Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Happy Father's Day: an ode to the father of my children

This man. This man who spent most of Father's Day in car travelling back from a wedding. This man for whom Father's Day came and went without much fanfare. This man who deserves a fanfare. Let me tell you nine things about this man...
  1. He is a father to my sixteen year old in every sense. I forget he's not his biological father. I think they both forget it too. And that's the best I could ever have hoped for.
  2. He is our rock. For all of us, we can always rely on him, we can always lean on him, and we always know where we stand. There's a lot to be said for a man like that.
  3. He is thoughtful, considered and methodical. We know what he believes to be true and good, and we know he will stand by that. He believes in family, in honesty, in stability, in perseverance. He takes a little getting to know, which is a good thing. When you know his soul, you've earnt that knowledge and you hold it dear.
  4. He has been such a natural father to our little two boys. He has felt every joy, noticed every idiosyncrasy, learnt every quirk of their personalities. He knows what they need and he gives it to them. He is steadfast in focusing on their needs when they are distracted by their wants! You need that in a parent.
  5. He is generally a serious man, but we all get to enjoy his silliness, his thrill-seeking, his fun and jokes, his adventurous spirit. One of my favourite things is to see him forget his self-consciousness and do a loony little dance with the boys in the kitchen.
  6. He puts his needs aside and can just do the right thing because it's right. When he's tired or has had a hard day at work, he still does what the boys need, he still reads the stories with them or takes them out on their bikes. He's the kind of man who gets out of bed on time every morning. I'm the kind of woman who stays in bed for 'one more minute'. I wish I were more like him!
  7. Really, he dreams of being a photographer. But he stays doing his job, which he likes enough, which is good enough, which pays just about enough. He stays because he's a responsible kind of guy, and because he knows that in this season of our lives he's our breadwinner and we all rely on him. I really hope that one day I get really successful or that lottery win magically arrives, because I'd love to let him throw caution to the wind and follow his dreams.
  8. He's the kind of father these boys need. Reliable. Strong. Great at kicking a ball (or whatever sport they're currently into). Predictable. But sometimes surprising. Interested in them. Attentive. And sucking up the joy they bring into his life.
  9. He doesn't read this blog. Well he's maybe read it once or twice, but he's not a fan of social media, and so I've taken to writing away without even mentioning it much. But he supports me and he believes in me. He thinks I can write. Part of being a good father is being a good husband, and for that I'm a very lucky lady.
(PS I can't believe I just referred to myself as 'lady'. Wasn't I just sixteen a moment ago?!)
(PPS For a similarly effusive and grateful post about my own dad, see here.)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Southwold, family and aging

We all went to Southwold to celebrate my Dad's 70th birthday. My husband and my three boys, my parents, my brothers and their partners. And an auntie, a baby in a belly and a dog. This was all of my family and I have to tell you: I love them all like crazy. And I really like them (which I know not everyone can say about their families). Suffice to say, it was good to all be together.
We holed up in a big fancy house, ate good food, mooched around the Southwold shops, took walks, played on the beach, and generally fantasised about living there. I mean, just look at these pictures. I defy you to not want to visit, at the very least.
My youngest two boys just love the seaside. They are diligent diggers. They are wild wave jumpers. They screech when their toes are chased by the chilly sea and run away just slow enough to be caught by it. They build sandcastles, bury toes, and don't seem to mind if it's nippy or warm. They could stay there for hours and it's a shame we didn't always have time to.
My feet had their first wriggles in the sand too. Really I'm an inland girl at heart: I'd pick a wildflower-bordered country lane, a bluebell-bespeckled wood, a windswept hillside or a verdant stream over the seaside every time. But I still love to visit the coast.
It was good to all be together, but this 70th birthday felt important. Not only has my Dad had a few narrow escapes healthwise in the last few years, but he's really struggled with aging. I often felt the need to hold on to the gladness that he's here with us still, and also to discard the negativity over his getting older and instead count our blessings. I really hope he can learn to embrace the passing of time because, to me, it is a sign of how lucky he is. The alternative to aging is not to be here at all, and I know too many people who've lost older relatives to know that we should be cheering for getting older. It means life.
I got to know my brother's partner a bit more too. They've been together a year or two but I haven't met him much. My middle brother and I can be quite different but I feel really fond of him and sort of protective. The youngest brother has always got on with his life and done well out of it. I worry about my middle brother more and want good things for him. I think that's what his new partner is: a good thing. It was lovely to see my brother so settled and at ease in himself.
Ooh this blog post is turning out much more reflective than I thought. I guess it was that kind of a holiday. I guess that's what happens when you bring all the branches of your family together to mark a critical gateway in life. And there we all were: me settled with kids, my middle brother settling down, my youngest brother on the journey to fatherhood (he'll be such a good one). And my parents heading towards older age but with such youthful hearts. There was this one time when my mum and her sister took me into Seasalt to buy me a coat (and that's another story - watch this space!), and my dad and eldest son came in to give their opinions too, and I just thought: I'm not a strike-out-on-my-own kind of a person. I'm quite independent in lots of ways but, gosh, I really need to feel like I'm sandwiched in the metaphorical hug of a big family all the time. And weirdly, the older I get the more I feel I need them around.
It was a really good break. Southwold: I'm sorry I didn't say enough about you in this post. You were cheery and inspiring. You were the kind of place I felt I belonged in. I couldn't live there (coast!), but my goodness you were the perfect match for a holiday. And to my family: I meant it. I really, really like you lot.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The 2015 Summer List

The 'a touch of domesticity' 2015 Summer List
I feel like I can finally say, without jinxing it (though you know it really will be jinxed now I've said that)... summer's here! But what to do this summer? My list of activities for the boys' six-seven weeks at home is coming up in July, but here's my list of things that I want to accomplish, for me and the family. You know me, it's going to have nine things in it...
  1. Get outdoors every day. Once the school holidays kick in it can be tempting to stay in with the Lego on a miserable day, but my boys are like sheepdogs - they need to get out. They need to work off some energy, they need a change of scene, they need inspiration and adventure. And I also need the inhalation of simplicity, appreciation and good old fresh air.
  2. Visit more National Trust properties. Once a week - yes really - once the holidays kick in, and occasionally on weekends before then. We do go often but we went to Tatton Park last weekend (post to follow) and it cured all ailments, at least for a while.
  3. Sew more for me. With the job I have (curtain & blind making), if I'm not sewing for someone else I'm not sewing at all. I've got to shift some of my plans from the 'to do' to the 'done' list.
  4. Watch less telly. It's beautiful outside, there are books inside, conversation to be had... to be honest, I would've gladly done this a long time ago but my husband needs television to manually switch him from 'work' to 'relaxed' mode. I need to tell him that I don't.
  5. Bring more of the outdoors indoors. Fill every vase at least once. It finishes a room, and it elevates my mood. It's better for the environment and my bank balance if I don't go and buy the ubiquitous cellophane-wrapped store flowers.
  6. Keep spending less. Every little helps (no, I'm not referring to the supermarket). Not that we spend much anyway but we're trying hard to be even thriftier at the moment. I'll be making more ice creams at home, looking for free outdoor adventures, cutting off my jeans rather than buying shorts.
  7. Bake more. We've been on a healthy eating kick recently and, with all the Easter chocolate still around, there's been no reason to bake. But there are healthy cakes out there these days (it's no longer an oxymoron) and the baking element of this blog's subtitle has been sorely lacking.
  8. Make a little cot quilt for my first ever niece or nephew. She or he will be a summer baby and will have to get used to an auntie showering it in sewn gifts!
  9. Fix myself. The rubbish anxiety condition that the PTSD left me with four years ago has been niggling a bit recently. I can usually go four-six months absolutely fine before a few days or weeks of a dip. But recently, though much less severe, it's been kicking in every few weeks and to be honest I'm fed up of it. It isn't me and it stops me from living the life I want and need to live.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Days out with the kids: West Green House Gardens in Hampshire

Let me pique your interest with these beauties...
Come for a walk with me. We're going to West Green House Gardens in Hampshire, a third of the way down the M3...
We'll potter along formal garden paths, boxed by hedges and planted with such an array of beauty that your heart will sing, while your children run around excitedly playing hide & seek...
We'll explore woodland paths too, tickled by ferns and sheltered by boughs laden with all the shades of emerald...
We'll find nooks and outdoor rooms, and every now and then a peek at the house we wished we lived in, the chicken coop that is fancier than any we've ever seen, the statues that surprise us...
And if we're there in spring time, the blossom, oh the blossom. And for tulip lovers (like us), every shade, every form, every delight we could imagine. The children will hop over the channels of water while we soak it all in...
We'll take note of the colours we see, the flowers we love, and vow to take our mothers one day, who would love it so much...
We will show the children the flowers they can smell, the insects buzzing around in spoilt gluttony, let them run down the paths and play hide & seek some more...
And every corner we turn will bring us a fresh view of elegance, of artistry, of wonder. We'll imagine sitting by that fountain in the thirties, cocktail in hand, band playing in the distance. Or pushing open those formerly unlocked gates and strolling, Victorian dress swishing around our ankles, with someone we hope likes us back...
Our families will rest by the lake, searching the depths for signs of fish, watching the ripples as they dance away, looking at their reflections...
If we're there in early spring, the magnolias will be out in all their gravity-defying beauty. We will muse on their bold promise of warmth and daylight to come...
We'll grab an ice cream from the cafe, or sit at one of the pretty little tables, adorned with little pots of flowers, and drink coffee from a filter or tea from a teapot - served as it should be, - drunk with birdsong in the air...
If we're there with our husband, we'll hold hands and talk about life and our plans, delight in our children as they play, and think how lucky we are, and how many blessings we can count...
If we're there with our friends, we'll note the hellebores and bluebells hidden in the flower beds, plan our own gardens, tell each other of how our lives are changing and blossoming too...
Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to be local enough to visit again. Perhaps we'll plan trips to the opera there, staged in the summer, or the garden parties with strings. Perhaps though, like my family and I, we'll know that the chances of us ever passing by again are so very small, and instead we'll take photographs, breathe it all in, and then write a little about it to tell you that if you can't come with us, go with your own loved ones instead. It is heavenly.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

In which my Little One turns six

This boy. Skinny as a rake, fast as a hare, with superhuman balance. He has a thirst for knowledge and answers; he has perseverance and tenacity. This boy who clings and cuddles yet strikes out with sure independence and autonomy. He is six today.

When he was born it was ten years since I had last had a child and he was like a new first to me. He still has many qualities of first born children: he is a planner, a rule-follower, an achiever, particular. He can be highly-strung. I am also a first-born. I feel a sense of affinity with him, an empathy.

He loves his friends and his family fiercely. He has an enduring love of yellow, since he was at least two. When my parents come to visit, he always asks them to bring apple & mango juice, smoked salmon and dates. He is a creature of habit and he needs a sense of security. He prefers the known to the new. 

He is serious and considered, yet has a wild and silly streak in his comfort zone. I love to watch it come out. He dances like a hillbilly. He loves to jump.

He loves Star Wars and superheros right now. He likes to read and to study fact books. He loves numbers and sports. If you play along with feigned ignorance, he does a mean magic trick. He eats nearly everything, and in it goes to his Tardis tummy. When playing with his brother, he likes to be in charge, but with big boys he hangs on every word. This is a boy who is going to be a scientist rather than an artist, a conformist rather than a rebel.

He is not my baby any more. He is still a mummy's boy but on his own terms. And though it can be bittersweet I love to see him stride out into the future, gaining confidence and sovereignty over himself. He is crossing the bridge from little boy to big boy, never too far from me, but not needing to hold my hand anymore. Yet in bed, when he cuddles goodnight, he won't let go. I'm thinking I should stop trying to get away to my chores or my own time, and let him hold on a bit longer.

He had a Star Wars party at the weekend but today is just about our family, his favourite dinner (veggie lasagne and a lemon (yellow!) cake), and getting to know his new toys. My love for him is strong, calm and deep - like an ocean - and I am feeling it heartily today.

The Twinkle Diaries

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

On winning, instagram, and the pursuit of popularity

I resisted Instagram for several years but, in an attempt to get better at mobile photography, I started using it last summer. I'm such a convert. The photo (below) I took of my Thursday Breaktime  won a spot in Little Maldod's #mythursdaybreaktime roundup a fortnight ago. And I like to think I'm the sort of person unaffected by popularity or awards of any sort, but it turns out I am. It put a skip in my little heart that day.

I also published this picture of our winning May Queen window on Instagram. Our village has the longest lasting uninterrupted May Queen procession in the country (since 1928), and each year we enter the 'best dressed residential window' competition. Last year's won second prize, which was nice but didn't seem to affect me. This year's, on a space theme and featuring my sewn star garlands and the boys' homemade rockets, alien pictures and various space toys, won first prize. And again, to my surprise, I felt a swagger in my step. As a child I needed validation and as an adult I once turned my nose up against it. But it turns out that need is still there.

May Queen space window decorations
I'm working on some cushion covers for a competition, and it's my opportunity -although through random chance - to give someone else the feeling of winning. But I know, deep within, that it's also designed to validate me too - exposure, the number of people entering, eyeballs on this blog or my business site - all these things will be totted up in my head. Is this a bad thing? I'm not sure it is. As a writer, lovely though it is to write just for yourself, you have a symbiotic relationship with your reader. Can you really be a writer without a reader, or are you just a literary version of Schrodinger's cat? And as someone who sews for business, I do not exist without customers, and satisfied ones at that. I think it's possible to seek validation without decrying it as vanity, because it's an independent judgment of the value of your work, of the strength of the effort you've gone to and the result you've toiled for. And I can't deny that on a very basic human level, hearing someone else tell you that what you're doing is good, lovely, liked - or whatever - feels good.

my fabric stash
And I originally planned this post as a quick one to let you know I can't actually take any photos at the moment as my phone's broken!

Days out with the kids: Eyam Hall in Derbyshire

This post is a long time coming. In that it was April when we went and now, shhh, it's June. Still, you can bet your bottom dollar (does anyone actually say that anymore?!) that it's even lovelier now the late spring blooms are out.

Eyam Hall 1
We love visiting Eyam Hall, a recent acquisition by the National Trust in Derbyshire. It has a beautiful garden that still feels like a work in progress, and there are often (very lovely) volunteers gardening in it while you're there.

Eyam Hall 2
The house itself (it was too dark inside for pictures when we were there - the sun came out in the garden) is beautiful and so interesting. It was inhabited by the same family until just a couple of years ago, and so is a lovely mishmash of centuries. It almost looks like they were there yesterday and left in a hurry. I love it.

Eyam Hall 3
The best thing about it when you have small children is that the house is just the right size to be manageable by children who start inquisitive but can run out of steam in the more stately properties. And the garden is the perfect size for them to run off without getting lost, play hide and seek, and whatever other Robin Hood/Star Wars/superhero games are currently in rotation.

Eyam Hall 4
There's an adjoining craft centre with some sweet little shops, and the house is on the same road as all the information boards, the church and other historic places that reference what Eyam is famous for: its sacrifice at the time of the plague.

Eyam Hall 5
We go at least once a year. You should too.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

An introduction to myself, which is a little odd several years into blogging, but here I am!

I follow a blogger on Instagram named Little Maldod, who is running a lovely project called my Thursday breaktime that I was featured in last week. She has also started a series called little introductions in which instagrammers reveal a little more of their true self behind their online business identities. I joined in and then I thought, why don't I share it here too? In all these years of writing online you've not seen much of me so, here goes, and here's the little snippets about myself that I revealed too...
Hello! Here's nine things you may not know about me:
  1. I was clever enough to get into Cambridge University at 18.
  2. I was stupid enough to get pregnant at 18.
  3. I chose the baby over the university. He's now 16 and I couldn't be more happy with my choice.
  4. I met my husband when my eldest was 5, married when he was 8, moved to the Peak District when he was 10.
  5. I had my 2nd boy when the eldest was 11 & my 3rd boy when he was 13.
  6. I chart my whole adult life by the age my eldest was, since my entire adulthood has been motherhood.
  7. Surrounded by boys, I can be a bit of a girl. I love the little creative domesticities of life, from sewing to baking to flowers to... well you get the picture.
  8. I dream big but I procrastinate and potter. Not the best combination! I have however made my dream of starting a sewing business a reality (Sparrow Stitch).
  9. I am not a natural in front of the camera!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

'Bringing colour into your life or, 'Cheering up a dreary May'

Either title to this post could do really. As I write this...

  • Almost every day in May so far has required jumpers and raincoats. I have only legitimately worn sunglasses once, other than when we decamped to Southwold for the weekend.
  • No ice lollies or ice creams have been ingested. No hosepipes have been played with or even - distant memories - banned. The water pistols lay idle and dirty from a winter on the ground.
  • There have been no weekend trips to farms, gardens or up hills. Weekends have faded away in errands and to-do lists, and quiet moments with the paper (yes, our kids are old enough to do that now!) while rain tickles the outside of our windows like reminders from the transgressive imp that is winter. 'Yes, I'm still here' it says. We don't bother to tell it to go away any more. It never listens.
  • And today, the one day with no rain and a touch of warmth in the fleeting moments of blue sky, we've been mostly holed up indoors while the youngest fights, and loses, a battle with a nasty bug that has seen repeated sickness in the night, and wearing a wooly hat indoors when the shivers set in. He's such a listless little love, and my heart aches for him.
So I'm bringing a little colour back. Every bright and brash piece of clothing will be getting an airing. If it pairs with another for a greater slap of colour, then great. Yes, I will be wearing that tomato red sweater with that fushia top and, no, it's not warm enough for just one or the other.

And everything we do will have a crashing of colour in it too. Rainbow brights for thank you letters (that's the Tiny One making a sliver of an appearance down there, in his happier, healthier days). Every vibrancy we can find in the vegetable kingdom to grace our plates. Fabrics sewn together to make wild coloured cushions. Flowers gathered from the wayside to make they gayest, most carefree of posies. Yes, I'm saying yah boo sucks to this damp squib of a May.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Piano lessons (or how we navigate the extra-curricular activity pressure on parents and their children)

Faced with a National Trust schoolroom, a chalkboard and and instruction to 'write something, anything you like', the Little One wrote this.

"I do pyano lesurns" ... or, to us spellers out there, "I do piano lessons".

And I wanted to tell you about it. You see, most children we know do three or four paid-for extra-curricular activities a week. These range from cricket, tennis and football, through swimming, to dance, gymnastics and theatre school. There's a huge pressure felt by so-called 'middle class' parents to conform to this. We want to give our children opportunities. We want them to be well-rounded. We fill their days with shouted instructions to hurry up so we can rush them from school to an activity, from weekend breakfasts to more activities. It carries on for years and it starts young. Yes I've seen signs for baby yoga, for toddler music groups, for baby gyms.

There are two honest truths about our parenting that I have to tell you about this.

Firstly, for our own family we don't agree with the rush-them-everywhere, fill-their-days-with-organised-activities school of parenting. We like to give our children time to play, to breathe, to rest, to be creative of their own accord. We like them to run round on grass playing silly games of tennis-cum-cricket with us rather than always join in with the keep-up-with-the-Jones' formal activity every single day. Apart from anything else, we know it would just exhaust them.

Secondly, even if we didn't feel this way, the complete honest, feel-ashamed-as-I-say-it truth is that we can't afford it. We can afford one activity per child and that's it. For several years, it's been gymnastics. It has taught our middle child how to manage in a large, organised group without us at his side. It's given him the skills and techniques in sports and activities that could transfer to other recreation from football and dancing. He loves it.

But my husband and I a long talk about it, and we've changed our approach this year. The Little One is at an age when he's thirsty for new experiences and skills, and the pride that comes from mastering them. He's incredible agile and interesting in sports. He's growing up in all senses of the phrase. We decided we'd enroll him in a number of different activities so that he has the chance to learn the skills and the rules of each, and most importantly find out what he likes and is good at. He's doing football, cricket, gymnastics, and occasional tennis. He's also doing piano lessons. For the sports, these are things he'll be doing in the playground, with his peers, in P.E. lessons, and after school as he grows up. If we want to enfranchise him to be able to do all these things, and to be included, we have to give him the chance to grasp the fundamentals now.

But I am not sporty by nature. I was the arty one. I learnt piano. I strongly feel piano is the gateway to being a musician of any hue, and any level. You learn about songs; you learn how to read music. You learn rhythm, beat and volume. It's learning a vocabulary and giving you an ear. Again, it's about enfranchising him. The funny thing is, I never thought he'd be the musical one. The eldest, now sixteen, has a father in the music industry and is always plugged into headphones. The youngest, now four, has snake hips, and dances to every song on the radio with glee. But the middle child, the almost-six year old, the one who dances like a fourteen-year-old boy at a disco and leans more towards maths and sciences... he surprised me. Yet he loves structure, he has incredible concentration and perseverance, he loves to learn and he loves to be good at things. Why was I surprised? He says his piano lessons are his favourite part of school now. And this is from a boy who loves school.

As the Tiny One starts school in the autumn, as the cricket and tennis seasons come to an end, I think we'll say goodbye to our days of wild abandon with our budget and slim back down on the sports spending. But I will fight tooth and nail for the piano. Apart from anything else, I have a keyboard on order (sadly not a traditional upright piano, but that's another story), and I plan to start learning again myself.

Disclaimer: Tuesday is piano lesson day and I totally forgot to send the Little One to school with his piano folder. Lofty ideals, rubbish execution. If only this wasn't the theme for my life!