All quiet on the blogging front

I realised this morning just how long it is since I blogged here. Life has very much been getting in the way. Some of that has been positive – I’ve done a bit of decorating and enjoyed a beautifully relaxed half term with my family, and some hasn’t been quite so good as I’ve had some ongoing health issues. There is also the undeniable fact that it is really easy to get out of the habit very quickly!

So, this is a bit of a round-up post.

Anna had an INSET day at the beginning of half-term, so we thought we would take advantage of a day when lots of schools were still in to head to Brighton when it would hopefully be quieter. Brighton is one of my favourite UK cities (others, if you’re interested, being Liverpool, Oxford and Edinburgh), and we always have a lovely time there. Unfortunately I was feeling incredibly tired. I have a kind of inflammatory arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and fatigue is one of the symptoms. Thankfully it isn’t all the time, but when it hits it is that kind of stop-you-in-your-tracks exhaustion that  is normally associated with a bad attack of flu or early pregnancy.

What that meant in practice, however, was that I was forced to sit in Choccy Woccy Doo-Dah’s amazing cafe (a place so awesome I had to include a scene set there in my first book, Two for Joy), and imbibe a mountain of melted chocolate with delicious dippy bits while my husband took the children to play on the beach.

chocolate extravaganza

It’s not often I am defeated by chocolate, but I couldn’t manage to finish this, much to the children’s delight when they came back to meet me and got to hoover up the remains! We had a laid-back meander through the Lanes, some Lebanese flatbreads for lunch, and then Sophia fell asleep in her buggy and napped while I sat with her on the pier and gazed at the sea, and husband took Anna on the fairground.

The next day wasn’t quite so pleasant, as I spent a large part of it in Moorfields Eye Hospital A&E. Another delightful element of AS is that it can cause serious eye problems which need immediate treatment to avoid your sight being damaged in the long-term. I had had a niggling ache in my eye for a few days, which suddenly got worse, and so off to A&E I had to go. Thankfully it was only a relatively minor infection, but it took a while, several examinations and some rather painful eye drops to reach that conclusion.

After that we were off to Liverpool to stay with my parents for a few days. For once, heading Up North meant that we got the best of the weather, escaping the horrendous thunderstorms and torrential rain in London, and getting some lovely warm sunshine. We had a really nice few days, taking the children to Southport to the miniature railway village and to the newly refurbished playground and soft play extravaganza at Otterspool, and going out for a proper afternoon tea, as well as just hanging out in the garden. I also got the chance to have dinner and a catch-up with two of my lovely school friends.

S water play

We came home to have a fairly quiet weekend relaxing at home and doing some gardening, and then it was back to school for what is always one of the busiest half-terms of the year. The few weeks before Christmas are always chocca, but I think this half term with its school trips, sports days, summer fairs, and so on gives it a run for its money. Anna has a fortnight of daily swimming lessons with school, so I actually feel like I’ve spent most of my time in the last week washing and drying towels and swimsuits!

I’ve also seen my rheumatology consultant, and there is a possibility that I could be suitable for a clinical trial of some drugs which he believes could really help with my AS, both in controlling symptoms now and also mitigating some of the longer term effects it can have. It’s a bit nerve-racking, and I might end up spending rather more time than I’d like going back and forth to the hospital for blood tests and so on, but it is also potentially very positive.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me recently what is happening with my writing, and when my next novel is coming. There isn’t really a short answer. I have been working on a book, the first draft of which is now finished, parts of which I love, and which has characters whose story I really want to tell. However, it needs a lot of work and editing to get it where it needs to be, and at the moment I am in a kind of limbo as my literary agent is retiring soon, so I will need a new agent, and my editor at Hodder has a new job, and her replacement won’t be starting for a while. I’m definitely at the point where I need some team effort with my book, and so I am hanging on until my new agent is in place and can give me some strategic (and hopefully metaphorical) kicks up the backside. In the meantime my brain is teaming with ideas and stories, and my biggest problem is  finding the time to actually write them down. Writing, and therefore working for myself, is in many ways an ideal career for combining with looking after the children, but the downside of no fixed working hours is that it takes an awful lot of determination and focus to carve out protected time for writing and then stick to it come hell or high water. I have struggled with that a bit recently, and my mission for September, when Sophia starts nursery, is to well and truly get myself back in the writing saddle.

And in my final, and possibly most exciting, piece of news: My peony plant flowered! Aren’t they just exquisite?

peonies

So that’s where I am as we approach the halfway point of 2018!

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February half term

February half term was only last week, but actually feels like ages ago as it’s been a really busy week since we got back.

We had all sorts of plans for the first few days, most of which were cancelled as Sophia was poorly, and just wanted to sit on my lap and have cuddles and stories, which is of course what she got. Husband did take Anna out for a long walk across the Walthamstow Marshes and along the River Lea to blow their cobwebs away – the highlight of which for Anna appears to have been walking through a puddle that went up to her shins!

Then we went off to Liverpool to stay with my parents for a few days, and had a lovely time. Sophia was much better – albeit with a cough which got so bad on the first night we were there that my long-suffering dad ended up driving off to the all-night supermarket at 4am in search of cough mixture!

The next day the adults may have been a bit bleary, but the children were full of beans, and we headed off to one of my favourite parts of Liverpool, the Albert Docks. In slightly more clement weather I love a walk along the river front, but that day it was blowing winds of 45mph, so we headed straight indoors. I took Sophia to Mattel Play, which is basically 3 year old paradise – a soft play and imaginary play centre themed around Thomas the Tank and Bob the Builder. She had an amazing time, and although soft play is not my preferred way of spending time, this one is actually very civilised. Very clean, everything in great condition, friendly staff, and not over-crowded, even in the middle of half term.

bob the builder

Meanwhile my parents took Anna to one of my childhood favourites, the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The age gap between my girls means that it can be difficult to find activities they both enjoy, especially in cold/wet weather when running around at the park or on the beach is less of an option. This was great because Anna got to explore to her heart’s content with Nanna and Grandad, long after her sister’s boredom threshold would have been surpassed.

That evening I got to hang out with four of my oldest and loveliest friends – three of whom still live in Liverpool and another of whom was also up for half term visiting her parents. We basically did what we’ve been doing since we were 13, and sat around eating  pizza, crisps and chocolate and chatting about anything and everything. There was more prosecco at 37 than there was at 13, and the conversation was a bit heavier – pregnancy, breastfeeding, children, schools, careers, house renovations, sadly the serious illness of one friend’s mum – but there was plenty of random silliness too and I was reminded again of just how much I love these girls, and how lucky I am to have them in my life.

The next day we met up at the park with a selection of sproglets aged between 8 weeks and 5 years in tow, and huddled in the playground trying to keep warm while our offspring ran around.yellow shoes I also took the children to get their feet measured (they’d both grown, of course), and although the trip left me about £70 poorer, it did mean I could justify buying Sophia a pair of sunshine yellow patent shoes, which makes me very happy.

Saturday was the surprise success of the visit. My parents are very involved with helping to run their church’s food bank and community coffee shop, both of which take place on a Saturday morning. They suggested I brought the children along for a drink and some homemade cake, and then took them home when they got bored. To be honest, I expected that to happen sooner rather than later, as I didn’t think there would be much for them to do. I dramatically under-estimated the allure of a large, empty, carpeted space in the church hall! They spent the whole morning (other than a short break for bacon butties and delicious home-made chocolate eclairs) doing ‘exercises’, basically a random selection of incredibly energetic gymnastics and chasing games in the space. They got me to join in too, so I got a good workout. It is such a useful reminder that, although it is nice for children to have toys and to be taken on interesting trips, sometimes they are equally happy with some time and space to make their own fun.

As always when I go home, I feel like I have had a complete break, and come back with loads more energy and enthusiasm. Unfortunately this time also with Sophia’s lurgy, but that is par for the course parenting small children in winter!

I have a hugely exciting weekend trip by myself this weekend – a bread and patisserie course at a cookery school in Devon, which was my Christmas present from my husband. Feeling a bit nervous about leaving Sophia for pretty much the first time, and being apart from both girls for three days, which I think is the longest ever, but I’m looking forward to it too, and will hopefully blog next week about how I get on.

Back to normality

winter climbing.JPG

Well, there we are. Christmas is all over for another year. I followed my own advice, and successfully avoided festive fatigue, and we had a really lovely and relaxing time.

It helped very much that, after having Christmas at home, we went to my brother and sister-in-law’s for a few days. It was great to see them and catch up, and as always I’m reminded that 4:2 adults to children is a very helpful ratio. It really does take a village to raise a child, and seeing the children doing and learning things with their aunt and uncle (sewing, yoga, juggling!) which they’re definitely not going to get from their parents, is lovely.

It was also a few days off cooking, and away from the Christmas chaos of my own house. What is it about Christmas that means suddenly there is no surface in the house which isn’t covered with new toys/games, wrapping paper, packaging, sellotape, dirty crockery or glasses, crumbs? Or is that just me? There were only 5 of us for Christmas Day, but from the mess we made you would think that there were at least double that number! It didn’t help that the dishwasher conked out on December 23rd, and we couldn’t get an engineer to fix it until 2nd January!

However, the children went back to school and preschool yesterday, and I began the process of getting organised. We will take the decorations down tonight, and then I can arrange new bits and pieces nicely, and perhaps replace the desiccated holly with a nice big bunch of spring flowers.

Of course, it isn’t spring yet, there’s still a long old haul of dark, cold and wet days. I don’t mind too much, though. I’m not starting a new restrictive diet or crazy exercise regime (although possibly adding some food groups other than cheese, chocolate and sausage, and a little more exercise than lifting the remote control might be a good idea), and I’mm happy to hygge on down for the next couple of months. I’ve got a few projects on the go, and with Sophia moving to 15 hours a week at preschool I’ll have a bit more time to pursue them.

So yeah, bring it on January! Happy New Year, everyone.

Advent Weekend

After a moaning blog about hideous November, this is a much more cheerful post about our lovely weekend when, even though it’s only just December, we really got our Christmas on!

On Friday afternoon my husband finished work early, and we collected Anna from school and headed straight into Central London. We went  firstly to the Liberty Christmas shop to choose a couple of new Christmas tree decorations. LibertyMany of our tree decorations are now 15 years old, bought by husband and myself in a pound shop in the West Midlands our first Christmas as independent householders. The ‘house’ was a scruffy little rented flat in Birmingham, but we were so excited to have our own place that we went all out with a real Christmas tree, lugged back on the bus from our local Homebase. Cash was tight on our graduate scheme salaries, and all those pesky electric bills and Council Tax demands which were suddenly our responsibility, hence the decorations all coming from Poundland! They’ve done pretty well, and we have added to them over the years, but this year I was inspired by my lovely blogger pal Chiswick Mum’s family tradition of each choosing a new tree decoration each year. And where better to do that than one of the most beautiful and Christmassy shops in London?

We chose a new star for the top of the tree, and two beautiful baubles. Then we went and wondered around and admired the beautiful Christmas lights around Carnaby Street and Regent Street, and the incredible window displays in Hamleys. hamleysWe then refuelled with some delicious pizza, and bought cookies to eat on the tube home. It was the perfect way to start the weekend, and a much needed reminder for me that going into town is enormous fun and totally do-able, despite what time constraints and anxiety sometimes have me believe.

Saturday was Decoration Day. First of all though we had gingerbread muffins for breakfast. These are a Nigella recipe, and a fairly recent Christmas tradition we instigated a couple of years ago, which are now a must for festive breakfasts.

gingerbread muffins

We were very proud of keeping last year’s Christmas tree alive in a pot in our garden all year long. In fact that was part of our justification for splashing out a little on some new decorations – after all, we wouldn’t need a new tree! However, pride always comes before a fall, and it turns out that we hadn’t been nearly as rigorous as we should have been at turning our little Christmas tree regularly, and whereas the side facing out onto the patio was beautifully green and bushy, the other side was brown and rather denuded. So husband set off with Anna to purchase a new Christmas tree after all. I felt rather sorry for last year’s loyal little tree, so that is going to be our outdoor Christmas tree with its own set of lights. Our new tree takes up around 50% of our living room space, but it is truly beautiful, and is the most delicious smelling tree I’ve ever encountered. It is also adorned with a gorgeous Liberty star, and the homemade vanilla and clementine biscuits which Anna and I always make together.

our tree

It all looks beautiful, and on Saturday night we put the children to bed and then snuggled on the sofa, fire on,  eating a takeaway, and admiring the twinkling lights. Perfect hygge.

Yesterday we went off to our local National Trust property, Sutton House, in Hackney so that the children could meet Father Christmas. It was beautifully done, with an incredibly authentic Santa in a really magical setting. Both children were utterly enchanted. This is a particularly special year as, at nearly 3, Sophia has really developed an understanding of what Christmas is all about (trying to explain the Christmas story did, however, lead to me grappling with the weighty theological issue of ‘but who is God, Mummy?” at 6.45am today), but at 8 Anna is still young enough to really believe in all the magic. Watching their little faces as they listened to Father Christmas’ story of his and Rudolph’s adventures one foggy Christmas Eve was so magical for us too.

Santa

All in all a really fabulous weekend to kick off the Christmas celebrations!

Living Well

live well sign

I was all set to write a post about how tough life is at the moment. How tough adulting is. I feel like we’re juggling and balancing so much right now, between family responsibilities, my husband’s business (which is going very well, but is extremely demanding), some health problems I’ve been having, and then all the usual day to day domestic stuff which persists whatever else is going on. It has all culminated in a big flare-up of the anxiety I have suffered from intermittently for the last year or two. Oh, and I have toothache.

But then I was scrolling through photos on my phone, and I came across this one, of a poster in a little beach cafe in Lligwy Bay on Anglesey where we spent a week in the summer. It resonated with me at the time, in my care-free, sun kissed (and wind-blown!) holiday mood, but it is probably back in workaday, unseasonably chilly, and unreasonably stressful London that I really need to heed its message.

Take time to live well 

Often this feels like time I simply don’t have. And clearly we’re not going to manage all of those every day – that really is what holidays are for. But how often am I frittering the time I do have messing around on Facebook, instead of doing something which might be genuinely relaxing or enriching?

Before the summer holidays my husband suggested, in order to help my mental and emotional health, that I took two ‘time-outs’ every day. The first is in the morning. Just before we sit down to breakfast – the one meal which we make every effort to all eat together as a family, chatting about the day before and the day to come, I step out into the garden. Just for a minute or two I breathe deeply, smell the morning air, look at the plants and observe the subtle changes which herald the passing seasons. I come back into the chaos of our school morning routine just a little bit calmed and refreshed.

The second is in the evening. As soon as husband gets home from work (within reason, sometimes he’s not home until gone 11pm) I go straight out, leaving him to pick up on stories/baths/bedtime while I go for a brisk 15 minute walk. It is a chance to let my thoughts run free, to walk at my own pace unencumbered by buggies, scooters, book bags or changing bags, to get some fresh air, and to place a semi-colon between the manic day and the (hopefully) calmer evening.

After school one day this week I just curled up with my girls on the sofa. A Charlie and Lola DVD went on for the smaller one, and the bigger one and I read our books companionably, me with a daughter snuggled under each arm. It was blissful. And for a while at least, I quieted the internal voices telling me I ‘ought’ to be doing something useful, or taking them to the park, or playing a game, and just enjoyed being. And let myself believe that, although we can’t spend our entire lives on the sofa (can we??), actually what they sometimes need more than hoovered stairs or an educational activity is simply to be with me and with each other. It was one of the nicest hours I’ve spent all week.

It’s great to be able to let off steam and have a good moan about the difficult things. I’m part of a WhatsApp group with two very good friends which is a lifesaver for just this kind of thing. Often a sympathetic message and the renewed realisation that I’m not alone in this is all I need to give me the energy and strength to carry on. However, I want to balance that with a focus on the positive stuff as well. Counting my blessings, as my poster-guru has it. I read somewhere this week that “where the attention goes, the energy flows”, and while being realistic about all the stresses and strains, I want my attention and energy to go on the good stuff in life.

I started this blog because the every day moments slip by so quickly and I wanted to capture them. On the way it has also become a place I have a rant when I need to, but I want to stay true to my original aim of having a record of these chaotic, frustrating, exhausting years which reminds me how magical and amazing and filled with love they really are.