Sunday, 31 March 2013

Silent Sunday ~ 31st March

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Guest post: Make family time with delicious Sacla'

~ This is a featured guest post from Sacla' ~

It’s Sunday afternoon and, surprise surprise, it’s raining outside, which means that you and the kids are cooped up in the house. The challenge for the day is to find something that will keep them entertained and make precious family memories in the process. The kitchen, the heart of the house, is definitely the best place to do this.

There’s nothing quite like the wholesome fun of baking bread to bring the family together to make a mess, create scrumptious smells, and revel in the satisfaction of making something both delicious and useful. When you’ve baked your bread, Sacla can provide you with inspiration for how to use it to complement original and irresistible Italian food recipes.

Clever Lunch Ideas

If you opt to bake crusty white rolls, what better way to eat them than smothered in butter and dipped in a bowl of warming soup? Pesto and Cannellini Bean Soup from Sacla’ is a great choice: healthy, filling and simple, it will set off your homemade baked rolls to perfection, and the quick preparation time means the bread will still be nice and warm when you sit down to eat it. And it’s the ideal meal option if your fridge is looking a bit on the bare side.

As long as you’re stocked up with beans, veg and sauce you’re good to go, and you can make your own adaptations to the recipe according to what you’ve got in the house at the time. A dash of Sacla’ Roasted Red Pepper Pesto adds a rich flavour to the soup and any leftover in the jar can be spread on the bread rolls for a tasty snack later on. Click here to check out lots more inventive Pesto recipes, guaranteed to brighten up any wet weekend.

Garlic Bread – Kids’ Favourite

Why not treat yourself and your kids in true Italian style, by baking a ciabatta loaf and using it to cook up an indulgent round of golden-brown garlic bread.  A squeeze of Fresh Fiery Chilli Pesto will give a spicy kick to the mild mozzarella topping and make your garlic bread a dinner-table talking point, while the Sundried Tomato Italian antipasti adds a mellow flavour to ensure the whole family will eat and enjoy. That’s your rainy Sunday activity sorted, and you’ll be well set up for lunch for the next few days too!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Our favourite children's book ~ No Matter What by Debi Gliori

The children's picture book No Matter What by Debi Gliori is a book that has a very special place in our hearts.

Our copy is a bit torn and battered around the edges, but I don't mind. The rips and the creases show just how much it's been read over the years.

I bought it ten years ago in the aftermath of my marriage breakdown, when both of my girls (then aged 3 and 6) were confused about what was happening. My then 6 year old (now known as The Teenager) kept asking questions about whether I still loved her, and if her Daddy still loved her, and I realised she was confused because her parents had 'fallen out of love' and thought it might happen with her too.

We love this book. Not only are the illustrations beautiful - and the details incredibly witty  - but the story is inspired.  It's the story of Small, a mischievous fox cub, and his mother Large, who tries to explain the unconditional love a parent has for their child. The whole story is written in lyrical rhyming text.

In the months following our separation my girls asked for this story nearly every night at bedtime. We read and reread it. We pored over the pictures. We talked about love. I told them why I'd always love them, no matter what, and they'd play the 'What if....?' game with me, waiting for the answer.

Those three words - no matter what - have become a mantra for us. The number of times I've used them to reassure my girls is innumerable. They've been spoken, texted, written in birthday cards, scribbled on post-its stuck to their school books, and read aloud over and over again.

Even now, aged 16 and 13, my girls love to hear them. 'I love you' is easy enough, but followed by 'no matter what' somehow makes it concrete. Immovable. Reassuring.

It was only when I was looking through the book again last week that I wondered what prompted Debi to write it, so I asked her (via twitter) and she very generously gave me the following answer:

"The book came from watching my (then) 18 month old daughter try and fail to understand why her parents were divorcing. I wanted to explain to her that I'd always love her, that my love for her wasn't divorceable, changeable or conditional. 

That was what I started out to write but I found that what I was really writing was a universal declaration of a parent's love for their child from cradle to grave and beyond. Small Is now 18 years old and still signs off her texts to me as 'Small'. " ~ Debi Gliori

That makes perfect sense to me. Debi wrote the book to do exactly the same thing I was trying to do, and it clearly had the same impact. 

Well, from our little family to yours ~ thank you Debi. Thank you.

Silent Sunday ~ 24th March

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Whatever happened to spring time?

Two days ago I was planning what to do in the garden this weekend.

Today my garden looks like this and my plans are on hold.

We've had about 7-8 inches of snowfall in the last 24 hours.  It's all very peaceful. The lane we live on is completely snowed in and the only sound is that of snow shovels scraping along driveways.

There won't be any work getting done on the potting table.

It all looks very pretty but I'm afraid my patience is wearing very thin with the winter weather. It's supposed to be spring for goodness sake!

The bird feeding station in the front garden was completely covered in snow, so I've cleared and replenished it. The birds need looking after in this sort of weather.

There's plenty for them to be getting on with, including fresh warm water. Well, it was warm when I put it out this morning.

Even the ducks from the local pond looked a bit cheesed off with it.

I'm a bit worried about the newly laid lawn, I'm not sure what it'll be like when the snow melts. Fingers crossed though. I wonder if the dahlias I planted recently will survive? And my plans to plant out some sweet peas which have been growing happily on the window sill have been postponed.

Roll on the warmer weather.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Guest post: Preparing the garden for summer

This is a featured guest post by Tesco

OK, so it seems mad to be talking about summer when there’s still the threat of snow in the air but, positive thinking here, it’s going to happen! And when it does, you want to be able to hit the garden and enjoy it, especially if you’ve been putting the work in over the winter months. So, dust off the mower, dig out the hedge trimmers and get planting.

You may or may not have given your lawn the first cut of the year. Once you have cut it for the first time, try to do it once a week if possible to keep it in tip-top condition – fortnightly is fine if that’s not practical. If you have a new lawn like me, don’t cut it too short, too early and try to protect any newly planted parts from the birds. You want it as hardy as possible for when the kids are back out there playing!

In terms of plants, by April you’ll want to be removing any dead spring flowers to prepare for the summer. The threat of any significant frost should now have passed (fingers crossed!) so it’s a good time for planting, particularly any hardy annuals, coniferous trees and shrubs. It’s also time to make sure your beds are well composted. If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse, it’s time to think about moving plants out of it and into a cold frame in preparation for planting. With the weather as unpredictable as it is, do keep an eye on the forecast though in case you need to bring them back in to avoid frosting.

Away from actual greenery, the first thing you want to do when the sun does finally appear is head out into the garden for a nice sit down and maybe a barbecue. Make sure you’re prepared for this by cleaning any patio furniture and indeed the barbecue. While not exciting jobs, better to do them now than face them when it’s finally hot and all you want to do is relax and get the burgers on! For further gardening tips and ideas, do visit the very helpful Gardeners’ World.

Image by jodimarr, used under Creative Commons licence.

Monday, 18 March 2013

6 things you should never say to a single parent

I've been a single parent for a while now and over that time I've been asked lots of questions about what it's like to raise children on my own, and I'm always happy to talk about a subject that's close to my heart.

But there are some things you really shouldn't say to a single parent, and believe me I've heard all of these beauties.

1. It must be so hard.  Well, yes it is sometimes and it was definitely much harder in the early years. But you find your routine and way of coping, and you make things work. Because you have to.

2. You look tired.  No shit Sherlock.

3. You're so brave.  No, not brave. Just getting on with it, as we all do.

4. You must get a lot of help from the Government though.
This one really rankles because the answer is a resounding NO! I get working family and child tax credit and that's available to every working parent on a low income (not just single parents), but I get no other special financial help. The media and Government would you have you think otherwise, that all single parents are bleeding the country dry but let me confirm that it's a myth. I've never qualified for housing benefit or free school meals for my girls or any other financial help. EVER.

5. How can you afford that?
Yes, people are really this rude. I've been asked this a few times and it's been about something most people would consider normal (e.g. buying a second-hand laptop; a weekend away). Well, contrary to popular belief we're not all destitute - I've written about this before - and even though I'm not earning a fortune I've had to learn to be extremely careful with money.  When there's only one income coming in it's what you do.

6. I know just how you feel, because my husband works away/works weekends/works nights. 
Excuse me while I beg to differ, because even if your partner/husband works away, weekends or nights you are not a single parent. You still have their income to rely on and their emotional and moral support. You don't have to do all the decision making on your own, and don't have to cope with the (sometimes) utter relentlessness of single parenting. Neither are you one if you have someone to pass the parenting baton to when they're home and, most crucially, your children have never been through the trauma of divorce/separation/death of the other parent. So no, you're not a single parent.

I realise that everyone has their own struggles and problems and perhaps some of these comments are made out of genuine concern, but they do they start to irritate after the first few hundred times.

And there endeth the sermon. As you were.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Six years on ~ living with the enemy

Six years ago - on St. Patrick's Day - my lovely, gentle Mum passed away after a battle with breast cancer.

I thought today would be a good time to revisit an old blog post about breast screening. Please read, share, do.
I've been thinking about my Mum a lot recently.  A couple of days ago I saw a news report (based on a Cancer Research report) which showed that more than three-quarters of women diagnosed with breast cancer now survive their disease for at least ten years or more and almost 2 out of 3 women now survive their disease beyond 20 years. This is all fantastic news, and of course detecting the cancer in its early stages means survival rates are even better.

Yesterday when I was out shopping I saw a woman who looked, in profile, just like Mum.  So much so, that I thought for a split second it was her. In that split second she was out shopping and I had bumped into her.  Of course a split second is all it takes to realise that Mum died three years ago and our shopping trips are over.

The sad thing is that Mum died a premature and - I believe - unnecessary death.

Her original diagnosis of breast cancer had come in October 2005 when she was told the cancer was advanced and she would have to have a mastectomy. It was only at that stage that she told me what was happening. In January 2007  I went with her to see a specialist and she received the news that we'd dreaded. The cancer had spread to her liver and spine. She died just six weeks later, at home, with her family around her.

Last month I found what appeared to be a small breast lump and went to see my GP the next day, who then referred me onto the hospital for a mammogram and appointment with a breast specialist.  As I waited to see the specialist I realised I was sitting outside the same office, in the same chairs, as I had with my Mum before she'd received her devastating news. Happily, my diagnosis was better - it was a harmless cyst that would disappear of its own accord.

It was only after my Mum's death that I discovered she had missed several appointments for breast screening, despite getting reminders and despite a friend's encouragement to attend. Mum was a very private and modest person, and she told her friend that she was 'too embarrassed' to go, but if she had kept those appointments she might still be alive today.

If only I had known about the missed appointments, if only her friend had been successful,  if only she had attended.  If only.

By the time the cancer was discovered Mum had three grape-sized cancerous lumps, which would have been picked up earlier at one of those missed appointments.

I miss my lovely Mum every single day, and the fact that she should still be here makes it more difficult to deal with.

This is a very long way of saying please check your own breasts and see your GP if you have any concerns.  And please, please encourage your own Mum, sister, cousin or friend to get any unusual signs or symptoms checked out. 

There is more information on these websites:
Cancer Research UK

Silent Sunday ~ 17th March

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The garden in March ~ a new lawn

When we moved to this house the thing I liked most about the garden was that there were no lawns.

Mowing the lawn at the old house had become my bĂȘte noire, mainly because the front and back gardens were both lawned and it was a job I absolutely detested. By the time I'd cut the lawns, tidied and strimmed the edges I'd had enough of the garden and never did anything else.

The back garden in this house has a combination of bark chippings, paving and gravel. It's been easy to maintain but last summer we realised that it wasn't particularly dog or sunbathing friendly.  I was reluctant to admit it but what we really needed was a bit of grass.

So, this week we got a new lawn. Only a small one mind, I want to be able to mow it in 20 minutes or less, so the area in front of the raised deck area seemed perfect.

This is what is looked like before. A bit boring to be honest, but low maintenance.

It's not a huge area, but it gets the full sun and will be a good place to sunbathe (if we get a decent summer, that is).

I didn't lay the new turf myself. Oh noooooo....I don't think my back would be able to cope with that, so I hired Colin, a local gardener, to do it for me. I've used him before and his prices are reasonable and I knew he'd do a good job. I know it's a luxury but if I'd had to do it myself it wouldn't get done.

The finished lawn looks a bit stripey but it hasn't bedded in yet. Since it went down last week it has rained everyday, which is quite convenient really as it needs to be kept watered. Sorry everybody else!

While Colin was here, he also had a look around and told me the names of some of the previously unknown shrubs and plants. I wrote them down quickly before I forgot them!  He also gave me some pruning tips - which I could have done with last month - but which will come in handy next spring.

silk tassel bush (garrya elliptica)

He thought I'd done a decent job with the roses, but had made a pig's ear of this silk tassel bush (garrya elliptica) - eek! But to be fair, he's right. I'd attacked it with secateurs and loppers thinking I would cut it right down, but then realised it didn't look that bad once I'd cut a lot of growth out of it. Unfortunately, I hadn't done it very well but it should recover. Colin told me how to remedy some of the mess I'd made *blushes* which I did as soon as he'd gone.

Leycesteria formosa

The good news though is that the Flowering Nutmeg bush (Leycesteria Formosa) has plenty of new growth on it after the severe hacking trim I gave it. More tips from Colin means that next time I'll cut the stems on an angle and closer to each node. I'm learning all the time.

While he was here I also asked him if he could remove the root of the mahoosive shrub that's currently on death row, and he although had a good go at digging it up,  he's going to have to return next week with his 'special tool' (stop sniggering). By the way, he thought it might be an elderberry bush but I have no idea.

So, plenty going on and plenty to do. I'm glad to see the return of the very lovely Monty Don and Gardeners' World on Friday evenings too - I need all the advice I can get.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Food memories of Italy ~ mortadella and backpacks

Today I had one of my very favourite lunches. A simple one, but one that's also loaded with memories.
When I was 19 I backpacked around Europe with a girl friend. Well, I say Europe but what I actually mean is: we travelled through Europe to get to Italy.
Ahhh, Italy. I loved the place and we went to as many places as we could fit in, although we never managed to get to Florence and I still haven't visited. I must address that anomaly!
Anyway, back to the story. We were travelling on a very tight budget and apart from staying in youth hostels to keep the costs down, we also couldn't afford to eat in restaurants or fancy cafes, so most of our food was bought from street stalls, cheap cafes or we just bought it from a shop and made up picnic lunches.
On our first day in Rome we bought mortadella, crusty bread and a carton of milk. That was our lunch, and we ate it a few more times after that too.
And every so often I like to recreate our little Roman pranzo...
You need crusty bread. I like the crusty rolls best, but baguettes are also good for this.

Mortadella is an Italian cold meat. I saw this pack in the supermarket but I usually buy it at the local deli.  A foodie friend of mine once referred to it disparagingly as 'Italian spam'...but what can I say, I love it.

 I butter the roll, then stuff one or two slices of the meat inside.
And if I eat it with a glass of cold milk suddenly I'm 19 again, sitting on a bench at the edge of a piazza, enjoying the sun.  Fantastico!

Is there a meal or particular food that brings back memories for you?

My collection of vintage Ladybird books

I posted this on my other, short-lived blog and thought it was worth a whirl on this one. Hope you don't mind it being repeated.

I'm not what you would call a collector. I don't really go in for that sort of thing as a rule, but a few years ago I decided to try and find the Ladybird Well Loved Tales I remembered from childhood.

I decided to collect them after seeing some of the new Ladybird books and thinking the illustrations were far inferior to the books I used to have, and after trying to describe them to my daughters I decided to try and find them.


The three books I remembered most of all were these three - Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty - although actually, I loved the Elves and the Shoemaker too.

It was the Cinderella book that I felt most nostalgic about. I remember thinking as a little girl that she was the most beautiful Cinderella I'd ever seen, and the three dresses she wore in the book were each more beautiful than the last.
Bearing in mind these books were first published in the 1960s the language used is quite old-fashioned but all the more charming for it. For example, in the Princess in the Pea:

I noticed that the books I like best are the ones where the story is retold by Vera Southgate and the beautiful illustrations are by Eric Winter.

I now have the full collection as well as a small collection of other Ladybird books, and a couple of newer versions with particularly good illustrations. The books in the Well Loved Tales series have now become quite collectable, particularly the older versions with dust covers along with the ones from the 60s and early 70s with the price on the back cover in old money.

I started buying my collection 5 or 6 years ago, when I could buy most of them for a couple of pounds on eBay and even found a couple of them in second-hand shops. Nowadays, some of them can cost anything between £5 to £50 (the Cinderella title being the most sought after), and a copy of Cinderella with a dust cover can cost up to £250!

And just in case you're wondering, I won't be selling. I still enjoy looking through these little books and reminiscing about simpler times.

I wonder, did you keep any of your childhood books, or wish you had?

Monday, 11 March 2013

I've had a bit of work done....

Welcome to my new look blog!

It's over 2 years since the last update (Feb 2011 to be precise) and I fancied having the place redecorated, so I called in my favourite blog doer-overer (that's a real word btw): the lovely Liz at Violet Posy.

Liz has taken some garbled instructions and a few of my snapshots and turned them into a really lovely header and blog redesign. I love the colours she's used and the general feel of the whole thing.

Oh, and Tall Daughter will be very miffed if I don't tell you she took the photo of Tessie.

I'm chuffed with it, and I hope you like it too.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Happy Single Mothers' Day from Gingerbread

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that single parents are a multi-talented bunch – and raising your family on your own means you develop any number of skills that employers are crying out for.

But we do need to tell people who perhaps aren’t so familiar with the challenging job that is single parenting. We need to fight the stigma that labels single parents who can’t find employment that fits around their families as scroungers and start breaking down the barriers to work they face.

Gingerbread has produced a heart-warming video featuring three single mums sharing their views on what they have to bring to the workforce – and why single parents like them (and me!) deserve the opportunity to share their talents in jobs that match their ambitions and meet their families’ needs. 

Happy Mothers' Day x

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Dear Taylor Swift...

Taylor Swift
Image: Mobu 27 via Flickr

Dear Taylor,

You don't know me but I'm the mother of two teenage daughters, they like your music and admire you but have recently started to question your choices.

Why the change? You might ask. Well, the media has whipped up a storm about your 'numerous' boyfriends and my girls are questioning why you've had so many.

First of all, you are an amazingly talented young woman. A multi-award winning star with a huge future ahead of you, so it's disappointing and hugely misogynistic for the media to focus on your private life more than on your professional. But unfortunately that's what sells magazines and newspapers.

Secondly, in your interview with Instyle Magazine you're quoted as saying:

“My fears circle around me making the wrong choices and messing this up for myself. I don’t wanna end up being awful and intolerable. Alone. Laying in a marble bathtub by myself, like sad, with a glass of wine just complaining that my life ended up alone because I pushed everyone away because I thought I was too good to hang out with anybody.”

Awww, really? This makes me feel so sad for you. Can I just remind you that you're only 23. Twenty-three. That's very young, and you shouldn't be panicking about being alone. Maybe when you get to my age you should worry, but not when you're still so young. You've achieved so much already, so what if you're not as good with boys/men - who of us can say we were at that age?

You're a beautiful girl who, with a little more life experience, will be confident enough to exist without being part of a  relationship.

You also say in that interview: "I have like two or three [platonic] guy friends. A select few. But I have like 20-25 really good girlfriends.”

My advice? Spend time with your good girlfriends, take a break from trying to make relationships work and take some time to figure out who you really are. Your girlfriends are the ones who will be with you every step of the way not just for the good times, cherish them.

Let the boyfriends thing take a back seat for a while, they can wait.

You're a role model to so many teenage girls the world over, remember that.

Enjoy your success.


a concerned parent.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Things I like, and you might too

 Pinterest credit
This video could change your life. I recommend sharing it with teenagers who might actually listen to it.

Some stunning photographs that have to be seen to be believed. Number 5 is my, hang on, number 10....or maybe number 18...

An alternative video for the Carly Rae Jepson song, featuring burly men dancing.

If you're learning German, here's a very useful phrase.

I'm beginning to think Mark Twain had the right idea.

A drum solo like you've never seen before...

The average person's experience of Twitter.

A friend shared this on FB and I couldn't resist passing it on. It's a wonderful, illustrated tribute to the late Maurice Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are, amongst others). Have a hanky at the ready.

A fantastic website called Letters of Note, I could spend hours reading them.

And finally, more weird ways people find my blog:

And by the way, that should be penises.  It's bad enough that they found me that way but they could at least spell correctly.

Why would anyone even put that into google?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The garden in March ~ preparation and pottering

I've started to realise that this time of year is all work and little play in the garden. I've been kept busy for the past few weeks with pruning, clearing and getting the garden ready for the summer - which still seems a long way off  - but the hard work I put it now will (hopefully) pay off later.

I still feel like I'm doing a lot of guesswork though, because I don't know what many of the plants and bushes are and I'm learning as I go along. Twitter is great for that btw - just tweet a photo of your unknown plant and someone will tell you what it is.

In the meantime I'm following Dan Pearson's gardening recommendations for each month - I like his list of jobs for each month; as well as reading my Gardening Through the Year book which is broken into month by month chapters with featured plants and a What To Do section. I like clear instructions, and as I'm very much a beginner I like pictures too!

Anyway, this week I've been planting some dahlias, a peony and an agapanthus. I've never planted dahlias before and even though they're slightly old-fashioned I like the fact they flower so profusely during the summer months, plus (and allow me a little nostalgia for a second) they were probably my Dad's favourite plants. I'm making that assumption because we always had a lot of dahlias in the family garden when we were growing up. So dahlias it is then.

I bought two, and because they need full sun, decided to plant them in this bed under the living room window. This bed gets the most sun of the whole garden because it's south facing and gets only dappled shade. I also planted a few allium bulbs in this border last autumn, but so far only 3 have made an appearance. Fingers crossed for the others.

One of the best things about this garden (and our previous one too) is the good soil quality. I dug a hole for one of the dahlia bulbs and it's really dark, crumbly soil. Be aware that slugs love dahlia bulbs so it's a good idea to put some slug repellant down. If you prefer to garden organically, I've always found broken egg shells to be a good slug deterrent. They won't crawl over them so break some up roughly (not too small) and scatter them around the plant/s you want to protect.

dahlia bulb

On one of my trips to Homebase I saw this lovely 'bronze effect' hare. I think it's made from plaster or something similar, but it does look like it could be bronze - so much so, that everyone who picks it up expects it to be very heavy. I thought it was a bargain at £10. Of course when I brought it home Tessie was very curious - it probably brought back some memories of her racing days - but when it didn't move she quickly lost interest.

The hare is now standing guard outside the shed. I might move him into a border at some point but at the moment I like seeing him there, looking vigilant. It's also made me realise that the shed is in serious need of restaining, so that's going onto my list of jobs for this year. I also want to stain the inside a light colour and sort out some shelving and get it organised. At the moment everything is just placed in there with no rhyme or reason.

The hellebores are still looking beautiful and their pinks and lime greens had a bit of colour to the otherwise bare beds.



After chopping down that huge shrub recently, I finally managed to get rid of all the cuttings this week. They had been sitting in a pile waiting for me to do something with them, and today I finally cut most of them down and put them in the garden waste bin. (We have garden waste collected every two weeks by the local council, brilliant idea).

But I didn't get rid of them all, I decided to trim some of the longer ones and keep them back. I'm going to use them as plant supports and already have some sweet peas that will be ready to plant outside soon and will need some sort of frame support. These will be do nicely.

I've still got a long list of things to do, and it's hard work especially as my back is prone to weakness,  but it's immensely satisfying and I've noticed my mood lift whenever I spend time in the garden, especially if I was feeling a bit down beforehand.

Are you busy in the garden? What are you planting/planning?