Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Christmas presents past

You have to love the Pickle - she does things her way. Her christmas list is always worthy of note. She really became aware of Christmas aged three and her greatest wish was for a bunny costume and a book about bunnies (okay, she found the book 'How much do I love you?' rather mawkish and it has seldom been read). The following year she asked for a pair of new wellies and a pair of scissors (no connection).

Last year her taste rather plummeted. I gave her a 'Letterbox' catalogue to flick through for inspiration, as most of their toys are fun and generally either wooden, costumes or crafty. She managed to fall in love with a 'Princess Coralie' make up head. The make up head has somewhat redeemed itself in my eyes, as one morning I came down to see her engrossed with her Aunty Bat; seeing my voluptuous, gothic, rockabilly, burlesque friend doing play hair and make up was priceless.

So far this year either she wants a retractable glove to pick blackberries at the top of bushes or a flying machine. Easy...maybe.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Autumn Colours

This post is a bit experimental - but I am trying to stay as close to the aim of @Older_Mum's #oneweek project as possible. These pictures are not aiming to be Ansel Adams, but they do show the colours of Autumn unfolding over the space of 10 days (a little cheat there, I started a few days early). You can see nature working up to a crescendo then the life starting to ebb away.

Here is the badge so you can check out some more visions of Autumn. one week

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Autumn changes

Year on year Autumn unfolds, joyous, predictable and ultimately giving way for renewal in Spring. This year Autumn will change Chaos Cottage in a way not seen since we got an inside loo.
When the cottage was built three hundred years ago it was a functional shepherds dwelling, surrounded by fields. during the war it was at the edge of a large airfield, but still amidst cornfields. Twenty years ago Reading came up to the back door, with just a track and a belt of trees to secure our solitude.

My morning ritual was watching the mists retreat back to the river Loddon across the fields in front of my bedroom window. After years of fighting I have to accept the change is coming.

As I came back from my walk this morning I saw the sight of cones. The track leading home is about to be widened, a roundabout built ready for the hundreds of houses that block my view of the river.
Before it was just us and nature, then sounds of trees and birds. Okay, apologies to the houses adjacent when the band at our birthday party was heard a mile away, or when we had delusions of Elvis at 3am when we balanced on surf boards in the garden escaping sharks; we were so used to being on a limb we forgot how close to reality we were. As the last leaves drop, so does our isolation.
this blog was inspired by Autumn changes with Older Mum.
one week

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Autumn part 2 and 2 cakes

This year I have made huge steps towards Stepford-ism: my house retains its bohemian appeal (it could do with a spring clean) but I have discovered baking. You can blame it on Dan, I have mentioned him before: Saint Dan, Patron Saint of Elasticated Waists. So for the first time I decided to bake a Christmas cake, the only problem was which one. Naturally, the answer was to cook two!

Beware, mind, the ingredients are not cheap - my halo is shining bright as I got mine from Truefood Coop, made more affordable with my active member vouchers, natch. Incidentally I was chatting to a customer at Truefood and she smugly said that as the dried fruit was so sweet she did not add any sugar, I nodded saying that it can be sweet so I am not planning to ice mine just home made marzipan and a riotous display of colourful dried fruit and nuts (and some marzipan holly) and she looked at me her halo ebbing away saying that she had to double ice hers.

Cake 1: Caramel Christmas Cake

200g caster sugar
50ml water
150ml double cream
50g both honey and black treacle
Grated zest of an orange and a lemon
4 teaspoons of mixed spice (I bodged by using a random combination of ginger, clover, nutmeg, cinnamon and little all spice)
100g butter
3 medium eggs (or any your chickens lay :)
250g strong white flour
1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
250g each currants, raisins and chopped prunes or figs (I used prunes)
400g natural glacé cherries (not the lurid red ones - but I only had 150g so I made up to a similar weight using some dried sour cherries and candied ginger)
200g walnut halves (or chopped walnuts as they are cheaper, but I still almost forgot them)
Boil up the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan until a rich, dark, reddish caramel - it should take 5-6 mins; I did something wrong and it kept on going granular so I had to add more water, but it came good in the end. When is goes a brown as you dare (it will burn if you let it go too far) add the cream, taking care as it spits like a camel. Stir in the cream then add the honey, treacle and spice. Next add the butter and beat it in cruelly until it melts.
Turn on the oven to 170'C/150' Fan and line the bar and sides of a round tin 18cm diameter (I only had a 20cm) with a few layers of non-stick baking paper.
transfer to a mixing bowl (unless you are a domestic slut like me) and beat in the eggs one by one, stir in the flour and bicarb until smooth. Add the fruit and nuts and spoon / pour into the lined tin and pop into the oven. The overall mixture was quite stiff so I could make it slightly lower in the middle so that one it rose it was fairly flat and ready to decorate.
Bake for two hours or until a skewer only collects a few crumbs when stuck in.

Cake 2: Black Christmas Cake

375g mixed dried fruit
150g quartered prunes
1teaspoon orange extract - I substituted orange zest, a little vanilla and some pomegranate molasses that I use in stews.
200g chopped ginger glacé
500ml stout
200g butter
1 teaspoon of each cinnamon, mace, ground cloves, nutmeg
200g muscovado sugar (mine was a random mix of brown sugars from dark muscovado to my newly discovered rapadura sugar and reduced the quantity overall quantity to around 180g)
175g black treacle
3 medium eggs
250g spelt or whole meal flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
Add the first batch of dried ingredients and extract (or alternative) to a bowl. Meanwhile go through the faff of reducing the stout down to about 100ml, it should take 15min simmering if you don't boil it over or loose the will to live. Add the butter to melt then stir in the spices (you should wait until it cools, but by now I am aware that DB will awake at around 4.30am and want some sleep first).
Line your 20cm cake tin (I have the right size this time) with non-stick baking paper and heat the oven to 170'c /150' C fan.
Beat the eggs (and your dish washer - how many pans and bowls I wonder?) then stir in. Sift the flour and baking powder together, adding back the health bits of the flour that stay in the sieve and beat this into the mixture with the fruit.
Transfer the mixture to your lovingly lined tin and cook for 2 1/2 hours until it passes the skewer test and the top of the cake feels firm.

Can you see the lengths that I go to in order to advise you on your cake? Well neither require the fruit to be soaked unusually. Cake number 2 is cakier, with more crumb and the first cake is more loaded with fruit. I find cake 2 more of a fiddle (could you tell?) and the taste of the black treacle a little overpowering. the Hubster said that it tasted of Christmas, so he is sold on it.

Now can I hear the entrance of the Queen of Sheba, angelic trumpets? No, the baby monitor is on and the Hubster is snoring. I think it is late, so I shall press publish before I see too many typos or grammatical howlers.
Goodnight xx

one week

Sunday, 11 November 2012

autumn part one

Have you noticed that increased use of the great C word? what were you thinking? not that! C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s. All I can say is thank goodness for Hallowe'en otherwise we may have had snow and baubles going up before the hot cross buns had gone stale.

Well Pickle is six and DB is one, so before cynicism and materialism takes control I will... err...cynically grab the mail order catalogues. NO scrub that! Every post more catalogues arrive, my inbox is overrun with Christmas sales. I am fighting back with pins and prunes - don't worry, I am sane and will explain later!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Introduction to planet Sarah

Out there in the darkness orbiting planet earth is a satellite. It is nearly vintage - *whispers 1970*. It is a basic model, some more advanced versions are fitted with both the convention and common sense operating systems but this one manages without convention.

As it is the centre of my universe I have imbued it with unwarranted status and call it Planet Sarah. It used to be docked onto earth, when London based it sent out an expeditionary force most nights to investigate the twin phenomena of alcohol and fun.

Since the operating system was updated to include motherhood and life in the 'burbs it has turned into a satellite in random orbit. Lines of communication have been opened through this blog log. Great satisfaction had been discovered. It is still trying to navigate netiquette and how to join the great debate, but Planet Sarah is a benevolent place so efforts will continue.

One great issue with the operating system is the twin issues of lack of the convention protocol and early years of indoctrination in Yorkshire. Surprise has been expressed on many occasion at the nature of the happiness filter, negativity rarely infiltrates. The over all package can seem perplexing to the newcomer.

A commitment has been made to dock onto the great mother ship of Mumsnet - tomorrow we (who am I kidding, I) will be attending blogfest. however, there are a few outstanding issues, this may open up the system to viruses - the Mumsnet Initiation (being called a C U next Tuesday for etiquette transgression?) and a session about Dealing with detractors and tackling trolls.

I guess the thing is, I am quaking in my boots (Ethletic fairtrade ones if you are asking) but I am preparing to enter your orbit. It will all be fine, as on Planet Sarah we live the Pretty Good Life.

P.s. You may recognise me from this flattering pic, in the morning I will be hiding behind a coffee and by afternoon I often resemble Cousin It.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

I missed this link up last week - which is strange as it is an absolute highlight reading all the posts, but less strange when considering what I was up to. I was on the best holiday! Just me and my little family: The Hubster, Pickle and DB were living it up in Cornwall.
We had such fun! I felt that it was a sigh of relieve as we all rebounded. The first years of a baby's life is so intense for a Mum that they inevitably set the agenda. On holiday we were a team, except we split along gender lines. he Hubster and DB bonded while the Pickle and I rediscovered each other. we had no obligations, no deadlines and no stress. It was bliss!
I had hoped that we would get to the Eden project but with little people sometimes the happiest times are when you listen to them rather than frog march them off, nominally in the name of fun. having said that we were busy! I had already written about the National Maritime Museum and alluded to the Eden project when we celebrated Hallowe'en, and we also made it to the amazing Aquarium in Plymouth, swam every day and even went skating.
The best things in life are free, so my reasons to be cheerful are the TIME we spent together as a family. Not forgetting the very special highlight: DB said his first joined up words 'Daddy Go'. Big smiles for my clever boy!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Autumn makes itself felt, it attacks our senses: the smell of damp leaves, the piecing cold wind, leaves underfoot either crisp with frost of squelching when damp. It heralds a new season of celebrations. This year we were in Cornwall for half term so were lucky enough to herald the new season at the Little Monster's Ball at the Eden Project. Here is my little monster, hoody over her witches costume. I think the body language says it all - splat!

 As this is the Gallery I feel obliged to add a photo of a tree as it seems to be a shared preoccupation. I love the contrast between the leaves as they change colour with the proud bows of the oak and the vibrant sky.

I am trying to keep my powder dry, as I am looking forward to Older Mums's One week project next week. 

one week

I love her badge, I hope my posts can do it justice.

In the meantime, pop over to the gallery to see more posts on Autumn - it is one of my weekly highlights. :)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

National Maritime Museum

We love Museums and something that we find, time after time, is that it is people that make museums for children. Little ones are clever, with minds open to new information, but you just need to present the information in the right way.

The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth seems to have it all. Great exhibits updated regularly, displays to inspire awe (think a flotilla of flying boats), an observation tower facing out across the harbour, interactive explanations, boats to play on - it even has a good cafe. Best of all it has people.

Can you imagine a better way to be introduced to a museum that by Mr Dapper weaving his storytelling magic? We wove our way around the museum, following poetic clues - stopping occasionally for stories. He called them stories, a boring teacher would call them lessons. With a grandmother from the Isle of Wight I have often attempted explain how it became an island, with little success; armed with an air bed, a picture of the moon and a magnet it all became clear in the hands of the Magical Mr Dapper. As his tour came to an end he promised real pirate treasure and in this, as with all else, he surprised and surpassed expectations - rather than plastic or chocolate coins - he produced real doubloons from a privateer ship for the children to handle.

Earlier he had noticed that we had a pushchair so he confined it to the ground floor, a classic example of the thoughtfulness shown throughout the museum. He had recommended we visit the tidal zone where we could go under the sea to see the harbour's fish and examine the height at which low and high tide appear on the big glass windows. Above in the lookout a volunteer could point out all the points of local interest and the histories of the boats below. Next we dashed over to learning zone to make paper plate fish and 3-d models of turtles - in a frenzy of glue, glitter and tissue paper - observed and assisted by the ever present helpers and guides.

We were there for about four hours but we barely as we had touched the surface, as we left I was using severe distraction techniques so that they did not see what we had failed to explore. I am searching to think of sage advise as to what to avoid or things that I could do differently - but alas my only advice would just be to go!

Thursday, 1 November 2012


I thought long and hard about this one. It could have been the Pickle dressed up for the Little Monsters Ball, it could have been the sight of me first thing in the morning - but no it is something that is far, far more dangerous.

Absinth, the very name sends shivers down my spine. The only ever time I drunk it was at, until that point, a very civilised dinner party. one moment we were around a dinner table then the Absinth struck and we were all skinny dipping. apparently the next morning they had to polish the dining room window to remove the imprint left by my brother in laws gonads. It is all a bit hazy and I had my eyes shut - seriously - I believe that it is good to have some secrets within families! Now, please, I must change the subject.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

New River Cottage Cafe

They say that nothing in life is guaranteed but death and taxes; as a Mum I disagree as you can add cooking (or feeding) and washing to that list. As a consequence it is a phenomenal treat to be taken out for Sunday lunch.

The River Cottage cafe seemed to tick all the boxes to qualify as a trendy bristro: local ethical produce - tick, loads of micro salad leaves - tick, a short daily changing menu - tick, a good balance of choices if meat, fish and vegetarian dishes - tick, celebrity chief - tick, artfully distressed decor in a newly decorated venue - tick, faux industrial detail - tick. Well, the first three tick my boxes too, provided the chiefs can deliver the goods and I can cope with the mildly pretentious interiors besides it was set in a glorious building in a historic dock yard.

I must add the additional proviso that a lunchtime restaurant must be child friendly, and in this it excelled. There is great menu for little people, a decent changing unit, colouring in sheets and crayons, totally charming staff and enough space so that we can work the room (you know, the endless wondering in circles essential to young toddlers).

I love mixed platters so we opted for the fish and the meat ones to share. There were notable highlights, the soused herring and cured mutton were great. At £12.50 they really needed to be - but they did not really live up to their pricing ambition. The ham croquettas were sloppy, the smoked mackerel pate wad merely so-so (mine matches up to or surpasses it) and the portions, for the price, were far from generous.

For mains my fish was so fresh it's Mum had not even had a chance to missed him and was served on a bed of impeccably spiced lentils. The butternut squash and chickpeas and memorable and the pork had that old fashioned taste of authenticity. The children faired a little less well, the home made hummus came with fairly second rate pitta rather than the advertised vegetable sticks but the pasta was very passable.

Fortunately the pudding was back up to scratch again, the worst problem was choosing so we ordered one of each. They were unctuous, calorific and with well balanced flavours. The fresh raspberries stopped the chocolate terrine from being cloying with the creme fraiche just married the two, and the rhubarb lifted panna cotta and the biscotti gave it the perfect bite.

It was the perfect Sunday lunch, but the perfect lunch is more than just food, it is company and ambiance too. If the day was judged purely on the food I would say that it was good, not excellent, and at £140 for four adults and two children it really did need to be at least that good.

This was in no way sponsored, paid for or subject to any commercial pressures. It was chosen by my step daughter - and I think she did a great job doing so.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Chocolate Muffins

I am starting to acknowledge the midwinter festival - I can almost mention that C word. The Ethical Superstore have just had a 25% off sale so I have bought advent calendars and chocolate coins. That brings me to the issue of the of finishing off the Easter Chocolate...honestly. I don't forbid anything (except incest and Morris Dancing as the old saying goes) so any chocolate that we get given goes into a large storage jar and we eat it a little at a time, hence the left over Easter chocolate that is probably best for cooking at this stage.

This is based on a Dan Leopard recipe, yes, my patron Saint if Elasticated Waists. It was originally meant to be made with Dark Chocolate so the more milk chocolate I put in the more I reduce the sugar and to a lesser extent oil.

Makes 12 (huge) or 18 more manageable

50g cornflower
3 tablespoons cocoa
100g dark soft brown sugar (I use whatever I have, which is often a mix of dark muscavado and other lighter sugars)
225g cold water
Up to 75g butter. If I have 1/2 and 1/2 dark and milk chocolate I reduce this to 65g
125g chocolate
75ml sunflower oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Up to 125g caster sugar. If I have 1/2 and 1/2 dark and milk chocolate I reduce this to 110g.
125g plain flour - sifted and well mixed with ....
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Heat oven to 180'c/160'c fan/350'F/gas mark 4

In a saucepan add the first batch of ingredients: corn flour, cocoa, brown sugar and water and whisk constantly over a medium heat until boiling, thick and smooth (a wrist work out).

Remove from the het and beat in the butter and chocolate until mixed in. Add the oil, vanilla and one egg and beat until combined, then add the other egg and caster sugar and beat until smooth.

Add the flour/ baking powder mixture and beat until smooth.

Put in the paper muffin cases in a muffin tray and bake for 25 mins.

Leave to cool as long as you can hold out then enjoy!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

reasons to be Cheerful 12

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

No not 1, 2, 3 but 12: that is the number of our bus. It used to go to Camberwell but has retired to our garden. Owning things is not a very good reason to be cheerful, but hey, it is hard not to crack a smile when you see a routemaster stuck in the Berkshire 'burbs.
I blame it on Radio 4. In the days before children, I seem to remember, we had long leisurely lie ins on Saturdays. We must have, as one week we were listening to the comedienne Linda Smith discuss the demise of the Routemaster bus. At the end of the programme she mentioned that they were selling them off for little more than we were planning to spend on a new garden can see it...the twisted logic? Of course, a bus is so much more sensible than a silly old garden shed and we started to giggle.
Back in those days us Brits were only just cutting our teeth on Internet shopping, but I managed to go on line to track down bus heaven (or was it purgatory as their final resting place had yet to be decided). The next week we took the long trip right around the M25 to deepest darkest Essex. Faced with a large hanger crammed with buses we did what any normal human would do: we found the one bus without an Andrew Lloyd Webber poster and bought it.
A week later reality entered the equation and we considered out small lane and modest garden and the scale of the bus and the giggles subsided. Too late, the bus was on its way and going top speed of 30mph it was taking a time.
It was meant to be a festival bus, taking us to Glastonbury and the like, but instead it is a party bus. For one party with had a children's area upstairs with Scaletrix and baby football and downstairs we cleared the seats to have a bar and dance area.

More recently it had been storage and a workshop. We can quickly revamp it to turn it into a bar for parties or even set it up with a table, it can seat 20 people at a push. Can you imagine a better ice braker than reaching up to pull the bell to ask for more wine to be passed?
It is, like the house, very much of a work in progress but we love it. Besides it is hard not to be cheerful with a number 12 in our garden.

it is not just changing colours this Autumn

I think that changing times and places are the twin themes for Older Mum's One Week project, and as much as I would love to ignore it, this autumn is the swan song for our solitude. We have been fighting for years but the diggers are moving in, and suburbia will take over my view.

For three hundred years our cottage stood in isolation, until fifty years ago it was surrounded by fields. About twenty years ago Reading started to knock at its door. when we moved in we were shaded from a housing estate (a lovely one, but just still full of houses) by a small road and high trees. From my bedroom window I could still look down at towards the River Loddon and see country.

When I came back from my walk today I saw traffic cones, and it just seemed to herald the end of solitude. the road that used to lead only to our home is being widened and a round about is being put in so that it can take the traffic for hundreds of new homes. New homes that will be rammed in cheek by jowell between me and the wonderful river.

I will never wake up and watch silently as the wisps of morning mist disappear across the fields, before any noise was ours (sorry for anyone who heard us play Elvis at 3am while we stood on surf boards in the garden pretending to be scared of sharks) now we will just be one more house in endless suburbia.

one week

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Have you heard of the family who drowned in books? No? Good! that means I still have my reading habit under control. I do occasionally read books on my iPad but that tends to be only when pickle has forgotten to tell me about some school work and I urgently need to explain something before Amazon or Abe books can deliver. That is right, I make a point of finding books rather than letting Pickle think that Wikipedia is the fountain of all knowledge.

Here on the shelf by my desk I have a few important reference books. Two bird books, a wildlife book and an encyclopaedia.
I love reading books, I love the feel and smell of books and more than anything I love giving books away. When I lived in my flat in London every time a friend came around I insisted they picked a book to go away with. The best thing that you can do with a great book is pass it on. What greater gift is there than the discovery of an idea or the introduction of a new cherished author?

I end up by buying the same book time and time again. The exception being my Folio books that are mine for keeps.
Our lovely friend Rob made these book cases from reclaimed oak boards, they are lovingly made and filled with care. This is the fiction side of the window. I can see Murakami, Primo Levi (oops, the wrong side) and Jane Austen nestled in with a fluorescent Lenin and a decanter. I need to sort out the lower shelves and reclaim the dining rooms from the disarray it has fallen into.

On the far side is the non fiction. My beloved dictionaries and encyclopaedia as well as the first of my art books to make it here. The rest of my books are still in boxes at my Mum's house. Perched on top is a book containing the architectural plans of the Eiffel Tower that Pickle and I gaze in awe as her Lego aspirations go stratospheric.
Am I the only person who is transfixed by other people's book shelves? I remember my respect for an ex-boss evaporated when I saw her artfully designed shelves had nothing more than a handful of thumbed holiday fiction. Book collections can reveal interests and passions; a depth of understanding or a butterfly intellect. I wonder what my shelves say about me?

A Blossoming communicator

Twitter is a wonderful thing, it brings you into contact with all kinds of ideas and information. One month to go and I came across @VivienSabel and The Blossom Method. This is the storey of what happened next.

Vivien was already an expert in non-verbal communication as her mother was deaf, so it seemed natural to chatter to daughter Blossom before she could use words. The Blossom Method was her story, and she shares the lessons so that we could learn too.

With Pickle I was a standard first time Mum, stumbling around, reading all books (mainly as someone told me that I was too much of a hippy to do so) but feeling certain that my child was in individual not prefabricated schedule fodder. I was uncertain of her needs so my answer to most things was to feed her. She spent her first six months happy every day until indigestion set in as she should have been ready for bed.

This time I had no time for books, but Vivien had very kindly sent me a taster of what the Blossom Method could offer, and armed with this and a few chats I ready to give it a try.

First off I was stunned how easily it came to us. It was as if it just unlocked the door to communication. The first few days in hospital were a bit traumatised, and I was not overjoyed at having to have another blimin caesarean so at least I had something to restore my enthusiasm for motherhood.

Soon DB was telling me everything I wanted to know. With a baby there are three many issues: food, nappies and sleep. For food he licked his lips, for sleep his eyes darkened and the nappies - well it was absense of the other two indicators if I did not smell it first. Pretty soon he set himself into his own ideal routine: sleeping until 11 when I went to bed, then waking me once at 4pm - then often I awoke to the sound of him licking his lips not his cries and my throbbing breasts, I could be sat up phone in hand by before he let out his first yells of hunger.

Why the phone? I monitored his schedule out of interest initially and the #3amfc (twitter 3am feed club) was the most amazing source of good humour and mutual support.

Let me be honest, the blossom method is only as good as the amount of effort you put in. We were fairly crap. I am sure that if DB was a first child we we have put in exponential effort - but after the early promise we let it slip. Somehow the early interest must have paid off subliminally - as aged 14 months we are still being surprised by the benefits.

The way that he expects to be understood. From about six months he has burbled and gesticulated and fixed me has gaze while he expects to be understood. Hs eyes just yell, 'for goodness sake, Mum, get it right'.

He had also taken to sign language with total ease. We started with a few basics to help communications such as 'more' and 'all done'. I suddenly remembered that Pickle's first sign at around a year was 'please'. With a gulp I anticipated the weeks of repetition to help him learn his first step towards manners, but blow me down with a kiss, after showing him the sign once he had learnt it.

He is so easy going and knows just how to communicate his needs. I am certain this comes down to been always accustomed to being listened to and seeing that he could make himself understood.

Much of the book is not really rocket science, it is simple stuff - but it works. That is the joy of it, it is ground breaking stuff made simple by a genius.

Was this sponsored? Vivien did send me info and followed up with the book - I was asked to give early feed back, some of which appears I'm the book but other than that I have not been asked to review if, I chose to do so as I am converted :)

Monday, 22 October 2012

a girls adventure

A year after DB has been around and I am still besotted by him. At the back of my mind I am, however, missing my girls adventures with Pickle. We have been out many times, but DB manages to seize the agenda by nature of his age and needs. On Saturday the Hubster took control of DB and I won a day's freedom with the Pickle.

We have ended up by living in Reading by default - an office relocation - and I had never really rated the place. It does not appear to have the charm of other places I have visuted and it could not match up to the places I left behind in London. On Thursday I wrote about some of my favourite places to eat in Reading and now I find myself waxing lyrical again.

Alas most of Reading seems to be focused on the Oracle centre, which is rammed with your standard chain stores. As we skipped through to get to the town I was stopped in my tracks. The sight of bunting and colourful knits and a long table looked so tempting, we had to investigate.

This is how we found Jelly. A place in a shopping centre where you can sit with your own coffee and learn craft, make necklaces, and chat all for free? Was I dreaming? We wondered over tentatively and were soon getting stuck in. the Pickle was drawing a post card when she noticed a truck full of beautiful beads. She filled her skirt with beads and was given some thread to make her won jewellery. Of course we got totally carried away: she made a bracelet, necklace and headband - and even got given beads to come home with. Meanwhile I found myself being taught to crotchet - something I had wanted to go for ages. It was so relaxed and so friendly. Every shopping centre should have a place like Jelly!
All that craft had given us a hunger, and we needed something special. We are not really a McDonalds family so we headed for the China Garden for Dim Sum. We love Dim Sum, we can try so many small portions of different things and it gives us a chance to chat. We set the world to rights! I love it, as a Mum you are always talking but it tends to be more immediate - what we are about to do, hurrying her along to get ready for school or bed, what she would like to eat - but we don't often get to forget time and logistics and enjoy each others' company.
A little shopping: I do have a sad failing for TK Maxx - even if it does not got a very impressive ethiscore (the ethical score as awarded by the exhaustive research by the Ethical Consumer magazine). We found DB some adorable Koala style sheepskin boots and Pickle some Moshi trainers. The Husbter had given Pickle £5 and she was going to spend it.
We had been heading for The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) and their apple day. I was sad not to get there as it sounded interesting and their events are always really cool, but I was adamant that we were not going to be ruled by time we were just going to enjoy each other. Rather than racing on we decided to have a coffee.
Naively I had not realised that Patisserie Valerie had mushroomed into a chain, having frequented the Soho branch and ambled by the Knightsbridge outpost. Now, we even have one in Reading. It was not Soho but the menu was good, the service excellent, the cakes delicious and even the most delicious Croquet Monsieur for the Pickle who was now late for supper.
I almost crawled home, on my knees with exhaustion, the Pickle was bouncing off the ceiling. It was the best day ever - let the honeymoon go on: not just with the Pickle, I think I may finally have fallen for Reading!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

The highlight of the week, in many ways, has been reading the posts from Mich, of Mummy from the Heart, from her epic One journey to Ethiopia. What an amazing and inspirational trip. So I felt that I should do a trip around my home town of Reading for my reasons to be cheerful,
starting with an Ethiopean flavour (literally).

Tutu  credit:

Tutu runs the appropriately named 'Tutu's table' at RISC, a local development eduction centre of national repute. It is fantastic! Delicious, affordable and ethical food in a place where children are welcome and within limits can toddle around safely. It is also great to be celebrating award winning Ethiopian food rather than famine.

Continuing the theme, I am always heartened by Truefood Coop. The most amazing source of organic, ethical and mainly affordable food. We often toddle off to their shop for coffee mornings and I volunteer every other week at their market in the Silverdale Centre in Earley.

Finally I love the Reading Play Cafesin Palmer Park. This is a grass roots community interest company. It has reclaimed a Victorian gatehouse near a great outdoor play area. Inside there is a tiny cafe and soft play area with affordable ethical food (toasties from £1.50) and a range of fun events; bilingual Italian toddler time for anyone?
It is amazing how dedicated people can make such a difference to the community. A great reason to be cheerful!
What makes you cheerful? It is a blog hop


What a range of options I considered for Tara's gallery this week. It could be my expanding range of lotions as potions to try to keep aging at bay (this is not huge, i made it to 40 with Simple moisturiser as my entire beauty regime). It could have been the pic of my Mum with her blond plaits as a school girl that i find strangely disturbing. Then I realised the obvious:

This is a pic of our cottage from when we had just bought the cottage. It was an emotional purchase - it fluttered puppy dog eyes at us (if you can imagine a building doing that). It was us or dereliction and we had to save it from that fate. We left our comfortable West London flat for our place in the burbs, complete (or should I say incomplete) with no heating, hot water or inside loo. A generous word for it would be grim. Over the years we striped back generations of dubious shades of paint, lovingly restored beams, reroofed using original clay peg tiles but not before we sorted out inside facilities. It is a labour of love, but it is far from over.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Baby steps

I put the cushions on the bed today. This was a big step! Really, it was worthy of comment. I have been doing a massive spring clean, the clean of a lifetime. I have not just done a little paper shuffling, nor even dusting, I have cleared the furniture and checked to see that nothing wobbles before slowly reassembling. It has got to the messy part where there are remnants of the shake down loitering. The really big thing is that this was not a physical spring clean - it was emotional and mental.

I had got to the stage where my depression was taking over and, as I mentioned, I decided to take control. I did some tough work, then decided to take time off from reality to assimilate my lessons and be kind to myself.

I feel as if I have come back from the most massive holiday and now is the time to effect the physical changes. The year off from worry has stretch but I can postpone reality no longer. This time has been great, I have found contentment as well as happiness. It is slightly scary, the prospect of coming out from my cocoon, but I can do it.

To maintain the change I never bit off more than I could chew. I did basic housework so we could function as a family: floors were mopped, bathroom cleaned and clothes were washed - but I focused on the easily achievable.

I am now ready for more, I am ready to stop hiding. The cliche says that every journey starts with a single step and mine started with putting my cushions back on my made up bed.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

One Mums

I have been humbled and inspired by Mummy from the Heart Michelle's posts from Ethiopia and the work of One. I really recommend her blog!
We are being encouraged to get informed and show support. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on motherhood in an acrostic style, spelling out One Mums, which is what it is all about. The 'orit cook' comes from the pickle's
Mother's Day gift

On duty at all times (or as my daughter eulogised be an 'oritcook')
Never will life be the same again
Endearing, engaging and entertaining
Many sleepless nights but even more cuddles
Unlimited and unconditional love
Music taste on hold as tinybop cheerfully cauterises taste
Snot on your collar, mush down your back

Find out more from Seasider in the City and join the Meme. As she says:
Pass it on!
One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

Happy Chats - a reason to be cheerful

So far I have linked up with Mummy from the Heart's Reason to be Cheerful #R2BC focused on my children, it is time that I appreciate that there is life beyond my children. Well as if; wherever I am I am always a Mum, but not all conversations involve animal noises or songs with actions as much as I enjoy it.

There is no secret that I have had a rocky road with my Mum. It has never been a blame issue, as who cares. It is however healing to know that she does now have some past regrets but that she adores being a Grandmother. A decade ago conversations with her were stilted and dutiful, now they are fun! Over the past few months she has been particularly generous, helping out when our car failed and, more importantly, particularly thoughtful bringing us veg from her garden.
Secondly, we have just had our tenth wedding anniversary and it is still great to be married. Since then we have been around the Monopoly board a few times: my father died, I have done a masters, had jobs, run an organisation, set up a company and now I am, give or take, a stay at home Mum. Throughout this the Hubster has been constant and now that he is the primary earner he never makes me feel a junior partner or expects me to take the full burden of domesticity.
Finally, three cheers for my friends. Most of my good friends live many miles and sometimes continents away - we are not from these parts and I have never worked in this area since we moved in. This weekend I had Aunty Bat to stay (name changed to protect the guilty). It was great to see my little pink princess in the thrall of a statuesque, gothic, platinum bombshell. If I was worried that my brain had turned to baby mush Aunty B was generous as we giggled, discussed and set the world to rights.
My reason to be cheerful is that I am so lucky with my family and friends. I am looking forward to reading some of the other reasons. This blog hop is becoming the highlight of my blogging week.

This week Mama Owl is hosting the log hop because Mich is off doing inspirational things in Ethiopia - Mama Owl with her great post has given a little insight into what is going on. I feel really quite humbled by her post, it really highlights how lucky we are and so much of what we take for-granted is a luxury.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Tara from Sticky Fingers is particularly prescient with her theme this week: yellow. Did you read about the desecration of a Rothko this in the name, ironically, of art? A new movement called Yellowism as instigated by two rather deluded individuals.
So to be topical in my celebration of yellow.

It looks a bit crap doesn't it? It is the work of the amazing Linda Sgoluppi and let me tell you she is more an impossible name to spell. The picture hangs in my room and gives me such pleasure, it seems to change colour as the light changes throughout the day, at certain times the base coat of yellow shimmers.

That is better! Yellowism and it pseudo art is indicative of much crap that it dumped in the name of art. (No, the Duchamp urinal is not in the category). I am thinking about things like the artistic temperament or diva tendencies, a tenuous excuse for bad manners - or for that matter the moron who defaced Rothko.

Looking through my pics I came across this pic - it is defying Tara's rule that she wanted the yellow to be bright, but then I am going way off piste for this theme. It is a chance to name check another talented person. This was taken at niece's christening in the crypt at the Houses of Parliament (had to drop that name, I tell you I was impressed). A mellow yellow of a lovely memory thanks to my sister in law's friend the amazing photographer Mel Wilde

Monday, 8 October 2012

Vomiting hiatus

I had plans for a creative Monday again but there must be a hiatus while I am vomited upon. He started retching last night and has continued all day, cheerful up to the point at which he erupts.
He has the Hubster's comic timing. After a simple lunch bounced he regained composure, then he looked at me with utter disgust and slowly and deliberately pulled some potato skin from his mouth and flung it to the floor.
That done he turned away and looked again for something to destroy play with!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Reasons to Be Cheerful

Week 2 of the loveliest blog hop on the web - thanks to Mummy From the Heart: I give you my Resasons to be Cheerful.

The best things in life are the simplest, and this reason to be cheerful is as simple as it gets and in these recessionary times it is totally free. They say that simple things please simple minds, and yes, that makes me a simpleton. I am content to be dumb and happy.

My reason to be cheerful is the feeling of a little hand in mine, looking down at DB and Pickle. It is also that last kiss before I go so bed - kissing the forehead of a child, at rest, content and asleep.

I love walking to school with Pickle, she is the perfect height that she fits comfortably beside me, my hand resting on our shoulder so that we seem to move as one. Sometimes we chat, and other times we just seem to listen to each over breath.

DB has now been walking for many months, he can run and scale a ladder. He understands so much, and sees the world in his own by special way. Often I will say to him that unless he comes hold my hand I will put him into his pushchair so he toddles over hand held high. I take his hand and smile!

I have run organisations, had accolades and successes but being hand in hand with my children gives me the purest sense of joy. That feeling that the world is spinning on the right axis and despite any chaos my life is good.