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.


Beside the seaside

It’s an appropriately grey, rainy and blustery day for the first day back at school, preschool and work after a (mainly!) sunshiny half term at the seaside.

We rented a cottage in Hastings for the week, and had the most idyllic time imaginable. I’m surprised Hastings isn’t better known as a holiday destination, because it is perfect in every way, from the narrow, higgledy-piggledy streets of the Old Town lined with independent cafes and delightful antique shops, to the dramatic cliffs rising up straight from the town, their tops a lush carpet of wildflowers leading to the South Downs beyond, to the waves crashing on the beach and the fishermen pulling in their catch, to the traditional family holiday amusements of fairground and crazy golf it has everything you could want.


We spent hours on the beach, paddling, wave jumping, hunting in rock pools, searching for pretty pebbles and shells, burying each other’s legs and damming streams. The children were both in their element. The miraculous thing about a seaside holiday is that, even though we took practically no toys (Anna had her Kindle and her favourite soft toy, Sophia had a handful of picture books as well as Mouse and Bunny, who are indispensable sleep aids), and we bought a couple buckets and spades, and they were both totally content with these for the whole week.


We had a morning at the fair, and an afternoon playing crazy golf (which by some fluke I won, managing no less than two holes in one!), and then a couple of day trips out to National Trust properties in Sussex. Bodiam Castle is the ultimate child’s storybook medieval castle, complete with moat, and we got there by steam train! Bateman’s is  Rudyard Kipling’s old home, and dreamily beautiful. June must be one of the best months to see an English country garden, and this one was spectacular.


I was feeling totally fed up with cooking and housework at the beginning of the holiday, and really needed a break. I was a bit worried that self-catering meant that I wouldn’t get one, but I needn’t have worried. We had fresh sourdough bread and pastries from the local organic bakery for breakfast each day, picnics for lunch – either humous and oatcakes or sausage rolls from the same bakery and a bit of cucumber and some cherry tomatoes to keep scurvy at bay, and then dinner was either fish and chips, a Waitrose ready meal courtesy of the Ocado delivery I booked for the first day, or something really simple like locally smoked mackerel and salad which was well within husband’s limited culinary capability. All delicious, no-one starved, and I have come home with a renewed enthusiasm for cooking. As for housework, well, we were out pretty much all day every day, so things didn’t really have a chance to get messed up.


I find being by the sea so therapeutic that I have come home refreshed, calmed and energised. Oh, and determined to start a fund to buy a second home in Hastings Old Town. Maybe if I start saving £2 coins…?

Spring is in the air

It’s back to school for us today, but with a definite hint of spring in the air to soften the blow. Actually, I don’t mind too much, and am hoping that this term my offspring might be a bit healthier and we can actually settle into our new routine, which involves me being able to write while Sophia is at pre-school. Watch this space!


We had a lovely half term. For the first part of it I took the children up to Liverpool to see my parents. The first morning we were there, they whisked the children off to the Storybarn in Calderstones Park, leaving me curled up in my pyjamas with a good book and a warm pain au chocolat. I then managed to stir myself to have a long, luxurious, uninterrupted shower – even more of a treat because our shower at home has been broken for three weeks and so I’ve been having baths and rinsing my hair under the taps with a tupperware tub!

The children had an amazing time at the Storybarn, and their enthusiasm definitely makes me think it’s something we’ll want to do again on a future visit to Liverpool. Anna especially absolutely loves books, reading, stories and the world of make-believe. She’s currently two and a half chapters into writing her own first novel – an adventure story which shows a strong Blytonesque influence, as well as a vivid imagination of her own, and she is rarely seen without her head in a book. Definitely like mother like daughter! Sophia loves stories too, but she also likes to be on the move, and Storybarn gave her lots of chances for active play as well. She was particularly taken with the giant bubble machine.

We had a lovely family time when my brother and sister-in-law came over for the day. The children had the time of their lives playing with Uncle Matt and Auntie Esther. They went for a walk in the woods and climbed on log bridges (Uncle Matt soaking his feet in a ditch to rescue Anna when she got stuck!), played a long game of Scrabble, which I had been teaching Anna the day before, read endless stories, had cuddles and generally gave them lots of the patient, loving, one-on-one attention which aunties and uncles are really good at.

We also went to the World Museum in Liverpool, where Anna enjoyed the dinosaur trail and Sophia marvelled at the enormous dinosaur skeleton and the tanks of tropical fish. And of course, no trip to Liverpool would be complete for us without a visit to the Waterstones in Liverpool One – one of my favourite bookshops in the country, and with such an incredible children’s area.


Back in London we had some lazy time at home, and I was self-sacrificially devoted enough to let Anna do painting and crafts. I know. It had better be a good Mother’s Day present. In the meantime I have two beaded, sequinned, beribboned octopus/jellyfish type creations to find homes for. We also headed to St Albans for the day to visit the Roman museum and remains because Anna is ‘doing’ Romans at school this term.

And this weekend the slightly lighter nights and warmer weather inspired me to start spring-cleaning. Anna and I cleared out her desk (bio-hazard suits would probably have been a good idea), and her art cupboard, and threw away bags of lidless felt-tips, broken crayons, screwed up coloured tissue paper etc etc. We spring-cleaned her playhouse as well, and then when she started to get bored and her sister woke up from her nap,husband took them both off to the park for a muddy game of football and I blitzed the rest of the house – surfaces dusted, floors hoovered and mopped, bathroom cleaned, beds changed – and then pottered off the the florists to buy a bunch of tulips and one of daffodils to let the spring inside.


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.


Curiouser and curiouser

Well, the three weeks since I last blogged has flown by in a blur. In fact the whole of February passed in a flash. One minute it was the end of January, next thing it’s practically mid-March, the trees are covered with blossom, daffodils are in the flower beds and it feels like Spring is very definitely here.

I had a lovely relaxing half term week staying in Liverpool with my parents – including dinner with two school friends, and a whole day of catch up with another, courtesy of Nanna and Grandad’s babysitting service.

When we got home again it was time to turn my attention to Anna’s 5th birthday. Her present was the first dilemma. We’d had a previously junk-filled space at the back of our garden completely cleared, and we really wanted Anna’s present to be something she could enjoy in the garden. A trampoline seemed the obvious choice, and my guesstimate measurements suggested we could fit one in. Luckily my husband, possibly with the wisdom which comes from 14 years experience of my guesstimates on anything related to spatial awareness, insisted we measured properly, and we discovered that there wasn’t room after all. Suddenly it was only 10 days to go, and we had no present and no ideas.

Then in a flash of inspiration I decided that I would turn the shed at the bottom of the garden into a playhouse for her. It’s a fairly large shed, and has nice big windows, light, electricity and even a heater, so it had always seemed a shame we only used it for random bits of storage, but we’d never got round to doing anything else. There’s nothing like an immutable deadline to encourage productivity. First I had to remove the built in desk and shelves which were already there. I got quite proficient with a screwdriver during that process, and my hands are covered in scabs from where I go impatient and just yanked. Then a very thorough clean to get rid of all traces of the spiders and snails who had clearly been making it their home. I painted the walls a pretty primrose yellow, and the window frames white for contrast, discovering as I did so that painting wooden panels is really irritating. I got a local carpet shop to fit a cheap and hopefully hardwearing carpet for half nothing, and then indulged (myself more than Anna) in the purchase of a child-sized armchair in a Cath Kidstonesque print. I sprayed one of the panels with blackboard paint so that there’s a permanent large chalkboard, and a kind friend-with-car took me to Ikea where I picked up a rug, some cushions and various other bits. Finally I was ready for the really fun bit – setting up Anna’s toy cooker, kettle, toaster and so on to make a home corner, arranging soft toys and books on the shelves, framing some Flower Fairies postcards I’d tracked down on Ebay, ransacking the house and loft for any undiscovered bits and bobs which could be called into service and generally creating my concept of the ideal space for a little girl to play, read, draw, pretend. I really enjoyed doing it, and Anna loves it, so it was worth all the effort, but it was incredibly time consuming and demanding. 

Toadstool cakeAnd that’s not including the party plans. Somehow a temporary insanity in January, when I let Anna choose her own guest list, had led to us expecting 24 children in addition to the birthday girl for a two hour party. This insanity also caused me to let her choose her own birthday cake, so I had a fairy toadstool to construct as well. I’d booked an entertainer for an hour, then the night before we were seized by overwhelming panic and booked her for another half hour. Best decision we ever made. The entertainer was fabulous, but the second she’d finished the children decimated their carefully packed ‘party picnic boxes’, mainly inhaling the hula hoops and chocolate mini muffins and ignoring the cheese sandwiches and raisins, and then they were on the rampage. A friend arriving to collect her son described my husband and me as looking shellshocked. That’s how it felt. None of them were naughty really, it’s just that there were so many of them. And they moved so fast. And our house suddenly felt so small. My husband had queried the cost of the entertainer originally; afterwards he said he felt she deserved every penny and more besides. I’ve always felt that primary school teachers should be canonised, and Sunday afternoon has totally re-enforced that. It’s fair to say that the bottle of wine we opened later that night was very much appreciated.

All these excitements meant that nothing else got done for ten days, and I’ve spent the last few days playing catch up. Oh yes, and a few manic moments this morning constructing an Alice in Wonderland costume for World Book Day. I’d originally told Anna she could go as a fairy or a cat (costumes we already have) and she’d opted to be Socks from Julia Donaldson’s ‘Tabby McTat’. However, over the past few weeks my mother-in-law has been reading Alice in Wonderland to Anna, and she loves it. Over half term my parents took her to an exhibition on magic and fantasy at Liverpool Museum, which included some Alice-related exhibits, and that made her even keener. Over breakfast this morning she was chatting nineteen to the dozen about Alice, all excited because Granny was picking her up today and so she’d get the latest instalment. It suddenly occurred to me that, of course, she should go as Alice. 7.55am on World Book Day is perhaps not the ideal time to change costume from cat to Alice in Wonderland, but Anna and I were undaunted. First I managed to cram her into an old summer dress (age 3-4!) which happens to have a sticky out net petticoat and a sash. Then I sacrificed a large white cotton napkin and cut it into something which vaguely approximated an apron shape. Obviously there was no time for hemming (what a shame), but I cut a small hole in either side and threaded the dress sash through to hold it on. I wrapped a ribbon around her red velvet Christmas Alice band, and then wrote ‘Drink Me’ on a luggage label and tied it round the neck of a small plastic bottle. The crowning glory as far as Anna was concerned was that she was allowed to take her favourite soft toy, Rosie the white rabbit, to school with her. It was a very long way from being the best costume at school today, not even in the top half probably, but I felt it was pretty good going for a 2o minute quick fix.

And I now feel that, having spent the past fortnight doing my best impression of a perfect mummy, I’m now granted a considerable period of putting Cbeebies on and my feet up. Aren’t I?