Friday, 29 June 2012

Meme - it's a blog thang!

I have been tagged for a meme  - and although I am extraordinarily flattered - I am a complete novice and don't really understand a) what I am supposed to do and b) why?

Anyhow, I am supposed to answer eleven questions and then ask another 11 questions and tag another 11 bloggers. Trouble is I don't know eleven bloggers, so I will just answer the questions which Recipe Junkie has set me, you may or may not find this interesting, I guess as with everything else I write!

Wham or Frankie Goes to Hollywood?

Frankie Goes to Hollywood - was sex education for me in the 80's

Dog or Cat?

Cat, I have 2 see Look what the cat dragged in. I like dogs too, the cats just got here first.

Nigella or Delia?

Delia, no Nigella, no Delia, no idea

Silent Witness or CSI?

Niether, don't have a telly

Thomas Cook or Internet? 


TV or Radio?

Radio, don't have a telly

London or Paris?

London, London, London

If you could choose any 6 people to come for dinner with you (living or dead) who would you choose and why?What would you cook?

All my lovely friends who I don't get to see very much any more, you know who you are. Food? something really simple, some great local organic meat, veggies from the allotment, strawberries from the garden with clotted cream. Or a takeaway.

Favourite book when you were a child?Earliest memory?

A nursery rhyme book and poetry book for children. I can still recite them now and see the illustrations.

And you? what would you answer?

Poorly, bad and sick a bit

I feel rough, rough,  rough, I look rougher. My skin is an unattractive shade of yellow-grey, eyes have sunk far back into the head and developed bags and lines over night. My head is full of snot and aches and pounds while my belly churns with sickness. In any non-child-rearing situation this illness would have legitimately allowed me two days off work where I could have gone to bed without guilt, sipped lemon and ginger tea and looked up only for some trashy TV or a read of Grazia magazine. I could have not eaten and slept my way through this cold-virus-sick thing and been full of beans by now.

The reality, as all parents know, is a little different. I am still ill after 4 days and I still feel like shite - I am sure this is because I can't stop and go to bed. OK, I have slowed down and only managed sandwich dinners and no baths for the kids, but I still have put the washing on, fed the cats, watered the plants, made some cakes, gone food shopping for the weekend, taken the children to school and hoovered the house. You get the picture.

Could somebody please stop the merry-go-round? Because I would like to get off.

Happy weekend all!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Lovely little local shops

I'm not too keen on shopping, especially when there is great pressure to find a present or an outfit. Supermarket shopping can bring me out in hives and shopping for something I need for the house induces palpitations. Really. The main reason is that there is too much choice. Aisles and aisles of food, 45 different green strappy dresses, 24 white lampshades all just a tiny bit different from each other. I don't care enough I'm afraid, time is too precious to be wasted on the curvature of taps, the shade of pale for a living room and the cut on jeans (although I have to say I am a bit of a sucker for a fabulous pair of jeans darling, just hate to shop for them).

So what if we decided to shop differently. Just used one or two shops for everything. That's what I have been doing of late thanks to a fantastic little place called The Old Haberdashery in Ticehurst, East Sussex. It is a trove of treasures of times past, little gems, home made buttons and necklaces, vintage materials and stunning pieces of glass ware. And its utterly teeny - but I have found every single (adult) birthday present, Mothers/Fathers day presents and Easter presents since it opened in March this year. Even his. Take a look at these fabulous finds.

Two wonderful pieces of vintage material, the green one is a Liberty print and will cover a £2 chair I found at the dump with enough left over for a couple of cushion covers, the other cute red and orange daisy print will make a skirt for P, I'm not a seamstress but there are plenty of blogs out there that believe even I can do this.

Lovely metal 1970's coasters, complete with original sticker on the back!

Shop View

I have even taken to buying things I don't need, shock horror, storing them away for those unexpected birthdays that creep up on you. After this most pleasant of shopping experiences there is always the Greedy Goat for coffee and cake, The Bell for a quirky lunch and Tatty Tutu's for a pre-loved designer item. And don't forget to pop into see me if you are down this way - I'm the woman on the hill, white house, pink petunias and a rather bedraggled looking vegetable garden.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Party animals

Twice in one month we have partied hard.

An all-nighter seeing friends of a long time past, all of us a little greyer, a little fatter, a lot older but still up for a darn good time. Such fun but such a long time to recover when you miss a whole nights sleep and have to look after the children the next day, although the Grandparents have been wonderful. I would hate my children to see me partying and know what we get up to and I am going to have deal with this the other way round sooner than I would like. I often wonder how I am going to handle the girls wanting to stay out late, alcohol and cigarettes and more. I can't bear the thought of it but I know it will happen, and if their parents are anything to go by, they will enjoy a night out or three.

I want to hold on to the innocence of what P said to me before we embarked on Saturday's cocktail soiree:

" Will there be musical bumps and statues at your party, Mummy?"

" No darling, no musical bumps today." I replied

" Any hula hoops?" she enquired further hardly believing that I was actually going to a party.

" No sweetie, no hula hoops - but lots of silly dancing I expect"

" Oh that's alright then," she said, satisfied that I knew how to enjoy myself.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The end of ballet

A has been going to ballet every Friday for three years, growing out of a pair of ballet shoes five times and two uniforms. She has learnt to skip and hold her skirt out prettily, smile when doing first position and and point her toes beautifully. But today she has decided no more and I think I know why. I think she has realised that she is not very good at ballet. Of course I think she is wonderful and delight in her elephant jumps and uncoordinated movements, it makes me giggle when she is skipping to the right and the whole class is gracefully skipping to the left, it used to make her laugh too. Today, she didn't laugh and I guess she has grown up a little, the wilful abandoness of a toddler has gone and she has started to understand the meaning of competitiveness, of not being good at something and possibly of embarrassment. And if these things make ballet unenjoyable then goodbye ballet it is.

I feel sad about this. Not about ballet, I have to admit to being a complete heathen where ballet is concerned, but that she is starting to understand that life is no picnic or some other such cliche.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The weather - because there is nothing else

I've got to stop talking about the weather. I am boring you, my friends and myself. I am becoming a weather bore, I even have a label for the weather for blog posts, it affects me that much. Polly Vernon put it the most eloquently in a tweet the other day, it's too rude to put here, it involves the C word, and for once is entirely appropriate in its use.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Strawberry fields forever

Now we're talking. This is what it's all about. Absolute bucolic heaven. We look forward to this day all year, it's better than Christmas by far. The day we go strawberry picking deep in the Sussex countryside, with views of rolling hills and a tiny glint of Bewl water reservoir in the distance. The strawberries this year are huge, and there are thousands of them. The woman womaning the pay shed told me they had a bumper crop, so I asked her:

"What makes a year a good strawberry year?" keen to get some top tips for the allotment next year.

"Its in the lap of the Gods!" she replied, insinuating that the weather, slugs, winter, birds and all that nature seems to throw at our fruit growing efforts, made not much difference at all. Well, fancy that.

So we ambled up to the first field , the children galloping ahead and stopping at the first plant they see with a hint of red jewels, quickly scoffing them before I had chance to tell them the rules of strawberry picking.

1. Only pick the strawberries that are completely red.
2. Only eat a few, the farmer works very hard all year and we should pay for them at the end.
3. Pick the strawberry with its green hat on so that it stays fresh for longer.
4. Please try not to get strawberry juice all down the school uniform.

After a really wonderful time in the late afternoon sunshine we took far too many strawberries home with us, heavy with the days sun and still warm.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The problem with maths

Life has been casually trotting along, benignly worrying about slugs, the weather and too much yellow food in the children's diets, when suddenly yesterday I was hit with a huge problem.... A does not understand maths AT ALL. It hadn't occurred to me that she could be struggling, she certainly never mentioned it, the teachers haven't picked it up and before you know it it has become an issue - which I have to solve. Immediately I thought about drilling her, getting a tutor (remember she is 6), downloading every app available, long searches on the internet, buying books from Amazon and making her do it every day.  I panicked. Hating maths now will only cause problems in the future, she has to enjoy it, see it as a game, a problem to be solved and something that can be fun.

The biggest problem with me teaching A is that I will only confuse her. It is important that I teach her in the same way as they do in school, apparently vertical or column adding is just not done any more. So having found out the best way to explain, this may mean a trip to the school - oh God, pushy mum alert - and then incorporating maths in her every day life. The maths fairy came last night and left her a few little sums, very kind of her, and we are planning to count snails, subtract the amount of plants gone from the allotment, she will learn about money, the time, how many vegetables are left on her plate and what this would add up to weekly. You get the picture. Not a work sheet in sight.

I know we will get there. It just makes me wonder once again if school is the most effective method of learning. Probably not.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fruits of June

I am trying so hard to be a glass-half-full-kinda-gal at the moment, even though there is plenty to feel blue about when wandering around the garden and allotment. The lupins and delphiniums never achieved flowering thanks to the snails and an over zealous child and a football, the sweet peas have been rain and wind battered when usually I am picking a few bunches here and there by now. Not even the good old gaudy dahlia has shown any promise this year.

The allotment is eerie. Its like a vegetable cemetery, little labels stuck into the hard tilled soil where the plant was supposed to be, but has been decimated by slugs I can only presume. It really was hard not to cry today when 12 french bean plants were standing in a row, devoid of leaves and resembling miniature trees that had been struck by lightening. Even the pumpkins have gone. No courgette glut for us this year. We watered what was left and as I stood facing the war zone, I focused on a bed of swiss chard which will supply us in soup all winter, and the brave little kale plants which are trying so very hard not to be eaten, the few runner beans who have sprinted up the pole as if to stick two fingers at the slugs on the ground and the armfuls of gladioli that will provide colour and cheer in a couple of months time. The rhubarb has been fantastic and we are picking at least six fat juicy strawberries a day, one seems to ripen each time you walk past the raised bed, crying to be immediately picked, eaten and dribbled down the chin.

So feeling happier with all that is good in the world I got to work and became Country Living mum for the day and the kids looked like they had stepped out of a Boden advert.

We made elderflower cordial, rhubarb fool for a dinner party adorned with fresh mint and I am about to make a batch of rhubarb and date chutney - I'll let you know if its any good.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A boring one about the weather

I can't do this weather any more. We have approximately  three months in the year to have the opportunity to wear flip flops and summer dresses, if we are lucky. Quite frankly, if we have had our summer I am not impressed, in fact I am very sad. This week I have taken to having evening showers to warm up and resorted to putting on a fire, even the cats have been curled up on the beds all day, only wandering out for a pee and a quick mouse kill. The rain, wind and slugs have destroyed all the plants and I can't bear to even take a peak at the allotment, I might cry. Really, I might.

There are two options here:
1) emigrate
2) wine

Or perhaps best of all, a combination of them both.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

School play question

I genuinely do not want to cause offence. But I am curious.

It is A's school play this week. She attends a state primary school and we are being asked to BUY tickets to see the performance. So that's £9 for me, him and little P. Plus, a donation tin no doubt.

Do you think this is reasonable? (There is at least one fundraising event each week by the way)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Little Chef

You know the kind of day when it's pouring with rain, I mean really hammering it down, and you have exhausted all indoor activities but don't quite want to resort to screen time yet? Yes, like all of last week at half term, in fact. I thought, I know, lets go to Little Chef! What a brilliant idea Mummy! Little Chef to my little ones has connotations of sunny days travelling down the A303 to Somerset on holiday, passing Stonehenge on the right and the free range pigs on the left. Lots of shouting, giggling, singing to inappropriate rap songs, eating Smarties and colouring in pictures in their car seats - and then turning into one of the many Little Chef's, along with all the other tourists smiling, on their way to the West Country. The food is irrelevant, the holiday is everything.

Oh yeah, don't say I don't know how to have a good time.

Little Chef on the A21 however, on a Thursday lunch time, in the rain, is something to behold. As if the rain isn't enough to dampen the soul try ordering some children's food that isn't yellow. We were 3 out of the 5 people sat in the dirty cafe. The other two were single men, looking so desperately sad in their ill-fitting suits and gaudy ties. They must be selling something, windows and the like. My heart sank just a little further when the soup I ordered was straight from the tin, I could smell the aluminium.

But the kids loved it! Really loved it. I couldn't drag them away. Apparently the colouring-in at Little Chef is far superior than at home, counting the number of cars going past in the rain is the most exciting game, and yellow food! Yay, for yellow food, they both wolfed their burgers, fish nuggets (don't ask) chips and beans.

At least I have kept the Little Chef dream alive.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Back to school

I've got the Sunday night blues. I shouldn't really as I happen to be riding a horse for a friend tomorrow and will be cantering through long meadow grass all morning - but after I have dropped the kids back at school.

A week ahead of school trips, lunch boxes, clean school uniforms, a school play, homework (grrr), spelling tests (double grrr) and getting to the playground before the bell makes me jittery, but mostly I will miss my children. I feel like I have got to know them again this week and I love that, I can't wait for the summer holidays when 6 weeks stretches before us, giving us freedom to adventure and explore. They, however, are excited to go back and are looking forward to seeing their friends and swapping half term exploits.

I have the overwhelming urge to pack it all in, buy a camper van and take the kids on an extended road trip, learning on the way. With a computer to help me, I reckon they would gain more from the people we met and the cultures we lived in - therefore becoming so much more rounded than staying here, bowing to a life of routine and conforming to 6 hours a day of schooling. Just have to persuade them and him that this is a really good idea.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Life lessons at bath time

"Take that out of your mouth P please, " I ask my youngest absent mindedly as we finish up bath time.
Its a plastic fish.

" I can't, I'm smoking a cigarette!" she replies and inhales dramatically from the fishes bottom.

OK, how do I handle this? I have been no stranger to the Malboro Light in my life.

"Erm, how do you know about smoking?" I enquire

"I see the men at the station do it" she replies. Phewf.

"Well its a dirty, filthy habit and will make you ill, " I say and try and change the subject.

"Yes I want to be like Mummy when I grow up, she's soooo beautiful and trendy!" says A sucking up, hoping for more points.

Ah that's better, I think.

"I'm in love with Max in year 1" said A, 2 seconds later

"Really darling", I say, "that's nice"

"Because he told me to, I have to marry him" she replied

Oh dear God, I really didn't have the will to bang on about feminism and women's rights at 7.45pm

"OK girls, which bedtime story is it today then....."

Thursday, 7 June 2012

What a waste

There is nothing more disheartening than finding a bag of slimy salad at the back of the fridge, or half a pot of humus with a furry green layer. I try damn hard for this never to happen and depending on the sliminess of the salad, there is always soup? Take that bag of salad. It has been grown in poly tunnels in Spain, tended and picked by underpaid workers, sprayed within an inch of its life, washed in chlorine or spring water if you buy the organic kind, bagged up in plastic, shipped or air freighted to the UK, delivered to the supermarket where you buy it, take it home, forget about it and bin it when its slimy. Disgusting isn't it?

I hate food waste and was brought up to eat everything on my plate. They say that if you have a compulsion to eat all that is on your plate then you will end up obese or a compulsive eater - utter tosh - put less on your plate or leave what you can't eat and eat it for lunch the next day. Really what are we coming to? When I have other children come for tea the waste pains me, I'm not quite as upset as my mother-in -law would be and happily finish off a toddlers meal or fish waste out of the bin to eat later, I wish I was though - she has a point, we should NEVER waste food.

There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them.

UK Households waste 25% of all the food they buy.

All the world's nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.

An estimated 20 to 40% of UK fruit and vegetables rejected even before they reach the shops – mostly because they do not match the supermarkets' excessively strict cosmetic standards.

The bread and other cereal products thrown away in UK households alone would have been enough to lift 30 million of the world's hungry people out of malnourishment

4600 kilocalories per day of food are harvested for every person on the planet; of these, only around 2000 on average are eaten – more than half of it is lost on the way.

24 to 35% of school lunches end up in the bin.

All Food Waste Facts are from Tristram Stuart's Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal (Penguin, 2009) For full facts look here.

There are plenty of websites out there listing ways that we can reduce our food waste, I would have thought it was quite simple - BUY LESS.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Slugs and snails and...

Spiders, lily beetles and even flies are spared death in our house.

I can't kill anything. Ah that's nice I hear you think, but it causes quite a bit of extra work to remove the creature from where it is being offensive, and placing them in their new hotel. The mice, shrews, rabbits and other live rodents are taken to a field across the road to recover from their feline ordeal, their little hearts beating so wildly as to be seen through their cat mauled coats. The snails are all collected up in a pot, I have taught P to remove them very gently from the plants and walls so as not to crush their delicate shells. She does this with pride and marvels at the bubbles they blow in some sort of defence.

Slugs are removed with implements, a little less cute but treated with the same respect, all moved to a new home over the fence (it's not into someone else's garden by the way but a piece of wasteland perfectly adequate for molluscs) - they probably all come back and find our garden again within a day. In removing lily beetles we discovered they squeak, quite loudly actually, as if to say:

"Don't kill me, I know I lay larvae which decimate your lilies, but I can't help that and anyway, look at my beautiful red shell..." squeak squeak.

Oh OK, lily beetle, you win, have a nice life over the fence and see you tomorrow probably.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Jubilee eccentricities

What better way to spend a Bank Holiday Monday jubilee style, than watching a Soap Box Derby down a tiny country lane from a tiny Sussex pub. I utterly love celebration. From birthdays (not my own), anniversaries to holidays and traditional festivals to morris dancing, carnivals and bonfire nights, I love them all. Some are so typically English and eccentric like the cheese rolling in Gloucestershire and barrel burning in Ottery St Mary and some like the Soap Box Derby have been taken from the US and adapted to the green and hilly lanes of the English countryside. And what a wonderful day out it was too.

A beer in hand, kids on the shoulders and narrowly avoiding the hedgerow's stinging nettles, we settled on a spot which both had a vista of the speeding machines coming down the steep hill and a good view of the sharp left turn which hailed a few casualties. It was thrilling. Hilarious. Jeer making and cheering. And as we walked back up the steep hill in between races, all walks of life walked with us. Enjoying the holiday, the celebration, the camaraderie. The sun hid behind the clouds, the Union Jack flags rustled in the wind and were trampled under foot, whiny toddlers grasped their flags in their tomato-sauced hands, proud elders wore union jack hats, ancient buildings having seen coronation and jubilees of times past, wore their plastic bunting with pride. It felt good to be part of this, to build it into our memories, to rememeber where we were on the Queen's diamond jubilee. Not that I'm patriotic or anything.

Messing about in boats

It seems that the Queen and my family have been enjoying a nautical time this Jubilee. A lovely, long, stretching holiday to make memories and enjoy England - I'm not at all patriotic, just mentioning that we are here, rather than there, ie abroad. There is nothing better then getting into the car, all eventualities packed for, two fishing nets, a bucket, a couple of directions/music choice arguments and we are off for the day. The freedom of the road, I love it, I should have definitely been born a gypsy.

The day's destination was somewhere near Southampton, a pretty little village surrounding an impressive boat yard to celebrate a long lost friend's wedding. The view of the boats was breathtaking, there is something awesome about the marina lifestyle, huge vessels with blacked out windows, gin palaces and fishing boats, the odd serious sailing yacht, a few dinghy's and everyone having a wonderful time. You can't help but smile around boats. I haven't always felt that way, childhood summers were spent sailing across the choppy Solent or against enormous waves on the way to the Isles of Scilly - vomit often swilling around the cockpit and eggs crashing to and fro in their egg boxes as my mum negotiated making omelettes in a storm 10. My introduction to sailing was in at the deep end should we say, but I have many happy memories of taking the dinghy ashore to the pub, rowing inadvertently into the Atlantic, jumping from the bow into freezing cold sea water and trailing your hands through the water to see phosphorescence.

It seems that A and P both have taken to boats. A couple of life jackets, a peanut dinghy (I know - what a fantastic name) and two proper oars and A got the hang of it after a a few minutes. They pulled their boat ashore as the tide was going out, rolled their jeans to their knees and squelched through the black mud, sea weed and dead crabs.

'When can we do that again mum? -  that was the best thing ever!'