Monday, 28 October 2013

Helping Charis to Help Others

Send Charis to Malawi Project

Over the summer, my daughter Charis worked tirelessly to fundraise for a project called Medic Malawi, a charity that runs a hospital, an orphanage and a new eye clinic in one of the poorest parts of the world.

The main fundraiser was  a Musical Evening that she organised and performed in. She also hosted informal  'Charis Karaoke' events during which friends and family would pay £1 to sing a song to her piano accompaniment. She attempted to sell eggs (but our chickens were not very co-operative) and she did a sponsored 5K run. Ticket sales, sponsor money, donations and a grand total of £1 in egg sales all added up to an impressive amount.

The qualitiies that Charis demonstrated in her fund raising work  - initiative, hard work, creativity, determination and the ability to do it all with a smile on her face - were recognised by the charity and she was offered the opportunity to join a group of students from her school to travel to Malawi to see the work that was going on there for herself and to get involved in a hands on capacity. The experience would be invaluable to Charis whose ambition is to study medicine at University and has the potential to be life changing.

The trip will cost approximately £2,000.

In an incredible display of sibling love and support, two of Charis' sisters have started a campaign to help raise the money needed to cover the cost of the trip. I had tears in my eyes as I read the 'Send Charis to Malawi' Project Blog, the facebook page and the touching video that gives an insight into Charis as a person and the thought behind the campaign.

I am immensely proud of my daughters for what they are trying to do for Charis and I think it goes without saying that I am immensely proud of Charis for wanting to throw herself into work of the charity. 

I hope with all my heart that the campaign enjoys some success.

Please Help Charis Help Others by sharing the video, the blog, the facebook page or this post. Best of all, donations can be made very simply via the blog .

Many thanks for reading and for your support. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Two teddies find their smiles

Last Friday was a wonderfully serendipitous day.

It all began when I decided to sort out my knitting cupboard into some sort of organised system so that I could easily pick up a 'work in progress' without having to search through piles of mess. The mess is how it came to be that Usain Bolt's impressive limbs remained detached from his slightly overstuffed torso and lead him to become a subject for a Gallery post rather than a finished product. Even small obstacles can serve as a deterrent to success and the 'mess' became a large obstacle quicker than the real Mr Bolt could sprint the 100metres.

So I tidied. Knitting patterns cut from magazines were slotted into punched pockets and put in a file. Unravelling yarns were rewound into neat balls. Like was stored with like. Bits of rubbish were binned. Everything fitted back into the  cupboard with considerably more ease. All that was left was to remind myself of the forgotten 'works in progress' and make a decision about whether they were worth finishing.

One of the forgotten works was a pair of trauma bears that my mum and I had knitted. They were complete but for the faces. My mum is a very competent knitter but is the first to admit that when it comes to the finishing touches, she can be very far from her comfort zone. She left me with the task of embroidering the faces onto the bears and I honestly had every intention of doing it. I just put it off for a while. When guilt forced me into action, I went back to the website that had launched the trauma bear appeal to look for any tips on how to do the face. I wasn't sure if I was disappointed or relieved to read a new article about the massive response they had had and how they had been inundated with teddies from knitters far and wide. Our lovingly knitted trauma bears were now surplus to requirement. I wrapped them in a plastic bag, still faceless, and buried them in the cupboard.

Rediscovering the bears reminded me of how much we had enjoyed knitting them and how nice it had been to be doing it for such a good cause. I wondered what I should do with them now.

It was that very evening that the same friend who had first told me about the trauma bear appeal came over to see me with a favour to ask. She had been talking to one of the volunteers in a local charity shop who had been putting together shoe boxes of Xmas gifts for disadvantaged children. The idea of including a small knitted toy was mentioned and my friend thought of me. She came to ask if there was any possibility of my mum and I getting out our needles and making something along the same lines as the bears.

As she was asking, I couldn't believe the happy coincidence. I told her about the two faceless teddies that had languished in the cupboard for too long and how happy it would make me to finish them off and donate them.

And that is what I did.

The task that had filled me with dread before became an exciting challenge and it wasn't all that difficult to do to what I considered an acceptable standard. They are both back in their plastic bag and ready to be taken to the charity shop. Only this time, they can look out and smile. And I can smile too.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Competition at Trade Radiators

There is a great little competition with Trade Radiators  at the moment to win £1000 of John Lewis vouchers (but hurry it closes on 7th November)

To enter, you need to submit a photograph of any household object that seems to have a face.  There are some fantastic examples already that are well worth a look.

I was reminded of a photograph I took some time ago. The waste trap in my sink had caught a few small bits of potato peel that just so happened to arrange themselves into a smiling face. I took the photograph because I found it so cheering looking up at me. Maybe I will submit this as my entry or maybe I will go on a new search to find an expression on an inanimate object.

Door handles are always good. This one from my bathroom door is always sticking its metal tongue out at me as I perform my ablutions

 It certainly makes you look at things in a slightly different way.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Big Knit

It has been about a year since I last picked up my knitting needles.

It's daft really because I enjoy knitting and I was pleased as anything with the last project I completed, my Zombie. It's like a lot of the things I enjoy - dancing, playing guitar, painting, reading, running,  photography, decorating... - there is simply not enough time to dedicate to them all. Knitting was one of the hobbies that slipped down the priority list and landed in the holding pen to be rediscovered later.

'Later' came yesterday.

I had heard about a campaign from Innocent to raise money for the Age UK charity. The campaign was called The Big Knit and the idea was for people to knit little woolly hats that would be placed on Smoothie bottles to be sold next month. For every 'hatted' bottle sold, 25p would be donated towards the cause. I thought I had missed the deadline to submit the hats but when it was extended, I knew it was a project that I wanted to get involved with - along with my trusty knitting partner, my mum.

Mum came to visit yesterday and after lunch, we printed a knitting pattern from the Big Knit web page and got cracking (or perhaps I should say clicking). We opted for the most basic design but took a moment to marvel at the intermediate and advanced designs on display.

I wasn't even sure I'd remember how to knit, but I did. The pattern, true to its word, was very easy. It was no time at all before our first hats were completed. All that was left to do was make little bobbles to sew on top for decoration. My daughters Ivy and Charis were both available to help so I delegated the task of bobble production to them. They were willing - but not very able. Ivy nearly cut her finger off and Charis decided it would be easier to learn to knit. Sadly, that was not the case!

Charis - talented musician, gifted scholar, rubbish knitter!

Between us, with some input from dad who never likes to be left out, we muddled through with laughter aplenty. We made five in total - four bobble hats and one Hallowe'en inspired design that I made up. I felt proud of our efforts.

It was a lovely project to take part in - lots of fun to do and helping a worthwhile charity.
Ours are all ready for posting. I can't help but wonder where they will end up. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Gallery

It has been a long time since I took part in The Gallery at Sticky Fingers, a weekly linky where you share photographs on a theme. I was reminded of it yesterday with a tweet from Tara Cain, author of the blog.

'Body Parts' was the theme for week 41 of the Gallery and has been resurrected for this week, week 162 (it really has been a long time since I took part!). And yes, @PaulaHaylock (aka me) did post a picture of a willy.

I am joining in today with the following Body Parts.

This was an attempt I made to knit Usain Bolt during the excitement of the 2012 Olympics. The poor woollen chap has spent the last year buried in my craft cupboard in this dismembered form. I fear that may be as good as it gets for him.

For anyone interested, here is the link to my original Body Parts contribution: 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A discovery in the dusty archives

I have been doing a lot of clearing up, de-cluttering and reorganising lately - tackling the areas of chaos that I have steadfastly ignored on previous attempts to sort my life out. The mood has followed me into my little corner of cyberspace - deleting anything that served no useful purpose.

I found a draft blog post from the beginning of July 2011. Although I had published an abbreviated version as part of a Reasons to be Cheerful post, I had never published the full version. Neither had I deleted it. As I read through, every word I had written still rang true. Apart from the fact that my son is now three and a half and the cake is a very distant memory, I really could have written this post today. For that reason, I have decided to rescue it from the the dusty archives and publish it now.

Summer 2011

My baby boy turned one this week, which inevitably involved cake.

But it wasn't all about cake. It was a lot about reflection and celebrating the huge amount of joy that the little fellow has brought into my life.

I never expected to be a mum to a boy. I had four daughters in my first marriage and felt that my family was complete. I did not long for blue baby clothes and trains sets. My girls were everything to me.

When my marriage failed irretrievably I had no idea what the future would hold. I felt so blessed to find a man I truly love and we have a life together that is better than anything I might have dared to wish for. I did not expect babies to feature in my new life. I thought I was probably too old to have much left in the way of fertility. I am so glad that I was wrong.

My first child with my new man was another girl. Was I disappointed? How could I be? I had a beautiful baby girl that I fell in love with instantly.

Against the odds, when I fell pregnant again at the age of 46, I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like if this child was a boy. The pregnancy felt different and I wondered if that was an indication but I was far more concerned with having a healthy baby to give the whole gender issue much consideration.

When people said to me that they bet I was hoping for a boy this time, I would reply that  a boy would shake things up and be fun but a girl would fit much more neatly into my life.

I didn't get neat!

When that baby was born and I saw it was a little boy it was quite hard to take in. Even now, a year later,  I look at him and have to almost say it out loud YOU'RE A BOY.

He's a laid back, happy little soul, generous with his kisses and cuddles. He loves his food. He is strong and tough and has the softest skin. He loves anything with wheels. He has an expressive little face and a smile that shows his cute, baby teeth.

I love him with a whole new flood of love that came from a place inside me that I didn't even know existed.

He is my son. One day he will be man.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Make Do and Mend

To say that money is tight for me at the moment would be a bit like saying the Universe is quite big - a classic understatement. I am having to watch every penny.

There are some aspects to economising that I really enjoy. I feel much more inspired when I go grocery shopping if I know I have to stick to a budget and I am more creative with the meals I make. I also do a lot more baking which the kids love.

There are other aspects that are simply grim - no take-aways, not even allowing myself to think about Christmas.

When I changed my bed clothes recently, I noticed that there was a ragged tear in the fitted sheet. Normally, that would have been consigned to the dust sheet/rag bag and a new one would have been purchased.

Not this time.

This time my 'make do and mend' mentality had me reaching for my sewing kit.

My mother prides herself on being a master of the invisible mend.  She has never taught me any of her techniques. I wondered if they might have been passed on through the wonder of genetics.

They hadn't!

But at least my (slightly bumpy) sheet lives on the see another bedtime.

Monday, 21 October 2013

My Little Year One Schoolgirl

With half term rapidly approaching, my little girl is very well settled into being a year one. I am so pleased with the progress she is making and how much she loves school and learning.

This is a letter that she wrote at the beginning of the summer holidays.

A quick translation for anyone not completely in tune with emergent writing reads: To everyone, I love you so much. You've been nice to me. Especially the teachers and the children. From Addy.

I found that incredibly heartwarming and encouraging.

Her little notes aren't always so lovely. This more recent one requires no translation though possibly some explanation!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Twilight Race for Life 2013 - The Day of the Race

When you sign up for something like the Race for Life, you imagine perfect weather, being in peak physical condition and having a wonderful time. The reality of it as the day approached was wet, miserable weather and my daughter recovering from a knee injury that meant she hadn't run in weeks. We weren't sure if she would be able to run the full distance but we were determined to make it round even if I had to carry her and whatever the weather threw at us, we were going to have a wonderful time.

On the day of the race, I was pleasantly surprised to see blue skies and sunshine. I was hopeful that the weather would hold out for us. As I was getting ready in my 'Cancer, we're coming to get you' bright pink T shirt, there was a heavy downpour that prompted me to pack emergency rain ponchos. I ignored the sudden change in the weather and carried on regardless, adorning myself in pink fairy lights, getting my little team of supporters ready with some pink floral face painting and pinning on my race number and tribute to my sister who was a victim of the disease we were all coming together to fight. The final touch was some pink lip gloss.

It was light still when we left for the venue at Trentham Gardens in Stoke but by the time we arrived, it was already starting to get quite dark. Ladies in pink with various illuminations were everywhere to be seen. It felt instantly like being part of something special. I had bought pink fairy lights for my daughter but unfortunately, did not have the AA batteries needed to power them. We'd 'borrowed' the batteries from the TV remote control for her but her lights were dim in comparison to mine. I think she felt a little put out that she wasn't lighting up like a Christmas tree but a bigger concern was whether her knee was recovered enough to withstand the rigours of running 5K.

The weather was perfect - dry and mild. The emergency rain ponchos were superfluous to requirement. The venue was perfect - a beautiful lake reflecting moonlight from a full moon in a cloudless sky. It was hard to get a proper feel for the grounds in the dark but I saw enough to  make me want to return during the daytime. We could see parts of the route marked out with tape, big arrows and rotating lights in the ground. A stunning effect was achieved at various point around the course by uplighting trees. The pink uplighters were particularly beautiful and fitting. We could see the starting line. I couldn't wait to get going and I knew that I was going to love this.

First we had the warm up and then a minute silence to remember those who have lost their lives to cancer. And then we were off....

The route snaked around the grounds of Trentham Gardens with terrain varying from gravel to grass to hard surfaces to wet muddy, potholed, tarmac. It certainly kept things interesting. Some parts were floodlit, some parts were spookily dark. I think I smiled the whole way round. From some vantage points you could see an almost endless stream of runners, joggers and walkers creating a mesmerising vista of light.

My daughter did amazingly well. I only had to slow down for her once and although I lost her for a while towards the end of the race, she put in a massive effort to catch up with me so we finished almost together. We celebrated with a packet of jelly babies and a well earned bottle of Aqua Pura.

It was a wonderful experience and it felt good to be doing something positive for an important charity. I would strongly urge anyone who was considering taking part to absolutely GO FOR IT!!

My daughter's thoughts on the Race for Life Experience:

Friday, 18 October 2013

Pink and Twinkly - Pinkly?

It has been a bit of a bad week for me this week and my running has suffered as a result. I haven't actually been out for a run for ten days.

Tomorrow I am running the Race for Life and I'm not sure if my unscheduled break in training will have a huge detrimental effect or if in fact I will actually be so desperate to feel those endorphins I'll have to be held back until the starters orders.

I suspect the latter.

If I have to go upstairs, I run. If I have to go out into the garden to feed the chickens or some such thing, I run. Just going back to the car after dropping the kids off at their schools, I run. These tiny bursts of activity do feel good.

I am very much looking forward to having the opportunity tomorrow to run for 5K - to stretch my legs, to breathe deeply, to feel my body working...

...and to say that I'm not looking forward to dressing in pink and adorning myself with fairy lights would be a lie.

For training tips, inspiration and photos visit Race for Life's sponsor Aqua Pura's website at

Thursday, 17 October 2013


I think most people are aware of the benefits of drinking plenty of water - alertness, clearer skin, weight control and more energy to name just a few. The recommended intake is eight glasses per day. So simple. Yet why do so many of us (myself included) fail to do this?

For me, not drinking enough water is usually accompanied by drinking too much coffee. The inevitable result is a blinding headache. I curse myself for the stupidity of this but know without a doubt that it will happen again. It ought not to be too difficult to choose a nice refreshing glass of water over a hot beverage but somehow I find myself reaching for the kettle and promising that next time I'll opt for the healthier alternative.

I do find it easier to get closer to my eight glasses a day if I carry bottled water with me and drink little and often. Of course the method is only effective if you actually get that bottle of water and carry it with you. I always have a stock of it on the floor of my larder but there are many more days that pass by without me doing it than with.

If I fail to hydrate adequately, it is very noticeable when I exercise. When I run, I get the feeling in my mouth like I've been licking gummed envelopes. Lots of gummed envelopes! It is unpleasant and it does make it harder to breathe efficiently. I run slower. I enjoy it less. If I am going on a long run or it is particularly warm I do take water with me to avoid this. There are belts designed to carry small sports bottles but my preference is to simply carry a bottle in my hand. At first, I found the sloshing of it with every step a little off putting but have since come to enjoy the gentle sounds and fluid motion. It can be quite relaxing and help me find a rhythm that maintains a good pace. Even so, running unencumbered is still my first choice.

This Saturday, I am going to be running The Race for Life. It is all about taking part rather than trying to go as fast as possible and I am going to be running with my daughter who is recovering from an knee injury. We are anticipating an easy pace. However, even an easy pace makes demands of your body when you maintain it over five kilometres. The Race for Life is sponsored by Aqua Pura and I know that I will be well and truly ready for the bottle handed to you as you cross the finish line. Nothing tastes better than that first mouthful after you have exerted yourself.

I'm going to try really hard to hold onto that good feeling to remind me to drink more water everyday. I know I'll never be ready to dispense with my kettle completely but I can at least aim for a better balance. I know my body will thank me for it.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Race for Life 2013

Back in the summer of 2011, I took part in a Race for Life Event with my daughter Liberty - running 5K with an army of women dressed in pink to raise money for Cancer Research. Despite a distinct lack of proper training ( a few sessions on a treadmill) I loved it. I loved the atmosphere. I loved the sense of achievement it gave me. I loved the fact that the charity was benefiting.

This coming Saturday, my daughter and I will be taking part in our second Race for Life - this time a Twilight Event. Not to be confused with the glittery vampires, the Twilight Event takes place during the evening and competitors are encouraged not just to don the trademark pink but to drape themselves with fairy lights and anything twinkly or luminescent. It has the potential to be quite a spectacle!

Since our first experience with running 5K, my daughter and I undertook a beginners training programme with our local running club. Over the eight weeks of the programme, we graduated from running a minute/walking a minute eight times up to running without stopping for thirty minutes. It was not then a huge leap of faith to run 5K without stopping, which I did in about 36 minutes on my first try.  I now run 5K on average twice a week, taking part in regular Parkruns whenever busy lives allow. I have yet to achieve my goal of completing the distance in under 30 minutes but I am ever hopeful.

The Race for Life is not about achieving a new personal best for the distance. It is about taking part in something wonderful. It is about sharing an experience not just with my daughter but with all the women coming together - united in a common purpose. I am so looking forward to it.

The Race for Life is sponsored by Aqua Pura 

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Chicken Diaries #3

For someone who has been used to the graded supermarket eggs, it did come as a surprise to me that four chickens of the same age and breed, sourced from the same farm and now living together in the same environment could produce eggs of such inconsistent size.

I actually love getting my big eggs and little eggs. They are useful for different purposes.

As well as inconsistencies in size, the number of eggs we get each day varies. Whenever we get a day when all four hens lay, it is a cause for celebration (often in the form of a fried egg sandwich). For a while, we thought that none of them were laying. I was worried that they were somehow not happy. Were we not feeding them enough? Did they not like the space we had created for them? Then, my daughter found a nest they had made at the foot of one of the huge lleylandi trees that form our back boundary - a nest full of eggs.

It does give me so much pleasure having the chickens. Despite the need to get up early to let them out and to remember to shut them away safely at dusk, I do not regret the decision to get them one tiny bit. The greatest pleasure is how much my children enjoy the task of going to collect the eggs, especially when they don't return empty handed.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Fruity Start to Autumn

I've been really lucky this year with friends offering me fruit from their gardens. Juicy plums have been turned into pie filling for the freezer whilst my daughters made a delicious plum sponge. Apples, pears and damsons have been turned into crumbles and muffins and apple cake and yet more pie fillings. My freezer is beginning to look full of the promise of warming desserts to see us through the cold winter months.

Often, my kitchen will look like this...

...but the chickens enjoy picking over the waste before it finds its way into the compost bin.

I have a grape vine in my greenhouse and the crop of grapes this year has been the best yet.

The children aren't too keen on eating them because they are not seedless so I set about making some Grape Jelly. I found the recipe on the BBC Good Food website which is rapidly becoming my first port of call when I need inspiration. My father in law, who was staying with us at the time, kindly helped me in the kitchen and between us we made a beautiful bright red jelly with a gorgeous flavour and good set. The only disaster that we had (and it was a pretty major disaster) was that my one jar cracked when we poured the jelly in. We improvised and used a pyrex jug instead. It was the best solution at the time but it has been inconvenient not having my jug available to use and does not quite have the 'homemade jam' charm when brought to the table! On the plus side, the jelly is disappearing rapidly (delicious with scones) so my jar will be back in my cupboard soon.

I made a second batch of the jelly when I had collected some more jars. I hoped that I could save a jar to have with croissants for our Christmas day breakfast. I heated and mashed the washed fruit to release the juice and sieved it overnight through muslin.

I boiled it with Jam Sugar and lemon juice until it reached 105ยบ on a sugar thermometer. I poured it into my jars which didn't crack this time. It had the same fantastic colour. It smelt divine. It totally refused to set!

I need my father in law back.

I may not have my Christmas day jam but I do have some rather tasty grape sauce - perfect for pouring over icecream.

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