Wrong time of year

By my normal writing calendar, June is the wrong time of the year for this.

September, October, shortening days, interest in being indoors more – that’s the time for writing.

Except that’s not how it’s been of late. Mainly because of the lack of words.

Not speaking words, you understand. Speaking words we do a lot. Things like ‘eating, drinking and kind talking’, which are some kind of ingredients for how to get through mealtime without anyone coming to blows.

(That’s the theory, anyway. Junior and Mini are less sure about the reality, or maybe about how to get there.)

So, lots of speaking words. Writing words, not so many. Some in emails, fluffing about making notes (love a nice Evernote note), but not these kind of words.

I’m not really sure about the writing words at the moment either. They seem to be like fish that spend their time in deep, fairly murky waters.

Most of the time, you don’t know they’re there. You forget they’re there, to be honest.

Other people are hauling those deep-water words out for supper, and you, you shrug and say you’re fine with your sandwich.

(You’re a bit cross that you forgot about them. Or that you don’t catch sight of the river so much. Or that you seem to be without means for getting them out of the water.)

Anyway. The words are there, really, but you don’t have a lot to do with them.

Once in a while, you catch a glimpse of sunlight on the water, and…well, there might be ripples. Maybe one of those big-shot word-fish has come to the surface, looking for flies, or wanting a change of scenery.

Slightly more of the time, you don’t see the words. You kind of feel that they’re there.

There’s a kind of movement, and you sense that there might be some words. Some big catch, even.

Those words, the plump ones, they seem to be swimming a bit nearer. You can feel the current in the water shift as they approach.

What happens next is uncertain. They might retreat into the reeds. I’m not sure where they go. Maybe they are waiting for me to follow.

Maybe I need a Merlin-type figure nearby to turn me into a fish, like in The Sword in the Stone, then I can catch up. (That might get tricky to maintain. School pick up time and all that.)

Maybe the trick is just to lower myself into the water, to feel the current as those juicy words swim past. To sense which direction they’re going.

Maybe I can risk wading. I mean, I’ve not done any swimming for months as far as words go, but wading must be worth a try.

What happens next is uncertain. But I’d love to catch me some words. And if I’m lucky, maybe these fish are part of a bigger migration, coming upstream.

June is the wrong time of year for migrating fish, isn’t it? Still. Maybe I can sharpen a stick, and stand in the shallows, and watch.

Just in case.


Weekly snapshot: 4 Feb (almost)

You’d think it wasn’t too hard to write a post a week.

Four weeks into my imposed writing routine, evening outing plus tiredness sets in on a Thursday night…no post.

Rather than berating myself, let’s just pretend it’s still 4 February, and go for it. OK?

The half-yearly visit to the dentist is upon us. Oh, the varied and wondrous set of shiny instruments in the dentist’s room that we are not meant to touch…

Oh, the lure of the pink mouthwash which two out of three of the visitors are not yet invited to use…

But the main purpose for visiting the dentist is to pick the coolest sticker possible after having your teeth checked.

I make a point of telling the dentist that he has the coolest stickers in town.
(The second coolest are given out at Gymnipper classes for pre-schoolers, on a weekly basis.)

These opinions are based purely on positive reaction levels from the kids. Sadly I don’t generally get offered stickers on these visits, so my own opinion of them doesn’t get to count.

By the way, it’s best not to get distracted by hungry kids, and leave the dentist’s premises without your handbag. Is it?

Luckily it was a very quick to prep tea once we got home.

This last week also brought the genuine delight of the double playdate. I should probably call it a triple playdate, since it works perfectly for mum, older child and younger child.

Mum gets two adults to chat to. Older child gets to do more stop motion film making with friend of same age.

Younger child gets to run around with the two kids of the same age, resulting in some very interesting spy/fairy cross-over dressing up.

You know it’s a good playdate when you’re onto your third round of hot drinks for the grownups, there’s been no real fights to break up, and the kids are generally still getting on with it.

And sometimes? When kids say ‘it’s a real mess upstairs’, they really mean ‘there’s some large items I can’t quite reach to put away, but other than that it’s not too bad’.

That kind of tidy up I can deal with. And Mini is still playing with the Duplo zoo set up that the visiting mum came up with.

Another visit to Granny and Grandpa. We do some detailed calculations based on snowy/blowy weather reports; lie low one day and venture out the next.

There are three choices of soup, to cater to different palates, and Mini discovers what Scrabble tiles look like.

But before that, there’s the day at home, a weekend staple. It’s a funny but happy mix: extended pyjama time, read alouds to the kids over lunchtime, usually a film at some point.

(We’ve just finished Paddington book 3, in case you need to know.)

For me, the day also seems to include the hauling of one load of school uniform and the beginning of another washing load, to try to get things ready for the next week.

But there might be other bits and pieces that don’t seem to get a look in until the weekend. Sorting out school clothes for Junior. Making the next set of birthday cards. Chipping away at Mini’s homework tasks.

As long as I can farm out at least some of the food production onto Dan, I don’t mind too much.

Mini gets a longer writing task for homework. Cue requirement to fit that in after school each day as well as usual homework for Junior.

Cue epic grumping on the first day, doodling and somewhat more compliance on the second day, and so on.

(These are Mini’s responses, not mine. But maybe I should try doodling and moderate compliance as a maternal gesture, sometime.)

Junior ends up with a day off school when the current cough going round gets to be a bit too much. Extra sleep? Check. Time for a film to aid recuperation? Check.

I even manage a coffee in town with Mum, and a spot of shopping together. New electronic scales (previous balance ones died). A step up for my Monday baking sessions.

There are bus diversions because of roadworks. So in turn, there are new routes home, hoping I’ve taken the right turns through neighbouring streets.

There is practicing for a forthcoming school assembly (more next time).

There are crocuses coming up in the park. And one day, even that first hint of spring-like light.

The birds don’t care. They’ve been singing away for weeks. Even with the recent run of wintry weather, they’re still at it.

So am I, in a way, typing away. Hoping that there will be a spring for the words I am still waiting for.

Maybe the tips are starting to show.

In the meantime, I’m joining the birds with some singing, with some help from Elizabeth Mitchell. This one’s been going through my head all week.


Weekly snapshot: 28 January

Storm brewing outside. We’ve let the kids know that it’s going to be noisy, but they are safe inside. I think they believe us (mostly).

I feel a bit the same, writing. Some days, it seems a gale goes on before I can sit down and write, and I’m only really writing once a week.

But once I start to write, I feel safe.

I like the blogs where I feel safe when I arrive. I know what to expect, to a certain extent. I like to be surprised at times, too.

I mostly feel safe through the choice of the writer’s words, their topics, their take on life. They’ve shown up and done their work; I get to sit and enjoy it.

This way round, doing my own writing, I’m reminded of that choice to put things down, for others as well as for oneself. To be real. To be me.

Here’s another week. It’s me, it’s real, and I feel safe thinking it over, hands above the keys.


Over the weekend, Dan and I both get ill at the same time.

Head colds, not the worst things in the world, but it means we’re vying for spare hankies, and hot drinks, and trying to give each other a break while really just wanting to be in bed asleep.

Still. It is a good excuse to stay put, let the weekend unfold. On the Saturday night, there is a concerted Put the Kids to Bed, as we just can’t hold it together much longer.

But the reward is in the takeaway curry, which no doubt helps our colds too. Certainly our spirits.

By the end of the weekend, we’re doing better. We do a bit of perspective-setting: could have been worse. Easier over the weekend than on school pickups. No one was actually being sick, etc.

It helps that there’s been a birthday, and there’s marzipan in the house. (Actually, marzipan just helps. Full stop.)


Time for a craft order – or rather, the happy aftermath when the box arrives and you can look over everything. With luck, this will keep us going for a good while ahead.

The kids love their craft stuff. There is general oohing and aahing over thin pens and thick pens. New decopens, probably our favourite item, that can colour on pretty much anything: wood, china, glass and so on.

I get a pack of different colours of wool as part of the order, and try to do something about the noble art of darning. Having found a good post about it recently, I decide to have a go.

It helps that I rediscover a pair of wool slippers this week, ones that were worn and worn and then developed holes. I was sad, didn’t know what to do about it exactly, hung onto them in hope.

So now I get to benefit from putting them back into active use – but no one is exactly checking out the quality of my workmanship on them. Unless I put my feet up conspicuously.

I am wearing my slippers as I type. Fairly soon, I’ll try washing them, and see if the wool felts as promised, to fill up the holes a bit more.


I’m finding that sewing is helping in the evenings. Some of it is family mending-type stuff. Some of it is more of an experiment (like the darning).

But there is something about having something to do with my hands as part of winding down at the end of the day.

Colouring is taking a bit of a back seat, for now. It’s still something to do with my hands, true, but not as active, or something like that.

In the meantime, we are on to a new box set of a favoured TV series – one that doesn’t need me to keep my eyes on the screen all the time. Sewing is fitting in with it just fine.


Mini and I read The Paper Dolls this week. I am informed that we have had it out of the library before, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t.

In brief: mum makes girl a set of paper dolls. They get names, they have adventures, indoors and out.

There is a moment of high drama, which I won’t spoil, but by the end, the girl has become a mum herself, and is making a set of paper dolls for her daughter. Cue new adventures.

There’s that natural pause at the end, and you think: well, we’d better make some paper dolls, then.

With a bit of thinking, and a couple of goes, we created a couple of sets of paper dolls. One (round head shapes plus trousers) was criticised early on; the next set incorporated skirts and longer sections for hair.

The trousers set were given girl names, but soon became boys when it came to playing. The skirt set also got girl names (think Betsy, Getsy, Gretsy…etc), and soon the two sets were playing together.

Well, for at least a few minutes.

Mini was taken enough by the idea to want to make some more, later in the week. I demonstrated the arms bit so that they would stay linked up; Mini came up with much of the rest.

(And learned, fairly quickly, that drawing lines for high heels means that you can’t cut them out. Cut alternate footwear solutions.)

Whether or not Mini will go ahead and make sets of paper dolls, far into the future, I don’t know. But I do like planting a seed, and seeing what happens.


I am trying to do Paid Writing too – aka copywriting. I get some done this week, but it seems to take longer to get my brain in gear.

Once I’m underway, it’s all right, but it seems to take a surprising amount of procrastinatory cleaning to begin.

The house is benefitting from it, though.

Fiction writing still seems a long way off, for now. But I am in that January phase where I want to do new things. Even if it’s tiny things, like fixing a sock or a woollen slipper.

Maybe the words are more like migrating birds. Usually, they flock in around September, jostling, ready for some time indoors as the weather turns colder.

I’m not really sure where they are this year. But I keep turning up, once a week, to see if some of their friends are available. Maybe they’ll come and join them soon.

I hope so.


Rain upon rain. Cold winds too. It’s January, and I do understand why people find it so hard.

(It helps to have a January birthday, so there’s something to look forward to after Christmas. Even if your expectations for your birthday can include snow, torrential rain, or just greyness.)

We do what we can. One foot in front of the other. Keep the warm gloves ready for school pick up.

Mini continues in drawing mode. Junior has been set a Minecraft challenge by Dan, and both are delighted with the results.

I stick with some more baking for another week, generally enjoying the results. A little bit of a rhythm is building up.

And there’s generally about enough time left, at the end of it all, to restore the kitchen to relative normality. (Aka normal levels of food debris. You know the deal.)

It’s not all creativity. There is also the overdoing it that brings on colds; the ongoing issue of the sheer impossibility of eating breakfast and getting dressed, Mummy!

But alongside it, there seem to be fewer friendship issues for the kids at school. More of a sense of continuity.

The long autumn term is over and done; the pattern has been set, and actually a bit of routine is doing us all good.


I too am settling into coming here, once a week, putting down some words.

They are no great shakes, really. They are bits and bobs; the ongoing run of life with kids.

But writing about them allows me to pause. To feel the safety of it, for me, in the routine. Hopefully for the kids too.

Tonight, I can still hear my thoughts against the noise of the wind. And that will do for now.


Weekly snapshot: 21 January

Enjoying silence tonight. (So far, anyway. Mini’s got a cold.)
I love those points when the house shuts down for the night, and there is a chance for some brain space.

What to say of the last week?


Peter Rabbit reigns supreme just now. Kind relatives bought Mini the whole set of Beatrix Potter books for Christmas, and we are working our way through them at bedtime.

It’s interesting to try books that I knew nothing of before. Ginger and Pickles run a rather strange shop, and go out of business fairly quickly.

We also have The Pie and the Patty Pan. Were I writing crime fiction, or something detective-y, this might be known as The Case of the Double Oven.

Suffice it to say, I am with the dog character on this: I would prefer not to eat mice pie, either.

Mrs Tittlemouse comes across as very OCD these days, but there are the wonderful characters of Babbity Bumble (the bee whose family has taken up lodging without asking), and the toad who sneezes when offered a plate of thistledown.

Reading more Beatrix Potter means we can also get out the audio CDs. Patricia Routledge and Michael Hordern are the readers, and you couldn’t want for more comforting voices.

Mini is very keen on The Tale of the Two Bad Mice. Maybe it’s the temptation to bash up the fake dinner, discovering that it was only plaster. Somewhat more overt violence for a children’s book.

For my part, I rather like the way that reading more in the series lets you meet certain characters again: the dolls of Bad Mice fame crop up again, visiting the shop which Ginger and Pickles own.

I have also introduced Mini to the Peter Rabbit series on CBeebies. This is generally going down well so far. Mini is less keen on the hectic guitar music for the series, and I have to agree – it’s a bit heavy, for such lovely pictures.

Whether or not we make it through the whole series remains to be seen. If so, I might finally finish Little Pig Robinson (started many years ago) for myself.


We have an early birthday celebration at my parents, which also allows for further Eating Up of Christmas food items. Two birds and all that.

To be honest, any offer of being fed that includes a) smoked salmon and b) me not cooking is generally to be seized. Swiftly.

Probably the main present of the day was the amazing views of snowy fields, as we drove out to the Borders. In one area, water had run off fields that slope above the road, forming brilliant icicles on the hedges.

Having driven through all this, the kids were fairly underwhelmed to see almost no snow on the ground outside my parents’ house.

Thankfully, Granny Ro was prepared to put boots on and go hunting for more snow with Mini. At least enough was found for a small snowball fight.

In fact, there was even some on the ground back at home, the following morning. The sledge, which gets more outings on grass on the back garden than anything else, did just fine on snow too, at a nearby park.

(It also worked well for dragging some snow back home after. I’m not sure if there was scientific enquiry, or just a thought to practise throwing snowballs at the fence. Probably more of the latter.)

The previously-mentioned joint project of building a hotel in Minecraft has gone a bit quiet. I’m not quite sure whether they’ve finished, or agreed to go back to individual game time.

In the meantime, Junior has decided to do a bit more work in Scratch, a visual programming tool which allows you to build little animations, and I’m sure much more.

Stop-motion is hanging in there as something to do when there’s ten whole minutes spare before heading off for school. And at other times too, if Daddy’s available for a bit more team effort.

I continue my own roles in this area: a) let them get on with it b) smile appreciatively when required c) leave Dan to figure out the rest when they get stuck.

Dan meanwhile has the opportunity to age by at least a decade. I’m trying out those patches for elbows, for when jumpers have holes in them.

So far, rather suspicious – and the stuff the patches are made out of smells a bit too. We’ll see how we get on. We can always remove the patches and go back to holes in elbows – it’s worked for us so far.

However, I am making some tentative attempts at darning – or at least, fixing a hole in one of Mini’s school jumpers with some embroidery thread.

It’s not quite the same colour. It’s not wool either. But knowing Mini’s abilities to expand holes in clothes, it’s a case of getting in quick now.

Buoyed by the success of last week’s apple cake, I did a bit more Solitary Baking this week. There were some gluten-free muffins, which I’d tried doing before and like.

I also had a go at making some granola, having found a new recipe with fewer nuts, but with the additions of ginger and cinnamon. So far, so rapidly disappearing.
I think that’s a good sign.

I think the kids are fairly happy at the prospect of me continuing this on a weekly basis, if they get cake for after school snacks. So am I really, if I get to eat some too. And there’s fruit or veg in too, so that has to count for something.

In the same session, I had a go at a kind of chicken pot pie. Chicken good, pastry bit not so much.

There was a reason why the recipe showed separate pie tins, and I’ve discovered it. There is actually such a thing as too much pastry after all.

Junior and I are doing a bit of language learning, to tie in with a series of books we’re reading. I’ve found that the textbook I used for it in the past is now online.

It seems that even this kind of practice is cool if you can drag and drop words into the right columns, and do other more interactive stuff.

And if you get them all right, on one exercise, you get a flock of butterflies covering your screen. Which, apparently, is an incentive as far as Junior’s concerned.

The real test is whether Junior can learn enough to teach a school friend, so they can both speak to each other without others knowing what they’re saying.

Nothing like spy requirements to put you under pressure to come up with the goods.

Meanwhile, day by cold (and by turns rainy) day, the light creeps back.

I know, from previous years, that by the end of the month, it’ll be light at five in the evening. It was almost properly light at eight this morning.

I walk round the park before pick up, and admire the allotments. The leeks stand proud like bundled ribbons. The other remaining veg appears to wear hairnets.

But despite the cold, the wet, the relative lack of promise on the ground, the birds are already singing more.

And on days when my hands are freezing, even despite warmer gloves, that’s a good thing.


Weekly snapshot: 14 Jan

I’d like to find the right words to describe the sky today. Cold, bright, slightly ruffled clouds.

The kind of winter day that lifts you up; the kind that also has you doing the morning footwear calculation for the kids. Shoes or boots?

Boots (wellies) won out, which was just as well: there were some puddles with ice on. Would have been a shame not to examine them close up i.e. wade through the puddles.

There’s snow on the hills today. Closer to the coast, you don’t really see the chill of the day, though you can feel it on your neck; in your hands.

(Replacing leather gloves in the sales? Turns out that was a very good plan.)


A while back, I learned about the notion of kaizen: little tiny changes, day by day, that add up to significant change.

Evidently kaizen means ‘good change’, and is a big thing in management circles in Japan.

I may have done New Year’s Resolutions in the past, but these days, it’s too easy for them to become an addition to the ‘to do’ list.

And with two kids in school, bringing home new bits of paper, sporting new holes in school uniform etc, there’s no lack of things to put on the ‘to do’ list.

So back to kaizen. I don’t feel the need to go into a full continuous improvement mindset any more; I’m not doing corporate stuff any more.

But a tiny bit of change, here and there, bit by bit – yes, it does add up. And you can then pat yourself on the back a bit, and see how it’s gradually coming together.

That’s the idea, anyway.


Maybe it’s kaizen. Maybe it’s rediscovering my mojo in a couple of areas. Earlier in the week, I ended up doing some baking.

Not world-changing, true. Thing is, I used to do quite a lot of baking. I liked it. It was something I felt reasonably good at.

Then we moved Junior onto a gluten- and dairy-free diet, and the baking mojo packed up and left.

It shouldn’t have to, I know. But baking was something about ease; about the feel of putting ingredients together without too much thinking.

Wheat-flour cooking was (not surprisingly) where I learned to bake, as a child, watching my mum make yet another batch of rockbuns.

(Yet another only really refers to the speed at which said rockbuns were consumed. We were all for as many batches of rockbuns as we could get. Still are, really.)

As an adult, continuing to bake, you draw on some of that ease, that breeziness of feeling ‘I know how this works’.

Baking free-from shouldn’t have to be that different – it’s just it’s not based on the same ease there used to be.

Anyway. Big breakthrough. I tried an apple cake, one I used to make a fair amount, having had some baking apples passed on to us.

I decided to make it as the recipe stated, just with gluten-free flour and baking powder, and dairy-free marg.

TOTAL success. It is maybe a little softer than the original, but in all other aspects, it feels like the original. So much so that I had to put some of it in the freezer to stop us eating it all on the spot.

Anyway. A small change. One that felt like: I can do this again. Even dusted off some cookbooks. Let’s see if I can add a further reworked cake to the list.


A new year, a few new TV series. The Young Montalbano series returns. We shout ‘Dottore!’ and make the appropriate supplicating hand gestures.

Today there’s sun, yes, but it’s been a pretty wet grey start to the year. Opportunities to look at sun and sea in Sicily, even if just on the telly? Si, por favore.


Junior and Mini have decided to collaborate and build a hotel together in Minecraft. I am not quite sure of the genesis of this project, but they both seem very keen on it.

In the spirit of encouraging talking to each other, rather than shouting at each other (not all the time, but…), we’ve upped their gametime slot, so they can talk and build.

So far, there is cake in every room, a certain number of ladders to climb, and a few more surprises.

Overheard today:

J: What shall we use this time? Shall we try quartz? Look, this is polished quartz.

M: OK. Is that sheep fluff?

It is fair to say that Mini’s interest in Minecraft is so far mostly around the animals (and occasionally blowing them up), so appreciation of building materials is newer.

Rest assured I shall appraise you of the inner workings of the hotel, once complete.


On a different kaizen-type note, I’m doing some sewing. It’s kind of addictive, in a positive, peaceful-repetition sort of way.

This is a very housekeeping sort of sewing. I’ve been able to take up hems on school trousers before, sew on nametapes, and other bits and pieces.

Now I’ve worked out how to add some material onto the bottom of kids’ pyjama bottoms to make them longer (and hopefully, reduce the need to buy new ones).

Flushed with success, I’ve also sussed a couple of things about waistbands. For one, I unpicked the waistband on another pair of pyjama bottoms, made the elastic shorter, and sewed it back up again.

I’m guessing this should work on regular kids’ leggings too.

A couple of other pairs of leggings, passed on, had lost all their elastic and wouldn’t stay up. These ones had a proper trousers-style waistband that I didn’t think I could safely take apart.

So I made a new bit of waistband out of a strip of material, sewed it over the existing waistband, then added new elastic. That seemed to work, so I did the same on the other pair.

So far so good. Mini is enjoying picking the contrasting material from my stash;
I am enjoying figuring out how to make something work. Everyone’s happy.


We are in a brave new world of using timers.

Junior has suddenly discovered the ability to get dressed much faster (and without me shouting through the door). With the option of trying to ‘beat the clock’, suddenly getting dressed is much more interesting.

This is transforming my mornings on school days, and Junior is also finding that, with a bit of time left over, there’s a chance to do something fun before heading out the door.

Meanwhile, the world of stop-motion films continues. Dan sets up a plain background, and he, Junior and Mini try making some little films for themselves.

So far, my role appears to be to make approving noises. And to provide snacks once it’s all done.

I can do that.


We have had a happy few days of seeing friends this month.

Some of these friendships go back well over a decade. It’s wonderful to find that we still have things to say to each other. Conversations form; we remember bits of each others’ shorthand.

Encouraged, I get the diary out today, and set up one or two more meetups.

Kaizen for introverts: leave the house and meet people. Good people.

Even one at a time will do just fine.