Monday, 2 March 2015

Dream Catchers, Birth Stories and Welsh Cakes: This Week's #LittleLoves

This week I've just finished The Year of the Rat, by Clare Furniss, which follows Pearl and her family as they struggle to come to terms with the lost of Pearl's mum who died giving birth to Pearl's sister 'The Rat.'

I was really curious about this YA book after hearing it was sold for a six-figure advance after an eight-way publishers' bidding war. No pressure then.

I loved

  • The well drawn characters; Pearl's dad's pain was piercing and Pearl's frustrations with her cursing, smoking, ghost-of-a-mum who refuses to play dead had me bristling.
  • Flashes of humour save Pearl from appearing too maudlin, and bring touches of light to the 'sick-lit' subject matter.

I didn't love;

  • Pearl's self-indulgence. As an adult it was hard to watch Pearl wallow as her step-dad tried to hold their world together. At times I wanted to shake her. Still, teenage readers won't share my frustrations Pearl's navel-gazing will only make her more relatable.
  • There were a few cliches; the strong-yet-sensitive cello-player next door felt a bit predictable, but not enough to stop me rooting for his budding romance with Pearl.

The Year of The Rat is a warm and touching read for both mothers and daughters and while there are fantasy elements to the book, it's nice to see YA tiptoeing towards real life with this emotional, poignant book.
The kids have been enjoying The Yoga Ogre by Peter Bently and Simon Rickery this week, the story of an overweight Ogre who takes up sport to lose weight - with hilarious results.

The kids loved;

  • The onomatopoeic words - Ker-crash! Ker-crack!
  • Funny pictures - horses hiding in trees, anyone?

I loved;

  • Positive chat about exercise. #winning 
  • The clever rhymes. 'Was it an earth quake? They started to panic. A herd of mad elephants? Something volcanic?'

I loved watching a All or Nothing on BBC this week, a documentary following 4 pregnant women and the choices they make around birth. Jo's Free Birth story reminded me of my own happy accident  - though I'm not sure I'd have been brave enough to plan giving birth without assistance.

What is it with birth-stories that fascinates us mothers? I loved fellow blogger Rebecca's response to the program here.

I struggle with this prompt every week. Any fashion brands want to help me out? Hint hint... This week's highlight was probably Baby Girl rocking a paper bag on her head. We all have those days darlin'.

Mind you, I'm totally hooked on the new JoJo Maman Bebe dress she's wearing in the picture. Bit of an investment for 'everyday wear' but I love the colours - not too girlie - and it washes so well. Saying that, I'm considering investing in 7 and sodding the washing completely.

My kids are craft mad. Which makes me mad too, on many levels.

This week we've been digging into Bouncing Boy's Weekend Box. I subscribed to this fortnightly delivery in the thick of the 'dark times' with Baby Girl and too be honest, it was only supposed to be a temporary thing to carve out some quality time for me and Bouncing Boy amidst the screaming.

But we were hooked immediately and over a year later still look forward to our fortnightly delivery. Each box contains 4 different activities to make or do. This week's box had a Native Indian theme and both kids really got behind the Dream Catcher project, 'to take away my scary animal dreams, mummy,' said Bouncing Boy. Sniff.

Possibly one of the cutest things ever from the mouth of my babe.

'What are your rings made of mummy? (pointing at my wedding ring and eternity ring.)
I think they might be made of love...'

Have to admit I was speechless after that one.

And Finally
A belated happy St David's Day to any Welsh readers.

I had a go at making welsh cakes this week to celebrate. They were insanely good - and I'm no cook. Seriously, get involved people. They are properly easy too. I followed this recipe from Amy at She Cooks, She Eats.  

Hapus Dydd Gwyl Dewi all!

That's jam, not burnt bits, thanks very much...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

On the agony of a teacher-crush.

Oh, the torture of a teacher crush. That pure awe, that glowing admiration, that compulsion to drop their name into conversation every two seconds. For me, as a school girl, it was Mr Davis, the design and technology teacher. Oh, how I loved the way he clicked his technical pencil.

Over twenty years later things haven't changed much. I still find myself rapt when it comes teachers, only these days it's those at my son's school.

I've talked myself into believing my son's teachers are super-human. In my mind, they have infinite patience, wisdom, insight, experience, kindness and mind-reading powers. They inspire my child's curiosity. They channel his enthusiasm, soothe his play-ground injuries and notice when he's trying his best, using his manners or being kind to other children. Basically, they do all the things I aspire to do, only better. No pressure then.

Thing is I've got no choice but to think this. I've sunk everything into those teachers; all my trust, support, belief and hopes - not just for my child, but also for me. How else could I bring myself to leave my son with them everyday? 

I say this after one of the reception teachers pulled me aside at home time the other day. It was a quick afterthought for her, no biggie. For me? After weeks of a blank 'link book' and no sign of the next parents evening, it felt like a glorious, dazzling moment in the sun.

Before she even opened her mouth, my mind was spooling with poetry. 'I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams,' or something like that.

Her thoughts were more mundane - mainly how long it was taking my son to get changed for P.E. She may have even stifled a yawn. (Don't blame her, it was a long term.)

Little did she know that for days later I'd be hanging on her every word, analysing her every expression and wondering what her casual observations of my son's rubbish button skills really meant.

Crazy. I know this. But the excruciating teacher-worship continues;  
  • If we're late to school, it's not my son's education I'm worrying about. It's the teacher's approval. 
  • When it comes Christmas, gifts for teachers are top of my list.
  • School uniform gets special treatment; it's the only clothing that sees an iron. 
  • Parents evening feels like speed-dating. So much to say, so little time.
  • Messages in my son's link book get read, re-read then read some more. Sometimes, I even find myself smoothing the pages
  • When outsiders say anything negative about the school, I bristle. I'm allowed to moan but no one else is. 
  • No matter if I'm younger or older than teachers in the real world, I always feel like a giggling teenager around them.
  • Assembly feels like a long-awaited gig I can't believe I bagged tickets for. Wow, look how they work the crowd. Such talent. 
But worst of all
  • When a favourite teacher announces plans to leave for another school, I sob like I've been dumped. Oh, the agony of thinking about her new students. #welljel. Would it be weird if we followed her?
Someone tell me this is a school girl crush and we'll all get over her...

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And then the fun began...

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A new story, a true story and lots of shared stories: this week's #LittleLoves

Hoping everyone has had a great week. Our half term has been full of lots of lovely little things - mainly two children...

I'm sharing the highlights as part of #LittleLoves. This week it's being hosted by the gorgeous Emma over at one of my favourite blogs; Life at the Little Wood. Get over there and get lifestyle envy, quick!

This week it was all about a very special book to me; Confessions of a Mother Inferior by fellow blogger, Ericka Waller of Mum in the South. Ericka hosted a launch party at my local Waterstones to celebrate her publication. The long-awaited day was extra special because I've followed Ericka's journey to publication since I 'discovered' her at Britmums last year and persuaded her to submit her manuscript to the publishing house where I freelance.

Britain's Next Bestseller is a crowd funding publisher. Authors submit a finished, fully-edited manuscript and if accepted, we agree a target number of pre-orders they need to achieve in a set time frame to bag a book deal. Find out more here. Ericka stormed her campaign and I know she had a lot of support from other bloggers. High five to our lovely community!

The kids have loved reading The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell this week -  when Louis gets eaten by a series of imaginary animals, his sister launches a hot pursuit to rescue him.

The kids loved;

  • The crazy animals - the Gulper, Undersnatcher and Sabre Toothed Yumper got monster laughs.
  • The illustrations; a new detail to discover with every read and lots of wacky contraptions.
  • The funny burps and hiccups finale. What's not to love?
  • The satisfying structure; it felt like a well thought out story with a great ending.

I loved;

  • The great rhythm and language, including the repeated use of 'unfortunately'. I can see this being the 4 year old's new favourite word of the week.

Sound the Octo-alert! The cadets embarked on an exciting mission at Watford Colosseum this half term. We joined underwater adventure heroes Captain Barnacles, Kwazii and Peso for a live stage show; Octonauts and the Deep Sea Volcano Adventure.

The kids loved
  • The catchy interactive action songs, mysteries to uncover and mild child-friend peril. 

I loved 
  • The underwater 'Midnight Zone' scene, featuring balletic, luminous puppets swishing round a pitch-black stage. 

We were all a bit dubious about Kwazii's accent; a bizarre mixture of Frank Spencer and George from Rainbow and not at all in keeping with his cheeky personality, but no time to worry about that. Explore! Rescue! Protect!

I've been completely hooked by Serial this week. Serial is a free-to-download podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig. It tells one story - a TRUE story - over the course of an entire season. Each season, Sarah and her team follow a plot and characters wherever they take them.

Season one is all about the story of a girl named Hae Min Lee, a High School senior from Baltimore County who disappeared on the 13th of January 1999. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of her murder and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth...

I loved
  • The suspense. This is a true story and the team don't know what happens at the end until they get there, not long before the audience. 
  • The twists. Just when you think you've cracked it, they throw in a game-changer that has you spinning
  • The pace. Beware, the story is constantly evolving and it's addictive! I burned through all 12 episodes in one week and will have to wait until later in 2015 for Season Two.

We peaked early this week, on Pancake Tuesday, which was definitely a food-high for the kids. To be honest the kids and me are pancake mad and have them for breakfast at least once a week. Poor old Down-to-Earth Dad. For someone who isn't particularly keen, he's forced to eat way more than his due. At least on Pancake Day it feels seasonal. And my binging feels legit.

Tenuous link and cheating cos it's not even me, but I'm super proud of the boy this week as he's dressed himself every single day, all by himself; a serious business when half-term arts n' crafts, dressing-up and puddle jumping means he's been persevering through at least 3 outfits a day. Yay, little dude! Go you!

And finally...
One of my favourite moments this week was when my 2 year old daughter tucked herself into my bed with a stack of books, declaring 'books make my happy, mummy'. Me too darling. Me too. As a life-long book nerd and #kidlit lover, I'm so excited to share her passion.

Happy days! I love taking part it this linky cos it makes me focus on the lovely little moments of my week. But be under no illusion, we've had our share of 'argh' times too; more of those in another post soon I'm sure!

Thanks for reading. Hope you had a lovely little week too. x

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Valentine’s Day with kids? Clintons can wait.

How are you celebrating Valentine's Day with your kids? It’s a tricky one. Last year I bought my son and daughter a cute little poetry book from a second hand bookshop – get me, foraging for vintage treasures. I’ll be pairing them with high street ‘pieces’ next. Eclectic, that’s me. ;-)

'Love is a special way of feeling,’ begins the book by Jean Walsh Anglund. The illustrations are sweet too. But it's the second line about love that really gets me.  

‘It is the way we feel when we sit on our mother's lap with her arms around us tight and close.'

Cue misty eyes. Lump. Throat.

Ok, so Anglund gets a bit random in parts. Love is also 'the happy way we feel when we calm a frightened colt,' apparently. Errr, no thanks. I won’t be let my kids near any freaked-out foals any time soon...

Wild animals aside, I was hooked by the innocent, childlike and simple sentiment Anglund describes – none of the bitter-sweet complications of grown-up romance or the saccharine commercialisation of Clinton's for her.

Call me a killjoy but part of me hopes my son doesn’t get any Valentine’s Day cards for a long time yet. With any luck his school will veto the whole thing, like Peter Turner, the head of Ashton Primary School in Weston-super-Mare, who banned his pupils from exchanging Valentine's Day cards on the school premises a few years ago.

"Some children and parents encourage a lot of talk about boyfriends and girlfriends," he said. "We believe that such ideas should wait until children are mature enough emotionally and socially to understand the commitment involved."

Right on! Yes, young love is cute – kiss-chase anyone? – But it can also be cruel. I still get hot cheeks and a knot in my stomach when I remember the awkward declarations of my youth, the popularity contest of classroom cards and the humiliation of getting my hopes up only to realise my mystery gift was a joke from friends. Cringe.

The alternative isn’t much fun either. Who wants to be forced to send a card to everyone in the class – even the kid who calls you names? Or single out one friend from the political pressure cooker of your posse? Shudder. 

Not to mention the Valentine’s message – that love means buying things, wrapping them up and coating them in chocolate. I’m not being funny, but if my kids start expecting chocolate every time I tell them I love them, they’re heading for heartbreak.

I’ll be protecting my kids from that nonsense for as long as possible if I have my way. Yes, Valentine’s Day might be soppy and silly and full of fluffy toys but you need hard-boiled heart and years of experience to survive it.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy being the love of my children's eyes. Long may they sit on my lap, with my arms around them tight and close. Clintons can wait.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

White Shoes,hotpots and taxidermy: this week's #Little Loves

#Little Loves
I'm linking up with the gorgeous Morgana from butwhymummywhy with this post, all about the little things that have made this week for us.

This week I'm doing my best to stick to my NY's resolution of not scrolling through my phone in bed by reading Her by Harriet Lane. Think single-white-female frenemy thrills; there go my early nights...

As a family, we've been digging out old faves this week. We read stories over dinner: it's the only thing that keeps the kids at the table. Hairy Maclarey and pals have done an amazing job of transcending age-boundaries and making both kids laugh at the same time this week. Rock on, Hairy.

Of an evening, the wee man has been enjoying The Toucan Brothers by Tor Freeman; the story of two Toucan plumbers and their dodgy competition, Flash Rover - not as random as sounds, honest!. The rhyming is a bit stilted in places and there's a few too many adult-based jokes for me (Flash Rover is a corgi dog, a play on CORGI registered, for example) but the illustrations are brilliant and I welcome the message about doing the right thing and being honest. Thanks Tor Freeman, loving your work.

For baby girl, it's all about Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and James Dean. 'I love my white shoes' is the first Pete the Cat book we've read and we're total fan-girls already. Something about this rhythmical book makes me want to sing. (This, from someone who suffered three failed attempts to get into school choir as a child.) Pete is super cool and I'm so excited to get stuck into the rest of the series - reckon I might even get Bouncing Boy in on the action. I totally caught him humming along when I was reading/ singing to Baby Girl this week. Will be checking out the 'I can read' versions pronto. 

We're Silent Witness suckers this week. (Daren't say this out loud but I think I might like it more than Broadchurch these days...) Totally awesome, except I can't help thinking Nikki and Jack have waaay too much time on their hands; always going beyond the call of Pathologist duty, sleuthing about the place, solving crimes. Chill out, guys. No one loves a show off.

Mainly slippers, tracky b's, thermals and chipped nails. Must. Try. Harder.

Call me middle-aged but I've been catching up on Women's Hour podcasts this week - Jane Garvey's voice is the only thing that keeps me awake when I'm snuggled up waiting for the kids to drop off at bedtime. So informative and thought-provoking - who knew that a new EU ruling means that parents in Britain will soon be able to request up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave until their child's 18th birthday! Listen to the 13th of January episode for more info. Trigger warning: the show also includes an interview with the mother of author Kate Gross, who died of cancer on Christmas morning, leaving five-year-old twin boys. Sob.


Ham hock, mustard, leek and green lentil hotpot. All by myself. Those who know me personally will find it hard to believe I didn't resort to my old friend - cereal - when left to cater for myself this week, but this meal was so easy even I couldn't burn it up. Seriously, the recipe was on the front label. I just fried the leeks and shoved them in the slow cooker with a bit of stock and everything else till I had time to eat it. Lush served with hot-buttered crusty bread to mop up the juices and you know what? I didn't even feel bad about the lentil farts.

And lastly...
This is my favourite photo of the week:

Baby Girl chillin' with a stuffed seal at Tring Museum, as you do. She's sporting her new hair cut (thanks The Annexx), coat (thanks mum) and stripy tights. What's not to smile about?

Thanks for reading! x

Monday, 2 February 2015

F*ck it February

Phew! January is officially over. The month of feeling fat, punishing ourselves, #bluemonday and generally having no money, food or life.

I'll admit I haven't been particularly disciplined or abstemious this year. Hubbie got a new job (yay!) - the anxious days waiting for the offer involved much vino to calm our nerves. Then when the offer came, much vino to celebrate. We're considering pushing on through till he starts in April...

Still, I'm loving the de-mob happy feeling February brings. The long-awaited January pay check has finally cleared. Diets are so last season and the pretence of Dry January is finally over. I intend to make the most of it.

Here's the things I will officially be saying 'F*ck it' to in February;

  • The Not Drinking pretence. 
  • The Not Drinking on a Weekday pretence.
  • The Not Drinking More Than One Glass on a Weekday pretence.
  • That stupid new year's diet. Am I thinner? Not sure. But I'm definitely hangrier (hungrier + angrier). Not a good look. 
  • Getting up half an hour before everyone else to 'get stuff done.' Duh! That half an hour doesn't exist! Kids are powered by forces stronger time itself, obvs.
  • Contouring. As in my face. Apparently it's a thing, now. (Never mind our that our bums, boobs and tummies are the wrong shape. Apparently our faces are now too.) I tried it for my January double chin... Orange beard and make-up collar, anyone?
  • Woollens. So high maintenance. All that piling and fluff. I can barely keep up with my own body hair, let alone the weekly harvest of my piling jumper. So long bobbles..

Life's too short to shave a sweater

  • Resolutions. The ONLY one I've kept so far is 'not scrolling through my phone in bed.' The rest bit the dust ages ago. Including my promise to, errr, dust.

But lest you think I'm totally rubbish, I'm also saying a positive 'f*ck it!' to the following in February;

  • Feeling self-conscious in the gym. Maybe it's the awesome #ThisGirlCan campaign. Maybe I'm bored of cowering in the changing rooms. Whatever, I'm over my fear of weights machines and all those who grunt on them. 
  • Feeling like I'm bluffing it. Ever feel you're playing at being a grown up? About to be caught out? Story of my life until now. NO MORE! Thing is my friend and I set up a business. It's going really well. Stuff just got real and we've no one to credit but ourselves. *Fist pump*
  • Mum Guilt. Turns out my patience is finite. I'm a total pushover. And my kids rarely wear ironed clothes. Time to accept that and move on*. (*Till March, at least). 

What are you saying f*ck it to in February? 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

#Facebookdown. How I coped.

Facebook was down for a few hours last night and this morning. 

It hit me hard. You know the drill. I hit refresh. I hit it again. Then, with no warning, I was hit with this;

Suddenly, my life lost all meaning. Where was I heading? Back to MySpace? Surely not. 

I wasn't sure how I felt about anything anymore. Without a status to update, who cares?

All the cute pictures I'd taken of my kids doing routine things that day felt pointless. 

What was I supposed to do while I waiting for my daughter to fall asleep? Go back to the Dark Ages? Literally?

Who knew how empty it would feel not knowing the whereabouts, stream-of-consciousness and dinner-choices of distant school friends and long-lost colleagues? #lonely

My thumbs were twitching with inactivity. Should I take up knitting? 

I couldn't stop thinking about the plight of all those unseen selfies and Candy Crush Saga Invites. Tragic.

It must have been chaos out there in the real world. Rumour has it some people were even having eye contact instead of looking at their phones. Nutters.

Thank god for Twitter - but it wasn't easy condensing all my social media needs into 140 characters.

At least my cats were happy. I was forced to like them. In real life. Instead of photos of other people's in my timeline.

But what's the lesson here? Maybe I could actually live without feeling crazy-envious yet simultaneously bored by 'friends' holiday snaps for a whole hour? 

Who knows. It's a crazy I won't have to deal with; Facebook is back up. 

And my God, it's beautiful.