Easter ‘break’

Anna breaks up for the Easter holidays today, and I am feeling slightly trepidatious! Usually I really look forward to the school holidays – lazy mornings free from the tyranny of the school run, the chance to travel or spend more time with family and friends, a more relaxing pace of life. But for some reason this Easter break is feeling a little bit ominous.

Possibly because this last half-term I’ve been well into the routine of Sophia going to pre-school three mornings a week, and I have really, really, really appreciated the difference that has made to my energy levels and sanity. This week I’ve missed out on two of those precious mornings, the first because there was an end-of-term pre-school trip to our local city farm which I helped out at, and then pre-school broke up yesterday, so there will be no Friday session this week. I really enjoyed going to the farm, and seeing Sophia’s face as she saw real live bunnies and pigs and even a genuine Baa Baa Black Sheep, but I have missed the me-time and the headspace I get when she is at pre-school, and it has made me slightly wary of the next few weeks, as the next time I have a period of child-free time is when she returns to pre-school on April 21st. Which feels a very long time indeed!

We do have some nice plans for the holidays. Tomorrow is an INSET day for Anna’s school, so husband is also taking a day off work, and we’re going to head to the Science Museum, which is normally unbearably crowded at weekends and school holidays, but we’re hoping will be less so tomorrow when many schools haven’t broken up. Then we’ll have lunch out somewhere, maybe al fresco if the weather continues to be so beautiful, and then spend the afternoon letting the children run free in Hyde Park. I imagine ice-cream will probably be involved as well.

On Sunday I am taking the girls up to Liverpool for a few days to stay with my parents. It will be lovely to see them, have a change of scene, and have another two pairs of adult hands. After that we don’t have any real plans, not even for Easter weekend itself. It looks likely that my husband will be working a lot of the time, and so I need to have a little think about what I do with the children. I’d like to make use of our National Trust membership and visit our most local property, Sutton House in Hackney, and perhaps Osterley Park in the far West of London if I’m feeling more adventurous. Heading to our local playground or park is also guaranteed to please both children.mini eggs

Then of course there will be plenty of down-time at home – making the inevitable Easter nest cakes, messing around in the garden if it’s nice weather, snuggling up to watch a film if it’s less so. And more mundane tasks like getting Anna’s passport photos taken and counter-signed and taking her glasses to an optician to be mended!

What there won’t be any time for, I don’t think, is sitting in a cafe writing, so there will probably be a quite few weeks on the blog! Happy Easter, everyone.

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Summing up Summer

I’m a bit slow off the mark with the obligatory summer in review post. I could blame the back-to-school rush, or the poorly catten, but I think my own disorganisation would probably be fairer.

For the past couple of years, when confronted with a six week summer holiday, I have scheduled, scheduled, scheduled in a desperate attempt to avoid boredom and cabin fever. This year was a little different. We had one week’s holiday in Cornwall planned, and I spent a few days with my parents in Liverpool right at the beginning of the summer, but otherwise we had a blank slate. I was a little bit nervous, but it turned out to be just what we all needed.

This was the summer that Anna learnt to ride a bike, Sophia learnt to crawl and I learnt the true meaning of multi-tasking. Feeding the baby her porridge, bidding on Ebay, eating my own breakfast and joining in a spirited Sound of Music singsong?No problem.

The weather wasn’t brilliant, but we had fun anyway, and spent time doing a lot of the things that just get squeezed out in term-time as weekends have so many competing demands. We had a pyjama day, took a selection of soft toys to the playground, made pizza, chilli, spaghetti sauce, butterfly cakes, chocolate cake and Smarties cookies (not all on the same day), did some gardening, started reading Famous Five, had some cycling practice, and got messy with paints and crafts. We spent a lot of time babyproofing and looking round for objects which could be dangerous to Sophia, and even more time removing the ones we’d missed from her mouth.

Mornings without the pressure of the school run were sheer bliss, and time didn’t hang heavy at all. There were days when I felt like I’d taken up a new, unpaid career in catering but generally it was a lot easier than I’d feared. There was a summer hero though. By about 4.30pm my nerves, patience and creativity would be stretched fairly thin and I still had teatime, bathtime and bedtime to get through. That was when the wonder that is Cbeebies came into its own, giving me breathing space to sit down for ten minutes and then cook tea with only one small person, who could be contained in her bouncy chair for a while, to worry about. Telly which is safe, fun, educational, perfectly targeted to young children and free from advertising is an absolute godsend, so I was more than a bit panicstricken today to learn that the BBC are thinking of scrapping it as part of their enforced cost-cutting measures. Frankly I would pay the license fee for Cbeebies alone, so I rushed to sign the petition against the cut. If you and your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren have also benefited as much as we have from Cbeebies then I’d encourage you to do the same.

And now we have shiny new shoes, warm coats, school bags, PE kits, GBBO on telly, leaves turning colour…and the unbroken blue skies and blazing sunshine which were conspicuous only by their absence in August.

Cushion the blow

In one of my very earliest blog posts I wrote about sewing – how I wish I’d learnt more from my grandmother while she was alive, and how I’d recently read a novel by Amanda Addison and been inspired to try some simple sewing projects.

Well, fast forward nearly a year, and not much sewing had happened. Somehow there always seemed to be something else to do – gardening, writing, launching a book, looking after my daughter, and sewing never got a look in.

However, I recently bought three old wooden chairs from a local furniture recycling project, and was inordinately proud of successfully sanding and painting them, and re-covering the fabric seat of one. I now have the eclectic, mismatched dining furniture I wanted, for  a bargain price. I also had some blue spotty Cath Kidston fabric left over from the seat re-covering, and when I found some spare cushion pads in the loft, I had a lightbulb moment and decided that the two could be combined to give me both a nicely manageable sewing project and some extra cushions for the dining room sofa.

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I haven’t got a sewing machine – I did contemplate buying one last year when I started thinking about sewing, largely because John Lewis had such pretty ones in gorgeous shades of duck egg and scarlet, but common sense intervened and I realised that given my level of skill and time commitment it wasn’t going to be even remotely good value. Sewing two small cushions by hand seemed manageable, but I didn’t feel very confident about zips, so decided to look online for a pattern which didn’t require them. And I found one.

My husband was away for work on Monday night, so instead of watching something rubbish on telly I decided to employ my time in a creative and fulfilling way by getting cushion number one underway. I am not a particularly patient person (I hope if my parents and husband are reading this they aren’t eating anything at the time, I don’t want them to choke), and I do slightly tend to take the view that instructions are for wimps and just getting on and doing something is the best way to get it done. Can you see where this is going?

The thing is, although this approach serves me pretty well with a lot if things, cooking for example, I did have a feeling that I needed to be a bit more precise with sewing, so I really, really tried to measure carefully and think before I cut anything. And it seemed to work. I had three carefully hemmed and pinned pieces of fabric, which did combine to look something like a cushion cover. So I started stitching them together. Yesterday afternoon I only had one seam to go, and, being as I mentioned naturally impatient, I decided to turn it right side out to see what it was like. Oh dear. I’m still not totally sure what I’ve done wrong, but it certainly doesn’t look quite like a cushion cover. I think that I’ve sewn the little flappy bit on the wrong end. cushion coverBut it doesn’t look big enough for the cushion either. I can’t really see a way around it other than unpicking everything and starting again (which doesn’t hugely appeal, to be honest), but if you’re reading this and you can sew, do let me know if you can suggest a solution! Otherwise, I’m thinking that I could just do a rough hem and then give it to my daughter as a doll’s sleeping bag.

Onwards and upwards as they say. A positive is that in my garden, which is my other new project, the runner beans, strawberries and herbs are thriving, the tomatoes and sweet peas are at least still alive and we perhaps don’t need to discuss the courgettes or the marigolds in any detail.strawberries

The Virgin Gardener

photo-2I have never really got the concept of gardening as a pleasurable leisure activity. In my last three homes there has been something which passes for a garden in London (in the first it was six foot square of concrete paving), and, because I totally get the concept of whiling away a summer evening in the garden with a bottle of rose, occasionally I had to make some kind of an effort, even if it was just to clear a pathway between the door and the table. But it was always very much a household chore, up there with washing the kitchen floor on my list of preferred ways to spend a weekend.

But this year, something strange has happened. Perhaps it is simply the early onset of middle-age, or perhaps the influence of reading books by Laetitia Maklouf who is basically the Nigella of the gardening world (and the title of whose first book I’ve borrowed for this blog post), but I now do have a sneaking interest in my garden, and have actually enjoyed spending time working in it.

Last week my parents came down to spend a few days, and my dad, who is an extremely keen gardener, brought down various seedlings which he had been nurturing in his greenhouse, and was now entrusting to me. Anna had helped him plant some of the seeds when we were in Liverpool at Easter, and she’s very proud of ‘her’ runner bean and marigold plants. My dad also took me to the garden centre – I steadfastly maintain that you don’t need a car in London, but trips to the garden centre are one of the things which do call this conviction into question. So, the result of all this activity is that in my small courtyard garden (doesn’t that sound nicer than back yard?) I now have runner beans, strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries, tomatoes, courgettes, sweet peas, marigolds, lupins, rosemary, mint, thyme, chives and sage, plus basil and parsley on the kitchen windowsill. Oh and lots and lots of geraniums,  as experience has shown me that even I find it difficult to kill a geranium.

Of course when I say I have all those things, in most cases what I really mean is that I have the theoretical potential to have them by the end of the summer, should I get the next four months of watering, feeding and pest control right. If I had one, I wouldn’t be cancelling the order for the organic veggie box just yet. But I am pretty excited about the potential.

I’ve been going out several times a day to check how everything’s doing, and carefully feeling the soil to check moisture levels. The torrential rain and gale-force winds of the last couple of days have upset me not just because of my pledge never to wear my winter coat again, but because of my little seedling babies, not to mention my Mediterranean herbs which like dry soil and sunshine, having to battle these unseasonable conditions. Certainly forgetting to water them wouldn’t be a problem this week.

So watch this space. I still have lots to do to create the garden space I’m now dreaming of, and I still have a sneaky suspicion that I’m always going to prefer the sitting-around-with-a-glass-of-vino aspect of my gardening life, but I am starting to see that I could get creative satisfaction from gardening as well as cooking and writing, and at least Anna, thanks mainly to my dad’s efforts, will get to see that our food doesn’t automatically come in polystyrene trays from Sainsbury’s.

Spring?

 

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Well no, I know it’s not spring really, we’re not even quite out of January yet. But after the bleak and freezing weather of the last couple of weeks there seems to be a little bit of softness in the air this morning, and so I’ve come up with my top ten reasons why I think spring must be on the way:

1) It’s typical springtime weather, bright, sunny and breezy. Well, maybe slightly more than breezy. But the near gale force winds whipping round the house will surely blow the cobwebs away.

2) When I went out for a walk I didn’t need my gloves  and hat on.

3) I turned the thermostat on the central heating down yesterday.

4) I’ve gone three days in a row without a hot chocolate. Oh alright then, 2.5 days. But who’s counting?

5) The pots in my garden have green shoots appearing. It won’t be long before I have beautiful spring flowers. Although the bulbs which didn’t provide a tasty winter snack for the resident squirrel population (numerous) will be a delicious treat for the snails as soon as they begin to bloom.

6) I’m actually thinking about my garden for the first time since I planted aforementioned bulbs in October. I’m no rival to Charlie Dimmock, so what I have been thinking is that I need to phone the local gardening firm and ask them to come in and do some pruning and tidying, but still. When they’ve done all the hard work I might plant some primroses.

7) When I went to Colombia Road Flower Market on Sunday it was full of the springtime flowers I love best – daffodils, hyacinths, tulips – and I bought some catkins to arrange in a vase. And we always had catkins on the Spring Table at primary school, ergo it must be spring.

8) It’s my birthday next week. Having a birthday in February is quite handy because I can revive all the New Year Resolutions which didn’t make it through January, and that gives me a sort of cleansing, spring like feeling. Oh dear, I seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel now. I should have stuck to a top seven reasons. But I’ll keep trying.

9) I’ve just made a list of little projects I want to do around the house. And I actually might do some of them myself, as opposed to phoning a man who can. I was a bit daunted at the thought of hemming a pair of curtains by hand, but have now decided that sellotape will be a perfectly acceptable substitute, so that’s ok. Painting the frame of an old mirror surely shouldn’t be beyond me. And all this is a displacement activity for cleaning the windows and hoovering under the beds, which is what my house really needs in the way of spring cleaning.

10) I’m really stuck now. Erm, how about, because the Easter eggs are already in the shops, and surely, surely, retailers wouldn’t indulge in cynical unseasonal product placement in an attempt to persuade us to buy things we don’t want or need, so it must be spring.

And having proved to my perfect satisfaction that spring is on the way I can now feel entirely justified in going out to buy my first creme egg of the year.