Bye, summer…

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This week- the last week in August- has felt more like the end of September. We’ve had a difficult week (we lost my grandma last week, the funeral is next week) and the weather hasn’t helped to lift the familial mood.

Yesterday, Benn suggested we take a walk in the rain and I readily agreed. D could only be coaxed out by the promise of hot chocolate with marshmallows afterwards- he’d seen an episode of Show Me, Show Me in which Chris and Pui enjoyed fake hot chocolate and suspiciously rubbery looking marshmallows. On the verge of cabin fever, Benn and I agreed.

(The ominous figure in the background is actually just Benn in a cagoule.)

(The ominous figure in the background is actually just Benn in a cagoule.)

I’m mentally preparing for autumn; D is about to start nursery, I’ll be going back to work and we’ll be gearing up towards D’s third birthday in October. I don’t mind, I quite like it when the nights draw in and Strictly’s back on the TV…

I’ve already started painting my nails in ‘autumn’ colours- navy, grey and dark red- and today I dressed for a wet, windy day. It’s much more my natural habitat than summer clothes! Tights, cardis and Doc Martens boots in dark colours are more me than floaty dresses and pastel hues…

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I’ve also been commissioned to knit winter socks, which is obviously focusing my mind on the coming months. It’s really upped my game in terms of skills; what will work as ‘oh well, that’ll do’ for myself is sometimes not good enough when someone is paying you. So I’ve been revisiting my (ahem, quite large) library of knitting books and approaching technique in a more professional manner, which is a good thing- there’s always room to learn and I do like a challenge!

Bring it on, autumn. Bring. It. On.

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!

Running on empty…

.. when it comes to sleep, that is. We’ve had a few broken nights with D recently, due to heat and him having a cold (which I now appear to have caught. Excellent. Three colds in the space of six weeks is one of my favourite things ever.) It culminated last night in D being sick and me spending two hours downstairs with him-watching Cars for the 2345th time- and being too tired to do anything but tweet on my phone and occasionally offer the sick bucket. It’s not one of my favourite nights ever, if I’m honest.

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But the worst thing is: D IS COMPLETELY NOT TIRED. (I may have been reading too much Charlie and Lola, looking at that phrasing.) Like, he’s sort of tired, but functional. He wants to play with the sick bucket. I want to die quietly in the corner. We are not on the same side of the tiredness spectrum.

We’ve come to a kind of compromise: we’re watching The Clangers on catch-up and I’ve wrestled the sick bucket away from him (he was wearing it on his head. JOY.) However, I am starting to think that Granny Clanger is taunting me with her endless naps.

They're back … the Clangers. Photograph: BBC/Coolabi, Smallfilms and Peter Firmin

Thing is, when you have a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night, it’s kind of easier- your body gets used to it. At least mine did. In fact, my brain found it quite the betrayal when D started sleeping through the night.

So once my body has got used to sleeping again, it does not take very kindly to being interrupted. Obviously, I don’t mind- if I did, I wouldn’t have had a kid. What I would like, though, is for D to be more ‘ill’. This being almost normal is exhausting.

Kids, eh. Who’d have ’em?

Now, please excuse me whilst I go and hook myself up to a Diet Coke drip.

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?

How to shop for clothes on eBay

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I buy most of my clothes secondhand- and a lot of them come from eBay; I’ve been doing so since I was a sixth former and I like to think my game is fierce. Often, when I tell someone one of my dresses came from eBay, I get an answer like ‘Oh, I have no idea where to start with online shopping!’ or ‘How do you know it’s going to fit?’

So wonder no more, mystery friends! I thought I’d share my tips on how to navigate the online thrift shop with ease and (hopefully) style.

1. Know your size

It’s really handy to know what size you are in certain shops- for example, I know I’m a 14 in some and 16 in others. I also make decisions based on whether I think a particular garment will be comfy/flattering in a bigger or smaller size. Be warned though- some shops’ sizes have got smaller in recent years. Damn recession.

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2. Have a brand in mind

I love Monsoon clothes, but am rarely able to afford to buy from the store- so I often keep an eye on what’s new on eBay. I know that Next, M&S and Dorothy Perkins often offer things I like and I always avoid Primark on eBay. It never lasts and is often priced way up more than it should be. I also find H+M to be hit and miss with sizing, so I try to avoid it if I can. It’s often handy to have a saved search for these things.

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3. Buy out of season

I just bought a brand new Next winter coat for a tenner (and £3 p+p). Last year I bought some calf length DMs in the middle of July for £50. Buying out of season means you beat demand and can snag some bargains.

4. Consider a budget… and stick to it

It’s really easy to get carried away on eBay, so I think of what I’m after and how much I want to spend. Then I take a look at the Buy It Now options first, as you’re paying a fixed price. I’m also a great fan of seeing these lots from the ‘lowest price first + P+P’ angle.

5. Think about what you like- and will you really wear this dress?

Some of the eBay mistakes I’ve made have been when I’ve bought something that is really not my thing (for example- high heels. I never wear high heels, so why I thought I’d wear some patent pink stilettos is beyond me. Yellow makes me look washed out if I wear too much of it and pleated skirts make me look like I have the legs of a wrestler. So if anyone can explain why I bought a mustard dress with pleated skirt, I’d be interested.) So I stick to things I like. Mostly skater dresses with birds on. Also, never fall for that part of your brain that says ‘Oh, I’ll alter it!’ 1) You won’t and 2) that way, madness lies.

6. Be zen when mistakes happen

Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve planned your shopping spree, you end up with a dud. It happens. If it does, I either resell, give to a friend, or (more likely) donate it to a charity shop.

Do you buy from eBay? What are your top tips?

I’ve fallen back in love with knitting

Katharine Hepburn knitting

Katharine Hepburn knitting, 1930s

I’ve found myself desperate to get home and knit recently. This is not new, but it is a renewed sense of longing.

Despite the warmer weather, I love knitting at the moment. My pattern of choice is a light and airy cardigan, Hitofude, which is designed along Japanese principles. It’s a deceptively simple (well, so far) knit and the pattern is satisfying. But is it just the pattern that’s sparked my interest?

I don’t think so. I think it is a symptom of the fact that, at the moment, I am quite content with my lot in life. I’m finally feeling relaxed and work is not dominating my life for the first time in a while. At a time when mindfulness is de rigeur, knitting is definitely a kind of yoga for the mind (I apologise for the description, but it’s true.) I like to get out the knitting, make a good cup of tea and just sit down in front of Netflix. At the moment I’m knitting to RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s fabulous.

I'm not sure anyone can top Marilyn in the glamorous knitting stakes.

I’m not sure anyone can top Marilyn in the glamorous knitting stakes.

Knitting also means I’m looking ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the good weather, despite not being a summer girl, but I’m designed for cooler climes and making knitwear means that a time that can be grim, cold and depressing can be a time that’s cozy, warm and pretty. I can pick patterns and yarn and imagine the finished product.

There’s also the element of love. D has asked me to make a jumper for him- and matching ones for his toy monkeys, Larry and Barry. And I’ll do it, because if I make you something- whether it’s knitted, stitched, grown or baked- it’s because I like/love you.

I’m devouring knitting magazine, scouring blogs and Pinterest and revisiting my quite large library of knitting books for inspiration. What’s in your queue at the moment?

Taking it easy

Another half term comes to an end and I don’t have much to show for it- which, actually, is lovely. It’s the first time in months where I haven’t had work hanging over me and I’ve been able to enjoy D and, for three days at least, Benn’s company.

On Sunday last week, we ambled up to the local windmill to see the sheep (yeah, I live somewhere that has its own windmill- although it’s now a house. Bit disappointed, to be honest.)

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My boys

The sheep were quite good value:

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Apparently, they’re a hardy northern breed and the flock is owned by the council (I had a chat with the lady who was looking at the electric fence.) Where we live is part of the South Downs national park-I had no idea- and the sheep are used to keep the grass down and to help rare species, such as orchids, thrive. When I went back on Thursday, they’d gone. They get shipped around to other areas on the Downs. I imagine they’ll be back before long.

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Speaking of animals, Bronte has taken to bringing in a whole host of creatures from the woods- we’ve seen slow worms, mice and birds; this week I had the honour of trying to save a sparrow fledgling, who I shall henceforth refer to as Terminator Bird.

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This bird was rescued from the clutches of Bronte, who had already eaten one sparrow that day. I gingerly donned gardening gloves and popped him in a box. Excited by the prospect of a Learning Moment With Nature, I showed D the sparrow. Our exchange went something like this:

Me: (Enthusiastically) Look! A birdie! Do you think he has a name?

D: Oh, yes.

Me: (Encouragingly) What do you think it is?

D: (Looks incredulously) Birdie.

He clearly has his father’s imagination.

Anyway, the birds survived that and an escape attempt from the box that meant I was tearing up my office for half an hour before I realised he was watching me from across the room. After much hilarity, in which we resembled a bird/human Benny Hill sketch, I finally re-caught him and gave him to the brilliant Roger’s Wildlife Rescue to look after (they don’t usually take fledglings, but as he’d been subject to a cat attack, they wanted to check him over.)

Otherwise, the holiday was a welcome respite from the madness of exam preparation. We took advantage of the warm weather to read and relax- although I think D was a bit ambitious in his choice of material…

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Why I’ll never be fashionable- and I’m OK with that.

Earlier on today, I read this piece by Hadley Freeman in The Guardian about that bloody M&S suede skirt. It made me think and I reached an epiphany: I am never going to be fashionable. And do you know what? Despite the fact that I read fashion websites, follow the Twitter accounts of fashionable ladies and read magazines almost obsessively, I have made my peace with that fact.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (the film that launched a thousand fashionistas)

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (the film that launched a thousand fashionistas)

I’ve been obsessed with Audrey Hepburn since I was a teenager (and before she was trendy and appearing posthumously in creepy chocolate adverts), but I always knew I’d never look like her. Similarly, I’m reading every book I can about Alexander McQueen before I go to the exhibition in a couple of months, but I know I’ll never wear couture.

It’s nothing to do with being a mum- I was never particularly interested even when I had disposable income/a house free of suspicious smears- but I do know that if I bought The Bloody Skirt, it’d have jam smears and highlighter ink on it within seconds of putting it about my person, and those stains would have absolutely nothing to do with D.

As a kid, I grew up in the shell suited 90s and loved my knock-off version of a Global Hypercolour t-shirt. My hair stuck out, in unruly mockery of my mum’s efforts to try and make me look vaguely neat for school (I remember the other kids laughing at a photo I’d had taken in Year 2 because- gasp- my pony tail was more electro-shock than Elnett smooth. I didn’t really give a monkeys, IIRC.)

I never had the confidence, or (I thought) the figure for fashion when I was a teenager. I dressed baggily, or in HUGE flares that I bought from the Corn Exchange in Leeds before it went all gentrified. I wore a t-shirt with the original line up of Charlie’s Angels on it without really knowing who they were. I had pink hair and I was free of the constraints of fashion, as I thought at the time.

I'm not even as trendy as Anne Hathaway at the start of The Devil Wears Prada

I’m not even as trendy as Anne Hathaway at the start of The Devil Wears Prada

Now I like to keep it simple, although also very much in the confines of my “secondhand dress/less than a fiver, thanks” philosophy of clothes. I knit stuff, I don’t own a Breton top and, despite my repeated attempts, I still can’t sew a seam straight. As much as I’d like to say I’m channelling Stevie Nicks, it’s probably safer to say I’m more bargain basement. And I’m cool with that. I’ve had 31 years to get my head around it, after all.

So what about the M&S skirt that so repulses me? It reminds me of my GCSE maths teacher, a woman who was probably very well meaning, but a total cow- and she LOVED skirts in that shape and cut. She had all the flare of a frustrated nun (we had a much cooler maths teacher, who I never had the luck to be taught by, who the girls found MUCH more exciting- she was all birds’ nest hair, slightly dishevelled glamour and there were rumours of a very French seeming illicit affair with a married Science teacher) and I think she disliked me as much as I disliked maths. So not even the apparently divine touch of The Patron Saint of Fashion, Alexa Chung, could make that skirt appealing to me.

Oh, and it costs nearly £150. I could buy a ton of dresses on eBay for that.

Post-election come down, frustration and “I’m alright, Jack”

I was once told not to blog about politics. Stuff that. I’m tired and I’m frustrated.

I’m still slightly gobsmacked at the outcome of the election, as like many I expected to wake up to a hung parliament. I’m frustrated that people have voted for a party whose leader avoided two live debates, who presided over a huge amount of debt accumulation and whose party has said they have to make £12bn cuts without stating where they’re coming from (although maternity pay is meant to be one of the benefits rumoured to be on the table for cuts.)

I saw the exit polls and my heart sank.

It’s been a campaign of scare tactics, of personal jibes and of an ‘I’m alright, Jack” mentality. This rankles with me a bit. There were a couple of Tory policies that would have benefited my family- especially with childcare- and I still chose not to vote for them, because I didn’t want to benefit at someone else’s expense. I do honestly think we’re in for five years of strikes, protest and opposition. I only hope the SNP come good on their promise to challenge the government, but of course their interest lies with Scotland.

My vote went to Caroline Lucas, the local Green MP. This was not necessarily an easy decision to make- I’m a traditional Labour voter and I would have preferred a Labour government. However, I was impressed with Caroline’s record in the last parliament; as an essentially independent MP, she was vocal, visible and able to vote on issues according to her conscience and her constituency’s interests. I’m pleased to say that she won with a huge vote swing. There’s some hope, at least!

So what now? I am determined to fight this government- on behalf of my son, my students who are about to leave school and are searching for jobs/apprenticeships or fretting about the cost of uni, all those who will be hit by austerity. Apparently Cameron is a Smiths’ fan. I want him to be The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. I’m thinking of joining a political party, of getting more involved in politics on a local level. At the moment, though, I’ll just wait and see what happens next.

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.