Tuesday, 30 September 2014


My first husband left me for a younger woman who he likes to dress in designer clothes and expensive jewellery. He lives abroad in an immaculate, individually designed modern house with a swimming pool, gym and games room. He travels to the most beautiful and exotic places. He has brand new cars and the very latest electronic gadgets. He stays in luxury hotels, dines out at the best restaurants and drinks good wine.

Does any of this make me jealous?

Honestly - no.

I love my make do life style, battered old car, hand me down technology, budget holidays, the odd takeaway and whatever wine happens to be on special offer.

But there is one thing - one thing that stirs the murky depths where the green eyed monster resides.

His garage door.

His garage door is remote controlled and glides effortlessly open as he approaches. It closes with the same satisfying simplicity and for all I know might even pour him a whiskey and bring him his slippers.

If his garage door were a sleek, soft footed cheetah commanding the African plains, mine would be a scabby flea ridden feral cat - all teeth, claws and bad temper.

I was composing this post in my head as I was cleaning the inside of my car. My anxiety about having to close the garage door was growing as I ran out of interior to vacuum and polish. The inevitable battle with the door was becoming increasingly imminent.

The bitter jealousy was getting a grip on my otherwise good mood.

I faced my nemesis armed only with a rough knowledge of the sequence of kicks and shoves to get the door aligned in the frame and the final wiggle with the key that required the concentration and steady hand of a safe breaker.

I honestly don't know what happened next. The door cooperated. It slid into place, I turned the key. Job done.

The jealous rage that had been threatening to explode turned into a happy smile. Life is good.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Sandman Triathlon

On Sunday, the sun shone and I was at the seaside.

This was no ordinary trip to the seaside though. I was there to support my husband as he took part in his first Sandman Triathlon which started and finished on the beautiful Llanddwyn beach in Anglesey.

My two little ones were with us but once they saw the sand and the water, any thoughts of supporting daddy were quickly forgotten. It made it quite a difficult day for me trying to balance keeping an eye out for two adventurous children having the time of their lives and keeping an eye out for my husband so I could offer the appropriate words of encouragement. A difficult day - but one I was so glad to be a part of.

The first of my many 'difficulties' arose as I tried to walk the children the mile or so to the beach from the caravan where we were staying. It was a beautiful location with views over the Menai Straits and a stunning forest trail down to the beach. The same trail formed part of the 10K route that the triathletes would have to run having finished their 1000m sea swim off Llanddwyn beach and their 60km cycle around the island of Anglesey. The effort it took to drag my reluctant four year old son along the trail would probably have rivalled the effort put in by the athletes chasing personal bests. It was hard work and as a result, we were late getting to the start of the race. The good news was that the start time was delayed. The bad news, even with the delay, we still didn't make it down in time to wish daddy luck.

We were in time to see in the distance, the crowd of yellow swimming capped wetsuited hopefuls (of which I knew daddy was one) run into the sea and begin their arduous battle against waves, currents and fatigue.

My husband is a strong swimmer with a lazy stroke that could never be described as graceful but his long arms pull him through the water with efficiency. He has swum the Dee Mile and between the piers in Brighton. I didn't think the swim would pose too great a problem for him so I was very surprised when I saw him staggering clumsily out of the water looking as though he was in trouble. I found out later that he had been kicked in the face near the start when everyone is jostling for position. As well as being slightly stunned by the blow, the impact had knocked his prescription goggles off his head. Not being able to see properly was disorientating him.

Meanwhile, my son found out what happens when the tide creeps in and you fail to step backwards.

Somehow, my husband made it to his bicycle but clearly wasn't quite recovered form his ordeal as he tried to cycle off in his wetsuit! I would have loved to have been there to witness this but I was having a troublesome time trying to persuade my children to come with me to the transition area. We eventually got there but not in time to even see him riding away up the hill into the distance. We clapped a few of the other participants then went for a  picnic that included for me, a very welcome flask of coffee.

The children were happy blowing bubbles, playing sword fighting with inflatables and running around so we stayed near the entrance to the transition area and waited for daddy to cycle in.

He had estimated that the cycle would take him 2 hours and he did it in 2:10:57. I mentioned at the very beginning of this post that the sun shone. This was his undoing. As much as the children and I were enjoying the sunshine, overheating and dehydration are deadly enemies of anyone exerting themselves. My husband ran out of water and began to suffer the consequences. His cheery wave to us as he ran into transition belied how bad he was feeling.

As much as I would have liked to position myself in various strategic locations along the 10K route, I knew it would turn into a nightmare trying to mobilise the children to make it all work so we headed back down to the beach. After a quick paddle myself which was lovely, I left the kids playing in a large pool and made myself a base further up the beach where I could watch for my husband on the last leg of his race.

The kids loved the freedom to play in the water making 'adventure playgrounds' out of rocks for the little fish that swam around them. This left me free to watch drama after drama unfold within sight of the finish line as exhausted runners feared they were not going to make it. I would have loved to have seen the jubilation of the people crossing the finish line, but that would have meant I couldn't keep a watchful eye on my little ones.

I expected my husband to finish in about an hour. I thought I spotted him once and called the children out of the water to come and cheer for daddy. They both looked at me like I was an idiot and said No  Thanks! It turned out to be a false alarm anyway so I watched and waited... and waited. I was starting to get really worried but eventually, I spotted him in the distance. As he ran past me I took a photo, told him enthusiastically that he was wonderful and he was nearly there. I watched him run away from me toward the finish line and his own personal (somewhat overdue by now!) victory.

My camera was not zoomed in. I really was this close to him yet he neither saw me nor heard those words of encouragement that I had waited so long to give.

I  persuaded the children to leave the water to come with me and find daddy. We found him. I have never seen him look so utterly exhausted. It had taken him 1 hour and 27 minutes to complete the 10K. He never really recovered from the dehydration he suffered on the bike leg of the race and had walked much of the route as an alternative to just giving up.

I have so much admiration to each and every one of the determined men and women who took part, from the awe inspiring winner who clocked up a time of less than two and a half hours to the last man over the line in 451st place in just over 5 hours.

My husband finished in 421st place with a time of 4 hours 09 minutes and 18 seconds. He is absolutely  my hero.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Butterfly Masks

It's a couple of weeks into the new school term and both my little ones have settled down nicely. Dylan talks excitedly about his friends in Reception and Addy loves how 'grown up' it feels in Class 2 with more emphasis on work than play. However, it has become increasingly obvious to me that she is struggling with numeracy. Simple number bonds to ten and counting in twos were leaving her confused and frustrated.

I love maths. It is elegant and dependable and fundamental. I want my children to love maths too - and be good at it. I felt that Addy's difficulties were too important to leave to chance so some home intervention seemed prudent. She was reluctant at first but I can already see a marked improvement in her confidence and ability.

If I had my way, I could easily spend hours ensuring that she practised until she was perfect and my older children, if they are reading this post, will be nodding in agreement having been on the receiving end of my sometimes over zealous parental approach. Being older and (I hope) wiser, I  am better at striking a more harmonious balance between work and just being a kid. Addy was delighted when instead of maths yesterday afternoon, a craft activity was offered.

The craft set, which we were sent to review, tied in beautifully with our summer holiday project of raising butterflies.

Butterfly Masks

The Butterfly Masks kit contained three patterned cardboard masks to decorate with the paints and glitter glue provided as well as sticks and the tape to attach the sticks to the mask. Addy chose the design that appealed to her the most.

She quickly got to work applying paint to the mask, painstakingly methodically at first then rather slapdash as she neared completion! It was lovely to watch her so engaged on the task, making decisions about how she wanted her mask to look and just enjoying spreading the paint about.

Glitter glue is always a big hit in our house and Addy proudly added the finishing touches for a bit of sparkle.

I advised her to let it dry before attaching the stick but she was too impatient. She wanted to be able to model her creation right then! And very lovely she looked too.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Craft Party Kits from Interplay

I was recently sent two Craft Party kits from Interplay to review.

Each pack contains craft activities for up to six children in the 5+ age range making it ideal for party entertainment.

I had the image in my head of 6 year old Addy's friends coming over to our house for tea and a Craft Party session.

The reality was somewhat different. I had misjudged how tiring the new school routine would be with little brother Dylan starting in Reception and Addy moving up into class 2. Hectic weekend schedules and helping my daughter Taylor to prepare for going back to Uni has left little time and even less energy. Planning parties has not been on anyone's agenda

There will come a moment when things fall into place and a houseful of little girls having noisy fun together seems like the loveliest thing. But not today!

In the interests of the (now overdue) review deadline, I will attempt to give a flavour of the two different sets without the addition of children!

Fairy Princess Party

I think my Addy is fairly typical in her love for princesses and fairies. She was very excited by the Fairy Princess Party kit which contained pre cut foam fairy wings, tiaras and wands to decorate with the stickers, ribbons, jewels and feathers provided.

The instructions include ideas for plenty of themed party games for  little fairy princesses to play whilst wearing their creations.

Mad About Ponies Party

I actually like this particular Craft Party set even more than the Princess Fairy one.

It comes with a set of  beautifully detailed, solidly made white plastic ponies and enough paint and paint brushes for each child to customise their own pony. There are examples of different pony breeds with their distinctive colours and markings for inspiration.

Little Dylan came running over to investigate when we took the ponies out to look at. He loved them just as they were - without even opening the bag with the paints in!

Once the ponies are painted (and dry) there is a show jumping game to play with them complete with little cardboard rosettes to present to winners. I think it is a lovely idea and a great way for the children to show off their ponies.

Addy is already deciding what to name her pony and what colours she wants to paint him.

I am really looking forward to getting to use these kits, with excited children and a sprinkle of mayhem.   The Mad About Ponies kit definitely appeals to the little girl in me that would have loved a pony of her own.

Would it be wrong if I invited one less child to the party so I can join in myself?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Swindon parkrun

This weekend I went to visit my friend Rose in her new home in a village on the outskirts of Swindon. While we were there, my husband  and I decided it would be a nice idea to do the Swindon parkrun. We set off to the venue at Lydiard Park without much of an idea what it would be like and with an added wildcard in the form of our two children aged 6 and 4 years who we hoped we might encourage to run at least part of the way.

I should probably mention that due to a packing oversight, our plans were nearly scuppered. I had failed to put my shorts in the overnight bag. I don't know if gratitude or embarrassment dominated  my emotions when my friend's lovely husband let me borrow a pair of his and they fit perfectly!

The park was beautiful and it was obvious that the parkrun itself was much bigger than we were used to. Over four hundred runners congregated at the start.

The route consisted of two laps and the plan was that my husband would race off as fast as he could leaving me to cajole the children into taking part with whatever bribes I had at my disposal. We would cover as much ground as possible and when my husband finished in as close to 25minutes as he could manage, he would come back for the kids whilst I ran for all I was worth in the hope of at least finishing somewhere around the 40 minute mark. We had looked at  previous results for this parkrun and it seemed that there were a number of participants who took a similar amount of time to complete it. I would not be alone.

The children were very keen to run at first but waiting around for the race to start got them a bit agitated. Then when daddy took his place in the crowd with the other 25 minute pace runners leaving us at the back, they were grumpy and agitated. No amount of encouragement or persuasion could get them back on side.

Reluctantly they came with me as the crowd edged forwards to cross the start line. It was wonderful watching all those people with a common purpose running off into the distant, giving their best. I longed to be amongst them but I was being held firmly back by two little monsters dragging their feet and continuing to moan that they wanted daddy.

I had to accept that they were not going to be obliging. They were not going to run and that was that. I settled for a slow walk. They would happily run off the path to explore but I could not get them to channel that energy into a faster walk in the direction I wanted them to go.

I did consider giving up and turning back and waiting for my husband to finish his race in one of the play areas but we'd started, so we plodded onwards. There was always the slim chance that they'd decide it might be fun to run.

Far from a having a change of heart that incorporated more speed, my little boy dug his heels in, started to cry and said I'm not growed up enuff  for runnin'. At this point, I picked the poor little soul up and carried him on my back. My daughter had the occasional burst of speed in between moaning and my son whooped with delight and waved his little legs around as I struggled to run with him on my back to keep up with her. I was beginning to wish that the borrowed shorts had not fitted and I'd had to back out.

The marshals were lovely. I think they must have felt my pain and were very encouraging.

Before long, we were being lapped by the elite athletes chasing their sub 20 minute finish times. The paths were very narrrow so I now had the added difficulty of trying to keep my daughter tucked into the lefthand side whilst the herds of lean, determined runners thundered past us. It was inspiring to see them racing by but nerve wracking too. I feared that my daughter might stray from her position of safety into the path of one of these unstoppables. The momentum of even a glancing collision would have been enough to send her flying in a tangle of long blonde hair and longer skinny legs. Thankfully, this did not happen and the pace of the runners lapping us was becoming noticeably more sedate as time went by.

I don't know how much distance we had covered when my husband on his second lap caught up with us on our first (he suggested about 2 kilometres). I urged him to continue to the finish but he could see how much I was struggling under the weight of our son and he admitted to having a twinge of pain in his leg that he didn't want to risk aggravating as he was due to take part in a triathlon the following weekend. He took over babysitting duty and gave me the freedom to run.

If his estimate of distance was correct, he only had about 1 kilometre to go before the finish. Having been on target for a 25/26 minute time, he finally made it across the line in 35 minutes. Meanwhile, I was running like a woman with a mission.

Photograph by Martyn Joyce

To begin with, I had the company of the runners on their second lap hoping to achieve times not much faster than my own personal best. I felt quite comfortable running with them but then we reached the parting of the ways. As they all took the left turn to the final push before home, I took the right and started my second lap. Rather than feeling disheartened (or tempted to to slip home unnoticed with the left turners) I had the hugely motivating sight ahead of me of the back runners - two ladies I had noticed earlier both wearing bright red T shirts and following a minute walk/ minute run plan. I knew I could catch them up and I did. I overtook them and locked my sights on the next person ahead of me.

I have been working on my downhill technique - letting myself go with gravity doing the hardwork rather than waving my arms and trying to pull the brakes on to feel in control. Coming up was a downhill stretch followed by an ascent. I overtook the next group of people on the downhill which felt quite liberating and easily passed the people who were walking up the hill.

I think some of these people must have wondered where on earth I had come from. I was certainly shaking things up at the back. I did nod and say good morning as I passed but I really wanted to tell them how much I admired them, how fantastically they were doing. These people were not great runners, yet here they were taking on this 3 mile course at their own pace and achieving their own personal goals. It is SO hard to say well done without sounding patronising.

It felt like no time before I was back at the fork to turn left for home. I didn't quite manage to catch up with a tiny little lad who had been riding on his dad's shoulders when he first came into my field of vision and was now running like the wind towards the finish line under his own steam. It was wonderful to see him go and it reminded me of my own two little ones who were now no doubt having a great time in the play area with memories of their own half hearted efforts fading into oblivion.

I finished in position 430 out of 449 in a time of 42:01. Hopefully, the next time I visit my friend Rose, I'll get another try, without the handicap of a first lap with two stubbornly reluctant children.

I love being part of the parkrun community and would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Photograph by Rose 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Irish Regiment 7 Mile Multi Terrain Race

When I embarked on a beginners course at my local Running Club a couple of years ago, I could never have dreamt that one day I would be signing up for a 7 mile multi terrain cross country race. In a moment of optimism or madness, that is exactly what I did. The race was organised by the Irish Regiment stationed at our town's barracks and was part of an initiative to promote community relations.

My daughter Liberty signed up also along with her boyfriend and my husband.

I can' t say that I did a lot in preparation for the race. I hadn't run as far as 7 miles for quite some time and the day before the race I spent at a beer and music festival enjoying more pints than I should have of the real ales on offer. I wasn't feeling fantastically confident but by the time we arrived at the start, it was too late to worry about it.

Army vehicles and men in uniform set the scene for the race. There were plenty of familiar faces from my running club but I couldn't help feeling a little intimidated by all the incredibly fit army personnel taking part. The British Army Cross Country team were there and of the civilians taking part, I was struggling to spot anyone that looked like they'd be slower than my daughter and I.

As my husband and Liberty's boyfriend found their strategic position for the start of the race, Liberty and I stood well back and watched as the field opened out before us. We crossed the start line at the back and didn't expect to be doing any overtaking.

Resigning myself to the fact that we were almost certainly going to finish last was quite liberating. Someone has to be last and today it was going to be us. I was determined to finish and enjoy myself. I am a slighty faster runner than my daughter but we made a promise to each other that we would do this together. We would help each other. There was no way I was going to leave her behind. I had a not unrealistic concern that with my slight hangover from the ales, she could be leaving me behind.

We ran the first couple of miles keeping the other runners in sight but then the course started to take twists and turns through fields and woods that made us feel quite alone. The race was marshalled by smart young men in military attire who were incredibly supportive and generous with smiles and words of encouragement but there were times when we weren't exactly sure which way to go. It was quite an adventure. I was very glad that I was sharing the adventure with my daughter.

As we dragged ourselves up a steep bank in the woods, I wondered how on earth anyone could actually run up such an incline, especially given how soft and crumbly the surface was underfoot. At the top, there were three well placed trees. I held onto them in turn to manoeuvre myself cautiously over the top of the bank as I planned the equally steep descent. I mostly let myself go and trusted to luck to stay upright. A log at the bottom needed to be jumped over but I surprised myself by timing it just right and coming to rest without injury to body or pride. I turned round to see how my daughter was doing. She was clinging to one of the trees for dear life bemoaning the fact that this was her worst nightmare. To her credit, she took my advice and just went for it. She made it safely to the bottom ready for the next ascent.

I was actually starting to love this rough terrain, skipping down the slopes with a childlike abandon and something of a daft grin on my face. My daughter was less amused by it all but we were making progress.

It would not be fair to write about my daughter's tree hugging incident  without mentioning an incident of my own. I was drinking plenty of water to try and counter the hangover symptoms and I had a sneaking suspicion that my bladder was going to start to protest loudly if I did not do something to relieve it before the seven miles were over. Liberty needed to stop to catch her breath and stretch her tightening muscles. We were in a wood. There was a conveniently large tree. I popped behind it for a wee. I did check first to make sure there were no marshalls in sight but mid wee I had a moment of panic imagining sophisticated army surveillance equipment monitoring the activity. The feeling of exposure and vulnerability was not good but the lightness of an empty bladder most definitely was.

We moved swiftly on away from the scene of the crime against modesty.

As we emerged from the woods and began running on more open stretches, we occasionally caught sight of other runners ahead of us. It was lovely to see a friendly splash of our club colour orange running shirts. We weren't too disgracefully behind.

The route was comprised of a two loops joined together by a long straight stretch that included an underpass. You ran round one loop, out through the underpass, round the second loop and back through the underpass to the finish where you started on the first loop. As we were running out towards the second loop, the elite runners were making their way back and towards the finish. How do they make it look so easy? It was a very humbling feeling to be taking part in the event with these amazing athletes and many of them, to our delight, took the time to offer us encouragement. And we certainly needed all the encouragement we could get! We had a long way still to go.

The route was tough. To our tired legs it seemed like never ending hills but eventually, we were running back towards the underpass with the promise of the finish line not too distant. Liberty's boyfriend had completed the race in under an hour and had now come back to run her home. He was using all his best motivational one liners: you're doing great, not far now, dig deep, keep breathing. I think for poor Liberty 'keeping breathing' was proving increasingly difficult.

I was actually feeling pretty good. My bladder felt comfortable (good call having the wee behind the tree despite the embarrasment)  and a glucose gel sachet that I had slurped up at about the halfway point was having a positive effect on my energy levels. When my husband (who finished his race in just over an hour) came back to run with me, it didn't feel too different to when we go on our training runs together. We chatted, he told me he was proud of me and we ran ahead. Just behind me I could hear the motivational one liners picking up pace: final push now - the finish line is just around the corner - come on Liberty, push harder. The one liners were picking up pace. Liberty wasn't. Her breathing sounded awful and I thought she might actually be close to tears.

We started the race together, we ran the race together and I was absolutely determined that we were going to finish this race together. I gently pushed my husband out of the way, paused for Liberty to catch up and held out my hand to her. She took my hand and suddenly, the finish line was there in front of us.

I imagined that by now most of the runners and supporters would have dispersed. We would have the satisfaction of crossing the finish line but quietly and unnoticed. Wrong. A huge crowd of army, civilians and competitors were waiting at the finish and cheering us on. I felt a cocktail of emotions welling up and threatening to completely overwhelm me. I looked at Liberty. She looked at me. I held her hand tight and I ran.  I think I blurted out some nonsense like we're nearly there as much for me as for her and we made it. To cheers and applause, crossed that finish line -  together. Seven gruelling miles in 1 hour and 24 minutes. We'd made it.

I have never been so happy or so proud to come last!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A Fordhall Farm Running Club Party

Yesterday evening, I found myself back in the same field where I had enjoyed the Fordfest event two days previously. This time, Fordhall Farm were playing host to my Running Club's party to celebrate five years of affiliation to England Athletics. We were using the same marquee and the same catering from the beer festival. The acoustic stage where my daughter Taylor had played guitar and sang was still in the corner (although now it had a table on it!) bringing the proud memories flooding back. Different memories were ignited by the sight of the beer barrels stacked along the back of the marquee. We were welcome to help ourselves to any leftover ale and despite it being a school night, I would have gladly worked my way along the row of barrels but for the fact that I had driven. Reluctantly, I stuck to coke.

The party started with the choice of a game of rounders or a stroll around one of the picturesque farm trails. I opted for the walk on account of being useless at hitting a ball, too easily distracted to field and fiercely uncompetitive! I am no stranger to the walk but it was a beautiful evening and the setting sun gave it a quite different feel. It was lovely and we arrived back as the rounders game finished and the food was ready.

I am ashamed to admit that when I booked my ticket, I did not order the vegetarian option. I respect the organic farming methods practised by Fordhall and feel there is a certain honesty to visiting the pigs then buying the pork sausages from the shop. When I booked my ticket, the lure of one of their pork baps was enough for me to temporarily park my vegetarian diet off to one side. Had I known that I would also have been eating a pork bap two days previously at the Fordfest, I would most likely have settled happily for a bit of quiche and lettuce. I thoroughly enjoyed my meat indulgence but I do feel this morning as though I am sweating pork through my pores. Too much of a good thing maybe.

After the baps came the Cake.

I had baked some chocolate fudge cake and was really pleased to see that it all got eaten. There was an amazing selection of cake to choose from. I am wondering if there is a correlation between being a runner and making good cakes. I am happy to do further research on this hypothesis. The centrepiece was an amazing cake in the shape of a five to commemorate the five year affiliation and decorated to represent a variety of different races including mud runs. A fondant runner wearing the club's distinctive 'Where's Wally' fancy dress was buried up to their armpits in a chocolatey muddy puddle for a comic touch.

The best part of the evening for me was listening to one of the club members give a talk about his recent travels. Without the aid of a slide show, a script or a power point presentation, this charismatic young man perched on a table in a gloomy tent in a moonlit field and talked honestly and passionately about his solo cycle ride around the coast of Australia. I was captivated by his story (apart from the moment when a huge beetle flew past my head then got tangled in my hair - all I could concentrate on then was GET THIS BEETLE OUT OF MY HAIR!!!)

I will never be a traveller but in the sense that Life is a Journey, we are all travellers. I found the talk hugely inspirational and was surprised by how much his experiences resonated with my own values. The thing that he emphasised repeatedly was that the connections he made with the people he met and the kindness of strangers were more important to him and left a longer lasting impression than any sense of achievement of actually clocking up the miles or seeing the iconic landmarks that tourists flock to photograph.

I think I will remember this young man's words for a long time. I have learned a little more about Australia, a little more about cycling and lot  more about how far a little kindness can go.

To round off the evening perfectly, I got to take home a plastic bottle of one of the ales to share with my husband. We had a pint each before bed and saved just enough for me to have a go at making a beef and ale pie for dinner the following day. This time the 'beef' will definitely be 'beef style soya pieces'... but the ale will be real!

Monday, 8 September 2014


In a few short weeks, my daughter Taylor will be heading back to University to begin the final year of her degree. Given how fast the last two years have have become discarded calendar pages, I am well aware that in no time at all she will find herself balancing on the precipice of the world of work about to throw herself into whatever career she intends to pursue.

There lies a problem. She has very little idea of what she might want to do career wise.

This summer, at the risk of unsettling her and possibly damaging the family harmony, I strongly encouraged her to get her ostrich head well and truly out of the sand (by sand I mean her laptop and her head is nothing at all like that of the large flightless bird) and face the problem now.

Taylor wasn't happy about it but she did see the sense in it.

She started investigating work experience placements and planning things to do that would help build her confidence, get her out meeting new people, experience new things and hopefully create more opportunities. She also got a book from the library about careers in accountancy because it seemed an obvious career choice for a mathematician with a methodical, logical approach to life (maybe too obvious).

When a too good to be true offer from her father for an extended work experience placement in his company in Portugal turned out to be exactly that - too good to be true - she had to deal with her disappointment and start again looking for an alternative. I was so delighted when she was offered a volunteer position in the office of a local organic farm owned by the Fordhall Community Land Initiative. 

As a family, we are familiar with Fordhall Farm. We support the Spring Event that they hold each year and despite a commitment to a vegetarian diet, my husband and I do occasionally lapse and enjoy the wonderful Gloucester Old Spot pork sausages sold in their farm shop. This summer, we took our two little ones on one of the farm trails around the fields. It was muddy but wonderful. I love to see my kids encountering the simple pleasures of the countryside, even if they do come home with soggy socks and cow poo on their wellies.

Taylor dealt with her first day nerves and began to enjoy her sessions working at the farm. For me it was wonderful to see her driving off independently (once my husband insured her on his car). She is only a little thing and it is easy to forget that she is actually twenty years old. Having her take the driver's seat was a good reminder!

Fordhall Farm held a Beer and Music Festival this weekend. During the week leading up to it, Taylor was helping out every day. Proving the point that taking one opportunity often leads to others, she was offered the chance to sing on a small acoustic stage in between the acts on the main stage.

In turn, this created an unmissable opportunity for me to attend the 'FordFest' and see my daughter perform. I hadn't planned on going on account of already being signed up for a rather punishing 7 mile multi terrain race organised by the army the following day. I put the thought of trying to run after a day of sampling real ales from eight different breweries as far out of my head as I could, and put myself at the mercy of FordFest!

I couldn't have been prouder of Taylor when she played the guitar and sang, with big sister Liberty providing vocal harmonies.

A highlight of the day was when one of main stage acts failed to turn up on time and Taylor was asked to take his place. It is one thing to play a few acoustic songs inside a small tent - quite another to stand in the main focal point, unforgivingly amplified, apologise for not being who everyone was expecting and then launch into an unrehearsed set. I think Taylor was relieved when the missing artist finally turned up but I thought they did a fantastic job of filling in.

I thoroughly enjoyed sampling some of the selection of ales on offer. Despite the fact that I chose my ales on the same principle I use for selecting the shade of emulsion paint when I decorate and when backing a horse for the Grand National ie I like the name, I didn't have one dud. Shropshire Lad and Lass from the Woods brewery had to be on my list to try in honour of the county I am proud to call home. Calcutta 1757, a new brew from our local Joules Brewery, is one I hope to have a pint or two more of in the not too distant future. I had to try Hobsons Old Prickly just because a 5p donation was made to a hedgehog charity for each half pint sold. There was definitely an inverse correlation between the amount of half pints I drank and how much I cared about the possible consequences for my run the next day. I added Three Tuns Solstice, Titanic Iceberg and Lymestone Seven Stone Weakling to my list of conquests.

As well as the beer and the music, family fun with Jester Jack, sack racing, welly wanging and barrel rolling  competitions were offered as entertainments. Jester Jack provided the opportunity to try out 'circus' skills such as juggling, stilt walking, devil sticks, plate spinning etc. It was great fun AND I learned how to hula hoop.

Taylor's boyfriend won the barrel rolling competition and was presented with a bespoke trophy (much to our great amusement).

It was a wonderful day. It may not have been quite what Taylor imagined when she first started looking for work experience, but for me it was perfect.

Friday, 5 September 2014

A July Change Catchup with Vegetarian Haggis Money Bags

I have not written about the monthly resolutions that I replaced New Year Resolutions with since June. It isn't like I haven't thought about making the small monthly changes for the better or indeed making and enjoying the changes - it is simply that I have thus far failed to commit them to words. In respect of my June resolution which was to Just Get on and Do It, I shall begin to remedy that now.

Back at the beginning of the summer holidays (how far away that seems now, three days into the new term), we were visited by a friend my husband and I both knew at University. This friend has a very special place in my husband's life and we were honoured when he played the role of best man at our wedding. I always enjoy seeing him because his dry sense of humour never fails to make me laugh. I enjoy seeing him even more now since he met and fell in love with an amazing lady that, although I have only spent a small amount of time with, I adore.

They have three children between them and some interesting parenting ideas including 'technology free days' and 'try new food days'. My little ones are just as happy running round the garden inventing games as they are playing on the computer so technology bans would serve little purpose in our family. Trying new food, however, is something we could definitely benefit from. As much as I enjoy cooking (and eating) it is easy to fall into something of a rut. Churning out old favourites that I know everyone will be happy with week after week is OK I suppose, but not adventurous or exciting.

The seeds for my July resolution were sown.

At least once a week, I intend to try a new recipe or adapt an old one to (hopefully) extend the repertoire of family favourites.

I have found inspiration in the BBC's fantastically entertaining Great British Bake Off - who could not love the drama of the melted ice cream saga and the untimely departure of the Bearded Bake God Iain of the bin escapade infamy (binfamy?). I have reorganised my larder and sorted my cookbooks so I know what I have and where to find it (cupboards and drawers on the to do list). When I dine out, I do so now with a slightly analytical attitude as I ponder how to recreate anything especially good in my own kitchen.

Whilst in Edinburgh recently, I enjoyed two meals featuring the iconic Scottish savoury pudding - haggis. As a (mostly) non meat eater, I am talking about Vegetarian Haggis. Whether vegetarian haggis would have inspired the poet John Burns to pen the famous "Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face" Address is debatable, but  I LOVE it.

I have cooked Vegetarian Haggis for the family on Burns Night before but have never thought to use it in any way other than with the traditional 'neeps and tatties'. Inspired by my Scotland experience, this all changed.

First, I made Haggis Nachos. This was easy. I used Morrisons Value Tortilla Chips and put a generous layer in the bottom of individual oven proof serving dishes. On top,  I dolloped some home made salsa sauce  (fry chopped onion, green, pepper and chile pepper, add tin of chopped tomato and splash of hot chile sauce, heat to reduce). The next layer is the haggis (recipe for vegetarian haggis) and finally, top it with goats cheese. Pop it in the oven for a few minutes then garnish with soured cream and jalapenos. One of my dinner guests on this occasion did not like goats cheese so he had grated cheddar. We were all a bit jealous because it looked delicious. I wish I'd remembered to take a photo but I think I was deliberately putting photography to the back of my mind after the distress of losing all of the pictures I had taken in Edinburgh.

The second Haggis dish I attempted was more ambitious - Haggis Money Bags

I adapted my haggis recipe to make it more like the one I had sampled in Edinburgh. I used red onion (about double the quantity) and caramelised it before adding the other veg. Instead of chopped nuts I used a mixture of peanuts, cashew nuts and hazelnuts (again slightly more than the original version of the recipe) and chopped them roughly so they would add more texture. I swapped the red lentils for green ones (which, be warned, take much longer to soften). I also used less oatmeal to make a slightly sloppier consistency. Instead of cooking this in a loaf tin, I wrapped single portion servings topped with goats cheese in sheets of filo pastry. My filo pastry had been in the freezer since Xmas (I had the best of intentions to make a stunning chestnut stuffed filo wreath centrepiece but it never happened!). It had dried out quite badly and was really hard to manage. It felt less like cooking, more like doing a delicate skin graft. My 'money bags' were actually more reminiscent of mutated artichokes but as long as they held together during cooking (which they did) I wasn't too bothered.

I had intended to make a rich red wine sauce to serve with the Money Bags but life sort of got in the way and Bisto instant gravy had to suffice. No complaints. They were delicious.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

So Begins a New Chapter

In many ways, I am still having to pinch myself. I have a baby boy. A son. A beautiful, funny, clever little bean that I adore. Really not a baby any more. He started school today.

Last night, he went to bed as my sweet little pre-schooler. This morning, he woke up as a schoolboy.

The transition was not completely smooth.

There was no problem with Dylan wanting to go to school. He was very excited at that prospect. He loves his new teacher. He is familiar with the classroom. He was looking forwards to seeing friends he had been at nursery with. What he objected to - in a ferociously vocal manner - was wearing school uniform.


Eventually, with the help of big sister Addy promising to play "Dinosaur Adventure" in the playground with him if he co-operated, we coaxed him into his smart new uniform and peace was restored.

After a hurried photo shoot on the front drive, we bundled into the car and set off on the first of many school runs.

(Just to clarify, I really do not think that Dylan looked "stoopid" at all!)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The End of Summer

The end of the summer is a sad time for me.

I love having my kids home from school - lazy mornings, carefree days, relaxed bedtimes. As much as I am excited by the new term and in particular my little Dylan starting in his Reception class, I can't help the overriding feeling of gloom that the holidays are over.

Beneath that general gloominess is a deeper sadness - a sadness that comes from bereavement.

My sister lost her life at the end of a summer distant enough for the raw pain of grief to have subsided but never distant enough to not feel the ache of her absence.

And this time last year my mother in law died - unexpectedly and suddenly.

Despite a tendency towards depressive episodes, I am generally a positive person who sees the good in things. I wanted to help my husband find a way to commemorate the anniversary of his mum's death in a celebratory fashion. We had a few ideas that included trifle and family card games but none of it really felt adequate.

That evening, as I put my little boy to bed with a bedtime story, I realised that the book I had chosen by chance (or cosmic guidance?) was one that had been given with love by Grandma. I felt very peaceful reading the story and remembering the time when Grandma's voice spoke these same words to the rapt attention of the beautiful boy now drifting off to sleep. That was my moment. My celebration. My connection to a wonderful lady sorely missed.

My husband said he had his moment too in the realisation that decisions he makes and actions he takes are now influenced by a voice in his head asking "Would this have made mum proud?".

There were tears. Not many... but enough.

The following day we took part in a Fun Run in a neighbouring village. There was a poignancy to it because last year when we took part, my husband had just returned from helping his dad to sort out funeral arrangements. He cycled the route with our daughter on a tag along trailer bike at the back and Dylan on a kid seat at the front of his bike. I'm sure the sun on his face, the fresh air and the excitement of the children were good antidotes to the solemnity of the tasks he had been performing. This year, there was a shorter 3K route option and we felt that the children should be capable of running it.

We collected our race numbers. Six year old Addy couldn't wait to get started but Dylan was not quite so keen. He was angered by the fact that his race number did not include the digit four - his age! I wrote a 4 on in biro but it did not placate him.

The plan was that my husband (with a bit of help from my daughter Taylor) would run the 3K route with Addy and Dylan while my daughter Liberty would run the 5mile route with me. Both routes started together. We all gathered at the starting line. Dylan's enthusiasm was returning - I had to physically hold him back to stop him crossing the line ahead of time. Eventually we were off.

I am so grateful that Taylor was there to help. Addy ran off at an astonishing pace that Dylan's little legs did not have a chance of keeping up with. Taylor and her lovely friend Harriet (twin sister of boyfriend George) took responsibility for Dylan, urging him on with the promise of smarties.

Meanwhile, Addy and her dad raced away - distracted occasionally by juicy blackberries growing in the hedgerows, ripe for the picking.

The weather was perfect - sunny but not unbearably hot.

Last year I found it tough to run the hilly course but this year I loved every mile and finished in a quicker time. I stayed with my daughter for the first 3 miles but picked my pace up slightly for the last two after she stopped to stretch aching muscles and walk for a moment. I found myself smiling as I ran along alone thinking about my mother in law and everything that has happened in the year since her death. I could believe that she was smiling back.

Taylor's boyfriend George crossed the finish at a pace I can only dream of.

Taylor and George

Once Dylan noticed the playground next to the finish line he lost all interest in the race and could only be persuaded to cross the line with Taylor and George's younger sister, Danielle, taking his weight whilst his legs ran ahead of his body.

He was, however, very pleased with his finishers medal.

To say that Addy was delighted to be presented with a trophy for her efforts would be a massive uderstatement. She posed proudly with other winners for the local press photographer.

It was a glorious day. A perfect end to the summer. And if the voice in my husband's head were to ask, Would this have made mum proud, I don't doubt that the answer would be YES.
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