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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: 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.


Weekly snapshot: 7 Jan

Where to begin?

So starts another year. So maybe the writing can start again.

A couple of days back, Dan brought some photo albums down from the attic. He’d promised to show the kids some pictures from a particular trip; a few more albums made it downstairs with him.

Some of this was filling-in work: that’s Grandpa .. [who you didn’t get to meet], or Auntie..
That kind of thing.

Today I looked again at an album with a mix of pictures that Dan took and others that are mine. A varied selection: lots of places, lots of people, across a wide range of years.

We took a lot of photos as students, Dan and I. No iPhones, no Facebook, no Instagram, and still, lots of images, now corralled into an album. (Lots of albums, actually.)

If we wanted to share them, we posted off the film to Tripleprint and handed round lots of tiny photos – to parents wanting to find out what we were up to, to flatmates wanting to keep a shared memory.

Today, I look and try to remember the details: of group shots; of where a particular photo was taken. I peer in on the extra social details that emerge as I look back at a distance of more than a decade.


There’s a post on Facebook at the moment, a jokey one that sums up some of the quandry of the whole memory capturing thing.

The idea is that someone walks around, acting out all the tropes of Facebook: taking photos of everything, doing big thumbs up if they like something; running around telling everyone what they had for breakfast.

By the end of the story, people are looking to lock them up. You get the idea.

All these things we now expect to share, all this scrutiny of minutae. We surely don’t need all of it.

I don’t want to get into telling you what I eat for lunch, day by day, nor even taking photos of it. I figure you don’t need to know, and you are fully capable of making your own lunch decisions.

But still. A bit of capturing of the moment can be good. Because we don’t know when we’ll be looking back on it, and wondering what life was like then; trying to reconnect with the feeling of it.

I look at these old photos, and it feels good. Some we can share with the kids; parts of our lives-before-parenthood that they sometimes hear about.

Others, I may want to look at with Dan, and think back. Who was that person in the back row? Why did we go there? (How long did I get away with wearing that jumper? and so on.)

So in the interests of a future self, I’ve decided to go back to a few little snapshots. By blog. And if you want a riffle through, that’s fine too.

Who knows, 2016 may even be the year I finally get some photos on the blog.
(I realise I’ve been saying this for a long time. So don’t hold your breath.)

Enter the weekly snapshot.


The T-shirts turned into cushions make a comeback. I started on some of these a while back. Now it’s Mini’s turn to get a few.

The idea is that particularly favoured T-shirts don’t just get passed on; they find a permanent place at the end of the bed to prop up the soft toy collection, or maybe offer a few moments of snuggling.

In short: sew up the bottom of the T-shirt; unpick the arms and resew along the armhole; maybe cut off a bit of the neckline to make a flatter top.

I discover that you can pretty much get through a whole T-shirt, start to finish, in the time it takes to watch a feature film, plus a bit more. And it’s quite fun to let Mini come through for breakfast and find a new cushion on the sofa, waiting for attention.


We have passed the stage of Eating up Deli Items. (This happens between Christmas and New Year; use by dates on cheese and all that.)

We are now into the stage of Eating up Cake. And very pleasant it is too.

Having gone through a whole stollen before Christmas (ahem), thankfully we were given another stollen as a present. We’ve managed to eke this one out a bit more. (It’s all about marzipan, but the cake helps out.)

I’m sure there could be the potential for fresh ingredients, fresh ideas, that kind of thing.
But it remains to be said: there are Things to Eat Up First.

(And I know there’s plenty of soup in the freezer still, to balance things out a bit.)


On the same attic-roaming trip, I rediscover a few things, including a magnetic calendar.
Both kids are very taken with it.

(It needs talking Mini out of a grump, when I confirm that the calendar needs to live in the sitting room, and cannot just be annexed to one person’s bedroom.)

Now, of course, there is a new area of breakfast-time bickering to be had. Who will change the day of the week? Who will change the date? How many times a day can we update the weather picture?

We’ll see how long it lasts. Whether it needs an Official Parenting Decree: child A shall be tasked with moving the month ONLY. Child B must wait until xyz until moving their element on the calendar. And so on.

I am reminded, again: not too much change at once. At least, not in items that make up the daily landscape.


It’s back to school week, and we have to tackle the expectation that everyday is a film-watching day.

Junior and Mini have had lots of days at home over the holidays, which makes it very easy to fit in a film. If you cut out going to school, doing homework, wearing uniform (getting dressed, even), then you are pretty much down to:

  • eating (several times, of course)
  • playing (lots)
  • watching a film.

You see their point. (There is obviously also space for a spot of sibling annoyance; a moment of disgust when asked to do something like putting away clothes. Everyone needs a little variety.)

Sadly, when you put the school-time things back in, you can’t quite fit in the film slot.

Unless you are a parent, trying to comfort yourself over the gradual reappearance of the alarm clock in your life. Then you put the kids to bed, engage in some sparring over what to watch, and settle in with a film.

It’s also a great excuse to avoid doing anything with the Christmas cards.


The main thing to tell you, of course, is that I have a new set of felt-tip pens for colouring.

And I’m not afraid to use them.

How I stopped writing and learned to love felt tips

Hello again. A month passes. I make plans to write, really I do.

Instead, I head back to doing some colouring, when the evening comes round and my time is (relatively) my own.

Because, at least for now, colouring is good. Colouring is peaceful. Colouring gives you something nice to look at the end.

And colouring is really the last thing I would have expected to find myself doing, even a year ago.


Somewhere near the start of this year, one night, I found myself out of sorts. I needed something to do with my hands.

Not cooking. Not typing. Not sewing. Just something that felt like…not work.

I found a few of my kids’ colour-in birthday cards that hadn’t been done. I half-inched a pot of felt tips out of a sleeping child’s room, and made a start.

It was…peaceful. I even sent a few of them, to other grownups who know me well enough that I can send them coloured-in birthday cards done by me.


I had a set of fine tipped felt pens, bought for a journalling thing that didn’t quite take off.
I had a couple of books of geometric colouring designs, bought for the kids’ craft stash.

At some point, I decided to combine the two. And the whole thing took off.

Much later, I started to see colouring books everywhere. In bookstores, bargain stores, in magazines sent by people who want you to buy their books.

There was all this mindfulness stuff mentioned in the blurb for the colouring books. And I’m pretty sure it’s there. If you want it to be.

But maybe for me, the six- or seven-year-old me that used to colour grids of squares and triangles and hexagons had made a reappearance.


I’m not great at drawing. I understand, yes, that I can be better, that practice is true for drawing as well as for writing, cooking, roller-skating, and many other key things in life.

But in the meantime, I can do colouring. In fact, I can imagine I’m in somewhere in North Africa, or maybe southern Spain, gradually putting together a mosaic floor.

That’s the kind of colouring I find myself doing the most. Sometimes there are flowers and leaves, and tendrils, and, you know, I put up with them too.

But what I like most is the geometric stuff. And what I like even more than just the colouring is the outlining, especially where you do a lot of it.

Then it starts to feel like you are not just involved in the shapes, but that you are somehow creating them. Straight line after straight line combine, and all of a sudden you have a twelve pointed star, that you would not have been able to manage otherwise.


What I also really like are those moments when you look up from what you are doing, or turn the paper a bit to do a fiddly bit.

And suddenly, you see a new element in the design that you hadn’t been able to see before. The squares that interlock between the triangles; the succession of new shapes marching off across the page.

There’s something that is both very small (line after line after line after LINE), and something that is very big: the way that space works; the way that shapes fit together.

That’s not the kind of thing I’ve been used to looking at so much. But I could get used to it.

I find that I do.

Lit Kid: pulling strings and lifting flaps

Mini Reader continues to have some clearly expressed views about books. Amongst them are:

Flaps are good.

There is a whole slew of lift the flap books out there. Mini has a particular fondness for Spot the dog, who has a good number of flap books to his credit, but there are many others besides that get the seal of approval.

For those mini readers who can’t yet read, may not be quite at spelling things out, but still want to interact with a book, flaps give the opportunity to do something while reading. And hopefully find some fun surprises too.

So here’s a little round-up of lift the flap books – and their cousins, those ‘pull the tab’ types. (I’ll explain more below.)


Where’s Spot? – Eric Hill

Much of the fun of lift the flap books is about finding things. It’s the book equivalent of Hide and Seek, or Peek a Boo.

In this book, Spot’s mum is looking for him at teatime, but she can’t find him.

As she searches round the house, she finds lots of places he isn’t – but a number of other animals are there instead. Hippos, snakes, penguins, they’re all here – as are the opportunities to give them voices as you read.

One of the things I like about this one is the false ending. The mummy dog thinks she’s found Spot, gets fooled again – and then gets a tip as to where he actually is.

Having found him, there’s still the drawing him back to why she was looking for him in the first place: there’s a meal to be eaten.

I like the ‘bounce’ of the illustrations for Spot. They are simple, but there is something in the quality of the illustrations that adds humour.

I also like the choices of animals: not just the hippo but also one of the little birds that hangs out with hippos. Not just one, but three penguins, all ready to tell you that you’ve not found him quite yet.

We’re equally fond of Spot Bakes a Cake. The child can relate to an adult’s birthday coming up, and wanting to be involved. Spot predictably gets a bit carried away with the mixing and the icing, but the result is still appreciated.

I like the author’s ear for understanding how children see themselves having achieved the whole – when actually a parent has been alongside them for much of the process.

So Spot’s dad congratulates him on the cake (complete with decorative dog bones), and Spot says:

‘Thanks Dad. Mum helped a bit.’


Rod Campbell is also well known for flap books. Dear Zoo is a classic – the kind where a child tries to choose a pet, but the various choices don’t quite suit.

(If you like that kind of storyline, I also highly recommend Lauren Child’s I Want a Pet, and Satoshi Kitamura’s A Boy Wants a Dinosaur – both for older readers than the flap book types, but both lots of fun.)

Rod Campbell’s visual style is quite similar to that of Eric Hill, so if your child likes one, they’ll probably like the other.


On the non-fiction side of things, Usborne has cornered the market with lift the flap books with a difference. These are large scale hardbacks, but on all kinds of different subjects, particularly history and science.

In this case, lifting the flap means finding out more: seeing inside the body, or a medieval castle, or the workings of a toaster. The range is called See Inside, and I can highly recommend them.

While there’s a focus on being informative, there’s also a good sense of humour too – a little gentle poking fun at the weirder aspects of life in the past (e.g. the inner workings of Roman bath houses), or of our bodies, and so on.

If you have readers who like spotting things, being able to spot the flap and find out more works well. See these as natural companions if your junior readers are of the Guiness Book of World Records persuasion.


Lift the flaps are fairly easy, and a good intro to those all-important paper-moving skills which allow you to turn the page.

But there are plenty of books which combine them with more complex mechanisms, including tabs to pull, wheels to move round, and so on.

So the final cheer goes to The Tickle Book, which has flaps, tabs, wheels, and generally all three, on every double spread.

Author Ian Whybrow is also the one behind Harry and the Dinosaurs books, while illustrator Axel Scheffer (of Gruffalo fame) leads a quirky touch to the drawings.

The elusive Ticklemonster (who can be coaxed out of hiding with the appropriate tab or flap) is a fairly wild looking being, complete with a feather duster for enhanced tickling. Ken Dodd would be proud.


The downside to flaps, tabs and the rest is the overall wear and tear.

It’s not so bad on board books, but even there the flaps can become permanently folded or – sometimes with library books – removed altogether by an over-enthusiastic hand.

So if your readers are more on the mini side of things, and your book is multi-tabbed, urge a little caution. Model how to use the various parts of the book carefully.

And if the worst has already come to the worst, most of these can still be moved about with a finger if the tab or wheel has ceased to function or has gone missing entirely.


We all like a few surprises. For your mini readers, surprises that are predictable –
the equivalent of telling a favoured joke again and again.

For your junior readers, genuine surprises and discoveries are in order – the kind that evoke at least a few wows, and maybe some giggles too.