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!

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When life gets in the way

Wow, it’s been three weeks since I last blogged, which must be one of the longest times ever between posts, unless I’ve just had a baby. And I promise, I definitely haven’t had a baby.

I’ve had a half term, with lots of lovely relaxingness (that’s a word, right?); first of all staying with my parents for a few days in Liverpool, visiting the fabulous Museum of Liverpool, and our favourite Speke Hall, and then a weekend at my MIL’s, all the way on the other side of London, when we went for a long family walk and were very proud of Anna managing 7.5 miles, and Sophia at least half of that out of her buggy.

Husband and I also managed to get out for a sneaky pizza one evening, and I escaped for a whole day’s shopping, cocktailing, lunching and, most importantly, chatting in Cambridge with one of my closest friends.

I actually went back into the school routine feeling relaxed and recharged, but then spent all my ‘free’ time in the first half of the week attending Occupational Therapy with Anna, and organising a mini Halloween party for her and a couple of friends, before the second half of the week being totally confined to the house with a poorly Sophia.

I also got to the point where I couldn’t cope with the clutter in Anna’s room any longer. It was making it impossible to clean properly, and it always looked messy even if it had just been tidied. Its such a cliche for mums to berate their children about the state of their room, and I’m sure my parents would say this is karma, because I wasn’t, ahem, the tidiest of children myself, but it really was ridiculous. On Saturday we spent a backbreaking two hours, while husband was working and Sophia was napping, being ruthless. Anna was actually very good about detaching from the various ‘interesting’ leaves and pebbles, pieces of artwork and plastic crap from party bags which she has picked up since my last blitz. We filled a black bin bag to the brim with things to throw away, and a sizeable cardboard box with things to either sell, donate or pass on to Sophia. I hoovered and dusted, she cleaned the windows, and it now looks reasonably civilised once more! If you can ignore the pen marks on the desk which are now clearly visible with the clutter removed!

 

We’re now heading into one of the busiest, albeit most enjoyable times of year. The older the children get, the more their seasonal activities seem to increase, and of course there is shopping and general preparation for the big day. Despite this, I’m making a commitment to myself to blog at least once a week for the rest of the year, because taking the time to reflect on and write about what’s happening in our lives gives me the chance to actually appreciate it, and one day be able to look back and remember it, rather than everything disappearing in a whirl of busyness and activity.

Return to routine

September has to be a contender for my favourite month of the year. Especially on days like this when the golden sunshine highlights the leaves which are just beginning to change colour, and there’s that hint of crispness in the air. September is a month of anticipation; I guess a hangover from childhood when you had that thrilling triumvirate of Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night and Christmas to look forward to. And as I was a fairly geeky and Hermione like child, I’m not at all sure that I didn’t enjoy the return to school, complete with shiny shoes and a lavishly stocked pencil case, more than breaking up for the summer in the first place.

We have had a very enjoyable summer. We’ve paddled and built sandcastles and walked on cliff tops. We’ve made good use of our National Trust membership with visits to Plas Newydd, St Michael’s Mount and Speke Hall. We’ve spent time with friends and family, we’ve been to the zoo, we’ve eaten a lot of ice cream. We’ve had busy days, and days where no-one moved very far from the sofa. We’ve played frisbee in the park and visited innumerable playgrounds.

We’ve baked, and cooked, and swum, and crafted. We’ve kept the sticker book industry in business on various lengthy train journeys. I’ve read a million stories, and also made good use of the wonder that is CBeebies. And though I might feel like I’m the only person in East London not now sporting a Tuscan or Provencal tan, we did make the most of the changeable British weather. But now, I’m ready to get back into our normal routine, and I think the children are too.

I love my daughters more than I can say, and I know I am extremely lucky to have spent the last seven weeks with them. However, I think I may love and appreciate them just a little bit more when I have some time to myself. The windows of time  when Sophia is in pre-school and Anna is at school, and I get to write, or catch up on chores, or go to the toilet by myself, are so precious and they fill me with renewed energy and enthusiasm for spending time with my girls when I pick them up.

I also love September for the feeling of (generally unjustified) optimism at how organised and efficient and productive I am going to be in the coming school year. How my children will gobble up the delicious and perfectly nutritionally balanced meals and snacks I have prepared for them. How our mornings will be be calm and smooth, ending in both children dropped at school with a loving kiss and no cross words exchanged. How our after-school activities will be fun and active and creative and hardly ever involve Peppa Pig. How I will hit the sweet spot of time management which will enable me to utilise my 10 hours a week of childcare to write, to exercise, to relax and to do boring but necessary household tasks. Obviously this is all very unlikely to happen, and in a fortnight’s time I will be, as a friend put it this week, ‘crying into my gin in the corner’ after we make it to the school gates after an hour of ceaseless nagging with only 20 seconds to spare, and both children reject anything which bears even passing resemblance to a vegetable in their lovingly prepared dinner, and I realise that I just spent an entire 2.5 hour pre-school session staring blankly at Facebook whilst eating a family sized bar of Dairy Milk because Sophia has a cold and I was up with her four times in the night. But just for this next week or two I can plan, and I can hope, and I can buy a lovely new notebook to make lists in, and I can enjoy the smugly serene conviction that this is the year I will nail it.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…?

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.