Saturday, December 17

Our Weekend Lodger

Gwen is such a girly swot. She comes home from school most days with star stickers on her jumper for being helpful, tidying up and generally being a bit of a goody two shoes. Mrs Morgan, her teacher, says that even if she is telling the whole class off for being too noisy or something, Gwen always likes to point out how good she has been.

This week, she was overjoyed to get the most ticks on the 'being good' chart on the wall. As a reward, she got a small chocolate lollipop and she got to bring Mrs Morgan's friend Bernard home. Here he is enjoying a cinamon swirl for his Saturday breakfast treat. He looks chuffed to bits.

Thursday, December 8

List 8/52 Naughty Things

This is the face of naughty.

Here are the naughty, naughty things she has been up to. 
  • Smearing yoghurt all over the table.
  • Running away. Approx 1,356 times this week alone.
  • Opening the suncream and smearing it in her hair.
  • Feeding her breakfast to Blod.
  • Unravelling the toilet roll.
  • Posting pieces of jigsaw between the floorboards.
  • Hiding under the table and trying to draw on the floor.
  • Jumping in a puddle that smelt of compost bins.
  • Trying to swig the dregs out of a bottle of Leffe.
  • Destroying a Lush shampoo bar by squishing it in her fingers.
  • Breaking the bathroom blind.
She's also quite fond of listing all the naughty things she has done that day. There are usually many.

What a naughty sausage.

Friday, November 11

A Tale of Two Coffees

Yesterday morning, I had to drive to work. Instead of my usual 20 minutes of bliss on the train with a travel mug of finest Fair Trade filter coffee and a good book, I faced 45 minutes of traffic jams and a radio that either cuts out every five minutes or will only tune to Radio 3.

So for damage limitation and sanity purposes, I left the house obscenely early to beat the crowds. In fact, I left so early, that it took me just over 20 minutes to get into town, with me parking my little blue car at 7.50am - a whole hour before I normally get to work.

I'd skipped breakfast. My belly was grumblingly wondering where its peanut butter toast had got to. And the early start and lack of caffeine had left me feeling a little bit spaced. Then I remembered that the nearby registry office that Dave and I sneaked off to to get hitched almost a decade ago has been transformed into a Costa Coffee. What was formerly decorated in a style that would be best suited to an award-winning public loo (think peach-scented pot pourri, ruffled curtains with tie backs and gaudy plastic flower displays) is now an oasis of calm. All cappuccino walls, aubergine velvet armchairs, sweet coffee smells, twinkly lighting, mellow singer songwritery stuff on the stereo, and the occasional schwerrrrrrrrsh of that thing that steams the milk.

I ordered my two favourite treats (almond croissant, soy vanilla latte in case you're ever buying), found a quiet spot of cosiness in the corner and sat down with a book about running away from society to live in a yurt (the irony of reading this in Costa wasn't wasted on me).

It was 30 minutes of absolute bliss.

Filled with a new-found love of the big chain coffee shop, today, I persuaded Dave to finish work early so we could all go out for a late afternoon latte at another evil establishment. I had visions of sitting in an equally chilled space, the children colouring while Dave and I nursed our drinks and discussed our weekend plans. 

But evil coffee shops on out-of-town retail parks (I know, I know - what's happened to me?) after school on a Friday are quite a different story to city centre ones early in the morning.

Gwen was exhausted from a week at school and ravenous after rejecting my home-made lentil and tomato soup for lunch - no doubt doing her usual trick of swiping someone's ham-on-Mothers-Pride sandwich instead ("Do you know mam, there is this bread that is white and it's so soft and even the crusts are soft! Can we get some?"). I could sense she needed careful management to avoid some sort of meltdown.

I had forgotten to bring the emergency colouring/books. It didn't look good. 

As soon as we got there, she took off her shoes and tights and started trying to jump on the seats. Moll started to copy her, both of them laughing hysterically and very loudly with their tangled wild hair flying everywhere.

I was so happy when Dave appeared with a tray of goodies. Peace was restored for all of three minutes, until Gwen tried to eat Moll's half of muffin, ending in Moll screeching in protest and Gwen wailing that she was "Hungreeeeeeee" while the people on the next table were shooting me daggers, either for starving my children/not being very good at brushing their hair/feeding them muffins at tea time.

Molly tried to drink her hot chocolate with a plastic spoon, making an almighty mess. A few minutes later, she went the whole hog and spilt the entire cup all over the table, the fabric-covered seat and me.

At this point, Gwen thought it would be fun to crawl under the table and pretend to be a baby.

Then Moll did an enormous poo.We'd forgotten a spare nappy.

Monday, October 31

List 7/52 All the Things We Squeezed Into Date Day

Dave and I (and Blod) had a rare date day and night last week - just over 24 hours to do whatever we bloomin' well pleased. No demands for snacks/felt pens/scissors/bottom wiping/Octonauts/tissues/Annie songs on the iPod/fairy dresses for a whole day and a night and a little bit longer.

A cuppa and some Hobnobs and The Guardian crossword (OK, not the most glam of starts)
A long walk through the fields with Blod
Leisurely lunch
Into town for a cuppa at Barkers, my new fav Cardiff coffee shop
Cinema trip
Meal at Jamie's Italian
A lie in
Breakfast in bed with newspapers (saved from the weekend especially)
A long soak in the bath - in the middle of the day (oh, the decadence)
Lunch at The Otley
Another walk with Blod

Then I started to really miss that crazy-haired pair of fraggles and kind of wandered about the house aimlessly for the last 20 minutes waiting for them to come home. And so the lovely, messy, chaos began once again

Sunday, October 30

Number Ten

Number ten from The List was to visit Westonbirt Aboretum in autumn. So we did. Beautiful colours. Lots of trees to climb and hug and hide among. And Earl Grey and some very nice home-made cake in the cafe. We'll definitely go back - perhaps even to Treefest next summer.

Wednesday, October 19

List 6/52 One hundred things that make me happy

getting into clean bed sheets - getting into clean bed sheets with just-shaven moisturised legs - soy hazelnut lattes - being by the sea - Laura Marling - walking in the rain - Maggie O'Farrell novels - The Guardian on Saturday - ladybirds - painted toenails - photography furry coats - home-made bread - Earl Grey tea - carrot cake - cwtches - hats with ears - libraries - all kinds of veggie curries - Waterloo Teahouse - going to the cinema - Thai curry - wearing wellies and walking up streams - my nan's home-made crinkle cut chips - my lovely friends - Michael Rosen - making soup - birth stories - bubble baths - being in a forest - avocados - veggie sushi - drinking chai on the beach in winter - little girls in stripey tights - home-made granola - reading blogs - The Idle Parent - Blod's biscuity smell when she's all warm and sleepy - my husband - my girls - independent shops - my mam's roast potatoes - wearing red - Innocent smoothies - Flickr - climbing mountains - squidgy baby thighs - corsages - floppy-haired little boys - being frugal - the smell of vanilla - being barefoot in the grass - one morning coffee from my cafetiere - train journeys - singing - vintage coffee pots - Spring - smelly things from Lush - Wales - early nights - baking - big, open spaces - breastfeeding mamas - back tickles - live music - fairy lights - Welsh wool blankets - bonfires - 6 Music - Nakd bars - writing lists - sunshine - Neal's Yard lotions and potions - watching sand run between my fingers - dancing in the kitchen - fresh air - cats with really big tails - the Fraggle Rock theme tune - digging earth with my fingers - home made everything - pizza night - mittens - swimming in the sea - babies in slings - people watching - Adam and Joe - donkeys - the word 'wonkey' - going to the theatre - that squeaky noise that guinea pigs make - old ladies with long hair - the Welsh word for microwave (popty ping) - and the Welsh word for ironing (smwddio) - Rolf Harris - flared jeans - really bitter dark chocolate - sleeping - people with passions - Spotify - notebooks - cute hair clips

I have actually done this list once before - I wonder how many things are the same?

Tuesday, October 18

List 5/52 On Not Being Very Happy

I don't do well in colder weather, no matter how many hats with ears, gingerbread lattes and furry coats you throw at me. If I didn't love Wales and my family and friends so much, I'd have hot footed it to sunnier climes aeons ago. And so, a list of why I'm down in the dumps.
  • Getting up in the pitch black. So not natural.
  • I have totally lost my photo mojo.
  • Finding the new rhythm that school brings to our days quite difficult to get used to - how to fit in reading practice, making nutritious and varied packed lunches, remembering PE kits and books and tins of beans for the harvest festival, and dealing with a very exhausted little girl at the end of the day. Roll on Friday when half term begins!
  • I feel flabby and wobbly and generally bleurgh.
  • I'm also looking quite wrinkly around the eyes. Not helped by Gwen looking at me adoringly the other day, then saying "Lovely Mammy, lovely wrinkly eyes."
  • Our house is damp and cold and needs a lot of money and time to de-damp it, neither of which I have.
  •  Terrified of teaching antenatal classes - having daily wobbles and considering jacking it in (although I know this will be better when I reconnect with my lovely sistas in my tutorial group on Saturday, making birth art with pastels and talking about placentas and stuff).
  • The annual consumerfest of Christmas is already stressing me out. Can we spend the whole of December on a remote Scottish island, holed up with books and warming soups and a wood burning stove instead?
On the plus side, I spotted this rainbow from our garden last week, so it can't be all bad. Next up, a list of things to be happy about. Because there's way more good stuff than bad stuff.

Tuesday, October 4

On Two-Year-Olds

I wish I could bottle the bonkers levels of cuteness of two-year-olds (especially this one). Their nonsense chatter. Their podgy arms. Their pot bellies. Their infectious giggles. Their love of being thrown about. Their funny obsessions with diggers/birds/raisins/worms/Babybel cheese. Their tuneless singing. Their love of being nakey. Their really small wellies.

I think I would like to open a day nursery for children who are two. Just them. No babies. No proper little people. Just this unique species of two-year-old toddler. It would be stinky, there'd be quite a few emotional moments, but it would be so much fun.

Thursday, September 29

Things We're Loving Right Now

The girls loved making mud pies (my lovely but cleanliness-keen, worm-averse mother, standing just out of shot, was loving it slightly less).

We are all chuffed that our garden shed/studio/Dave's den/the girls playhouse is almost finished.

I am listening to Benjamin Francis Leftwich, which is the aural equivalent of the melty middle bit of a chocolate eclair sweet. I am also bit partial to roibos tea from my really small teapot, some cuter than cute vintage china from my lovely work colleagues, daydreaming about big plans for our little family, wondering why I never thought of getting baby bunnies involved in our wedding, and cuddling Blod.

Gwen is loving school, especially singing songs about Jesus (shudder) and eating her friend's ham sandwiches (double shudder). She is also chuffed to bits about learning to ride her bike.

Moll is enjoying making no-compromise demands for "a skirt and a top" every morning, inventing nonsense jokes (Example: "Why did the animal bonk his head?" "Because he ate the table") and going swimming with Bampa.

Blod is loving chasing balls, eating Moll's crusts and the sound of cheese being grated.

I'm not sure what Dave is loving, but it probably involves robots and/or the Apple Store.

Wednesday, September 28

Autumn Garth Walk

Number from the list is walk up the Garth mountain every season. Last Sunday, I did my autumn trip. It took me just 40 minutes from my front door right to the top and it was glorious.

The sun was shining. There was the cutest family on the trig point at the top (that's them silhouetted). I saw sheep and shire horses and happy dogs and ladybirds and lots of youths dotted down the hillside picking magic mushrooms.

Climbing up mountains makes me very happy.

Sunday, September 25

List 4/52 The Weekend List

Years ago, when it was just me and Dave, I'd always write a weekend list of all the lovely things we were going to do. It was to get me through five whole days of horrible working-in-an-officeness. It involved things like laying in, having a long, lazy breakfast with the weekend papers, going on a really long walk with Blod, stopping off at a nice country pub for lunch, seeing friends, going to the cinema, pootling about at farmers markets and coffee shops... ah, those were the days.

Fast forward about five years and we've forgotten about the weekend list. But I decided to revive it this weekend. And it was a great success. We did everything on it (well, D's making the Jamie meal as I type - and I can confirm that it most definitely does not take 30 minutes). We also fitted in making mud pies, harvesting beans and onions from the garden, drawing around our feet and decorating the results, and a lazy afternoon in the garden with a teepee (G&M) and a cuppa tea (me and D).

I know it's a bit sad, but I just function better when I've got a list.

Bring on next weekend's list of loveliness.

Friday, September 23

List 3/52 All the Books I Read Last Year

(With a three-word review)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami (Very, incredibly inspiring)
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim - Jonathan Coe (Modern life insanity)
One Moment, One Day - Sarah Rayner (Sad but sweet)
Slumdog Millionaire - Vikas Swarup (Gripping, tragic, epic)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Homid (Clever, thought provoking)
One Day - David Nicholls (Why that ending?)
A Year in Provence - Peter Mayle (Too much meat)
Voluntary Simplicity - Duane Elgin (Lovely and lentilist)
The Hand That First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell (My 2011 favourite)
South of the Border, West of the Sun - Haruki Murakami (Not really sure)
How Not To F**K Them Up - Oliver James (Heard it before)
No and Me - Delphine de Vignan (Cute and sweet)
Starter for Ten - David Nicholls (Nostalgic and funny)
Room - Emma Donovan (Worth the hype)
Four Letters of Love - Niall Griffiths (Just so beautiful)
The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundral Christ - Philip Pullman (Food for thought)
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver (Loved it, suprisingly)
The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs - Christina Hopkinson (Trashy but relevant)
The Importance of Being Seven - Alexander McCall Smith (My guilty pleasure)
The Vanishing of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell (Beautifully written page-turner)

I love libraries, me.

Thursday, September 22

A Poem: 20 Things to do With a Piece of Spaghetti

Make an incredibly droopy moustache
Drop it in the toilet and see if it goes splash
Tie it round your dog and use it as a lead
Fashion a fancy necklace (just add beads)
Knit it into a teeny pair of socks
Leave it in the garden to feed a famished fox
Pretend that it’s a wiggly worm and frighten your mum
Wind it round and round and round and round your thumb
Dangle it from your nostril like a long stringy bogey
Pretend that it’s sacred and present it to a Yogi
Pop it in your pocket in case you get peckish later
Use it to lasso a really small alligator
Stick it on your head as an extra bit of hair
Just go bonkers and wave it in the air
Lend it to a ladybird that needs a skipping rope
Donate it to some loved up elves wanting to elope
Use it as a bookmark, form a figure 8
Put it in an envelope and send it to a mate
Or you could just eat it
But that wouldn’t be half as much fun

Wednesday, September 14

List 2/52: Things I Saw Out of the Train Window Today

Piles of autumn leaves
Sunshine streaming through the window, highlighting patterns of dust on the glass
Blue and red flags blowing in the breeze
A older lady with lots of eyeliner and happy eyes
A girl with beautiful red hair
Lots of Himalayan Balsam
Happy horses eating grass
A discarded yellow plastic bag
Graffiti on every single bridge
A house with a tree growing out of the chimney
A cloud in the shape of a bird
A castle
The mountain silhouetted against a very bright blue sky
Big puddles/mini streams
Hundreds of sheep on the mountains

Sunday, September 11

Wellies and Welsh Cakes

Wellies, Welsh cakes and wigging out to The Bucket Band at the St Fagan's food festival.

Have I ever told you how much I heart St Fagans? Houses to hide in. Woods to explore. Logs to balance on. Pigs with bellies to scratch. Chickens to chase. Tractors to ride on. Gardens to run through. Hills to roly poly down. And oh, the freshly-baked cheesy buns. 

And all for free! If you're ever round our way, go there.

Thursday, September 8

List 1/52: Things To Love About Autumn

Because today, I'm feeling sad that walking through the fields with Blod at 9pm is officially over. And although the first day of school is done, now every day's a school day and we all have a lot of adjusting to do to the new rhythms of our days. And it's been raining for days on end.

So, to cheer myself up, some things to look forward to about the autumn.
  • Photographing all the lovely, lovely colours
  • The alchemy of making soup (and the magic of its comfort, tastiness, goodness and general toasty warmth)
  • Getting fluffy coats down from the attic
  • The odd sunny day where it's still warm enough to paddle in the sea
  • The summer beach dog ban ending on October 1st - that means Sunday mornings on Barry Island beach with Blod, a flask of chai and some cakey goodness
  • Putting the big, heavy feather duvet on the bed...
  • ... and cwtching up under it with the cold air coming through the open window
  • Pumpkins and squashes in season
  • Piles of leaves to jump in (watch out for hedgehogs)
  • Hedgehogs snuffling and truffling in our garden at night
  • Crumbles, crumbles, crumbles!
  • Little legs in colourful, stripy tights and boots
Do you know what, I think it's all going to be OK.

Tuesday, September 6

Gwen Goes to School

The day finally arrived. Gwen started school today.

After spending the second half of the night in our bed after a nightmare involving a witch trying to bite her leg, she woke up at 4.30am whispering in my ear "Is it time to put my school uniform on yet?" And again at 5.30am. Then again about 6. I finally succumbed at 7am and had a very long two hours to fill before dropping off time.

While there were a few tears from the other children, Gwenny was literally jumping up and down with excitement. A quick kiss and she was off into the classroom without a backwards glance.

Moll and my mam and I went welly shopping, coffee drinking and fish gazing at the garden centre to take our minds off things. Moll, delighted with the attention at last, quite literally talked non-stop all day long.

In the blink of an eye, it was picking up time. We collected a beaming Gwen, who rushed out of the door clutching a multitude of craftivities and paintings and colouring pages, shouting 'Un, dau, tri' (which is one, two, three in Welsh). She ate all of her packed lunch. She went to the big school assembly. She met two Lucys and a boy called Rhys King, who she calls King Rhys. They read Room on the Broom. She had a little cry at lunchtime when she had to play in the yard with all the bigger children and got a bit scared, but said she was OK after a few minutes.

All in all, a good day. Relieved, happy and very proud of my number one snail.

Monday, September 5

Way Out West

We've had the most marvellous holiday in the West of our lovely Wales.

Seven days of sunshine. Not a drop of rain. Hot salty, vinegary, ketchupy chips on the beach. Dates with my camera. Morning runs on the beach. Lots of sandcastles. Swimming in the sea. Cream tea in a cottage garden. Lazy mornings with big pots of tea. Early nights. Surfy, salty, sandy hair. A bizarre harbourside festival with dancing and paella.

And the highlight was our blissful beach barbecue on a balmy evening. We ate hot halloumi and griddled peppers and veggie dogs. We drank Hoegaarden out of the bottles and hid in big holes in the sand. We splashed in the sea as the sun went down and saw hundreds of tiny silver fish leaping out the water. It's up there with the most magical moments of my life so far.

I'm a lucky lady. 

(And we stayed two doors down from the childhood home of the artist Gwen John - one of the reasons why Gwen is called Gwen.)

Sunday, September 4

36 Things

Hey, ho, I appear to have turned 36. Officially on the road to the big 4-0. Blimey, let's not even think too hard about that one.

Anyway, after last year's birthday list, here's this year's. A few things on there carried over from last year and lots of exciting new things to do too. Here goes:

1. Cook a brand-new dish every month Yes - and discovered Jamie O's fab 30-minute curry feast
2. Lose 10lbs ER... got pregnant. Can it be gain 10 lbs?
3. Go to the cinema every month Done! Favourites were Midnight in Paris and Searching for Sugarman
4. Have a monthly lunch date with Dave Done!
5. Visit Jacob's market Done!
6. Go away overnight for our wedding anniversary
7. Sell some of my prints in my friend's pop-up shop Er... the shop stopped popping up
8. Declutter and carboot In progress
9. Bake a new bread every week
10. Go to Westonbirt Aboretum in autumn Done!
11. Make 52 lists In progress
12. Swim in the sea Done!
13. Climb the Garth every season Sort of done, until pregnancy SPD kicked in!
14. Photograph my grandmother Done!
15. Master 5 songs on the ukulele Done! Foundations by Kate Nash, Sloop John B, Ring of Fire, You and I by Ingrid Michaelson,Anyone Else from Juno soundtrack
16. Teach Gwen to ride a bike Getting there...
17. Continue the Mothers and Daughters project
18. Get some polaroid film and use it
19. Visit the 3rd Floor Gallery Done! 
20. Discover 10 new albums Ben Howard, Laura Marling, Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, Frank Turner
21. Plant a passion flower
22. Write 5 new children's poems
23. Throw another impromptu party Done! Lovely fireworks party in the garden.
24. Sew something
25. Grow pumpkins
26. Film the children Done!
27. Blog every week without fail
28. Make bird feeders for the garden Done!
29. Take the children to sing carols somewhere
30. Drink hot chocolate on a cold beach Done!
31. Cook and eat a meal outdoors in winter
32. Try a Zumba class Done! (Well, I got it for the Wii)
33. Read 3 classic novels
34. Make a photobook Done!
35. Make elderflower cordial
36. Finish writing Dirty Daniel, the Stinky Spaniel (my children's book that's been a work in progress for about 8 years)

Thursday, August 25

12 Sleeps 'Til Schooltime

Dear Gwen,
In a week and a bit (or 12 more sleeps in Gwentime), you are starting school.

I've gone from feeling absolute horror about it, to feeling kind of OK about it and, now it's coming scarily close, feeling tears misting up my eyes and a wobbly feeling at the back of my throat whenever I think about it.

Your world's about to be a whole lot bigger as you get to experience daily life outside of our family. It's weird to think there's this other adult who I've never even met who's suddenly going to become a huge part of and influence on your life. And you're going to meet this whole group of friends who aren't the offspring of my friends. 

You, of course, my bright, chatty, friendly girl absolutely cannot wait. You can't wait to wear the uniform, you can't wait to learn to read, you can't wait to play in the playground and sing new songs. But most of all, you can't wait to meet dozens of friends all your own age. You're going to blossom, my love. 

And for us? Well, we'll still have morning cuddles in my bed, dancing in the kitchen after tea, stories and sprinkling dreams on your pillow and back tickles and hugs and kisses before bed. And we'll pack our weekends with lovely, lovely times and squeeze every second out of those long school holidays - I promise.

I'll miss watching you beaver away on your amazing drawings of houses on legs and grannies with chicken pox and people throwing spaghetti out of space rockets. I'll miss your constant demands for Little Boots on the Ipod. I'll miss you cracking the eggs and sticking your fingers in the sugar when we bake. I'll miss you flashing your pants and doing the bottom dance. I'll miss your crazy hair, your made-up jokes, your socks scattered all over the house.

I've loved every minute of having you all to myself.  I hope you enjoy every minute of your new adventure.

Love, Mam

Tuesday, August 23

New Look Blog

I composed this post as I'd set up a new blog in Wordpress, but I felt so emotional about leaving my online home, I just revamped this blog instead. Here's to seven more blogtastic years.

Since 2004, there's been a new word, a major house renovation, a new fur baby, a deceased fur baby, lots of silly poems, two baby bumps, two birth stories, lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of lists, two wedding cakes, giving up telly, my office hell, lots of creative things, discovering and loving photography, and a heck of a lot of cake.

Monday, August 22

Sleeping Under the Stars

Ingredients for a lovely camping trip:

A handful of good friends

A sprinkling of sunshine

A generous helping of hot dogs and corn cobs on the barbecue

Several slightly grubby, half-naked, wild-haired children

A glug of red wine by the camp fire

All the Shepherds asleep in a row on a giant mattress

The slight smell of wood smoke on your clothes for days afterwards

Wednesday, August 17

Squeezing the Last Bit Out of Summer

Summer’s starting to fade – the sun was starting to shy away behind the mountains at about 8:45 tonight when I was coming home from a lovely long walk with Blod. I want to squeeze every second of its light and sunshiny goodness. And so, a list.

Things to do before summer ends

Eat hot, salty, vinegary, ketchupy chips by the sea

Have a barbecue

Go camping

Drink wine under the stars

Make ice cream

Walk up the Garth (it’s a big hill/mountain behind my house) with Blod one evening

Have an evening beach picnic with friends

With a camping trip this weekend and a lovely holiday in Tenby just around the corner, we should be able to do them all – and a few more too. September counts as summer too, right?

Friday, August 5

Molly: Obsessed With Bottoms

It all started a few weeks ago.

Yes Moll.
My bottom is tired.
Is it Moll?
Yes, it got a lemon in it.

Since then, it's continued. She's had a biscuit, some more lemons and a tomato in it, and recently some salt and pepper on it too.

Wednesday, August 3

Award Winning, Don't You Know

All I need to say is that I won the Photomarathon!

And I was on the main BBC website's In Pictures yesterday.

I don't think anything this exciting has ever happened to me before.

Well, apart from the news that The Hoff is moving to The 'Diff.

Monday, June 27

Photomarathon 2011

A bit late in posting this, as it all happened two weeks ago, but had a fantastic day at my second Photomarathon. Still as creatively challenging and downright exhausting as last year, but loved it, loved it, loved it.

Topics were: 1. Entry number/Work of art 2. Inside out 3. Community 4. Super powers 5. Drama 6. Great outdoors 7. Double 8. My secret 9. Element 10. Movement 11. Obstacle 12. I have a dream

You have 12 hours to take 12 images on 12 topics - in the right order. Huge frustration when Gwen dropped her ice cream on the floor and was in tears ('Drama' anyone?), but I hadn't yet done the previous pic. Or, a real 'Gah!' moment for the 'Double' topic, when I saw twin boys, about 9 years old, dressed in identical shell suits and eating identical ice creams and then, about 10 minutes later, saw toddler identical twins on identical trikes with identical outfits - but I hadn't bloody done 'Great Outdoors' yet.

Here's my go at it anyway - can I just add a disclaimer that my image for obstacle is probably the worst picture I have ever seen (perhaps with the exception of Mr Meep's infamous crap wildlife photography, which involve a load of trees and a small out-of-focus blob of the back end of a cat/cow/lion in a corner) but it was late, I was tired, I was hungry and my feet hurt.

Saturday, June 25

The Rhino and the Caterpillar

The fraggles are going on a farm trip with my mum on Thursday.

"Are you looking forward to the farm trip, Moll?"
"What do you think you might see at the farm?"
"Um... a rhino... and a caterpillar."

There you go then.

Thursday, June 23

Molly is Two

Dear Moll,
You are two years old and absolutely bonkers. You started off as the quietest, most chilled out little baby, lulling us all into a false sense of security as you are now a bona fide nutcase.

You shout, you screach, you sing out of tune very loudly, you take your nappy off, you take your clothes off, you jump on top of me, you get out of your car seat straps, you kick your shoes off, you squirt moisturiser on the floor, you empty the shower gel into the bath, you smear yoghurt all over the table, you throw things down the stairs, you run away constantly, you climb on everything, you leap off everything you climb, you put the toilet roll down the toilet, you stick your hands in the toilet, you draw all over you arms, and when you're excited, you do a big excited smack on whoever's nearest to you at the time.

But at the same time, you have a lovely, sunny nature - always happy, rarely cross, never had a proper tantrum. And you're so funny, making us all laugh out loud every single day with your funny faces and amusing chatter ("Dog poo is... really nice" "Done a botty burp yesterday" "Molly's got hair, Gwen's got hair, Daddy's got no hair!" "Oh-my-god, oh-my-god").

At two years old you love dressing up (but only in either a fairy dress, a swimming costume or a dressing gown), talking about the time you fell in the stream, saying "Ziggy Zaggy", putting Gwen's nighties on, You Are My Sunshine, playing with Duplo, reading Tickle Tickle, doing everything Gwen does, a pat on the back at bedtime, Sing a Song of Sixpence, pretending to be a baby, picking flowers, splashing in the sea and being nakey.

For your second birthday, you sported a big huge shiner of a black eye from one of your many tumbles and ended the day by smearing black face paint all over the dining room walls and biting my big toe really hard when I wasn't looking.

Happy birthday, you little nutter.

Love, Mam

Monday, June 13

Zebedee Shepherd 1999 (ish) - 2011

Dear Zebedee,
You were our first pet. You first came to us in 2003, from a 'broken home' where you'd been so stressed you'd nibbled half your fur off - and you had a manky eye.

You spent the first few days behind the sofa, but gradually ventured out into the lounge and reluctantly joined in with life in the Shepherd household - I'd sit on one end of the sofa, you'd sit on the other with your back to me and I once found you balancing on the ledge of the open bathroom window.

You were prone to randomly attacking us with your playfulness - Dave's hand, the back of my leg... nothing was safe. We called you Evil Zeb, imagining that when we were out, you'd get out your maps, invite round your gang of neighbourhood moggies and plot world domination. We'd stroke your whiskers so you'd do a particularly evil snarl. We made up a song about you called 'Black and White Fool' (to the tune of Jimmy Nail's Crocodile Shoes).

But you mellowed with age and became a people-cat. You liked to be cradled like a baby and never, ever struggled to get away. You liked to rub noses with me. You'd lie on your back so we could tickle your tummy. You were incredibly furry and purry.

When we moved house three years ago, it was a mixed blessing for you. On the plus side, you had acres of open fields at your disposal and as many mice as you could eat. On the downside, a house move with a renovation going on was all a bit much for an old cat like you and you never quite got the hang of the whole toilet thing (poo behind the telly anyone?). So for the last few years, you've lived in your little cat igloo in the conservatory (aka your stinky lair).

We always joked that you'd lived to 20, stubborn until the end with non-retractable claws and halitosis. Well, you didn't quite make it that far, but you had a good innings.

We had a lovely burial in the garden for you today. We wrapped you in a cosy orange blanket and put you under the fig tree. We each said something we liked about you (rubbing noses, your loud purr, your friendliness), then we covered you over with earth to keep you nice and warm.

I'll miss doing noses with you. I'll miss your incredibly loud purr. I'll miss your hoarse miaow.

We are all really sad that you're gone.

Rest in peace, you black and white fool.


Friday, June 10

Mumbo Jumbo

I don't mean to sound like some kind of awful competitive mummy type, but Moll is quite articulate for her age. She speaks in full sentences and can have proper little conversations with herself/her teddies/Gwen. Problem is, most of what she says is a bloomin load of old nonsense.

Reading an animal book
"Look at this lovely fish"
"Yes, bit my finger yesterday"
"What, a fish?"

Before bed, we talk about the day's events.
"So Moll, what did you do today?"
"Fell in the stream." (She didn't)

Just as I'm closing the door after saying good night.
"Yes, Moll."
"Got dirty knees now."
"Have you Moll?"
"Yes, filthy they am."

"Did you have a picnic with Nana today?"
"What did you have in your sandwiches?"

Wednesday, June 1

Writer's Block

I have writer's block. I want to witty anecdotes and funny stories and tales of the loveliness of the everyday. I want to write to remember. I want to create. I want to start that children's book about the stinky spaniel. I want to write more poems about peas (you can never have too many).

But it's late, my brain is frazzled, so I'll just post a picture of some cows instead.

Sunday, May 29

Gwen is Four

Dear Gwen,
This is all about you at four.

Four things you love doing
Wrestling - you are queen of the Big Gwennie Splash
Changing your outfit as many times a day as you can get away with
Making dens and beds and boats out of piles of blankets
Demonstrating your amazing dance moves

Four songs you love singing along/ dancing to
Don't Stop Me Now - Queen
Babooshka - Kate Bush
Starry Eyed - Ellie Goulding
And, despite being raised on a strict diet of indie pop... I Need a Dollar - Aloe Blacc (oh, and anything by Lady Gaga)

Four things you love watching
Shaun the Sheep
Charlie and Lola

Four things you love reading
Noddy, your absolute favourite
The Gruffalo, still a big hit
All of the other Julia Donaldson books
My old Topsy and Tim books

Four things you like eating
Gnocci - tons of it
Green vegetable risotto, to my absolute delight
Ham sandwiches at kids' parties, to my absolute horror ("Of course it's not made out of a pig, mam - I can't see its face")
*NEW ENTRY* Poached eggs, since daddy found an egg poaching pan in the charity shop

Four funny little habits you have
You always, always have to wear socks to bed because you don't like the feeling of the mattress on your feet
You only like one cuddly thing in your bed at any time (current favourite: hand-knitted angel)
You have an irrational fear of flies, but only the ones that buzz
You detest - and resist - any sort of directed, organised activity, especially craft

Four other random things, just because
You draw amazing pictures of grandmas and warthogs and whales and planes
You say "actually" quite a lot
You're amazingly good at bandaging people
You don't own any trousers

Happy birthday my beautiful, funny, articulate, confident, emotional, creative, affectionate, generous, sociable, loud girl.

Love you x 4 (million)


Sunday, March 27

Picnics - they're back, back, back

The picnic season has started. Bring on the: felafel, houmous, fritatta, olives, raspberries, egg mayo, cherries, goats cheese tart, vine leaves, spanish omlette, roasted veggies, elderflower presse, slow-roasted tomatoes, random over-priced picnic snacks from M&S. All with sand and/or a bit of grass, of course.

Welcome back, Lady Spring. I'm so, so happy to see you.

Tuesday, February 15

Mugs of Love

Nothing says I love you more than his 'n' hers mugs for your bedtime chamomile (madame) or rooibos (monsieur). After all, it's the little things that make life that little bit happier every day.

Here are 10 things I try to do every day to inject a little bit of sunshine into my world. I so need it on this greyest and rainiest of Februaries. Come on Lady Spring - get your buds and lambs and general newness and optimism over here quicksmart. Meanwhile, I'm keeping afloat with my little list of daily happy things:

1. Drink tea
2. Cwtch someone or something
3. Listen to some uplifting music
4. Read a book in a quiet corner for 15 minutes
5. Create something - soup, a cake, a poem, a list, a photo
6. Be outside
7. Walk or run or swim or cycle (hmm, this one hasn't really been working out lately)
8. Talk to any one of my favourite people
9. Eat lovely, nutritious, home-made food
10. And, of course, have a little bit of cake or a square of Montezumas Orange and Geranium

Little things = big smiles

Monday, January 31

Performance Art in the Shepherd Household

Gwen locked herself in her bedroom earlier while I was reading Molly her bedtime stories. She was gone for a long time and was awfully quiet. I was given strict instructions not to come in because "I am making a kind of stage performance."

She shouted through the door a little later and announced that the stage performance was ready. I opened the door to find this intricate display of lined-up dolls, teddies and cushions, The Snail in the middle of it all brushing her hair (she has recently discovered conditioner).

I wonder why she lay Fireman Sam horizontally?

In other snail-related news...

She found a book in her cousin's house called 'God Made Me'. She asked me what the book was called, I told her. She declared: "Who's God? Dog Made ME." Spot the heathen child.

She has also made up her first joke.

What do you call a man with a bag on his head?

There's definitely some sort of surrealist streak to the Gwenster.

Sunday, January 30

A Manifesto for Myself

I'm feeling a bit lost at the moment, having huge trouble balancing the work me with the mama me, switching between the two for half of each week. I'm sick of trying to do everything, and doing everything badly. Sick of feeling fat and unhealthy. Sick of worrying about money. Sick of thinking 'what if'. Sick of feeling guilty about everything all the time.

Feminism sure did wonderful thing for women, but how did we end up in a place where we are expected to work, and raise children, and be a domestic goddess and look bloomin' gorgeous too? Do you think that was what Emmeline Pankhurst would've wanted?

The two 'me's seem to be so very different and I love both aspects of my life. I'm so lucky to have so much time at home. I'm so lucky to have a part-time job that I really like. But in all the trying to have it all, I've lost myself in there somewhere.

And so, to keep me focused, a little manifesto for myself, to remind me of what's important in life - to me, anyway.

I want to:

glow with health and vitality. read. photograph. be by the sea. work as little as possible. grow vegetables. shop locally. parent gently. love unconditionally. be kind. sing unembarassedly. write poetry. be a good friend to a few special people. cook. stop worrying. be generous. create more. buy second hand. keep it simple. love. feel alive. appreciate what I have. drink tea.

That is my manifesto for me.

Wednesday, January 26

All the Words Molly Knows

Molly's had a word explosion. Here are all the things she can say.

Mama, Daddy, Nana, Bampa, Blod, shush Blod, cat, dog, horse, fish, head, fluff, zip, foot, sit down, get down, bounce, nakey (while naked and patting her belly), nice, jump, biscuit, apple, cheese, Babybel, car, bus, bird, shoes, sock, hat, kiss, hug, drink, fork, milk, cake, nose, dryer (hairdryer), kick, slide, ball, bed, eyes, bear, book, bathroom, brush, (ba)nana, egg, bowl, up, down, tractor, duck, sheep, pig, hippo, owl, knees, 'oghurt, me, bath, wipe, coat, tights, one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten, chick, bike, Esss Esss (Yes), hide, phone, hot, boo, good girl, peas, please, park, go-go-go, tea, door, close, more, bye bye, night night, poo.

And my personal favourite, said in a very Valleys accent, is a great big Hiyaaaa.

Oh, and shit.

She still can't quite get to grips with Gwen, who remains 'Eh' instead.

Here's what Gwen was saying at the same age.

Sunday, January 23

Stolen Moments

My life, it could be fair to say, is slightly bonkers: two very small children, two naughty naughty pets, a house that's still mid-renovation, a part-time job three days a week, a fair bit of freelancing, studying for my antenatal teaching (suprisingly academic and tons of work) and sometimes photography modules too.

And I love it, I love it all, but where to fit in all the other things I love - like photography, friends, reading, newspapers, blogging, baking, walking, running, swimming, cinema, gardening, my husband...? And the things I want to do more of, like knitting and sewing and writing poetry and cycling and growing more veg and learning an instrument and a language too.

Well, I've found a solution - stolen moments. Over the last few months, I've created these miniscule pockets of me-time, grabbing them when I can and squeezing every last second out of them.

A dog walk at dawn just before everyone wakes, penning a poem while the girls eat their tea, standing in the pantry with a square of chocolate melting in my mouth, a flask of Roibos on the bench in the park when the children play, a couple of chapters when they're having chill-out time, carrying a camera everywhere I go.

And on work days, the endless possibilities - a walk in the park, a coffee with a friend, the 20-minute train journey with a really good book, a midday date with my Nikon, browsing the bookshop, wandering round the museum, a trip to the library, choir practice, lunchtime concerts... I'll steal a moment whenever I can.

One day I'll have all the time in the world for snapping photos and making clothes and growing veg and reading all the books I can absorb. But for now, I'll take my lovely crazy life and my precious stolen moments.