Day orders to pack.  (Dear Reader, how can you bear the suspense?)

In the meantime I'd like to mention a little book I read on the plane - Purple Cow by Seth Godin.  To be honest, the book was somewhat insubstantial, as his basic premise can be summed up in about a paragraph (he clearly is a marketing genius to be able to parlay that into a best-selling book). 

In a nutshell, he states a truly successful business can't just be very good at what it does - there are far too many other very good companies out there -  but has to be REMARKABLE in some way.  Which of course got me thinking about mirror mirror and how we can make it stand out from the crowd, especially all our competitors who are so much bigger and uglier than we are.

I think the key areas where we can differentiate ourselves are a) stunning products; b) the gift service in general and in particular the care and attention we pay to our packaging and c) providing an outstanding level of customer service. 

Of course, I'd like to think we're a Purple Cow company already , but I'd love to get any ideas you might have on things we could do better and things we could do add to the service to make it truly incredible.  Please share your thoughts of what you'd really like to see from an online shop. (The best ideas will win a yet-to-be-determined prize...)