I have longed for this time of year, the month where we first laid eyes on the garden and I spied a few sprigs of wisteria in bloom climbing over the old crumbly walls above the back windows. As soon as I walked along the bumpy path from the back gate I could envisage how we would live here, that the garden would steal the show.
4 years almost to the day and everything has burst back into life, my wisteria hysteria is as strong as ever and slowly I can feel we are putting our stamp on the garden as much as we are the house. Just in time for the bank holiday fun this weekend!
It’s easier to make quicker changes inside isn’t it? A coat of paint, a new carpet, not structural changes but aesthetic changes can transform a room.
But a garden is harder. We are so lucky that the shrub beds are already full to the brim, a testament to 30 years of hard graft with a gardening glove. The patio itself is part of a bigger longer term plan so for now the circular shaped lawn looks back on the rickety pergola with an unruly kiwi plant that takes over each year (sadly no actual kiwis) and the open space in front of the double doors.
We have brought in little touches like new outside lights and finally replaced our heavy timber round table and chairs, that had lasted so well for over ten years but gave up the ghost in the move. The back windows were replaced last year and painted in a pale warm grey and as much as I love the simplicity of a neutral scheme for me it lacked some serious colour and fun.
I wish I was content with a palette of calming whites and greys but I just adore seeing a pop of pink or blue peeking out of the rattan chairs and when I spied all the gorgeous greens in Homesense - well - sold to the lady’s patio in need of some late spring cheer!
Now I’ve been a Homesense fan for almost the 10 years it has been in existence after discovering it was part of the TK Maxx family. When we lived in Weston Super-Mare I probably “popped” in almost every week when I scooted to join the motorway, to see what new lines had been added that week.
Exciting news for all those living in Weston Super-Mare, a new Homesense opened yesterday within the existing TK Maxx store in the North Worle Shopping Centre, be sure to check it out!
Taunton is now my closest store (but check for your nearest here as they have over 50 stores across the country ) and has two floors of shelves bursting with seasonal and all year round homeware. Homesense is my go to store for unusual finds. I can only imagine that being part of their buying team must be a dream job!
I still get lovely people asking where I found the boy’s hanging metal plane that hangs between their beds and I am so glad I didn't leave it on the shelf when I was ‘umming’ and ‘aahing’. If you see it and love it, buy it as what you see is what is available. There aren't hundreds of each products tucked in the stock room and that’s what makes it even more attractive for me. You won't end up with the same print or cushion as everyone else in the area! The offer of products with savings of up to 60% off RRP is an added bonus too.
I walked into the store and it was like an explosion of colour, print and pattern. The tropics had truly come to Taunton and with the incredible spell of exotic temperatures we have all been blessed with and the promise of more sun this long weekend it is the perfect time to start eating outdoors again and make the most of the garden, the park or the beach.
I have been lusting after the round towels forever and love that they double, or rather triple up, as a picnic blanket and wrap for when the sun goes down but no one is ready to go inside. (£14.99 if you fancy one too.)
If you plan on visiting a Homesense store ahead of the bank holiday weekend then you will be spoilt for choice. Whether you love palm print, rainbow colours, simple muted neutrals or Moroccan inspired patterns, there is something to suit all tastes. I love how you can mix and match styles and I decided go bold or go home! Hints of gold and greens that tie in with our cutlery - everyone needs a caddy in their life. I stuff mine with bottles of sauce, pepper, salt and carry the cutlery to the table in one of the sections. I had a good trawl through the clearance section and there were a few in other designs but I loved the slightly tarnished finish on this one. I went in with BBQ tools in mind but I came out with banana leaf print cushions for £12.99, tablecloths (at £12.99 for a huge 264cm long tropical print wonder I had to get a pair!) and marshmallows to roast for dessert.
Always, always go for the big green trolley when you walk in, that’s my tip!
We are all set up for summer and the bank holiday now and if it rains well, who cares, we can use the tablecloth as a picnic blanket and move the party indoors!
Get yourself down to your local store this weekend for a good nosey, but be warned you'll want it all!
It's finally Friday 18th May! I may not have had an invitation to the wedding of the year but I need absolutely no excuse to dig out all the balloons, bunting and paper straws stashed in the garage. We LOVE a celebration in this house and this weekend is a double whammy. We have half the house decorated for the Hogwarts extravangaza (well there's only Sammy, Ollie and their little cousins Yasmin and Logan coming but Grandad is dressing up as Dumbledore so that's worthy of the word extravaganza in my book) and half is covered in red, white, blue and pink.
Because I've decided pink is for everything not just for the back door ;)
I've made tassels and sprayed all sorts (including the grass... who doesn't love a DIY twister?!) and when I had the opportunity to work with the lovely people at Amazon Handmade to sample some of the gorgeous products in their wedding shop I jumped at the chance.
I love the ethos behind it, promoting makers and crafters but with the power of the Amazon family behind them. The wedding shop is beautifully curated, full of inspiring products, from personalised cake toppers to intricate hair accessories. I'm not getting married but I so want this for my birthday on the beach at Southbourne in August!
Nothing beats handmade bunting and by a professional I should add. I've tried and failed miserably! It looks ok from a distance but when you compare my version to the attention to detail on these beautiful pastel flags it makes me want to throw mine straight in the bin.
I am a big believer in both handmade and buying the things you can't or don't want to do yourself. So my boys probably won't ever get a hand baked birthday cake but they will get the most wonderful creation, cake pops or biscuits made by someone talented in that field. People who are skilled and want customers!
We have one car load of family arriving tonight, a small Princess niece who already has her eye on the wire tiara after I showed it to her on FaceTime and we will be chinking glasses tomorrow like so many others who feel so joyful for a couple we probably will never actually meet.
I have this incredible sense of patriotic spirit washing over me and I have loved seeing all the photos online of the tiny ones off to nursery picnics in their paper crown and pom pom jewels dripping with glue. It's magic.
The boys gave me a hand with the window decoration, so if the newlyweds decide to swing the carriage through deepest Somerset we have a Royal welcome waiting for them!
Wishing you a wonderful weekend in the sunshine. Can you believe it?! For everything they must have to worry about tomorrow, the processions and the pageboys, the weather won't be one of them. Hooray for Great Britain and hip hip hooray to Mr and Mrs... what do you think? Will it be Sussex?!
I'm not sure I have ever told the story about the day we collected Mabel and Moose from their lovely white fluffy mummy Abby Lloyd in Wales. About 18 months earlier we had fallen in love with the prettiest West Highland Terrier I have ever seen (cover your ears Mabel). It sounds ridiculous but she was. This perfectly square face, cheek hair as white as the snow, and a tummy that was like stroking cotton wool.
We had talked about looking at getting a dog or dogs, a matching pair, as Rich was looking to change his job to work from home. I did about as much research as I did when we were planning our wedding! What breed would be right for us, for us in 10 years when we hopefully had a family, which breeds have health problems, the pros and cons of bigger dogs vs smaller breeds, breeders to avoid like the plague and those you could trust with your life, not just the puppy you were buying from them. You name it I researched it.
And that's when we found Abby and all the other woofers faded into the background. We travelled to Wales one rainy Saturday morning after exchanging emails and a couple of phone calls and met the kindest couple and their four beautiful dogs and instantly felt a connection. Jan had an impressive list of awards for her prize winning Westies but it was her overwhelming warmth and love for her puppies that bowled us over. Fast forward 18 months to 13th August and we headed to London from Weston-super-Mare for a day trip to celebrate our anniversary with a tour of Buckingham Palace. It rained, just like it did on our actual wedding day, and we left London in the afternoon having oohed and aahed at the golden coach and State Banquet tables, not to head straight home but to head to bring our furry babies home!
We'd been on the end of the phone when they were born, "We have your girl!" "Mabel is here" and then "Ooh another girl, and another, oh wait the last one is a boy!" We'd been to see them a few times before they were big and strong enough to come home, and were completely in love with these tiny snowballs that fitted in your hand. I hadn't grown up with a dog but now I cannot imagine not having one or two as part of our family.
We miss their scuttling paws across the tiled floor when they are on a mini break at my in laws who love them as much as we do and help us when we need a dog sitter and they just co-exist with the boys without fuss. They are part of the furniture, simply just part of our dynamic.
They have travelled with us since they were a couple of months old, they come to friends' for sleep overs, they feel like Southbourne is their second home. They know every inch of my Granny's flat, they know that beyond the cliff is the zig zag path down to the beach hut, where they patrol "their" 30ft of the promenade. I am convinced they feel the same the same as we do about this stretch of coastline, they remember which steps lead to the hut, they have their own spots where they rest after tearing around in figures of eight on the sand. Mabel likes to sit on the little ledge and Moose sunbathes on the towels, watching the other dogs go by, deciding which one he wants to pop down to the beach and say hello to.
They are hilarious, sensitive, loyal and two of the stars of the new Harringtons campaign with Ben Fogle to get us all inspired around the country to try new routes with our woofers. There was only one place we wanted to share as our favourite route and that's a wonderful hidden headland called Hengistbury Head a few miles along the Dorset coastline from our beloved Southbourne. If you didn't know it was there you would miss a treat.
There's a handy car park opposite a large area of open grassland where you'll find kite flyers of all ages at the bottom of Warren Hill. We park up as quickly as possible as the dogs go wild in the back, knowing exactly where they are, and head off down our favourite track.
It has everything, moorland, heathland, the beach, a nature reserve, woodland and the Mudeford spit - famous for it's multi coloured beach huts and one of the best crabbing spots! There's gentle slopes or more adventurous terrain if you want to take in the spectacular views from the top of the nature reserve, but we are just as happy winding through the trees, veering off the tarmac path down to skim stones across the bay, ending at the sand dunes and the upturned rowing boats.
It’s a place where you see everyone from newborns in slings wrapped up in blankets and padded coats with ears poking from the top of their hoods, to groups of friends with picnic blankets or a portable BBQ. From grandparents trying to keep up with their broods who have raced on ahead to the Quay armed with their crabbing buckets and fishing lines to kite flyers and bird watchers. I’ve always felt it’s a place where anything and anyone goes.
You start in the open grassland, with the tall whispy blades that shelter the golfers from the roadside dancing in the breeze, and end up meandering through the purple heather, past the grazing cows, rustle through the woodland with the carpet of oak tree leaves, past the bay with the bobbing birds and end up on a the sandy shores that look out onto the white Polar bear cliff face and the Needles. It’s everything Great Britain has to offer in one 45 minute stroll or 25 minute race if you are blasting through on your scooters!
The track between the Hiker cafe and the land train platform is a well trodden path at all hours of the day. Early morning runners and cyclists watch the sun rise over the rowing boats and sailing dinghies, that are waiting for the warmer weather and all the beach hut owners to come back and decamp for the summer.
Then as the day goes on, you see parents and buggies, school groups heading for the wildlife reserve and dog walkers smiling to each other. It’s a place you can't help but be happy at, even on a cold and windy February Sunday! We have been here in rain and shine, summer and winter and seen the heather change from dark green to vivid pink come early autumn.
And now we are not tied to tea time routines it's so nice to stay out a little longer, see the sun set over the lagoons and finish up with dinner out at the Beach House. Sometimes we are all so motivated to get out before or just after lunch, walk off that big roast dinner, but dusk is just as lovely a time to explore.
It was bustling. That post lunchtime rush of people and every breed of dog you can imagine. There were moments of ebb and flow, when we stopped for the Westies to say hello to a new furry friend, when we veered off the main track to head to the pebbly shore of the bay, overlooking the pretty town of Christchurch.
We sauntered along the path that hugs the bay and as you take in the birds in flight landing on the still water, you can't help but want to slow your pace down, breath in the sea air and just take in the view.
You don't have to stay on the main path, you can dive off down to the beach and walk along the shore line. The visitor centre that you pass within minutes of leaving the cafe has all sorts of information about the area, the wildlife, the conservation efforts and the archaeology of the area but if you want to take your own route, just keep walking forwards and eventually you will come to the Beach House cafe and ferry jetty to Christchurch.
Harringtons Walkies on the Wild Side - YouTube
I love watching the landscape change through the seasons, when are down for New Year with friends, when we are bottling back from Mudeford on the land train over the May bank holiday weekend and in the summer months when the cousins all run along the sandy path barefooted and sun kissed. I have photos of the boys growing up on these walks. Jumping through the heathland, getting braver as they get bigger.
We saw 5 fun things that you can look out for too on your visit:
There are some beautiful wood carvings at Hengistbury Head. Our boys loved the carvings of the land train that they could climb on to see over the reeds and across the bay to the ferry jetty in the distance.
Next up is “the best tree to climb in the world!” according to our boys. It’s branches are ideal for younger children and older ones. One minute it’s a pirate ship the next it is a tree house. We had trouble tearing our boys away!
Amongst the ivy bound trees is a hidden treasure. Who doesn’t love a tree swing?! We all had a turn and there’s enough room in the clearing to really swing your legs and go high up in the sky!
The lagoon is teaming with birds and you need to look out for migrating Dunlins and Ospreys that pass through the headland. Kestrels and Skylarks are just a couple the 300 species of birds that are known to inhabit Hengistbury Head.
The rocky groynes that protect the beach from further erosion are an adventure in themselves. The boys made imaginary dens and caves and love to pretend there are all sorts of fish in the cracks beneath them waited to be found.
Whether you return to your car with windswept hair and rosy cheeks in the winter or with sticky hands from an ice cream that has dripped down the cone on a hot summer’s afternoon, I defy anyone not to leave without a sense of achievement. That either you’ve got all the kids out and in the fresh air, that you’ve taken your dogs for a lovely long walk or spotted a new breed of bird.
There will be something that you will remember that makes you happy. It’s a place you want to revisit and that’s the magic.
If you get a chance to follow our route we have three tips for your visit!
Dog Walking Tips at Hengistbury Head - YouTube
Check out the other fab routes with Harringtons around the country to explore on your dogventure!
*This is a sponsored collaboration with Harringtons and it was an absolute pleasure to be part of it. The dogs have even switched to their hypoallergenic food and won't touch their old favourite any more!
I love the phrase a change is as good as a rest. It works for everything. Ask yourself a question - what you want to achieve tomorrow. Then think about the result if you changed something or rested.
Forget a magic eight ball, this simple phrase is all you need.
I'm not really talking about life changing changes. I'm not typing a frantic letter of resignation or putting the house up for sale to chase a missed opportunity of travelling the world in a gap year I never took. I'm talking about little, tiny, insignificant changes that add up to a shift. Like a 5ft snow drift that forces gigantic trucks off the road with a force of nature that's unstoppable.
And resting doesn't necessarily mean shutting up shop. In this crazy online world you can be offline in one place and emerging in another. Keep a hand in, jump in with both feet to one platform and be present, even if something else is quiet. I've watched bloggers I've "grown up with" over the last 6 years channel their focus and determination into totally different things. Some have burst onto the YouTube scene, some are becoming household names, famous for writing passionately and Facebook live-ing about what they believe in. Authors of not only their blogs but books on the shelves in Waterstones at Waterloo. Some have left their original more traditional jobs and are paving the way for a generation of creatives earning a full time income from home, around their families, with their families.
These are family businesses in the truest form. My grandfather was and is a chimney sweep. He learnt from his father, carrying bags of coal when he was still in his school uniform. He didn't just learn a skill, a trade, he learnt about work ethics, managing time, managing money and managing customers. All the things I want the boys to see, to respect and appreciate. And even though our boys might not have featured in a blog post for quite a long while they are still very much a part of it. They hold things, they have a turn at being models for an hour or a day. They play and get a pocket money fee for their time. You might not see our work as a family on this blog as often as a couple of years ago but it's out there.
I think about those coal bags and have kept thinking about how you can't keep up that sort of physical job without resting. Literally letting your body recover from a hard day's labour, down time to recharge and be ready for the day ahead tomorrow. And blogging is in essence no different, heavy bags of coal aside of course. I've stayed up through the night to get something finished. Wailed at 3am when a document didn't save or a hard drive crashed taking everything with it to the unrecoverable heaven of data in the sky. I've crawled back to bed at 8.03am when Rich is on the school run and thanked my lucky stars that I work from home. Because without that extra hour in bed on those days I wouldn't be able to function!
I know all the hours my friends spend online and offline, prepping for a shoot, planing out storyboards for a video tutorial, answering emails and Twitter messages at gone midnight. It's endless.
But you can't work all the time and be at your best.
And I guess that's been my dilemma. I like being at my best. Even if the result doesn't match my expectations I want to believe I have tried my hardest. I have a constantly updating list of things I want to do when I retire, which makes my sister howl. Things I want to learn. I have a sewing machine that's never been touched since the Christmas of 2015 and if it stays untouched until I'm 65 then so be it. I'll give it my best then.
You can't do it all. I've tried - it makes you a slightly worse mother, wife and friend and so on. Not so bad that people give up on you but that they might stop relying on you. I don't want to be the person that will be there in a crisis but I might be 5 minutes late. And that's what happens when you spread yourself like watery icing on a Victoria sponge. Everything gets a coating but not enough for the sprinkles on the top.
My trouble is I know I am not willing to give up on anything. I love all my hats even if I know I can't wear them all at the same time. But there is a place for all of them, it's just about making sure I am not running on fumes.
Some things have to be done, like feeding the children, feeding the dogs, getting them to school on time (ish). Posting backdrop orders, ordering a new print run, development meetings with Persimmon Homes. Lots of hat switching going on and I love it. Bouncing from one thing to another - I just need to be at my best.
So I've had a rest from writing here, kept on top of the essentials and a little bit extra but now I am ready to write like I've been desperate too. For me, for brands I am lucky to work with and hopefully for you. If you got to this part!
I realised most of the time I take photos without thinking too much about it. Sometimes I set up a scene or slightly rearrange the sideboard or coffee table. But generally I snap away. I don't know why I have had such a block at sitting down and writing. Because anyone who knows me knows I have a lot to say and most of the time I don't shut up! I come from a long line of oversharers and I mean that in the nicest possible way. We don't really do off limits. We know each other's deepest secrets, darkest fears and are there for each other, most of the time over a FaceTime 4 times a day, but I have been overly guarded online.
Quiet and that's not me.
So I am going to write about what I want to shout about and take photos of things that make me feel alive. Not just happy, not just because they fit in a grid or will guarantee a certain number of double taps. I say take photos of what makes your heart happy. Because it shines through and just watch as all those strangers become friends, become invested in you, your home life, your work, and then watch all those double taps become real hearts. Connections.
I've fallen into every trap over the last 6 months. Not confronting things that feel wrong to me, not letting you know about all the highs that far outweigh the lows. I've just been too quiet, when really we've had so many adventures!
I love reading interviews with bloggers, people who started their blogs at a similar time to mine and people who have been blogging for well over a decade and more. And the funny thing is the same answer comes up over and over again, when they are asked what’s the best thing about blogging. The friendships.
It almost doesn't make sense that you could form intensely close relationships with people you might never get to actually meet but it’s true. People who you talk to, often on a daily basis, who could be at the opposite end of the country, live on other continents, from completely different backgrounds and in completely different stages of life. But people who you feel really know you and you know them.
I’ve learnt from my school and uni days that when life is busy, when you are juggling jobs, family, kids or pets (I’ve spent most of the weekend stroking a very sad Mr Moose who is accessorising with a most irritating plastic cone following an operation at the vets) friendships become like elastic bands. They have to, you get stretched, commitments force you to drift apart sometimes but the roots of a true friendship, the type that lasts a lifetime, will always spring you back together. Best friends for me are the ones who can be there in a crisis, even when there might be months that felt like seconds that have passed between texts or calls. The ones you want to spoil for no reason at all, other than to let you know you are thinking of them and hopefully make a difference to their day that day.
I haven’t seen her beautiful face for well over a year and I’m not sure when the next time will be either. There’s exactly 408 miles between us but it feels like 400,008 to me. Like we need the stars of the entire universe to align one day for us to be in the same place. She is someone who I would and have rung in a crisis. A crisis of confidence, a family disaster and I hope she feels the same. We’ve FaceTimed and shared our real life vs our “Insta life”, she wouldn't care if I was in my pyjamas at 2.30pm and I am constantly in awe of her ability to juggle four children on a daily, no make that hourly, basis!
Zoe and I met through blogging, we sat next to each other at a fancy pants awards dinner and we were both a mix of giggly, nervous excitement, totally intimidated by the situation and the Queens of blogging who were sashaying around the ball room around us. From the moment we said hello we didn't stop talking. She is utterly charming with eyes like chocolate buttons and her fiery Scottish wit made me a little bit fall in love with her that night! I know that even if years pass and we don't get to see each other, we will always be friends.
She’s a dreamer like me, romantic and sentimental and we both adore post. Proper, brown paper packages tied up with string type post. We both love being part of the blogging community, adore Instagram and all the 65,000 pictures that are posted each minute, but we both appreciate the thought that goes into wrapping something, a little act of kindness that isn’t a status update or a scheduled stream of tweets. Recent research has shown that half the UK (48%) say they’ve never sent a surprise parcel to someone they know - but, 84% of us say we’d be more excited to receive a surprise parcel in the post, than a text or DM on social media.
A real thing on Post For a Post Day. A day created by ipostparcels to encourage us all to take a day of rest from the whirlwind online world and think about someone and show them you were thinking of them by surprising them with a letter or parcel.
I knew straight away when I was talking to ipostparcels about being part of Post For A Post Day this September what I was going to send to Zoe. My sister and I had been chatting about how when you are having a hard week, wouldn't it be nice to send yourself a daily treat to open! But I wanted to send Zoe, (who is a dab hand at little ones’ birthday and party games) no ordinary parcel but a pass the parcel. Just for her!
I found all sorts in my desk drawer that I’ve collected from goody bags and bought her a few little treats; a note book with the words “Enjoy the Little Things” which has been the ethos of her blog for as long as I have known her, some seeds to grow in a pot at home, a few scrap book cards that might be nice for her Instagram shots and a book for her mini break away with her husband that she’s been dreaming of.
I hope she loves it because I love her to bits!
On ‘Post For A Post Day’on Monday 18th September – step back from the hamster wheel of hashtags and send a surprise parcel FOR FREE. ipostparcels are giving away up to 100 free posts per day all week starting today. Collected from your door and delivered to one of your favourites. A day to take a break from mass sharing - it could be as simple as sending a letter to your mum who lives down the road.
Who is your favourite? Why not surprise them. What will you send? Share a picture of what you posted and the story behind why you posted it with the hashtag #PostForAPost.
To post a small parcel (up to 2kg) for free on Post For A Post Day, just go here:
We are all friends here right? I hope good friends. Friends who stick with you even when you have gone a little awol. I'm hoping that by starting off talking about Christmas I might be able to distract you from the date of this post and the photos that will follow. Now you might think think I am about to pedal some Christmas in July event, a sponsored post full of baubles but no, I am mentioning Christmas because every year we do the same thing. We watch the Queens speech all sat around together and then we stand for the national anthem.
I remember one particular speech she made where she referred to her year as their "annus horribilis" and that feels a very appropriate start to this long over due Me and Mine post. Because for all the wonderful things that have happened over the last 6 months and all the exciting days out, birthdays, holidays and surprises still to come this year, it has been, quite frankly, one of the most emotionally difficult years for both our families.
We rang in the new year with my father in law seriously unwell in hospital, recovering from a terrible fall that left him with a broken neck and several fractured ribs that took months and months and months to heal. And just as he was feeling back to his good self, my mum was rushed to hospital with two blood clots on her lungs. You know that phrase "drop everything and go" well that's been the story of the last few months while she recovered from her first stint in hospital. We had thought it was her first and last but unbeknown to everyone, there was another problem lurking in the background, something just as, if not, more serious.
I speak to my mum pretty much on a daily basis and it has never occurred to me that she would FaceTime one day last month, her voice all wobbly with tears, and tell me she had a problem with her heart. My niece Yazzy bought her a cuddly soft heart from Ikea for her birthday - a new one to replace "Granny's broken heart". It was a surreal couple of weeks. Frantic calls with my sister, group messages with my brother, feeling as far away as humanely possible in America, tag teaming hospital visits and I know the drive into central London to the Royal Brompton Heart Hospital like the back of my hand.
It's almost like we were living in The Truman Show and someone had pressed a giant pause button on our lives. We couldn't think of anything else, talk about anything else, barely do anything else! I naively thought I would have hours in hospital to edit a big photo shoot from a week before that dreaded call but the minutes raced by in a blur of knock knocks at the door, blood pressure checks, heart monitor assessments and pots of tea.
So the lead up to the summer was a case of holding onto our businesses and jobs by our finger nails, dropping as few of the spinning plates as possible, feeling that ticking clock chime louder and louder with end of term events, sports days and then bing, it was time for the boys to break up.
It may sound like a ridiculous statement but I am working to not work. Trying to juggle lots of hats as a consultant, a photographer and small creative business during term time, to set up enough work to let me have time off when the boys are at home. I remember emailing Fiona one late July weekend after I'd read her new book and found her out of office almost more inspiring than the book pages themselves. It read something like this. "I am now on school holidays with my children and will be back at work in September." Almost two months away. And I thought right, that is my goal!
I guess I don't mean not working at all, I mean not working frantically, not taking on commitments I cannot squeeze in the the boys with us and ending up being late on deadlines like I have been. Thanking my lucky stars my clients are in the same positions, doing their best to survive 6 weeks or more of Moscow State Circus standard juggling.
I decided that this summer was going to be all or nothing. And I went for all. After the upset, the relief that Reg and Mum were getting better and all the nights I had been away from the boys, we set out to give them an incredible adventure. Bouncing from one place to the next, staying with best friends, family and ending the holidays in our favourite resort in Kos. There were still emails, calls and editing, but we fitted around them rather than the other way. They slept in in Spain, I got up earlier and caught up. My sister took over at backdrops HQ and drove to my house to pack orders and now is on first name terms with our lovely post office!
We spent almost everyday of the school holidays together as a four, sometimes with extras but 99% of the time together. Me and mine.
So here we are, heading into autumn, still a little sun kissed, definitely a little rounder, but happy. I look back at these snapshots and think wow. Stories still to tell on this blog but the absolute adventure I so desperately wanted for the boys. Parties, a trip to London to see The Diary of a Wimpey Kid film at the 20th Century Fox offices with Joules, the best family day out we have ever genuinely had day at Legoland, back and forth to Southbourne, musical beds with family and friends, a whirlwind 24 hours in London to visit the Google offices for the launch of the Google Home device, plane rides and iPad afternoons. We feel so incredibly lucky. We've worked hard and played hard!
They ran back into school, both wrapped in bear hugs by their friends and the drop off was a stream of cuddles and kisses with friends I have missed that I hadn't seen all summer. It's wonderful to be away but it's also really good to be home. We made lists of plans for our house, created endless spreadsheets and feel like we are focussed on the next three months and making progress in every area of life. Like in the film Inside Out. Looking at each island and making them better. Friendships, work, hobbies and most importantly family.
The trouble with being an all or nothing person is the times when it has to be nothing. But the Me and Mine Project is a brilliant thing and I am so happy to be back with my three boys.
We have been fully in countdown mode at this house this week, counting last sleeps for Sammy as a 7-year-old, and texting every night back and forth with my brother who is going to be the best surprise present of all.
A few months ago Sammy became completely overwhelmed with emotion – one of those wobbly lip moments that descended into a full-blown stream of tears running down his cheeks, and fighting for breath as struggled to get out his words.
And it was all over his love for his Uncle Pat and his family in America. How much he misses them both and his baby cousin and how, in typical dramatic fashion, he’s “only seen them twice in his whole life!”, which I had to remind him wasn’t quite true.
But I know how it must feel, that the handful of times he has had with them doesn't seem enough. The thing we forget when we are all grown up is that a few months feels like forever to their young minds. Those weeks and months waiting for your birthday and Christmas to arrive are just endless!
Well, the wait is almost over my darling and when you run out of school on Friday, swinging your book bag in one arm and your school jumper in another, you’ll be running into the arms of your uncle! Even just typing about it makes my fingers tingle and I can feel a lump building from my tummy right up into my throat. There will be tears and probably this time they will all be from me!
It’s quite an incredible thing really, when your holiday allowance from work is so precious, to give up so much of it to fly home. We give my brother a hero’s welcome, just like we did when we waved him goodbye, knowing he’d truly lost his heart to a girl in New Jersey. Just like before there’s balloons and bunting flapping above the front door, I will stock up our fridge with all his favourites – things he misses from US supermarkets like traditional pork sausages and bakery sausage rolls! You’d think we would want to pack as much in as possible when we have such a limited time together, but in fact the way we make those 36, or 48 or, if we are really lucky, 72 hours last the longest is by keeping him at home. Games in the garden, pottering around the house. I love it, he loves. But so often I think he’s really got the bad end of the deal.
He has a home-from-home back here at our house and, likewise, we are so lucky to be able to go and visit him and my sister-in-law in New Jersey, have a US postal address for internet purchases and a base for us to bounce off from too. Rich and I have been over almost more times than I can count on two hands which is good going in 7 years. We’ve stayed in all their apartments and houses as they’ve climbed the housing ladder, ending up in a beautiful house with a white picket fence and neighbours with basketball hoops on the drive. And we get to visit New York, even if just for a flying visit.
Before my niece was born we were so lucky to scoot across the pond and have a magical summer night in the city as part of our visit around the time of our ten year wedding anniversary. I was sorting through a whole heap of albums on the computer the other night and I realised I have never shared the photos!
I adore having the boys and going on holiday with the boys, but there’s something so wonderful about a trip away just the two of us. We took the train and crossed the state border into Manhattan and in just 50 minutes we had swapped the Garden State for skyscrapers but this time there was no steam rising from the sidewalks. It was roasting. I’ve never really understood the concept of summering out of a city. My early working life never really allowed me to decamp to escape the heat of a sticky office, but it’s absolutely true in New York. The streets feel different. There’s a calmness amongst the chaos and the traffic and after dropping our bags at the hotel, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the incredible view from our floor to ceiling window, we headed off to find a bike station and we cycled off towards Greenwich Village.
Now I’m not a hugely confident cyclist, I tootle through the village after the boys with a picnic in my bicycle basket and ding my bell, but I felt so safe. Rich is all about making the most of an experience, seeing as much as you can and I followed his tracks, across junctions, through heaving traffic and smiled up at the drivers of what felt like the most enormous trucks I have ever seen, as we stopped at a red light. There were several points at which one of us or at times both of us let out a “wooooooo hoooo” like we were 7 years old and blasting down a hill. The sun came out from behind each tower block like lighting bolts as we made our way up the grid of roads and we decided to eat our way around Chelsea down to Soho and across to the East Village.
We stopped for a coffee, (and a cup of tea for me. You can take the girl out of Somerset but you still can’t get her off a nice cup of builders) browsed in a few little boutiques, picking up some souvenirs (doesn’t everyone bring home a set of intriguing bitters you have no idea how to use for their mini bar?!) and dived into a few picture-perfect bars, with rows of metal bistro chairs squeezed onto the pavement around a table just big enough for your cocktail in a mason jar.
It was bliss.
And looking through these photos made me smile. Tomorrow is tortoise party day for Sammy!
The funny thing is we had always imagined we would celebrate our 10-year anniversary in Italy, in a lakeside hotel full of history, and disappear for a few days to do nothing. I’m so glad that didn't come about because that can wait for year 13, 14 or 15. Something to plan for, something to look forward to, to research, to countdown to.
That and the big plans of a mass family meet up somewhere in America for my fortieth … which may be a few years away yet, but in our family it’s never too early to start day dreaming!
Make way, make way! Yasmin lu it's time you knew, how we love you, we love you so much we do!
After months of playing the Moana soundtrack, trips to the cinema and watching the trailer over and over on YouTube there was no doubt the party theme for my little niece's 4th Birthday this year.
It's fair to say our family really get on board with a party theme. Even with just 5 children and 2 babies the village of Motunui came to town! For Yasmin, Sammy and Ollie the build up and the preparations to their birthday parties are as much fun as the party itself. The weeks of FaceTime calls showing each other their costume ideas, exchanging parcel openings of bits and bobs for party bags and group performances of "Your Welcome!" - my sister and I squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of the celebrations.
A very well timed trip over to see Uncle Pat in America meant that I could scoot into the Disney store in New Jersey and pick up a few extras, including a Maui hook for Rich which gets played with everyday since, Moana truly came to Maidenhead on a bonus sunny weekend in April! We borrowed/took over my sister's in laws' garden and in a couple of hours had set up a sweet table, a makeshift coconut shy under the swing and dragged a cardboard boat that my brother in law had made into position!
We were blessed with blue skies (which was lucky for those who braved just a grass skirt!) and we played simple party games, musical statues, races with balloons and a blow up limbo stick wedged in between the garden chairs. Spot the difference between my two...!
The thing with having a party from 2pm-4pm is that it's not really lunch or party tea time and that means you can serve your guests all the naughty treats and not worry about carrot sticks! We set out a dessert table, complete with a Hawaiian-last-minute-table-skirt with Yasmin's cake as the centrepiece.
Now I am all for the wow factor but with the minimal effort. I can't bake, one day I am going to crack it but for now I will settle for mediocre icing skills and a polystyrene tower. At a lot of the boys' parties the cake goes untouched. It's a big moment when we sing but if I forgot to slice it up for the party bags it ends up wrapped in foil and squashed into the plastic storage box to get left unloved on the kitchen worktop. I wanted all the beautiful cookies and cupcakes I had ordered from Sugar Plum Bakes to be a eaten instead so our false cake was absolutely perfect.
I don't know how Vaani does it. The painting in icing - it's spectacular. Not to mention delicious. Just look at the detail on the boat!
I used a glue gun to stick the polystyrene false cakes together then simply used ready made tubs of icing mixed with a drop or two of food colouring and a palette knife to make wave like patterns around the cake. We raided Yazzy's Moana figures collection and I pushed a bouquet of faux flowers from a pound shop into a backwards S shape. That and I threw a handful of turquoise sprinkles at it. I think it possibly looked better in the photos than up close in the flesh!
She loved it and that's all that mattered!
We had popping Volcano candy and sticks of sugar "Lava" rock for Taka, Hibiscus and pineapple lollipops, palm leaf boats filled with sweeties and multi coloured fortune cookies. My sister's mother in law makes the world's best chicken chow mein and we all dived into bowlfuls with a few hand rolled spring rolls on the side!
We found a handful of games kept them all entertained for a couple of hours and it was much more fun when the adults joined in too.
"Consider the Co-co-nut" Shy! My brother in law made the stakes himself and we used a heavy cricket ball to knock the coconuts off their perches. The Dad's contest was the best. Let's just say there was more than a slight competitive edge between them all!
"How Far I'll...drink!" The Long Straw games is so simple but they loved it. Stick a paper cup to a piece of card wide enough for the children to stand on. Then use extra long straws to see who can drink the cup of water (we only filled them a little bit not a full cup!) the quickest.
Limbo is always a hit. We made it last about ten rounds by making it lower, higher, who could jump over and who could commando crawl under.
"We know the Way Round Granny" Take it in turns between the adults, men and women and children to make a conga line holding a balloon in between you. You have to shimmy together round an obstacle (Granny!) without the balloons falling down. A test of teamwork!
It was a hoot. 3 generations all chasing each other around the garden with balloons between their chests! Poor Yazzy was on day 4 of chicken pox but she soldiered on, the party really lifted her and while we cleared up after her two best friends left, we settled the cousins onto the sofa with their party bags.
I LOVED how much everyone got into the spirit of the theme, (My mum looked insanely good as the Grandma) all for the love of a four year old sweet girl who lights up our lives.
We've saved so many of the party decorations Talking Tables kindly sent us so we need an excuse to have another luau party soon! Logan couldn't quite work out how to twist his lei off from around his tummy!
Yasmin couldn't have been more grateful, before, during and after the party.
Now this is what you call a holiday. Days that blend into one, bonus sunny spells and a month of birthdays.
We managed to eek out Easter for 4 weeks, more pottering than we expected, a few extra days in pyjamas than we planned. One chipped ankle putting paid to lots of play dates and plans. We all got a little fed up on more the one occasion with the wretched big boot. But I look back at these photos and think wow. Boot and all it was a brilliant school holidays.
I want to quote a line from our favourite musical (you'll see more of that at the end of this month... Hamilton party here we come...) but "Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
I'm not sure when it happened that this all became normal life, weekends with friends, visiting family in beautiful parts of the country and even the days at home playing Greedy Gorilla feel precious. We are so lucky. Of course it's not perfect but that doesn't make us not lucky.
"Hey Google. How many boys does it take to show the Google PR team how to summon Dan TDM on YouTube?!" We had a surreal experience over the Easter holidays. Our one exciting overnight trip which involved washing a very mouldy buggy seat dug out from the depths of the garage and using it as a set of wheels for a very big baby!
There was no way we could go up and negotiate London with Sammy in his boot so we took our old Quinny and whooshed him around, up and down the steps in the tube stations and into the Google Offices to try out the new Google Home device.
The boys couldn't quite believe it when they handed them a gift bag with Google ribbon on it to take home and the next day when two emails pinged into my inbox about how delightful the boys had been I felt so proud and so privileged.
Basically it's amazing. We can control our heating, lighting, shopping list, music and basically our lives on it. And we made it to the Google wall of fame. Life goal - done!
We went back to our apartment - which was an absolute find by Battersea Bridge, we are booking again for when we take the boys for their Christmas present to see Hamilton in the West End, and haven't stopped playing with it since. The funny thing is I keep thinking what a perfect gift it would be for an older person. Someone to talk to, someone to read the news to you, play a game with you, tell you a joke. It's almost like having a friend.
All the guilt I felt about cutting days short, cancelling friends to play has disappeared writing this post.
What a month. Another month of memories, of best friends coming for sleepovers, of nothing but a couple of phone snaps to remember it all by. But that's ok. They print ok, they don't have to be studio sharp, because what they mean is so much more powerful.
One of the best things to happen because of blogging is photos, but more importantly photos of us as a family. It's not as often now that we all become models for an hour or a day and create some blog content, with the boys at school and three days a week being in after school clubs til gone 5 (and sunset!). I'm conscious that they need to want to be in these photos, they are too old to be bribed with chocolate buttons and now they have their own minds I want them to be part of this extraordinary existence on line, with full awareness.
So one Sunday afternoon, a few weeks into the boot, (Which could be removed for a short while without harm!) we created some content for the very lovely people at Joules for their blog and I laughed when an old work colleague from 10 years ago spotted us on their Facebook page this week and tagged me in her comment!
We are a real family, the boys are a complete mix of us both, although the photos would lead you to believe Sammy is a mini me and Ollie is the spitting image of Rich, no wait Rich's mum Jackie. And I truly believe that seeing real bodies showcasing a product or clothing or whatever it may be, is so much more emotive than catalogue models, drafted in for the day to play happy families.
I'm not a model, my hips don't sashay down a catwalk in a size 8/10 dress but I am a loyal customer and an absolute brand advocate. And we have a gorgeous set of photos we never would've had if it wasn't for a blog post.
Just like the Me and Mine series.
Everywhere I read "This year is flying", racing away for almost everyone and for once I am happy to rush through May. Birthday month for our biggest boy and a surprise trip back for my brother. Sammy won't believe his eyes when he sees him ready to watch his school concert on the last day of half term. Eeeeeek! Actually we are going to hang back by the door as they come in because Sammy will want to give him a bear hug!
This last photo has a few extras in it... but it's what is coming next. Oh April we actually couldn't have loved you more!
I know I am useless at these Me and Mine posts, posting days late but there are lots that aren't and you should go over and read what their families have been up to in April.
Well one good deed always deserves another in my book.
I've had a little run of bumping into nice people and receiving random acts of kindness and it's infectious. There's been a few occasions recently where people have bailed me out of a hole, met me in a car park after hours (no not that kind of favour) and rushed a deadline to help me meet one of my own. And subconsciously I've gone about my merry way, buying a Best magazine for an older lady in the supermarket who had forgotten to pop it in her trolley and raced to find it at the checkout after she had paid, stopped at the toll bridge on the road out of Bath and helped a stranded motorist who only needed 70p to trip trap over the bridge and I'm hoping I can pass on the kindness of two strangers who let me pick their Magnolia trees to you.
It's not so much of "If you don't ask you don't get" but more of if you don't have a Magnolia tree in your garden I bet someone who does might enjoy being reminded how lucky they are.
It started with an unfortunate car journey. I was racing to Weston super Mare to pick up a new order of backdrops earlier this week and got stuck in a big accident.
An open topped lorry carrying all sorts of rubbish destined for the local recycling dump had toppled over and spilt it's load all over the road to the motorway, leaving hundreds of us trying to remember our three point turns and pootling off with no 3G to reset our sat navs into deepest Somerset to find an alternative route. I pulled in at the next drive way and stopped the car to wave my phone in the air (it helps to get higher right?!) to see if miraculously it would reroute me towards the M5 and I looked to my left and there was the most enormous pink Magnolia tree outside the entrance to a farm yard full of calves chomping on hay with their heads poking through the bottom bars of their pens. It was a sight.
I jumped out and found the nice lady who lived there and she gave me a new set of directions and then I couldn't resist asking if she minded me picking up the fallen petals from the tree. I explained I love to photograph flowers, make pretty scenes from them for Instagram and she beamed back at me and said pick as many of the flowers as you would like!
And it seemed very selfish to keep them all to myself. That and the box full of chocolates that arrived from Bettys. Oh yes, chocolate to make you squeal and forbid the children from eating the minty turquoise one because that one is all MINE!
So here is a fresh set of Easter phone backgrounds for you to download. I'm going with the rule that if there's mini eggs on my phone at all times it's quite acceptable to eat them after school drop off, with a cup of tea at 11, as a pre lunch snack and afternoon pick me up and forget popcorn for movie night it's all about the eggs in this house for at least the next month.
Which is your favourite?! Download the set and swap them over. Just click on any of the photos to save it. I might go for the white Magnolia next. Now's there's another story for that one involving a lovely man and his dog and a 10 minute chat that ended with my handbag full of buds.
I like to describe all those generous strangers I met this week as good eggs. A phrase you don't hear too often these days. But Bettys have brought it back with their printable range of Easter cards for you to print at home and colour in.
Rich has actually been trying a little mindfulness colouring of late, something I've not given the time to in the past but if you've tried it you will know it absolutely works and you are transported back to your day dreaming school day self!
If you are struggling for a little extra idea why not print a batch and give them as an early present with a set of colouring pencils wrapped up for someone who could do with a little de stressing? I might even make a little book of them for the boys ready for our journey up to Berkshire for the Easter weekend.
You can print your set here. From Bettys, from one good egg to another ;)
And if you download the phone wallpapers I would love to see which are your favourites!