Sunday, 16 October 2016

Keeping it Local...

A combination of the dreaded bloggers block and a run of migraines/nasty headaches kept me away last week, but I'm back (hooray all 3 of you shout!). I've been spending a little more time around my local area again since the little man went back to school (and I've been out and about a little more since work has calmed down a bit in the last couple of weeks). I realised the other day that I rarely write about where I live and I tend to think of it as rather uninteresting, but that isn't actually true - I just need to make more of an effort to find (and make proper use of - remember Just A Card folks!) the good, small, local stuff.

So this brings me to food.

I actually now have a whole list of wonderful things in Wallington, Carshalton and Croydon to share with you but I'm going to start with a couple of places which are within walking distance of my home.

New in Carshalton is Dotty's Teahouse. I visited a couple of weeks ago for a meeting and it's now set to become the weekly pre-swimming cafe stop with the little man, as he's completely fallen for the place too. 

It's a proper tea shop - pots, leaves and strainers, crumpets and Victoria sponge. Carshalton has quite a few cafes and when Dotty's opened I questioned whether it needed another, but this place is different. As well as gorgeous food and very nice tea they sell some vintage bits, pretty little girls dresses and all sorts and have an area for smaller children out the back. The staff are all dressed beautifully in 1950s style dresses. I basically want to go every day. 

They've also just won Newcomer of the Year at the Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards - that and the fact it always seems to be busy, suggest I'm not the only one to love it! 

Back in Wallington, we have somewhere that's been a favourite of mine for quite a while, The Brook.

The Brook isn't just a cafe - although the food is fab - they've just gone over to a fully vegan menu which I'm yet to try but I will soon (even though I'm a confirmed meat eater!). I have held two exhibitions of my work at The Brook, I've been to gigs, I've been in the evening for drinks and cocktails and taken the little man there for chocolate cake.

So rather than just a cafe, it's more of an arts venue - they have a recording studio there, regular weekly events (like a choir which I'd love to join but my childcare arrangements don't allow me to - maybe they will one day). They also have open mic evenings, ukulele nights, a book club and lots more. The back room can be set up as a cinema and they do parties... The list goes on. A lovely atmosphere and run by wonderful people who love their local community. They're currently doing a bit of crowdfunding to enable them to do more.

So the very furthest reaches of South London aren't quite as much of a desert as you may think...

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Bye Bye Kitty

On 1 September we said goodbye to our beloved cat St John. He joined us from the Cat's Protection League in 2011 when he was 18 months old and was just one of the loveliest cats ever (even if he didn't really do laps, or let you pick him up!).

He came as a set with his sister Mia (who we called Beany - not sure why but we did) - she was killed by a fox when we still lived in Tooting but St John kept on going for another 7 1/2 years. He had hyperthyroidism for his last 4, but coped well with it. He was too old and frail to undergo the invasive treatments and we were actually surprised he lasted so long. 

Here he is at his fattest (before his illness made him very skinny)...

The hardest part for me was having to make the decision to say goodbye. I know it was the right one but I did beat myself up a lot for a couple of weeks. We've now had St John's ashes back and have scattered them in the garden he loved so much. 

So the little man is after a kitten, but St John's (new) sister Tabitha - who has been with us for 7 years - seems to remarkably happy with the turn of events and is actually a lot calmer and quieter than she was before (I often joke that she's the world's noisiest cat - she just goes on and on and on...). So we're going to see how it goes.

Farewell St John. You were fab xxx

Sunday, 18 September 2016

A Day Out in Kings Cross...

Not something I would've expected to be doing 20 years ago.. especially with a 6 year old. Kings Cross really did used to be a place you went to in order to catch a train and then left as quickly as possible. But the renovated St Pancras Station and the new Kings Cross have helped to change the area and I decided it was about time I had a proper explore.

I'd spotted Camley Street Nature Park when out on a work related errand a year or so ago, so that was our first stop on our end of the summer holidays trip. We arrived at about 10.30am and had the place to ourselves for the first half an hour or so!

Camley Street Nature Park is run by the London Wildlife Trust and is a quite remarkable haven in the middle of Kings Cross. Bordered by a road (and then the mainline from St Pancras) on one side and the Regents Canal on the other, it fills a little slither of land. Other than the occasional siren, sound from building sites and the trains you really could be in the countryside. The little man had a go at pond dipping and we tried to find some stag beetles (which we see quite often around here but I think they were all asleep in their log piles at the park that day!). We saw lots of wildfowl too including the family of swans in the image above.

After tea and cake at the park's cafe, we headed out and over to Granary Square...

Central St Martins moved to Granary Square a few years ago now (I always dreamt of going to college there...) and new students were heading in to register when we visited. The little man was more interested in the mesmerising fountains out the front though, and complained that I'd failed to bring a change of clothes so he could go in them (the weather turned out to be warmer than I'd expected!). He watched some other children getting wet for a while before we walked around the corner to the House of Illustration

The House of Illustration is a lovely little gallery devoted (as you may expect) to illustration. The main exhibition at the moment is of Quentin Blake's illustrations for the BFG - which was apt as we'd been to see the film the previous week. The little man had fun creating some Quentin Blake inspired drawings of his own as there was a lovely big activity table in the gallery for children. The second exhibition was on Russian children's book illustrations but sadly by this point the little man was getting grumpy so I didn't get as good a look around as I've liked.

Our last stop on the way to Euston Road for a late lunch (yep, Pizza Express again, who am I to argue?) was the glowing tunnel leading from the Granary Square entrance into Kings Cross Station. I had to stand there for a few minutes to get a shot without anyone in it! 

So a good time was had by all. We'll definitely be heading back to Camley Street and I'm even considering joining the London Wildlife Trust as it turns out there are more places to visit which I didn't know about!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Eight Weeks of Summer...

I'm back! Well, I haven't really been that far but it's been eight whole weeks since I last posted here. I had an ideas drought but I also had the summer holidays to contend with (which allowing for inset days were seven WHOLE WEEKS - I now need a holiday). I've not been sitting still though, three posts a week for Made By Mrs M and one for Just A Card, together with finalising and launching my new collection (and everything which goes with that) and preparing for three big (for me) events (the first of which is happening as this post goes live) have kept me pretty busy, when I only had five days of childcare in seven weeks...

Anyway! I may still be busy but I suddenly had a rush of inspiration to head back over here and I have lots of lovely posts planned for you (in my head at least). We got up to quite a lot over the summer including trips to the South of France and Barcelona (I could write a whole series of posts about the small boy's behaviour in Barcelona - maybe I should as it'd get it out of my system and make me consider taking him away again one day - or maybe not), we also had lots of days out here in the UK and spent time with family and friends.

For now I'll send you in the direction of my Instagram (which I haven't taken a break from - it's too addictive - even though the new algorithm means my posts are seen by one man and his dog, and I get lots of new followers to both accounts who then leave immediately, but hey) and I'll be back with something more substantive next week!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Walking through the lavender...

I'm back after a forced IT related break last week... To be honest I've hit another blogger's block so I'd been struggling to know what to write about anyway! Last Sunday we made our annual pilgrimage to the lavender field which is a 5 minute drive from our house. Here it is...

If you're in South London/North East Surrey a trip to Mayfield Lavender is (it would seem) a must - it gets busier every year. We first visited when they opened in 2006 and have been visiting ever since (we didn't live as close back then). To begin with it was just a field you could walk in and purchase a bunch of lavender and some oil, now it's quite the commercial operation with 2 separate places to get a snack, a proper (albeit open air) shop selling lavender products and plants, plus tractor rides for the little ones. 

I attempted a little video (from which you can hear that it was pretty busy!). Sorry for holding my phone the wrong way (awaits audible sigh from Mr M...)!

I may have only managed one short post in a fortnight, but things may be a little more sporadic around here over the next few weeks of the school holidays... You never know though I may find myself massively inspired and blog more than usual, but let's wait and see. Keep your fingers crossed for some decent weather! 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Some positive things

This is actually the second attempt at a post for this week. My original one (written a couple of days before I wrote this) was a self indulgent, depressingly bleak ramble about the future of the country and how the world is basically ending...

I think I may have reached the next stage in the post-referendum grieving process now though and made the decision to delete the post. It just made me feel properly miserable again, and felt so melodramatic (note for my friends: yes, even more melodramatic than usual). So, I've decided on a change of theme.

If it weren't for the bad news, this week would've been pretty good. So. I'm going to make a list of positive things that've happened and stuff I'm looking forward to...

1. I went to Tooting this morning. Unless you know me well, you'll think that listing this is odd. I used to live there and I miss it quite a bit. Other positive here is that I was visiting to deliver a wholesale order to a new stockist. In fact I have 2 new stockists this week - this deserves it's own item number really.

2. The blog post I wrote on Monday (on my other blog) received such a fab response and I've had lots of lovely people approaching me, wanting to collaborate. 

3. Also on the topic of Blogtacular (which the post above was about), I've won a 1-2-1 coaching session with the founder, Kat Molesworth. So if this doesn't get me out of the doldrums, nothing will.

4. I was also one of the 9 winners of this week's #sgiew (So Good in Every Way - I wrote about it here). This week's winning grid as selected by Nikki McWilliams is here... (mine is on the right in the middle row - party rings and jammy dodgers).

5. I had a lovely, spontaneous trip to Tate Britain with my blogging friend Laura on Wednesday - we both needed cheering up. One of the best things was that we only planned it on Tuesday afternoon (spontaneous rarely happens when you have children). 

6. Mr M bought me the best set of oil paints, a table easel, paper etc on eBay and it's just arrived today. I'm planning to get on with trying them out ASAP. 

7. I've had lots of other lovely post this week too. 

And to look forward to...

1. Summer holidays - yes weeks to fill with the little man, I'm actually looking forward to it and to escaping (and hopefully getting some sunshine at some point!).

2. Visiting the Art Deco stations on the Piccadilly Line on Saturday (you're very welcome to join us - see here for info). 

3. Pressing go on my new collection (although I am a little nervous and holding back on this, as sales have pretty much stopped since the vote last week, and I'm wondering how long this will last). 

4. Another decoupage workshop with Gabriela Szulman (I'm going to make a tray).

5. Going to see the Pixies!!!!

So plenty of stuff. Plenty of yoga and gardening and sewing too of course...

Sunday, 26 June 2016

On being afraid...

I've really struggled to come up with a post for this blog this week as my thoughts are so totally occupied wth the EU Referendum. Today (as I write this) is Thursday so I've voted but don't currently know the outcome. Like so many, I'm afraid of what it will be and the dramatic effect it may have upon me and my family's lives if the result is leave. By the time you're reading this, we'll know (I really dislike uncertainty - has to be the biggest cause of anxiety).

Rather than going on about this, or trying to come up with something cheerful to write about when I really can't, I thought I'd just share a little hand lettering I did earlier in the week - mainly to cheer myself up. Feeling positive about the legacy of the murdered MP Jo Cox and hoping people take her words to their hearts - and extending this beyond the EU to everyone in the world which seems to be such a scary place at the moment.

So remember this folks, and try to be kind to one another...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Mornings... and Happy Fathers Day!

As you read this (if it's still Sunday morning), I am probably on my third coffee. This is a mistake and I know it but yesterday was Blogtacular (so a very busy, exciting day with a very early start) and today is Father's Day (so a very busy, exciting day for the little man, with a very early start). I'm lucky that Mr M is a morning person - which I most definitely am not... Most of the time I don't have to get up like this, but today I do and last week was mega busy. As I type this I'm fairly certain I'm struggling to function on Sunday morning.

Naively, when the little man was a baby, I thought I might become a morning person... Parents have to get used to never having enough sleep (and in my case the quality is never good - even if I get a lie in, he's making a racket downstairs, and I wake at the tiniest sound in the night, and struggle to get back to sleep), but no. If anything I find mornings even harder now than I used to. 

I should probably give up wine and start going to bed at 9pm every night, but that's not very sociable (or realistic), and anyway on the rare occasions I do do this, I don't wake any more refreshed - it's still as if I'm being pulled kicking and screaming from the womb...

Cool morning showers don't work, 2 coffees kind of do - number 3 wakes me up but makes me feel really weird (and wired) for the whole day, and affects my sleep that night (even if they were all before lunch). 

Not sure what the answer is. On mornings like this it's not as if I can do some yoga or go for a run - make the most of the time - as I have the little man with me. So, as you read this (on Sunday morning), I'm probably flicking through twitter and instagram while absentmindedly watching Paw Patrol or Horrible Histories. I won't be doing anything useful - just feeling exhausted and miserable. 

I'll also be trying to persuade him not to make too much noise and wake Daddy up on Father's Day. This is tricky as he's prone to tantrums and the cafe (where he will want to go) won't be open yet as it's Sunday. We'll probably have a card or present to get ready for Daddy, but that won't take 5 minutes and I expect he'll be grumpy about doing that anyway...

Right. Let's see if I'll be in bed by 9pm tonight... And once the whole house is up I'm sure we'll have a lovely day.

Happy Father's Day to all the fab Daddy's everywhere - especially those who usually do these painful mornings! 

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Summer Throat...

At the end of May/beginning of June last year I developed a really bad sore throat - searingly bad. Initially I assumed it was a cold as I was a bit sneezy and had a headache too, but after a couple of days they'd gone and so had my voice.

I had about a week with pretty much no voice at all - which is really tricky with a young child about - having to speak to him constantly, repeating everything (and shout down the street after him when he ran away/shot off in the wrong direction) caused me to strain my throat further and it just got worse. When the voice came back I sounded like Joan Rivers after a string of smoky nights out and every word hurt. This lasted for 6 weeks - really taking the edge of Blogtacular and several other events, as well as leaving me feeling quite ill and drained. Doctor said it was laryngitis and I just had to take plenty of fluids, paracetamol and rest my voice (hilarious)!

So eventually it went and my voice recovered fully (although there were times where I really thought it wouldn't), but as I type this, at pretty much exactly the same time as last year - give or take a week - it seems to be back. Obviously this makes me want to cry - I'm running a workshop next week, I have Blogtacular again - I really don't want everything to be spoilt for two years in a row....

But, as I sit here consuming as many fluids as possible, I'm wondering if this might just be hayfever again - it's exactly the same time and exactly the same sore throat (so the Piriton is out even if I'm not convinced it's working). I'm certain if it is it's not caused by the lovely flowers above (from my garden) - my main bout of hayfever is usually in May and that's passed - I think that's caused by one particular type of tree pollen and once it's done it's done. So now I feel I need to try and work this one out too. 

I came across this rather fab and useful pollen calendar from Zirtek, which makes me think that the May tree thing might be Birch (as it's pretty much always over by June). but now, in South London, I'm assuming it's grass as nothing else around here is in it's "peak period of pollen release".  But maybe not, it might be something else. I've had all sorts of newfound allergies since the little man came along (thanks for that - I was always very happy with my allergy free status). 

The site also helpfully tells me that today the pollen count for the South East is very high, which may go some way to explaining why it's struck this morning. Needless to say I need to save my voice for next week, so I won't be picking up the phone to anyone today, and if the postman calls he'll be getting a smile and a nod rather than a "thank you", as I need to save my voice for a small boy who expects me to repeat every single thing I say 10 times... 

I put an anguished call out for hayfever relief tips on Instagram and received some brilliant ones - Antihistamines (yep) and nasal sprays, local honey - apparently it has to be local, showering in the evening before bed and changing bedding (especially pillows covers), not drying bedding outside as it picks up the pollen, dusting with damp dusters and keeping windows closed. 

Any other tips to add folks? 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Shoreditch, Hoxton and an unexpected garden...

Last Sunday we popped up into town as I wanted to take the boys to see the Geffrye Museum (which I'd only been to to have a stall at Crafty Fox Market, so I hadn't visited properly either).

The Geffrye is the Museum of the Home, and it charts the history of middle class homes with fab room sets and displays. Mr M loved it, the little man loved the room sets and I thought it was pretty wonderful too. So that was all good, but then we stepped out into the garden...

The museum's herb and cottage garden is just one of the most beautiful I've seen - really fragrant (the roses are just amazing) and in such a brilliant spot - sandwiched between the museum itself and Hoxton Overground station. The museum is amazing but the garden is worth a visit on it's own too. Almost (but not quite) making up for my failure to go to the Chelsea Flower Show!

Here's one of my favourite room sets (with a bowl identical to one of mine on the table - it's by Catherine Holm).

And more from the garden...

We took the opportunity to walk back down to Shoreditch and called in at Arnold Circus on the way. Arnold Circus was the first ever social housing, built in 1900 - I saw a brilliant programme about it on TV a few years ago and really wanted to take a look.

Followed by some general colour spotting fun in Shoreditch itself before collapsing onto the train to come home. 

Find out more about the Geffrye Museum on their website.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

If you go down to the woods...

Now, I'm constantly going on about how much I love the seaside (and visit year round), I also have quite a thing for mountains (I've climbed Snowdon and still have plans for more when the little man's older), but I tend to forget all about woodlands.

I suspect this may be because we don't have any woods to speak of here, and it's been nearly 30 years since I lived around the corner from any. But those I did live around the corner from then were pretty fab. Last weekend we managed to combine a trip to the beach with a walk in those very woods...

So the woods were a 5 minute walk (for a toddler) from our house until I was 6, but after we moved a little further away they were still 5 minutes from my Nan's bungalow, so we visited often. It's a pretty sizeable wood with a great range of trees and a beautiful carpet of bluebells in the spring (which had just about finished last week). There are hilly bits to scramble down and a stream to get wet and muddy in and they're pretty much my idea of the perfect wood. 

I used to just pop down there with my Mum, but frequently with my grandparents too - when we went through their old photos after my Nan died last year we found quite a few of us in the woods, and they brought back really happy memories of cool walks on hot days and collecting bits and bobs from the leaf litter. 

Unfortunately the Great Storm of 1987 (which we called the Hurricane at the time, but Mr M absolutely forbids me from referring to it as this "because it's wrong"!) the woods were really badly hit. I recall crying a lot. We couldn't get in there for ages because all the paths were blocked and by the time we could it was just barren and bare, a completely different place. Every time we drove past the woods in the next 18 months before we moved away I felt a slightly nauseous pang, and I'd try not to look - even writing about it now makes me feel sad. 

My previous visit before last weekend was with my parents in the mid 1990s - it'd been tidied up a lot - boardwalks built on the boggy areas by the stream, and lots of new trees planted. It felt optimistic but not really like my woods. 

When our drive back from the seaside unexpectedly took us right by them I made Mr M stop and go for a stroll - I don't think he was that keen - little man was being a bit of a pain and he just wanted to get home. But stop we did. The little man loved the fact that they were the woods I played in as a child and that I felt so happy there - oh and as you can see it's growing back pretty well. Almost feels like it used to. There were plenty of bits I didn't recognise, but then we'd turn a corner and see a view I knew very well. 

So, this city girl likes the sea, the mountains, and the woods (yet to develop a passion for fields but maybe that's my teens spent in Lincolnshire!). I'm now on a mission to find some to visit closer to home, but we'll be popping back to my woods the next time we pass through (whether the boys like it or not!).

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Recovering Magazine Addict

I've had a lifelong love affair with magazines. So extreme at times it may be surprising that I didn't decide to go and work in the industry... I did have a zine of my own in junior school (I think what would now be year 6) - it was a fashion magazine - only the one copy, hand drawn by me and then passed around my friends (this was 1988, so just printing a few out at home wasn't an option).

The first magazines I remember getting really excited about were Just Seventeen and Smash Hits (probably around about the same time). I used to read my Mum's as well - mostly Ideal Home and Bella, but the obsession got a little out of hand when I was about 12 and discovered Vogue...

Then Harpers & Queen (now Bazaar) and basically anything glossy. At one stage I had 6 years worth of Vogue magazines in my bedroom (ostensibly for research, college sketchbooks - and they were used for this - but mainly because I couldn't let go). I also had years' worth of Melody Maker and NME (when they were in the old newspaper format). I recall moving house with my parents when I was 19 and my boyfriend (now husband) driving me down to the nearest recycling bins to get rid of them all - they obviously meant a lot as I remember this vividly!

Post the move I kept buying them though, but as I left home a few months later I didn't accumulate that many. When we got to London I ended up taking over the bottom shelf of the bookcase in our tiny living room with more Vogue, Living Etc and basically anything glossy or interesting - there were a few short-run zines in there and expensive things on interesting nice smelling papers.

On to the next flat and I started clearing out a bit as I went along (every 6 months or so). Vogue was a given, and Bazaar, In Style, Red, Zest, Runners World...

Then the little man came along - I kept buying the magazines for a while then realised I wasn't reading them. Not easy to read with a baby stuck to your boob - and that's the only time you actually have spare time (when you're not too tired to manage a magazine!), he got a little older though and Mollie Makes came along. A bit of a revelation - a craft magazine that was actually nice and had some things I'd like to make in it. I'd recently been doing some knitting and had started sewing and generally being more creative again so that was fab.

Guess what I did with Mollie Makes though? Yep, hoarded several years' worth - it's OK they made it to the recycling a few months ago, but not before I'd been through every copy just in case! Now I have a few favourites but I'm not currently subscribing to any (this still feels strange as I've been a long term magazine subscriber). Mollie is still one of my favourites but I also like a bit more of a read so Oh Comley, Caboodle, Frankie (shown above), Betty and Uppercase are all magazines I keep an eye out for. Mollie Makes is about as exotic as it gets where I live but I did find Frankie in Sutton the other day (I nearly fell over!).

So, I think I'm managing the addiction quite well? Quality over quantity - something good to read that isn't totally out of fashion a few months down the line. All the magazines above tend to smell good - and are either small or independent which makes me feel good about buying them*.

Are you a magazine addict too? Anything I've not included on my list which you think I'd like, or should I just stop and reign myself in now...?

I've recently had an idea kicking around in my head for a new zine (better than my 1988 effort but not full on magazine - simple and small and cheap - the true spirit of the zine!), however I suspect that's the role of blogs like this one now - my magazine (and it takes up a lot less shelf space).

*Oh, and I do still hoard any magazines I'm featured in - you have to! Everything else goes in the recycling after a few months though...

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sticking with the Yoga

I though I owed you an update as a few weeks ago I shared the news that I was embarking upon yoga classes for the first time in an absolute age. You can read that first post here. I was all full of hope, but pretty poor expectations when it came to sticking with it, but I've surprised myself!

My first class was a week before the Easter holidays so childcare was all over the place. On the second week I couldn't go to the class I'd hoped to go to regularly, but made it to an evening one instead (this would't usually happen - again due to childcare issues) - the evening class was different, but still brilliant. Then it was 10 days before the next one I could go to - so I was desperate by the time I got there and it was also fab.

Image (c) And Smile - used with permission

There then followed a couple of weeks in which I managed to go twice a week. I realised pretty quickly that the magical restorative effects only last for 2-3 days at best, and waiting a week wasn't working. But then my teacher went on holiday and I couldn't go for 3 weeks... This coincided with me getting a nasty cold. I managed to do a yoga DVD in week 2 (this one - it's my favourite, lots of sun salutations) but that was it. My sciatica got worse again, as did my anxiety and I was just downright grumpy.

But now she's back and I'm three more classes down - the back pain has almost completely gone, I slept so well last night after my class that I felt really groggy this morning, but hey... I'm more cheerful and positive again, and feel like I've grown about an inch in height. The new aim is two classes per week and one go with the DVD - hoping that'll keep me on a nice even keel! Again the timing thing really hasn't been an issue - I'm so productive after a class that so far I've managed to make up for all the working time I've missed by going to it. In fact, having a pile of work to come back to doesn't bother me at all - I find I'm looking forward to cracking on with it.

I've also surprised myself with what I can do (shoulder stand, yes - headstand as in the above illustration by And Smile (who's aiming for this herself!), not quite). but I do have the tightest hamstrings known to man. As I mentioned in my previous post though, it's not a competitive class at all - but I do seem to improve each time, and maybe one day I'll be able to grab hold of my toes!

An update on other exercise... still just managing lots of walking with the aid of the Fitbit, and I suspect that resuming running with all of my niggly injuries wouldn't be that clever but we'll wait and see.

Diet wise, I've reduced my wheat and gluten intake over the past few weeks as well. Still some cake though don't worry - I haven't cut it out altogether. Interestingly I read this post the other day about elimination diets and so called healthy eating - I'm hoping my reduction and a little more fruit and veg may be the best (and healthiest, and more enjoyable) way. So far I have noticed that I'm a bit slimmer, even though I haven't actually lost any weight - a nice bonus!

If you love the illustration above you can get similar things from And Smile's shop - if you haven't discovered Viktorija's work yet, prepare to fall quite badly for it!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Snow, Sunburn and Legoland...

Well, the last week in April was a funny old one... On the day before the little man's birthday it snowed, on the birthday trip to Legoland last Sunday though, we all got sunburnt!

As I type this I feel like I'm still recovering from a somewhat epic weekend (I wasn't massively well last week though so my tiredness may well be a combination of the two). Rather than having a birthday party we had friends over on Saturday (for a mini party - 3 children, 6 adults and wine - much better than a screaming mass of 20+ 6 year olds!) and then the next day was the Legoland trip with his best friend. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Once we got over the fact that it took us an hour to drive to the outskirts of Windsor then a further hour and 40 minutes to get in and through the gate (if you aim to get there when it opens folks, aim to get there an hour before it opens - if it's a bank holiday weekend and the sun's out anyway...), and then the amazingly long queue for filthy loos it was OK. I loved Miniland (in these pictures) and could quite happily have looked at the models for most of the day.

The little man was rather excited to see Paris in miniature after our trip there the other week...

We went on rides as well of course. I missed the first one (the little boats) as I spent 20 minutes queuing to buy my lunch and they all got fed up and joined that queue without me (so I had to spend an hour standing around and waiting for them - this might be when I burnt my newly bare neck!), but after that I went on a few - the rapids were my favourite and Mr M's too. The little man loved the driving school - it's from age 6 and up so he's only just old enough but he loved it and said it was the highlight of the whole day for him - he did do pretty well, although he keeps telling me he jumped a red light! 

Legoland is great for younger children (under 10/11 I'd say) as there aren't any big rides or rollercoasters - most rides are suitable for 6 year olds and above. Make sure you take plenty of money, it is massively expensive to get in (get discount vouchers from Kelloggs packets and save on adult tickets) once you get there the food is mediocre, service is slow and pricey, a tiny pot of sweets in the sweet shop was nearly a fiver, and you can't take your child there and not buy them something from the Lego shop at the end - so plan ahead! 

Having said that we'll probably be back - maybe try Chessington World of Adventures next though...

Sunday, 1 May 2016

6 Things About 6...

The little man turned 6 last week (another thing to make me feel old!). He keeps on surprising me, not just with his appallingly bad behaviour - only at home mind, an angel at school, of course - but with the stuff he does and doesn't do. I'm pretty sure if the folks behind the "What to expect when you're expecting" range of books did one for 6 year olds I'd laugh and refuse to buy it, but here are 6 things that surprise me...

1. He can actually read and write. Far from the top of the class, but he can. Not sure why this surprises me as I could by the time I started school, but back in the old day job (and many years ago now) I used to help out at a local school, reading with their year 6 pupils (so 10-11 year olds) and the child I read with could only read slightly better than my little man can now. Probably more of an issue with the child I was helping than anything else, but still... Also loves practicing spelling tests at home (strange boy).

2. He still likes to hold my hand. I expected this to end a long time ago. I'm very very happy that it hasn't.

3. His memory is astounding. "Do you remember [such and such a place/event/conversation from 3 years ago] when we did [x, y, z]?", yes he can, and can add to the conversation proving that he's not just saying it.

4. He still plays with his brio train set (which was the best buy ever). We bought a job lot of track on eBay for £35 when he was about 18 months old, it's been added to over the years but it's out downstairs as I type this ("don't pack it away Mummy") with some trees from Daddy's Hornby collection, as he visited a model railway exhibition with him last weekend and was inspired. A little extra one here... he still calls me Mummy. Again, makes me very happy!

5. He still loves his warm milk and despite my best attempts to buy some more grown up drinking vessels, he still prefers it from his baby sippy cup (unless he has friends around...).

6. We've clearly brought him up to be very strong willed and argumentative. He's also developed the skill of being a tad lazy then really rising to an occasion. These things mostly drive me crazy but I can only hope they'll serve him well in the future. That's assuming the tantrums end at some point. They've been ongoing since 13 months - I really wasn't expecting that...

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Getting older and setting goals

The little man was getting ready for school on Tuesday morning when he spotted this hot air balloon out the window. Much excitement ensued, involving me hurriedly seeking out the zoom lens for the camera and then leaning out the front window (no doubt to the amusement of the neighbours).

He said he wasn't sure he'd like to go in one as he's afraid of heights (I don't think he is really, but his Daddy is, so he thinks he must be too), but I said I'd love to. As the balloon moved across the sky we saw that it had Happy Birthday written on the other side and the little man said I should go in one for mine.

Now this got me thinking. Every other blogger seems to do these 30 before 30, 90 before 90 (!) blog posts and I'm approaching a big birthday. OK, it's still over 2 years away, but for the first time ever I'm really not happy about getting older. 20 was easy, happy to see the back of my teens, 30 wasn't a problem either, but 40.... I remember my Mum's 40th birthday party as if it were yesterday (rather than 28 years ago) and, well this just makes me feel old (sorry Mum!). 

It's a combination of things... I have properly grey hair nowadays (it's coloured), I have permanent lines that aren't shifting (and the idea of Botox is no longer abhorrent to me - give me another 5 years and I'll decide that a facelift is fine too no doubt). I look tired (and therefore older) all of the time. I find it increasingly hard to loose weight. I also feel as if I've achieved absolutely nothing in nearly 38 years. 

So the question is, do I set myself a 40 before 40 and set it now, so I have some hope of achieving it? Would setting myself some concrete goals spur me on or just set me up for failure (and then feeling even worse about it when the dreaded birthday comes along)? 

I have a few ideas along the lines of getting back into exercise (sticking with the new yoga regime but maybe getting back into running and swimming too), finding time to read some books, trying to sort my business out so I can actually afford to pay myself. They all seem to be things I'm constantly working towards anyway but not managing to do, so I'm not sure how putting myself under even more pressure to achieve them is going to help.

I can of course add stuff like the hot air balloon ride, but that sort of thing is all dependent upon having the time and money (and I honestly have no idea whatsoever how much a hot air balloon ride would cost - it may even be so much that I don't consider it to be worth it anyway).

So, I'm going to have a think about it. I don't want to write a list if it's just going to turn into another annoying to do list, when I already have plenty of those. It'll only work if it's full of things I'll look forward to, and I'd probably need more than 2 years to get through that! 

Have you done a 40 before 40 (or 30 before 30 or similar)? Did you think it was a good idea or did it just put you under too much pressure?

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Garden time again!

I love this time of year as, weather permitting, I can really get back out in the garden again. I've mentioned before that gardening is pretty much my favourite way to relax - nothing too heavy, just a pootle, but at this time of year as the flowers are starting to pop up (and I'm eagerly watching the shoots on my beloved peonies) it's actually quite exciting.

Having said that, we went to the garden centre last weekend and managed to spend a total of £4! I bought some geraniums to brighten up the window box. I'm still a little nervous about buying anything which could be damaged by frost, as there's a risk. I'm also never quite sure what's lurking in the flower beds - I tend to forget what's where, think I have a gap, then later discover I don't!

While we were at the garden centre we had a little look at the greenhouses. I'd quite like to get a small one so I can start growing a few things from seed. We don't have much space though and it'd be very much on show, so I've parked that idea for the time being. It'd have to be a nice pretty looking one and they're expensive! 

I did stumble across a rather odd set up in one of the sheds though... vintage sewing machines and a vintage shop model doing the ironing. An image I just can't get out of my head! Loved the sewing machines though!!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Paris with the 5 year old...

So we decided to take the little man to one of our favourite places. Mr M and I had been to Paris many times in our pre-parenting days and we wanted to show it to him - I also had a little dream of him sailing a boat in the pond at the Jardin du Luxembourg (more on that later). It was good, but didn't go entirely to plan.

The small boy was VERY excited about going to Paris. We reminded him frequently that we would not be going to Disneyland and he seemed OK with that - to be fair he didn't mention it at all while we were away so he clearly was OK with it. He was looking forward to seeing the Eiffel Tower and just visiting Paris (always loves to be somewhere different). As we'd been so many times before it was easy to plan our trip around him - nothing we needed to go and see and we'd do whatever he wanted to. 

So, the first stop was our hotel - the Hotel George Opera. We chose this hotel as it looked to be very child friendly, wasn't too horribly expensive, and had an apartment so the little man could sleep in a separate room (so quieter and we didn't have to go to bed early with him). Unfortunately though when we arrived they'd double booked our room so we had to spend the first night in a standard triple room, which really took the edge off things (we all had to go to bed at 9pm). They did refund us for the first night and move us to the apartment for our second one - it was much much better. 

The breakfast room was lovely and had a really nice area for younger children to play - the little man managed to amuse himself for a few minutes though with the kitchen. 

First stop after dropping off our bags was the metro to the Eiffel Tower. Our hotel was just up the road from Saint Georges metro station (and down from Pigalle) - we'd never stayed in this part of town before and it made a nice change. Once you drop down the hill a bit the ultra touristy, tacky Pigalle area actually becomes quite nice. We took the metro to Trocadero so we could recreate a photo from my first visit 24 years ago (almost to the day) but sadly there were hoardings up which prevented it. The little man was still excited to see the tower though (and not fussed to go up, which was a good thing as we'd left it too late to buy the queue jump tickets) - we walked under the tower and through the gardens on the other side where I hunted for mangnolia in flower (only spotted one the whole weekend and it was too far away to photograph!). 

We found a cafe on Rue Cler for a much needed snack and glass of wine, before heading back to the hotel. We found a great little pizza place for dinner, which was a 10 minute walk from the hotel (we went both nights as the little man loved it and behaved himself there - arguably the most important thing as for the most part his behaviour was atrocious to the point of embarrassing). Trying to find somewhere suitable to eat with him in the evenings was tricky as most places are child friendly during the day (provided they behave - he didn't) but not at night. Our hotel didn't have a restaurant so that wasn't an option... 

On day 2 we headed off to the Jardin du Luxembourg to find the boats. Which we couldn't. We searched and searched and established (as best we could with zero signage or information) that they were closed. Little man was sad. I was possibly even more so. So we headed off to the play area which was brilliant. There's a small entrance fee but for that you get a huge playground with a great range of equipment, which is clean and in excellent condition (so a far cry from South London!). We were there for about an hour and he completely wore himself out, before we walked over to Rue Du Buci (another of Mr M and my favourite spots from years gone by) for lunch. He did OK but kept wanting to crawl along the benches as if he was a toddler (give me strength). 

After lunch we walked up to the river to take a boat trip (something we did do once - I think on our first visit) so very touristy but the plan was to appease the little man. It sort of worked. We took a boat from and back to Pont Neuf. 

He was then complaining about the sun in his eyes (he doesn't have shades as he wears glasses and prescription sunglasses aren't recommended for children) so we headed to the shops to get him a cap. Then a walk through the Louve "Oh look, pyramides!" and the Tuileries where we had ice creams and he had a massive tantrum when he got covered in chocolate ice cream and I wanted to wipe it off. Then a trip on the big wheel before heading back to the hotel to chill out in our larger room for a little while. 

As I mentioned we went to the pizza place again for tea, but then walked up to Sacre Coeur (taking the funicular for the last part) so see the sun go down and the lights come on. This was a bit of a mistake as they were selling lit up Eiffel Tower models up there (we'd already bought him a normal one) so a good 20 minutes of screaming and crying ensued when we said he couldn't have one. Then back to bed...

On our last day the first stop was the Centre Pompidou. It was closed as it was a Tuesday but that was OK as I didn't plan to pay to take the little man in as his attention span was similar to that of a gnat. We had a look at the outside and he commended that it looks like a hamster cage (good observation) then popped to a cafe next door for excellent hot chocolate.

We then agreed to take him to a toy shop. We wanted a nice toy shop so where else but Galleries Lafayette? He chose a Paris bendy bus and was very happy with that. This was the first trip to Paris where I didn't buy anything for myself at all! 

We found a bistro for lunch en route to the Champs Elysees then walked along to the Arc de Triomphe where the little man ran around a bit (and Mr M looked out for car crashes) before heading back to the metro and the hotel to collect our case and travel back to Gare du Nord for our 5pm Eurostar. 

So it was pretty exhausting, but the little man still says he had a brilliant time and he loves Paris. He told me not to be sad that I was leaving as he's going to take me back when he's a bit older. Mr M and I are currently debating whether we ever want to go on holiday with him again!! It's definitely true that there's no such thing as a holiday when you have children - work is much easier!

Hasn't put me off Paris though...

Sunday, 27 March 2016

A new leaf?

I've spoken before about my total inability to relax properly. I've also been feeling pretty sluggish and knackered and just generally under the weather since Christmas. After a few bad weeks, and then a lovely (properly) relaxing day out I decided I needed to do something about it.

Now, in the interests of sticking with this I've decided to share!

There's a yoga studio, literally around the corner from my house. I'd always assumed it was lovely (looked like it from outside/the website) but the times of the classes were never quite right - either no childcare at those times/days or no time, or felt I couldn't justify the cost. Well, the class is an hour and a half long, which even though it's just around the corner, is still 2 hours out of my working day once I'm organised and have got myself there and back. There are a couple I can physically get to though, and the classes are hatha yoga (my preferred type - I like to stretch and breathe properly and relax, not enter into a contortion competition). So last week I decided to go for it. You have to book in advance, which is good for me as I'm far less likely to back out at the last minute. So I went along to my first class the other day feeling a little apprehensive. 

My last yoga class had been years and years ago and it was one of those sweaty, competitive, 30+ people in the room at the gym jobs, and I never found them that relaxing. I also felt that I couldn't keep up (some people were super flexible - I'm not). So I was after no pressure yoga... This was completely different. A proper purpose built yoga studio - all calming and lovely - no underlying smell of sweat (and wonderfully clean yoga mats - anyone who's done yoga at a gym without their own mat will understand the joy this brings!). 

Anyway, it was wonderful and I came away feeling great. A bit sore the next day (I have a bad back and my current exercise regime involves walking - lots of it, but just walking), but sore in a good way if you know what I mean (and I think the stiff neck was more down to the amazing night's sleep I had - stayed in the same position too long!). So I'll be back. 

From a relaxation point of view I realised at the end of the class that I'd barely thought about anything other than what I was doing the whole time. This never happens! So in between classes I've decided to seek out a little more relaxation with some short meditations. I've used Headspace in the past so I'm planning to try them out again, and I also dug out an old customised hypnotherapy recording I had made for me after a session I had years ago (I partially credit this hypnotherapy session with my against all odds miracle pregnancy but everyone thinks I'm nuts - timing was uncanny though...). So the aim is to try and retain my current, slightly more chilled than usual (no longer as chilled as I was at the end of the class!) state but incorporating a little relaxation most, if not every day.

Now the last time I found a yoga class I loved it got me started on all sorts of other exercise as I felt so good. Let's see if this helps me to resume the running and swimming I used to do. That would be nice.

Oh, and did I feel like I'd lost 2 hours of time for my work? No, I had a blindingly productive afternoon and got what I'd usually do in 7 hours done in 5. So there you go...

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Channelling my inner Marie Kondo...

Only those who've been living, not under a rock as such, but maybe on a nice remote island with no internet, can have missed Marie Kondo. Her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying has been all over everything recently. I don't have a copy myself but am led to believe the idea is that you get rid of everything you don't use on a daily basis or is totally wonderful and/or makes your space beautiful (so a little like William Morris). However I'm not entirely sure I've fully grasped how ruthless she is, and I'm pretty sure it's not for me - I'm more maximalist than minimalist...

The house is looking minimal by our standards at the moment though as we had a massive clear out. It's sort of still ongoing - once one room looks great the mess in the others tends to look worse so you get inspired. We started with the bathroom where we discovered products which were 9 years out of date (we've been in the house for less than 6 so that means we moved with them... why????) and Mr M concocted what can only be described as his own version of George's Marvellous Medicine as we did our best to empty everything out and recycle all of the packaging. The bathroom is now practically empty, but you know I have everything I need. Funny that.

I then moved on to my dressing table - the rest of the bedroom was OK (and I did my wardrobe a few weeks ago), but I still found plenty of other bits to add to the bucket and the recycling. And look, I found a dressing table under it all!

Found lots of jewellery I'd forgotten I had too....

This all felt very nice but there was one elephant of a room in the house - it was driving Mr M and I nuts... The living room/playroom. The only room with a TV and the comfiest sofa, totally surrounded by heaps of plastic toys and a complete mess. So we decided to go to IKEA (as you do on a Sunday afternoon).

So yes, another Kallax shelving unit, but a small one, tucked into the corner of the room. Several items moved to the little mans bedroom and others went to the charity shop, but after that we got most of his toys into this. I'm so happy I can't put it into words. So Marie must be right, it is life changing?!

Decided to take the opportunity to chuck out the filthy old cushions and do the sofa revamp too. I'd planned to wait until I've finished my needlepoint, but as I'm only just over half way through, it'll be months, so in the meantime I went with this. The green and orange cushion on the left is one the little man choose in IKEA a few months ago. Pink one in front by yours truly, jammy dodger from Nikki McWilliams and the gorgeous square cushion on the right bought a couple of years ago from Rachel Parker

I've subsequently sorted out my studio (long overdue) and started on the spare bedroom/loft/general dumping ground upstairs. We've got rid of a fair amount of baby stuff recently but there's still a lot up there...

The next thing I know I'm standing in WH Smith looking for Marie Kondo's book, and I realised that by buying it I'll go completely against the whole idea of decluttering! So I haven't. Fairly sure it'll just make me feel bad as I won't be able to live up to her standards (and I'm not sure I want to). But I'm fairly sure that a tidy home can be life changing.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Book Week and the Epic Poo

I struggle a little with the fact that the small boy is not as interested in books as I was. I could read before I started school, and ploughed my way through all the books ahead of my class the whole way to secondary school.

The little man on the other hand, likes the idea but didn't realise that he would actually have to work at learning to read - I think he expected to just go to school and be able to do it. He was rather disappointed that he couldn't and struggled a bit in reception. He had extra help for the first term this year and I think he's turned a corner. The great thing about phonics is that once you've got the hang of it you can read almost anything.

He still didn't quite get my book week related excitement though... When I was at primary school it was the highlight of my year - we even had a book fair and I designed the poster a couple of times.

First of all he hates dressing up... So we had to come up with a character he could dress up as without feeling like he was dressed up. Aaargh. Instagram friends came to my rescue and we went for the boy from the Oliver Jeffers books. He was very happy and apparently his outfit went down well at school too. Here's a picture of said character in case you're unfamiliar.

Then last Monday he came home with the news that he'd been promoted to the next level of reading books - which is always something to celebrate for someone who struggles a bit. He then announced that he was to start work on his first novel. So here it is (very early draft of course!).... Thomas and the Epic Poo...

It involves a snake (the green thing), pants, a plunger and some orange sweets. Basically, small boy does an enormous poo and there are to be many adventures...

The opening chapter: "Once upon a time there was a boy called Thomas. He had an epic poo. It got stuck in the toilet. It was very big. I don't know what he'd eaten! It smelt awful. How would we get it to flush away? I don't know! To be continued...".

So maybe I'm just getting the whole thing wrong by not being gross enough?! He loves being read to and we're pretty much through the Roald Dahl books (although I don't think there's any harm in reading them again). At the moment I'm reading him The Borrowers in an attempt to recapture some of my childhood book related excitement but I'm not sure it's really grabbing him. Maybe the Tales of Narnia, but again... 

So, any recommendations for books for reading to nearly 6 year old boys which are a little gross but will still entertain me? This may be too much to ask but I'm glad that he's starting to develop an interest at last!