Friday, 29 March 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo -  capturing a favourite image from the week. A sweet and special moment that I would like to pause and remember.

It's beginning to look a lot like Easter

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


So just a day till the end of term and it can't come soon enough.  This second term always seems the hardest to me and tempers fray, tears are shed, books are thrown and doors slammed and that's just the teachers!  Once overtired, and working on autopilot, sleep never comes easily to me or, if I do drop off the moment my head hits the pillow, I am sure to wake in a start three hours later with a head full of things I haven't done and all manner of morbid imaginings.  

Eric Whitacre's modern choral piece, suitably titled 'Sleep', is guaranteed to relax - on repeat on my i-pod all busy thoughts float away.  In many ways it is a curious piece.  Originally it was set to the text of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods On a Snowy Evening" but it seems Whitacre ran into legal copyright issues and so instead had Charles Anthony Silvestri rewrite the lyrics.  His very modern free-text poem fits perfectly; I don't know the correct musical term for what sounds to me like beautiful clashing harmonies but I love it. This is the virtual choir version where over 2000 individual recordings from 58 different countries have been uploaded online - what a wonderful idea!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

This week I have learned...


...that in my new furry boots, warmest winter coat and woolly hat I look like a yeti. Not really the look I was hoping for but good for frightening small children on the playground and I was definitely warm (in fact I thought I was running a temperature as it was such an insulating ensemble)

...that this works better than cough medicine. Also guaranteed to promote high decibel snoring and ensure you have the marital bed to yourself.

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...that it is best to remember to apply make-up to both eyes rather than just one, especially if you want to present a professional image at parents' evening. That's what happens when I try to multi-task, I don't finish anything!

...that it is not a good idea to attempt to eat a brie, grape and watercress sandwich while driving.  The brie was delicious but the grapes and watercress I ended up wearing.

...that the only place where there is any sign of Spring here is in the kitchen and...that S's 'Happy Biscuits' are delicious. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

This music...

Winter still seems to be in charge and there's no sign of Spring here in our corner of Scotland. This week felt endless and I'm thankful it's Friday and I don't need to drive the long commute to and from work. My plans this weekend are...well, I don't have any and that's just the way I like it! I'm in need of peace and stillness. 
I know how he feels!

This beautiful piece of choral music seems a good way to begin that process. Esti Dal  (Evening Song) is by Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.  This version is performed by the King's Singers and features the countertenor David Hurley.  His voice is completely ethereal and unmatched in my opinion. A rough English translation of the song is below.  Enjoy!

Evening darkness overtook me near the woods;

I have put my coat under my head,
I have put my hands together
To pray to the Lord, like this:

Oh, my Lord, give me a place to sleep,
I am weary with wandering,
With walking around and hiding,
With living on foreign land.

May Lord give me a good night,
May he send me a holy angel,
May he encourage our hearts' dreams,
May he give us a good night.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Are you a Big Softie?

Rufus: he can growl
Rufus looks after the stamps in our home whereas Mr Slow Joe skulks in the teenage debris of H's room.  On the chair in our bedroom, Noel and Bunny like to snuggle up and Wobbly Head Ted sits on top of a pile of L's sporting paperbacks. Yes, you've guessed it, these are just a few of the soft toys that reside in the Little House.  We seem to have more than our fair share of inanimate friends;  bears, elephants, sheep, sloths, whales and pandas - they're all here in wholly unnatural form and colour.
L trying to deal with just a few of  the toys!

Being the youngest, S has the greatest collection as she has inherited many of her sister's toys and then, just when I'd convinced her to have a cull and had carted off a whole bin bag full to the charity shop, along came a new intake of pre-loved Beanie Babies donated by a kindly friend. I groaned as each new toy was lovingly taken out and placed in a more and more crowded pile on her bed.

Wobbly Head Ted ( his head is only hanging
 on by a thread!)

I don't really understand the appeal of Beanie Babies and I hate the feel of their horrible beanie tummies! A quick search on the internet though reveals a whole frenzied market of collectors and some are surprisingly valuable.  We could have any number of valuable Beanie assets but I don't think we'll ever rightly know as most of the necessary tags seem to have been mysteriously removed or defaced by chewing!

The girls also went through a worrying Build-a-Bear phase. If you are not familiar with this popular brand then all I can say is think Willy Wonka but with stuffing instead of chocolate.  The full experience of the Build-a-Bear workshop is disturbing, and draining...on your finances. Once sucked in to the brightly lit room by the grinning yellow-shirted assistants you are led over to the piles of 'skins'.  These are the empty shells of future furry companions. Once chosen, the new owner is encouraged to add a red satin heart to put inside teddy's chest before the final stitching takes place; for a further charge you can even add a beating heart - oh, the whole Edgar Allen Poe horror of it all!  The giant stuffing machine, operated by a clown-sized foot pedal, brings the plush piles to life and the birth is registered online and a certificate produced. On my first visit I had already begun to hyper-ventilate at this point when I realised that escape was still not in sight as the girls did not want to have the first naturist Build-a-Bear and ran around the shop grabbing insane clothing which I seem to remember included sunglasses, pyjamas and red sparkly shoes among other things.

A Build-a-Bear Wedding 

Why is it that when it comes to toys, all too often our children are tempted by the very antithesis of what we would like to buy for them?  I loathe commercial toy productions, primary and neon colours and the whole film/tv tie-ins that dominate the toy market.  S was lucky enough to go to a Steiner-inspired playgroup and  I was enchanted by the simple wooden toys and Waldolf dolls.  We still have many of these beautiful keepsake toys in our home and I'm hoping that the traditional will prevail.

 Personally, I love knitted toys and I have to confess that Noel and Bunny are in fact mine.  Bunny has been with me for over 40 years and I couldn't part with him (or considering the pink trousers is it a her?) And Noel, well my mother bought him for me the Christmas before last, just going to prove  that we do not tire of buying soft toys for our loved ones no matter how old they are. 

Bunny & Noel 
Do you still have a treasured soft toy?  Who are the softies in your house? 

Friday, 15 March 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no some words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A bit of a grainy photo from my trusty blackberry but a funny and treasured moment that I would like to pause and revisit all the same.

Someone's been sleeping in my bed!

Sunday, 10 March 2013


I've often wondered why in the UK we have the term 'Mothering Sunday' for Mothers' Day and why it's a completely different date to other parts of the world?  I turned to trusty Google and discovered that like all good festivals it has a Christian origin and in English tradition involves cake. In Surrey and Kent it was even called Pudding Pie Sunday - excellent! Take a look at this Kentish Pudding Pie recipe from the Telegraph; looks delicious but guaranteed to turn hips and thighs into roly poly puddings too. 

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Apparently, Mothering Sunday in the UK dates back to the sixteenth century when people would return back to their 'mother church' - either their local church or the one where their family was based. Children and young people 'in service' (basically servants for the rich) would finally get a day off to visit their mothers and give them a gift. Traditionally, girls in service would often bake and decorate a simnel cake to give to their mothers in gratitude and as proof of their domestic skills.  Because Mothering Sunday falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent it makes sense that this type of cake is more closely associated with Easter. 

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We don't really hear the term 'mothering', at least not with positive connotations. To be accused of mothering would be an indictment of being over-protective, controlling and refusing to let your children grow up.  Much press is given to bad mothers, jealous and resentful parenting and almost every shortcoming is often blamed on a mother's failings. I don't think there's enough positive affirmations of mothering or positive images that  are not linked to religious icons or dodgy celebrities (don't forget Kerry Katona managed the accolade of Mum of the Year - twice!)  

It's hard to articulate just what 'mothering' is in the truest sense of the word though; 'nurturing' does not seem adequate.  When I first became a mum I found it difficult to explain to my ex-colleagues just exactly what I did all day and why it felt so much more important than anything I had achieved in the world of work. 

Naomi Stadlan gives one of the best summations of a mother's work I can think of in her book 'What Mothers Do':

'...Mothers, who are doing so much, often describe themselves as sitting around, doing nothing. They feel lonely, invisible and unimportant. Yet their work belongs to much more than one organisation. Each mother is preparing her child to belong to the society that we all share. It doesn't seem too much to say that the whole of civilisation depends on the work of mothers...'

I also like this extract from 'The Hand That First Held Mine' by Maggie O'Farrell where one of the main characters, Lexie, muses on the women we become after children:

"We change shape, we buy low heeled shoes...We begin to carry in our bags half-eaten rusks, a small tractor, a shred of beloved fabric, a plastic doll. We lose muscle tone, sleep, reason, perspective. Our hearts begin to live outside our bodies...We learn that we must sometimes walk an inch at a time, to stop and examine every stick,  every stone...We learn how to cool a fever, ease a cough, the four indicators of meningitis, that one must sometimes push a swing for two hours" 

This is the minutiae of mothering; the caring, the worrying and the loving that fill our days, and nights, and ensure that we are inextricably bound by the heartstrings to our children. So here's to mothers on this Mothering Sunday, and to a life's work. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

This moment...

Inspired by Soulemama's {this moment} - a Friday ritual. A single photo - no words, capturing a favourite image from the week. A special and treasured moment that I would like to pause and remember.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Mud (noun): soft sticky matter resulting from the mixing of earth and water.  

I'm so pleased to see that now we are in March the sun has chosen to make an appearance but, whilst the sky is a lovely spring blue, the ground all around us is a constant brown.  In the Little House we seem to be surrounded by a sea of mud.  In trying to get from car to doorway, avoiding a mud bath, it is necessary to to leap and hop from gravel patch to rock eventually landing on Little House island.   

The short definition above neglects to inform about the dried variety - you know, the type of mud that dries in little Hansel and Gretel trails all over the house and adheres itself into dried clumps in carpet, dog coat and on the soles of your shoes. This variety is inside almost every room of our house even the bathroom.  The mud clings to us, comes into school and work with us. We are under siege! 

A dog of two halves; top half white, bottom half brown

You will know from other posts (and polite friends and family know but do not speak of) that I am not the best of house keepers. Our home is a constant muddle of pen tops, lost socks and piles of  stuff.  But I do try to keep some kind of basic level of cleanliness, at least so that it is possible to see the original colour of the carpet and floors. We do possess a vacuum cleaner and it does make a regular appearance but the repetitive nature of hoovering bores me senseless and drives me to eat cake. 

Last weekend I had what my children describe as a 'mummy meltdown' about the state of the kitchen and - you've guessed it - the mud!  The Wonderful Man came over all wonderful and went off into the barn to create a solution (not to my life's problems in general you understand, even he is not as wonderful as all that!) but to the problem of mud infiltrating the kitchen and the extensive range of welly boots we have nowhere to practically store.  All hail the new boot rack!  What do you think?  I'm hoping that any rain will help clean them off without making the insides wet and, by being off the ground, the cat will not be able to leave dead mouse presents inside them (I still cannot bring myself to talk about that experience). 

When I posted the picture on facebook (as you do) a friend commented that it looked as though the occupants of the Little House had all been embedded into the brick harling of the house with just their feet sticking out.  

The Wonderful Practical Man is now on a mission and designing a boot brush - wonders never cease.  I do hope it's not planned as a Mother's Day gift from the girls though. I know 'mummy meltdowns' can be quite frequent occurrences around here but I've found coffee in bed and completely lovely and totally impractical gifts do much to keep them abated.  Under the duvet is a good place to be; I can't see the hoover from here and our bedroom has remained miraculously free of any specks of mud (though the same cannot be said of cake crumbs). 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Competitions, interviews, exams and auditions

Much stress in the Little House these last two weeks as three of the family took on nerve-racking challenges.  There is, of course, some unwritten law that all these events should conspire to occur during the same 14 day period. Although I was the only member of the family not about to have some sort of test or interview, as wife and mother (aka chief family administrator) I was required to help calm nerves, assist in preparation, provide moral-boosting pep talks and if that didn't work, a comforting hug.

Cooking in wellies; a practical solution
Little S wanted to enter the village cake decorating competition.  You might be forgiven for thinking that this doesn't sound remotely stressful at all and the level of competition distinctly parochial.  But reader, you would be wrong.  Small places breed intense competition and rivalry between families is inter-generational!  S loves baking and her favourite tv programme is Cake Boss; consequently, she had a very ambitious idea of creating a sunset over the sea in coloured icing and tiny edible orange balls.

I thought at one point that the kitchen floor may end up with more icing on it than the cake and the bright blue colouring was smeared across her cheeks like some kind of banshee face-painting. The cake was delightful but the mess was of the 'go and lie down in a dark room' variety. Sadly, it didn't win but S coped with the disappointment well and even managed to congratulate the winner.

The Sunset Cake

On a more countrywide level H auditioned for the National Youth Theatre.  I was full of pride that she could even contemplate standing on a stage in front of strangers without being sick but, not only did she deliver her monologue word perfect, she also managed to complete, and enjoy  the three hour workshop (code for more auditions).  I would be over the moon if she got in but I am also a realist and know that the statistics make it a very slim chance indeed. We will have to wait a further six weeks before we find out.
Fabbydoo wanted to be in the audition head shot too
All the while this drama was unfolding, L was facing a round of gruelling interviews for a new job.  In this economic climate employers are decidedly picky and seem intent on making the selection process full of herculean tasks.  There was the telephone interview, the regional interview with manager, a further telephone interview with director and then the final challenge - the interview day  miles away at Head Office complete with panel interviews and the 'presentation'.  Like me, L leaves time-consuming tasks to the last minute and that was how it was that  at 11 o'clock at night we were still 'tweaking' his PowerPoint and trying to make it work on a mac.  
(Image: blogs.oregon

As these busy weeks played out and the anxiety increased, I tried to analyse what it was exactly that makes being on the sidelines so stomach churning. I decided that despite what anyone may say about how challenges are character building, I think it would be hard to find a parent who wanted life to be difficult for their child. Competition makes us vulnerable; we open up ourselves to be judged and risk the hurt and disappointment if we don't quite make the grade. When our children or partners go through this process we feel judged as well and share their feelings in some strange love-tied symbiosis.  We question ourselves - How can we help? Have we done enough? Will they manage?  I guess the answer lies in developing that all important life skill - resilience. The dictionary defines resilience as the capacity to adjust, withstand and recover from stress or adversity. It does not say anything about shielding or protecting from stress and disappointment, no matter how much our instinct tells us to do so. And to teach resilience we need lots of it ourselves.  I think this is something I definitely need to work on but for now I'm going to celebrate with some champagne and some of that tongue-staining cake as L got the job!  I'm sure he will need lots of resilience to cope with the challenges a new job brings but that's to worry about another day.

Our collection of celebratory corks!

Friday, 1 March 2013

This music...

Smile, it's Friday - yay! What a busy week it's been.  I don't think I've stopped properly all week until now hence my week's absence or 'blog silence' if you will!   For me, listening to music is a great way to just stop and be still for a moment and so this week I've chosen another musical moment in place of an image from the week.

This track by Temper Trap is an all time favourite of mine though it was nearly ruined for me when Centerparcs decided to use it in their sickly 'Memories Start Here' advert.

I have come across many many covers of this song 'Sweet Disposition' but, in its rawest form, as an acoustic version, I feel like I can appreciate the song again.  I like the lack of commercialism or video here though the lead singer does look like he's in pain (perhaps he had a difficult week too). The band are sitting casually  (in hoodies and interesting hats) on an uninspiring stairwell and this was recorded by the rather retro sounding Bedroom Disco TV.  Sit back, smile, it's Friday and I think it must be wine 'o'clock by now - chill!