Looking forward, looking back

20161230_150620 This year… well. It’s been a tricky one and, I’ll admit, that sometimes it’s been hard to rationalise what’s been happening in the world. It’s been a confusing, sad year and there have been times when it’s seemed scary and unknowable. I’m not sure if 2017 will be any better in that respect, but I have to believe that there will be hope. Otherwise, what’s the point?

From a personal perspective, 2016 was OK; I navigated the world the best I could. One of my highlights was talking to Lauren Laverne on her radio show about my experiences with postnatal depression. After that conversation, one of my friends opened up to me about her experiences. It felt good to help someone and for me to acknowledge what I’d gone through (which I hadn’t done hugely openly before) and to know that I was helping someone else. I want to keep having these conversations, to keep helping others where I can. Mental health issues will continue to be important and as anxiety about the world increases, we need to support each other as best we can. We need to help each other. I want to be kind in 2017; goodness knows, it feels like we’re going to need it. I also need to help D understand about kindness to others. It’s never too early!

2017 will also mean changes: D will start school in September (which I cannot quite believe), but this poses questions for me. I always knew I wasn’t going to have another child, so this period means that I can start to look at my career- I’ve been working three days a week for the last three years. Do I increase my hours? Stay the same, but pick up more freelance work? Study? I don’t know yet. It’s quite thrilling but also terrifying. I’ve never really been good with change; my life has been pretty risk-averse! But I want to start exploring avenues and options that I’ve never been confident enough to try. I want to embody the fearlessness of Carrie Fisher (whose novels I would like to read in 2017- as well as finally getting round to seeing Star Wars!)

stay-afraid-but-do-it-any-way-what-s-important-10041241My new years resolutions are simple: sort out my passport (it’s due to expire this year- and it’s still in my maiden name, despite the fact that I’ve been married for nearly six years!); bake something sweet and vegan so that my boss can eat some of the cake I take into work; write to three people I admire (after Victoria Wood died, I sorely regretted never having written to her. I might start with Alan Bennett. After all, it worked with Angela Lansbury!); and to grow red sweet peas, even though I’ve heard they don’t smell much. But it’d be wrong to not grow my favourite flower in my favourite colour, even if I only do it once.

Other than this, it’ll just be business as usual- trying to keep my anxiety about the world in check, being kind to others where I can and trying to sleep well (insomnia is an unwelcome friend at the moment.) I just want to try my best in 2017.

I wish you and yours a happy, peaceful 2017.

Prepping for spring!

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I have spent most of the last few months mourning a winter that has never quite arrived in Sussex; I’m convinced that people were wearing hats, scarves and big coats out of force of habit rather than necessity. Now that there’s some sunshine, I’m feeling a bit more hopeful and happy that our extended autumn (it feels like folly to label it ‘winter’) is on its way out. The days are starting to feel slightly longer and I’m feeling cheerful- it’s time to plan my garden!

A couple of weeks ago, I went on my annual trip to Seedy Sunday, held in the Corn Exchange in Brighton. As you can see, I came home with a huge amount of seeds, as well as some interesting varieties of seed potatoes and a membership to the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Despite saying that I wouldn’t focus entirely on veggies this year, I did end up buying a ton of vegetable seeds; I always buy from Pennard Plants, as they have special show offers, I’ve used them before and, yep, I love the packets! This year, D had asked me to grow a pumpkin for Hallowe’en and a beanstalk (although I’ve had to explain that you’re going to get beans, rather than a giant, on your beanstalk), hence the fairytale-type packets. As well as vegetable seeds (I’m trying again with a couple of failures from last year, most notably squashes and tomatillos), I came home with lots of flowers- all of which, inexplicably begin with S. I’m obviously creating a Sesame Street garden without realising it.

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As well as my usual sweet peas, I’ve been really lusting after snapdragons. They’re so pretty and cheerful- I’m thinking of putting them in an area by the backdoor- and I fell in love with them last summer. They remind me a bit of the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland. I’d also like some phlox and am debating planting crocuses and snowdrops later in the year so that they can be enjoyed next spring.

I’m also thinking about layout- last year, the potatoes were by the back door and more tender plants, such as tomatoes and courgettes were further up the garden, which meant that the snails and slugs (grr) could get to them before I noticed in some instances. However, I do have some unusual potato varieties this year- purple and blue!- so I don’t want them to be too far away! I also need to replace the raspberries, which I put in a quite frankly RIDICULOUS place last year and that need to come forward in the garden. Ah well, you live and learn.

Lastly, I’ve realised that I can’t do everything I want to do, which simply boils down to money. I have to decide if I want new terracotta pots or border plants and I can’t do everything. But I’ve accepted that it will most likely take me years to get the garden the way I want it and I am OK with that. I’ll just enjoy the process until then.

 

The Thrifty Knitter (and Reader… and Other Things Too)

I am at that awkward stage of the month where I have enough money to get to and from work-with maybe the odd Diet Coke thrown in- and to pay my phone bill. It’s OK, though, because I don’t need anything extra and the house bills are paid; I know I’m in a fortunate position. I have started thinking though, because D is now in nursery, which is more expensive than our previous childcare and we don’t get the extra help that comes when he turns three (in October) until January. So, with birthdays and (whisper it) Christmas on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about how to save a bit of money. I have form for this- when on my maternity leave three years ago, I had to do some financial gymnastics- but now we own our own house, have a car and live further out of town, so things are a bit more complicated. I’ve written in the past about my love of eBay shopping for clothes, but here are some more ideas I’ve had.

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For example, take knitting and my other crafty pursuits. I have loads of basic materials- yarns, needles, fabric, patterns and books. Do I usually buy more without too much thought? Yes. Could I instead think about what I have and use that instead? Yes. I have tons of knitting books and yarn stashed in most rooms of the house (and garage). I need to start using this up instead of automatically going on Ravelry to find something and then buy new wool. If I don’t have the wool, I don’t make it. Simple. I am going to finally start knitting the jumpers I’ve promised D and finish off a few WIPs.

books

I am a huge believer in libraries. I credit them with helping me through the dark days of early motherhood, when often the library was the only place I could get to. Most of the books reviewed on my book blog are library books and I’m lucky that Brighton and Hove has a brilliant library service. I also have TONS of books on my shelves that have yet to be read. But still, I am a compulsive book buyer and I buy every book with the intention of reading it. People buy me books too, as they know how much I love them. So my goal is to read more of what I have. I’m thinking for every three of my own books for every book I bring into the house- library or new.

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One of the hangovers from maternity leave is that my makeup budget is still quite modest. I generally buy cheaper brands (but, oh, I dream of owning a Chanel lipstick in the ‘Pirate’ shade, because who wouldn’t?) I do have a tendency though to go a bit mad when the new A/W shades are released though… so this year, I have decided that I won’t buy anything new until something is used up. Also, one of the first things to go in any lean period is my Lush habit. I can forgo bubble bars!

These are small ideas and kind of buy into (ha! PUNS!) the idea of consuming less, which is always a good thing. I’ll also be thinking about when and why I go into town- if I want to see friends, can I invite them here and bake a cake, instead of going out and buying a slice for the same amount it would’ve cost to make a whole one? Do I need more tea if I have some at home? I’m finding myself questioning whether I NEED or WANT stuff and find that, often, I can take or leave what I’m looking at. If I can leave it, then I can save a bit more money.

What are your thrifty tips?

Summer’s here!

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And so the end of another school year is here- and I am so pleased! I’m very tired and the prospect of six weeks at home with D is a welcome one. I have so many plans! But then, me and plans don’t always go well together… I kind of get sidetracked. In theory, though, I’d like to do the following:

-FINALLY PROPERLY LEARN TO SEW. I know, I know, I’ve threatened to do this every year for, like, the last four years. But I need new pyjama bottoms and I’m armed with a TON of dressmaking books and Tilly’s book and I’m good to go. I’ve even pre-washed the fabric.

-Work on the garden. Yeah, like this one surprised you. But I’m going to start thinking about next year, drawing plans and researching stuff to go in there. I’m definitely going to paraphrase William Morris- there’ll be nothing in my garden next year that I don’t consider useful or beautiful. And I’ll be waging war on SLUGS. Gits.

-Take D on more days out. Last week, I took him on the bus without the buggy for the first time- we went to Waterstones and he was so well behaved and we had such a good time. I’d like to do more things like that, pottering in town, meeting friends and so on. He’s starting nursery in September, so I’d like to give him lots of experiences before then. Oh- and we’re starting potty training. Which I am so looking forward to.

-Sleep. Seriously, I’ve been carrying a cold and a huge mouth ulcer recently. Probably not helped by my raging addiction to RuPaul’s Drag Race, which means I stay up watching episodes til late. Napping shall be the name of the game over the next few weeks.

First though, if the car is working (it’s been sputtering and being difficult lately), we’re off to visit family in Wales and Yorkshire. Let’s hope it’s a great summer!

Gardening is good for you (well, it is for me.)

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I’ve never been what you would consider ‘outdoorsy’. I don’t like horses, or camping, or sunburn. I don’t like sitting in sunshine (sunburn, again.) So why have I embraced spending endless hours outside in the garden?

Simply, it’s good for my mind.

I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, or the extra vitamin D, but I’m finding every opportunity to get out there are get my hands dirty. At the moment, I’m interested in growing vegetables. The picture above is of a pea plant. I’ve always had a soft spot for sweet peas- they were the first thing I ever grew successfully- and so I’m growing actual real peas this year. The variety I chose produces beautiful pink, white and purple flowers and dark purple pea pods- the peas themselves are incredibly sweet and it’s really hard to leave them on the plant:

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The garden has become a hive of activity- D has a sandpit out there and Toby Rabbit is being put to work keeping the small amount of grass down.

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The best bit, though, is eating the stuff I’ve produced (although the birds have got to the strawberries. Next year, I’m doing like Monty Don and getting a teeny polytunnel- if only to stop Bronte sitting on them.) I’ve even started a compost heap, which I’m embarrassingly excited about.

My favourite so far? My potatoes (which have been all over my Instagram like a RASH.) These Cheyenne potatoes were cooked up for a barbecue and tasted delicious.

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I think that’s why I like it so much. I have a reason to enjoy outside and I can have something focus to think about- I’m already planning next year. Also, D is very into the irritating fake northern charms of Mr Bloom, so he’s super eager to help out (which is not actually terribly helpful. I may or may not be directing my son to water a small patch of weeds, rather than proper veggies. Next year I may have to give him his own little growbag.)

I honestly think, with running and gardening, I’ve made a positive change that’s helping me keep my depression under control and making me healthy all round. That’s never a bad thing, is it?

Beating tiredness one step at a time

I’m tired.

Like, really tired. It’s always stressful at work at this time of year, but I’ve never had a toddler in tow. At the moment, I’m counting down the minutes til Easter break. And that when I’m going to make some lifestyle tweaks to try and increase my energy.

Food

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I’m using birthday money to buy a food processor (how exciting! How GLAMOROUS!) and I’ve been religiously reading cookbooks, looking for interesting and healthy recipes, with an aim of increasing my veggie intake- and boosting my energy levels.

I bought the Wahaca cookbook recently and I’m looking forward to trying to cook some spicy, summery Mexican food. I already I have my eye on healthy hot chocolate and breakfast smoothies.

I borrowed Jack Monroe’s new book on a whim from the library and I love it- her style isn’t pretentious, the ingredients are sensible and the instructions are straightforward. I already made the spring veg risotto and it went down brilliantly with D especially (Benn would have liked meat, but that can be added another time.)

My friend Jeni bought me the Deliciously Ella cookbook and now all I want is the food processor, a spiraliser and my courgette seeds to grow so I can make courgetti with pesto! It’s not normally the sort of cookbook I’d think I’d like, but there are some really good ideas in here.

Running

1607067_10152692223017267_7743578639046493132_nLook at my new running shoes! Aren’t they pretty? But also: STURDY. And you can see them from space, which is super important. I’ve been neglecting my running so I’m taking it pretty slowly at the moment, mainly because I can’t go much faster (despite the woman laughing and pointing at me yesterday. Which was classy of her.) However, physical activity is going to help me sleep better and, ergo, be less tired.

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In theory, anyway.

Now I am 31

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Clockwise from top left: Myrtle Snow figure from my sister; Angelina cake from Julien Plumart; my Erstwilder fox brooch; an interestingly eyed salt shaker I spotted at the museum tearoom

Yesterday I turned 31. I had a lovely day (and also developed a raging urge to collect Erstwilder brooches.) My parents were down for a visit and so I was free to go for lunch and do a bit of shopping while they tired out D. I asked Benn for running shoes, which now PROVES I am a grownup. I mean, at least I didn’t ask for a food processor- although I’m on the verge.

I’ve never really been bothered about my age and I think that will continue. I wouldn’t be 17 again if you paid me! I see a new birthday as a new year, a bit like January 1st or the start of a new school year. It’s a good time to take stock, to think about what I want out of the coming year. Deep.

Anyway, so: now I am 31 and it feels like a good age. I’m still super busy at work, but I’m coping. I’ve been off medication for over a month. It’s a good place to start.

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The kindness of strangers

On Saturday, an elderly woman collapsed outside my house. Benn came in and told me; I put on my sandals and went to her. At the same time, a lady with a little girl also came up to her, calling an ambulance.

I froze- I couldn’t remember what to do. So I tried to help in a way I could. I stroked the lady’s hair and calmed her. She was sort of fitting and trying to maintain consciousness. The other lady and I did as we were instructed by 999 and put her in the recovery position. All the time, I kept trying to talk and calm the lady. It was very scary, she had a serious head wound and was losing consciousness. I stayed with her until the ambulance came and I cleaned the pavement of her blood after she’d left (the paramedics asked me to. It also sort of felt respectful, if that makes sense?) Thankfully, the lady is comfortable in hospital and doing well.

What impressed me was how the people around the situation sprung into action- one man ran to the lady’s house to inform her family (we found her address in her bag); a couple looked after the little girl who was beside herself with shock; a bus driver stopped her bus and directed traffic around the ambulances- two turned up- to allow the emergency services to do their job. The paramedics were AMAZING. I have no idea how they remain so calm at such difficult times. The lady who had been on the phone visited the lady’s family to see how she was doing.

All of these people gave up their time to help someone in need. They could have walked past, or crossed the road, or avoided the area. Instead, they stayed for up to an hour to help.

We’re now into the season of goodwill and it’s made me think- how can we demonstrate this in small ways? What random acts of kindness can I do to brighten someone else’s day? How can I help my friends and family? We get so wrapped up in Black Friday and presents and stuff, but how often do we do something selflessly for others?

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Also- I really, really need to refresh my first aid skills. So I’ve added a resolution to my list for 2015.

 

Ah, moving

I hate moving. A couple of years ago, I wrote about my life-long hatred of moving and after the palaver of the last few months (seriously, ten months to buy a house. Seriously), I’m not sure I ever want to do it AGAIN. EVER.

However, there are some good bits about moving… yesterday my friend Charlotte and I (and her delightful hearing dog, Scout) went into the wilds of rural Sussex to sell a load of tat in a car boot sale. I’m seeing the selling of stuff as an activity with two benefits: 1) getting rid of stuff I’ve probably held onto for far too long and b) the money I make is going towards D’s new bedroom. I’m planning to live vicariously through my son- he’s getting a pirate themed room.

Image: Next

Image: Next

Although this is a bit TOO full on, I’m planning on taking certain elements of this. He loves pirates (his grandparents have just taught him to say ‘shiver me timbers’) and I figure that pirates have a greater lifespan than, say, a certain blue engine whose merchandise we appear to have acquired at an alarmingly fast rate of late.

The other thing I’m planning is the garden. Now, I haven’t seen this garden since November, so I can’t get into too much forward planning. I do know that after the success of this year’s tomatoes, I want to grow more vegetables and some fruits, but maybe not this scary variety of onion that looks like it was plucked fresh from a serial killer’s garden:

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Image: Suttons

There is actually a perfectly good reason why I’m plunging myself into planning for the new house: denial. I don’t want to pack and I don’t want to unpack. Basically, I want the entire contents of my house to be transported- teleported, in fact- to the new house. Does anyone know if the TARDIS is available for house moves?

 

Oh, hi Spring!

The crocuses are up, the daffodils are showing themselves (although, as I recently admitted on Twitter, they are my least favourite flower. Apart from those teeny ones. I like those…) and the sun decided to come out today. It is lovely in Brighton and we took D to a soft play centre which also happens to be in a garden centre. While Benn’s mum watched D, we moseyed round- me enthusiastically choosing seeds and Benn wandering around with the bemused air of a teenage boy accompanying his first proper girlfriend round Oxford Street Topshop.

Here is a cute puppy in a garden in spring. It has nothing really to do with this post. Image: tailsofhawaii.com

Here is a cute puppy in a garden in spring. It has nothing really to do with this post.
Image: tailsofhawaii.com

The thing is, after months of rain and no prospect of snow, I have decided to fully embrace spring. After all, it is nearly my birthday (which happens in the early days of the season) and also we’re in limbo with the house buying at the moment. I need to do something to cheer me up. So, plant stuff it is.

I’m also looking for new spring clothes and shoes- I have my eye on a pair of Lotta from Stockholm sandals, as my dearly beloved Birkenstocks finally gave up the ghost last year. So of course- new sandals mean new skirts, right?!

Image: Lotta from Stockholm

Image: Lotta from Stockholm

I’m also switching my home scents around; I’ve gone from heavy, spicy and sweet winter-y scents to bright, floral spring scents. I’ve been buying loads of No Mess wax melts from Busy Bee Candles and I’m currently melting Violet and Lime, which makes the house smell of Parma Violets. I also have Peony (which I had as one of my wedding flowers.) I’ll do a full review of my favourites from Busy Bee soon.

How are you preparing for spring?