Two months of nothing new

Back at the beginning of the year I set myself the challenge of getting through a year of only buying pre-loved or vintage things for myself, the children and the house. Two months in and I thought it was time to review how it’s all been going.

Over the years I seem, somehow (ahem) to have ended up on the mailing list of quite a few of my favourite shops. First thing I’ve learnt is that the Cath Kidston, Boden, Joules, Toast and Jojo Maman Bebe catalogues have to go straight from the doormat to the recycling bin. I just don’t want to look at beautiful things I can’t have for another year!

The second thing I’ve learnt is that I can still get some lovely clothes by going pre-loved. I have recently acquired a beautiful navy and white polka dot dress, a denim tunic dress, some black skinny jeans (mummy essential!), a vintage look denim jacket and a floral maxi dress (anticipating summer  will arrive at some point) for myself, and a stunningly pretty tulip-skirted Jigsaw dress, a Cath Kidston denim skirt and some Gap shorts for Anna via my local Facebook Sell or Swap group. One of my favourite items of clothing Sophia has at the moment is a bright stripy cardi I picked up in the BHF charity shop near us, and she also has a gorgeous pink cotton dress with a bird-cage print from the same source for when the weather warms up.

My total spend has probably been about £40 – which you could easily pay for one item of new adult clothing.

The third thing I’ve learnt is that Ebay can be great, but needs to be treated with extreme caution. Not being able to try stuff on is a problem. I bought a dress for Anna, intended for immediate use, but it is actually something she will need to grow into. Probably in a  couple of years’ time, by which point the tiered tulle style of skirt she craves aged nearly eight might not be what she wants to wear at all! I’m absolutely thrilled with the vintage Cath Kidston shirt dress I picked up for a fiver, and it’s so versatile – it looks great now with thick tights, biker boots and a v-neck jumper over the top, but in a couple of months time it can be worn over leggings with some Converse, and then by itself with sandals once I’m brave enough to get my legs out. The other dress I purchased recently was less successful, however. I put it on this morning, and Sophia, who is developing quite an eye for these things, immediately declared “No. Mummy not wear dat dress. Dat dress not nishe dress. Mummy wear nishe pwitty dress.” Surveying myself in the mirror, it was clear the child had a point. How is it possible for something which is technically the right size to totally flatten your bust, whilst doubling the size of your hips and tummy, and halving the length of your legs? I pretty quickly swapped it for an old favourite jumper dress which does meet with my sternest critic’s approval. And is warm and comfortable too.

January and February is one birthday after another for us. My dad, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, several friends and several children of friends all have beginning of year birthdays. I stuck to the principle of challenging myself to consider whether there was a present they would really like which didn’t involve buying ‘things’, and only heading to the shops if there really wasn’t. So, my dad got home-made chutney and lemon curd (he is impossible to buy for anyway!), my sister-in-law got some vintage 1960s ear-rings and a second-hand book in perfect condition, one friend got a vintage brooch, another friend got a bag I had bought for myself last year and never used but which I knew she loved, another friend’s daughter got a super-cute vintage pinafore dress, and my mother-in-law got a year’s membership of the Royal Festival Hall. These all seemed pretty popular, and actually in many cases, the challenge of not just heading to a shopping mall and waving my credit card around meant that they got a better and more thoughtful present as a result.

So, what have I bought new? Keeping within my self-imposed rules I have bought some knickers and socks for Anna, some shoes for Sophia as her feet had grown, and two pairs black opaques for myself. It’s honestly not exaggerating to say that the cost of these (and they were from Next, Clarks and M&S, so not particularly high-end brands) cost more than all the other clothes I have bought put together! Boden were kind enough to send me a £10 voucher for my birthday (I suspect an unwelcome side effect of this experiment will be that I won’t be a similarly valued customer this time next year!), and I used it to buy Sophia some new vests, having tried and failed to source some second hand. The voucher expired within a fortnight and was non-transferrable, so it seemed silly to waste it. I did buy some new children’s books as other presents, too. Unfortunately secondhand children’s books don’t tend to be a condition I am happy to gift. I also slipped up and bought myself a magazine – it was popped in the trolley at the supermarket checkout without thinking, and it was only when I got home I realised what I’d done. And finally, I have replaced our milk pan, as its nonstick lining started to peel off, and I didn’t really think that was a healthy addition to the children’s morning porridge!

Writing it all down like this, it is shocking just how much money I spend, even when I’m not buying anything new! I am definitely getting a lot more bang for my buck this way, but I think I need to treat Ebay with much more caution during the rest of the year, and possibly consult Sophia before clicking the bid button. And keep my fingers crossed that my family and friends are as entranced by their pre-loved or home-made presents as I hope they are!

I had a fantastic response on social media to the idea of this challenge, with lots of people saying that they felt inspired to do something similar. Do let me know how it’s going for all of you too!

 

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Eighteen Months

Sophia was eighteen months old last week. To celebrate, we went for a blood test. However, once that was out of the way, I decided we should make the most of being out and about in London on a sunny day.

We popped into M&S to buy a picnic lunch, and then hopped on the tube to Green Park. Sophia was thrilled to have the chance to run free and chase pigeons, unrestrained by pesky hand-holding or reins. That’s pretty much all she ever wants to do.Green Park

Then I heard music coming from Buckingham Palace, and headed over to investigate. I’m not sure, but I think we caught the end of the changing of the guard. It was certainly something very ceremonial with a brass band and lots of soldiers in dress uniforms and bearskins. I pointed all this out to Sophia, but she was too transfixed by the bin lorry she’d spotted to take much notice. the guards

We fought our way through the crowds of tourists on the Mall to St James’ Park, and had our lunch on a bench over-looking the lake. This was a huge success because two of Sophia’s favourite things are ducks and dogs, and there were plenty of both to spot. Okay, so sometimes the ducks were actually swans, but there’s a whole fairy story about how that’s an easy mistake to make.cygnets

After lunch we went round to the playground. It’s a really great playground in St James’ Park, and I used to take Anna a lot before she started school, but it does get very busy at the weekend, which is a shame. Last time we were there I was about three months pregnant and feeling very sick and tired, so sat pallidly on a bench whilst husband ran round with Anna. Two years later and I was running round myself with the result of the pregnancy. I can’t quite believe how the time has flown.playground

My littlest girl is so determined and so fearless and so resolutely independent. Qualities which I hope will stand her in very good stead in later life, but make keeping her safe as a toddler (and I imagine, heaven help us when the time comes, as a teenager) quite a challenge. There was a big slide, far too steep for me to let her go down by herself, especially as it was just the two of us so there would be no-one to catch her at the bottom. So I took her down on my knee. She absolutely loved it, laughing and squealing with sheer delighted excitement. Then she saw a little girl of about four going down with her mum, side by side, holding hands. That was it, nothing else would do for Sophia, and for the next approximately forty-two times we went down the slide side-by-side.

By this time she was shattered, so I popped her back in her buggy for a nap, and walked through the park, up the Mall, through Trafalgar Square, up Pall Mall East, and through Piccadilly Circus. I love seeing London through tourist eyes and feeling proud because this is my city. I had a lovely browse in Waterstone’s, and then checked out the Cath Kidston sale in their flagship store on Piccadilly but resisted buying anything. I feel I need some credit for this as both a little red leather handbag and a gorgeous flowery dress, which I spotted back in the new Spring catalogue and have been lusting over ever since, were reduced. Not by enough for my budget though. I’m going to have to play Sale Roulette and see if they come down any further or sell out first.

By a miracle Sophia was still asleep when we got back to Walthamstow, so I bought a drink and a chocolate brownie in a little local cafe which has outdoor tables, and had a peaceful fifteen minutes reading my book in the sunshine before she woke up.

brownie

An absolutely perfect day with my lovely girl. Sophia at eighteen months is feisty, determined, active, adventurous, independent, strong-willed, mischievous, joyful, enthusiastic, loving and absolutely gorgeous. Can’t wait to see how many of these personality traits continue as she grows up.

The weekend that was

I love the posts my blogger friend, Chiswick Mum, writes about her family weekends, and as, in keeping with my new policy of dragging myself out of hibernation, I actually have something to blog about, I’ve shamelessly nicked the idea. I hope she will forgive me, and take it in the spirit of ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’.

Saturday was a fairly quiet domestic day, but we still fitted a lot in. Husband popped out to our local shop first thing and bought fresh pastries for breakfast, and then took Anna off to the first of her new swimming lessons. Thankfully, teacher, pool and lesson content all met with her approval. Sophia had her nap while they were out, which meant I had time to shower, wash my hair, condition my hair, shave my legs and apply body lotion – normally, assuming I get time to wash at all, I have to choose just one of the above.

I also managed to make a pizza for lunch, and then while that was cooking we took Sophia for her first ever walk outside. She toddled proudly up and down our street, and was so thrilled to be out in the world. If a baby’s character is any predictor of the adult they become, then I suspect Sophia will be an adventurer, and husband and I will have to resign ourselves to our relationship with her consisting of monthly text messages such as ‘In Brazil now. Going rafting up Amazon tomorrow! Love you, S x’, because she certainly seems determined to explore the limits of her world.

eggsI hadn’t been looking forward to the afternoon, because I had to help Anna with her school ‘decorate an egg for Easter’ competition. I am really not good at things like that, and while previously Anna has been content with slapping some paint in the general direction of a hard-boiled egg, this year she has ambitions to win, and had decided on an ‘under the sea’ theme. To say I was trepidatious about the task of helping her create an octopus, a mermaid, a diver and a fish out of hard-boiled eggs would be an understatement, but somehow we managed it, and were actually both fairly proud of the result. I don’t think she probably will win (for context, on the way into school this morning I saw a pirate ship populated by boiled egg pirates, and a whole football pitch of eggy players), but we enjoyed messing around with paints and sequins and bits of material, and I also realised Anna had never come across the word ‘bikini’ when she requested that I help her cut out the mermaid’s ‘waterproof bra’!nest cakes

In the mood for Easter crafting, we then made Easter nest crispy cakes. And when I say ‘we’, I actually mean Anna, because apart from me lifting the hot bowl in and out of the microwave, my oh-so-grown-up little girl made them entirely herself. My vital role was to test the mini eggs were up to scratch, and I did so exhaustively. Happy to report that they were, and I even managed to save some for the cakes.

I completed the day’s cookathon by making a big pan of veggie chilli for dinner, and a batch of cinnamon buns ready for Sunday breakfast.

Yesterday we were off to Oxford. Despite it being the place husband and I met, and pretty much my favourite place in the world, we’ve only taken Anna a couple of times, once when she was just a baby, and Sophia had only been in utero. I was overcome by the huge wave of nostalgia I always feel in Oxford, but I absolutely loved seeing our daughters running around playing in the beautiful garden where their father and I shared our first kiss, nearly seventeen years ago. A & S Merton

We went to a lovely Thai restaurant for lunch and, once again, I was very proud of Anna and realised just how grown up she is becoming as she was willing to try all the unfamiliar food on offer. Pork belly with Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce. Sweet chilli noodles. Beansprouts and bamboo. Stir-fried prawns with chilli. Actually, the thing she liked best was the egg-fried rice, but just a year or two ago she would have refused to try any of it.

After lunch we did a quick tour of Oxford’s greatest hits – Merton Street, a peek into Christ Church meadows (which are sadly inaccessible with a pram), Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera, High Street, Turl Street before finishing up at Blackwell’s for a browse and a coffee before we got the park and ride bus back to the new Oxford Parkway station.

We broke our journey home with a twenty minute dash into the Bicester Village retail extravaganza so we could pop into the Cath Kidston outlet for some new cereal bowls. I won’t go into details as to why we needed new ones. Suffice it to say that, a couple of weeks ago, I accidentally left the stair gate which normally blocks off the kitchen doorway open. I was extremely disappointed that we didn’t have longer in Bicester Village as I discovered that the Clarks shop there is doing an exclusive collaboration with Orla Kiely,and the resulting shoes are the stuff of my dreams. I am plotting whether I can manage a quick dash back at some point. I know it’s not exactly on the doorstep, but they really were divine.

Finally the children had a picnic tea on the train home – good old-fashioned cheese and ham sandwiches after their taste adventure at lunchtime – and we all got home tired but happy. It was a wonderful weekend, and I felt that we got the balance between domestic pottering and adventures further afield just right. The only thing missing was a trip into central London, so I will have to put that on my wish-list for another time. merton

February Blues

I said I was superstitious, and didn’t want to tempt fate by proclaiming how great 35 was. Hmm. Fate was tempted anyway.

Since my last blog post I have been quite poorly with tonsillitis, Anna has had conjunctivitis which was really horrible for her, Sophia had a teething-plus-cold-plus random-temperature thing which meant she was breastfeeding every 2 hours all night, and she has also had another head bump where she lost consciousness and we ended up in A&E again. Arrgghh!

valentineI spent the morning of Valentine’s Day mooching around in my pyjamas, still feeling pretty washed-out, and the afternoon in paediatric A&E. I definitely wasn’t in the mood for a romantic evening, so settled for putting my pyjamas back on again (I had got dressed to go to the hospital), and having a takeaway curry on the sofa. My lovely husband made up for it the next day, though, by bringing me a card, a dozen red roses, some chocolate truffles and a super-cute mini Cath Kidston rucksack. The man knows me well!

I’m still feeling that I quite fancy making like a middle-class Edwardian lady and retreating to the seaside for a few weeks convalescence. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be an option anyone is offering me. I did have a fairly quiet week – half term, so thankfully free of school-runs, and my parents came down for a day or two on a mercy mission to entertain the children and stock up my fridge, freezer and cake tins with some home-made goodies, which was lovely Am now having an equally quiet weekend before hopefully  getting back into the swing of things properly next week.

Fourth Day of Advent: The little things

My first few posts in this series have been about really big things. My husband and daughters are obviously the foundation of all my happiness, and, I would argue, the NHS is a foundation stone of the nation’s. Generally speaking I think that experiences and people make me happier than things and possessions, and I suspect that these Advent posts will reflect that. On a day to day basis, though, there are lots of little things, which are only things, but which make me smile, or give me a happy glow each time I see them.

A few years ago my friend bought me a set of Cath Kidston tea-cups for my birthday. I love them. They sit on the dresser in my dining room looking beautiful, and they’re the perfect size for an indulgent cup of hot chocolate. So it would be rude not to indulge really.cup

I have a necklace, just a simple silver heart on a chain, which my husband bought me for my 25th birthday. I wear it a lot because it seems to go with everything and because it makes me feel loved and special.

The free beauty magazine Boots produce every couple of months, makes me happy. As does the free Waitrose food magazine and those nice little recipe cards you often get in supermarkets. They make me especially happy once I’ve filed them away in my special recipe folder. I know, I’m a geek.

For me the very first stage of preparing for Christmas is getting my Nigella Christmas cookery book down off the shelf, and starting to plan menus for all our various festive get togethers. This year was even better as my Christmas organiser, a present last Christmas, also got it’s first outing. I know, I’m a geek.

candleI had a mini shopping trip around Walthamstow this morning, buying Christmas cards and a few other little stocking filler bits and pieces, and, a real treat for me – my Christmas scented candle. In life before children I lit candles a lot. I find them beautiful and romantic and fascinating just to gaze at. We ate dinner by candlelight most evenings and I loved nothing more than soaking in a candlelit bath for hours on end. Somehow there hasn’t seemed to be as much time for that over the last few years, to say nothing of the obvious risks of having candles anywhere near little fingers. I still have candles in my bathroom, but generally the closest I get to using them is giving them an ineffectual swipe with a damp cloth every few weeks (months) to remove the dust which has built up. I’m also fussy. Cheap scented candles never smell anything but artificial to me, and always remind me of toilet cleaner. I do know I’m weird about smells – I’m almost phobic about those warm wet wipes you get in Chinese restaurants or on aeroplanes because I find the fake citrus scent so upsetting. Which my husband thinks is hilarious. Rather than have a cheap candle I’d much rather put a simple tea-light in my oil burner with a few drops of lavender or bergamot essential oil. But luxury, high-end, organic, frankly pricey, scented candles are another matter. I only let myself buy one a year, at the beginning of December, and then I light it every evening, and often during the day if we have guests. I always choose something that feels seasonal – this year I’ve gone for orange and clove. It’s in pride of place on the mantlepiece, and I’m really looking forward to lighting it for the first time this evening.

All little things, but ones which I appreciate every time I use them or wear them or see them, and add their little bit to my daily happiness.