March madness

It’s been a busy spring – time for a couple of catch up posts…

I looked back at my January post on this blog. “I’ll get fit in March” said I. I generally find setting good intentions two months away works well – close enough that I might convince myself and others that I’m committed, far enough that I know I don’t have to engage any time soon. Besides, I liked it as a plan: not being a gym kind of person, for me getting fit equates to getting outdoors and there are plenty of places to run near my house which incorporate a decent dose of nature into the bargain. And of course by March the weather would be starting to warm up right? Right??

When two good friends announced they were signing up to a terrifying sounding “tough mudder” type challenge and invited me to join them, I baulked. But to placate them and my conscience, and to force the issue of fitness out of the good intention space, I agreed I’d join them in a much lower key event in the run up. I signed up for a muddy 5K organised in aid of our local hospice, a cause currently close to my heart… in March.

Two weeks before the race and I’d managed only a couple of very short runs. “I think it’s going to be OK though,” I said to one of my friends complacently, “I mean, you know, I used to run regularly”. It’s true – this time 10 (eek!) years ago I was training for the London marathon. Obviously being what could loosely be described as “a runner” a decade ago, in no way confers fitness in the present and within days of that comment I was panicking a little.  I had an (unopened) Couch to 5K app installed on my phone from around a year ago but by this point, I couldn’t even open it because I knew it was going to tell me I need more than 6 days…

Four days to go and I almost forewent my last opportunity to run any kind of meaningful distance before the race due to one of those all-day hangovers that I never used to get. Having to fess up to my friends that I was going to bottle it was my only deterrent – I went, I ran, the stars were out, I kind of enjoyed it.

Finally, the day of the race and of course on that day the Beast from the East’s bloody first cousin came to visit and before I knew it I was signed up to do a race in temperatures that BBC weather promised “feels like -6”.

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It snowed. It snowed the whole way round. Most of the time it snowed horizontally. We got very muddy, extremely cold, and far closer to nature and the outdoors than I ever EVER want to be in a blizzard again. And weirdly, I almost enjoyed that too. Look at this photo – we actually look like we’re really enjoying ourselves!

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By the end of it, our fingers were so cold we couldn’t undo our double-knotted frozen trainer laces. A hot bath has never felt so good!

A couple of days later it stopped snowing and went back to raining again – but finally, finally the rain has stopped! Today we got out into the woods and a mini-heat wave is on the cards for the rest of this week – woop woop! We did see a bit of sun on a brilliant mini-break in Somerset over Easter – more on that in my next catch-up post.

 

Of pancakes and pangolins

Sunshine at last! Such a welcome change from the icy winds and leaden skies of the beginning of February. As a family, we’ve moved on a little from deep hibernation to trying to embrace winter outdoors – mostly involving half hour dashes into the cold, downing hot chocolate from a flask and hurrying back inside again.

This weekend, however, we are down in Hampshire visiting my parents and it was just beautiful for our walk to the river this morning.

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Tonight my parents are babysitting so we can try a new (to us) pub in the next village for a belated Valentine’s date. I’m looking forward to it – the pub has a good reputation and meals out sans kids are a rare treat.

Talking of treats, of course the day before Valentine’s was Pancake Day and we found the best pancake recipe: red velvet pancakes. Not only were these very delicious (partly because they contain chocolate) but proved to be a great way of (*whispers*) getting beetroot into the kids. My husband read recently that most superfood claims are empty but the one that really does deliver significant health benefits is beetroot. Apparently. Anyway, we ate them with lemon, sugar, and freeze dried strawberries – yum.

So those were the pancakes, what of the pangolins? Well, I’m delighted to host my very first guest blog post, from my husband who will explain…

What’s your favourite animal? It’s a common enough question to ask and gets all sorts of replies from the everyday to the exotic. Mine is a pangolin. They are amazing creatures. A bit like a cross between an armadillo and an anteater, covered in head to toe with overlapping scales made of keratin (the same stuff as your nails); a complete suit of armour that would give an armadillo a bit of an inferiority complex.

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What got me thinking about them, somewhat randomly, was a conversation with all the family about exciting plans for this year, an antidote to the cold, dreary weather outside. We had lots of great ideas: go to the beach, have more adventures, play with dinosaurs…(I think our youngest has already got this covered but I admire his focus). I decided I would try and see a pangolin for the first time and not having the wherewithal to get out to Africa or Asia and see them in the wild I had googled “pangolins zoos UK”. I didn’t get a single hit. It turns out that pangolins are terribly hard to keep alive in captivity, but I did find out that you can adopt one for a few quid a month and after dropping a heavy hint to Mel, I was delighted to find out that she had done just that for me as a Valentine’s gift. I was stoked and so was our oldest, who declared that they were his favourite animal too. However he looked slightly concerned. “Daddy”, he said, “We’ll have to make sure Sandy doesn’t hurt it” (Sandy is next door’s cat, who visits often to take advantage of our sunlit conservatory sofa). He had not unreasonably assumed we were actually going to adopt one. I briefly pictured a DPD courier arriving with a small curled up creature in his arms “package for Mr Coath? Don’t worry it will unwrap itself eventually…”

I explained what adoption meant in this context. He then wanted to see a video of a pangolin, running. This proved impossible to find. The best they seem to be able to manage is a gentle amble. Given that they are armour plated and can roll themselves into a perfect ball that not even a lion can open this has suited them fine for millions of years. Until they met us. Humans just pick up the ball, boil it, eat the pangolin and remove the scales for use in Chinese medicine. They are so sought after, that they are the most trafficked animal in the world.

Our oldest discovered some of this at the end of the video that he had been watching of the pangolin not running. He was outraged that anyone would do this and wanted to come up with a plan to stop the bad people. I love him for that. He still lives in a world where not too many bad things happen and, if they do, he has the faith that they will all be sorted out. It pains me to think that as he grows up he will discover that this isn’t always true. But there is another way of looking at it and that is to take a leaf or two out the 5-year old rulebook, develop some can-do attitude and get out there and makes things better, one pangolin at a time.

Until this week we’d knew little of pangolins but we found out that today is World Pangolin Day – who knew! So if you fancy finding out a bit more about these beautiful creatures check and seeing a baby pangolin stick out its tongue check this out. In the meantime, happy Pangolin Day everyone!

 

Taking on January

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And so it’s January again…

If you saw my first ever post, you’ll know that I do love a good New Year. Despite the blurriness that followed the gin selection, mulled wine and prosecco mega mix of the night before, I was once again excited by the fresh start, the potential of everything I felt I was going to do and become… This year…

On New Year’s day, an old school friend, who shared my hangover, grinned at my enthusiasm. “So Mel, how did last year’s resolutions go?” Normally I’d have said, “I have absolutely no idea, can’t remember a single one but I’m sure they were good!” This year of course I have a blog recounting some of my efforts. OK, I can hardly claimed to have transformed my life in 2017, but I’d say I have at least steered it some way down a new path. My friend acknowledged that this was definitely progress against my previous baseline J Meanwhile I was ready: bring on 2018…

I had forgotten to allow for January. How do you deal with January? I’d love to hear other people’s strategies for getting through the darkest month. Those chill grey days where it feels like it never properly gets light?  There seem to have been a lot of those so far this year.

The one exception to my January blues, and it was actually pretty exceptional, was a winter retreat to the windswept and occasionally snowy Peak district.

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I was super-excited about this when I booked it but the night before I balked a little. “Am I really going to spend the first weekend of the year with a bunch of strangers?!” I asked my husband. But the strangers didn’t stay strangers for long as we drank tea and chatted in front of a wood burning stove on that first evening in a bunkhouse in Edale. Together we crafted winter wreaths and beeswax candles, stargazed and ate amazing food, went on a mindfulness walk in the beautiful hills and got through a fair amount of organic cider and wine. It was fantastic to connect with folk from a whole range of walks of life and strange to part with them, perhaps for good (though hopefully not), a couple of days later.

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It was after that that things took bit of a dive. We came down with… Something – not something terrible like the flu that’s been going round, mercifully – just something that made the days feel a struggle, the resolutions tarnish, and obliterating any evenings that we might have filled with good intentions.

There was, however, an unexpected upside. One late afternoon in the office, I got a text from my husband: “Almost there, come home and hibernate”. I felt strangely cheered. It somehow made our lethargy feel more… Justifiable. Intentional even. I reframed the fatigue: we weren’t slobbing around, we were hibernating. With new enthusiasm and an abandonment of guilt we embraced it. We changed early into pjs, snuggled up in front of box sets, ate our way through the last of the Christmas chocolates and headed early for bed. As our energy levels gradually returned, we also made an effort to light candles and put on good music. Why we don’t we do this more I don’t know, I always mean to. The boys even had a bath by candlelight which they loved.

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Hibernation has been a game changer. So there you go, we fell into it but that’s our, by no means original, strategy now for dealing with January.

I applaud those with new gym habits, on detox diets, or, heaven forbid, no alcohol in Jan, but it’s a tough ask at the darkest grimmest time of the year. For sure rolling back on the excesses of Christmas is a good idea – I’ve eaten four pieces of fruit this week and I almost went for a run – so I’m all with that. But I’ll save the rest till Spring comes. March. I’ll get fit in March, OK?

Addendum: On writing a blog

Writing this blog, apart from having a diary to look back on over the last year, has certainly inspired me to do more of the stuff I want to do. Having some level of accountability, even if to a handful of my friends who happen to scan my blog on a slow evening in, still acts as a motivator. It’s also increased my confidence in writing – I used to love writing when I was 16 and almost ditched the sciences in favour of English at A level. However, I’ve scarcely had any opportunity since, unless you count the writing I do for work, which I don’t. Being invited to contribute regularly to a much more widely read blog and getting my first magazine article published this year has therefore been pretty exciting.

So I’m going to continue the blog – hopefully revamp it and make it look prettier, maybe even find time to write more articles. Exactly where I’ll find that time I’m not so sure and I’d much rather write for enjoyment than find it a burden so we’ll see.

Finally a big thank you to those of you who have been so supportive – without your kind words I’d have lost confidence and stopped long ago. Thank you for encouraging me on this journey – I hope you enjoy this year’s posts. Happy 2018 all!

 

How does your garden grow?

Sometimes my life just isn’t compatible with blog-writing but before we’re completely subsumed by all things Christmas, here’s a post I wrote a month or so ago – better here than abandoned on my hard-drive 🙂 

We just dug up the last of our garden harvest, what do you think? We were quite pleased with them – we had about ten and for all they didn’t much resemble supermarket versions, and obviously not the traditional orange, definitely still carroty.

No-one can say that ten purple carrots is a bounty though and our garden harvest this year has definitely been a bit… minimalist. A bad workman blames his tools – does a bad gardener blame his soil? Probably. But at the risk of being defensive our soil is pretty bad – the second worst type of soil you can get according to a diagram that tells you these things. We are therefore very good at growing things that grow well in poor soil – Mediterranean herbs, lavender… That might be it actually! But we try hard and generally enjoy the effort.

This year we also grew purple potatoes. We had enough for three dinners but that’s the product of a whole vegetable bed, not great. Purple potatoes though! My son’s favourite colour so they went down a treat and the boys enjoyed “mining” them.

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Broad beans seemed a genuine success until I had shelled them all and realised that they were quite little without their shells on and we only had enough for one lunch but we made a delicious broad bean soup with them (recipe here; much recommended)

Curse the slugs! They got half of our French bean plants but those that made it through the slug attack were actually pretty productive. I should hope so too as they were billed as such. We’ve stopped choosing any varieties that state they have wonderful flavour or are “an interesting artisan variety” we just look for descriptions like: “very high yielding”, “hardy”, and “likes free draining soil”. Basically, hard as nails.

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The only thing that did fantastically this year was our apple tree. We gifted apples to lots of friends, one time taking a walk with bags of apples to do door to door deliveries.

 

On the day I wrote this, we took an apple crumble and some apple juice round to our friends’ for Sunday lunch and the day before we helped out with Apple Day celebrations in the town square. The community garden round the corner from us and a local orchard had teamed up to set up some stalls offering many different varieties of apples, apple juice, fantastic baked apple goods and making-crazy-apple-faces kids activities. I was on the stall doing the latter. We made a lot of crazy faces.

Apple day was invented as a festival in 1990 – who knew? I assumed it was centuries old.  I found this out in an article in the new Creative Countryside magazine – a new publication focused on nature, adventure, folklore and story-telling. I partly mention this because some of you might have noticed that I did a post on the Creative Countryside blog about our Norfolk camping adventures.  It was actually Creative Countryside that first inspired me to make the changes I made this year and indeed to write my own blog charting my efforts. I therefore love the fact that these themes are now captured in an actual magazine (the first edition was, appropriately “Gather”), lovely to have an alternative to the online world.

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Excited about the magazine, I pitched to write an article for the winter edition, was invited to submit the piece and it’s now in print! I haven’t seen it yet but if you like the sound of the magazine, you can order a copy here.

Summer’s end

img_20170819_115641.jpgHow did we get here already? The remainder of the holidays has just flown past. I can’t believe we’re back to school again on Tuesday. I am somewhat in denial – at the time of writing, new school shirts remain untried on and I know for a fact that the trousers I have in the drawer are currently way too long. But hey, I have three whole days yet to go. In the meantime, here are some of the other things that have filled our summertime since our Pembrokeshire holiday…

 

August… Not the summer weather we’d hoped for hey? The best we can describe it is so-so. One so-so Saturday, we engaged in hide and seek and,ahem, hill rolling on nearby Deacon Hill. I haven’t rolled down a hill for, ooh, at least a quarter of a century. It was steep and persuading myself to complete the first full body rotation was tough but after that I was pretty into it, in fact it’s fair to say my husband, Dom, and I were way more into it than the boys. Here is photographic evidence that we were actually this ridiculous – my gift to you and the internet!

 

That day I was a magical spider monkey. Most days in August we’ve been a new creature. I’ve been a magical woodpecker, dragon, superhero-lizard, ring-tailed lemur and Gastornis (ancient bird featured in a dinosaur magazine) among many (many) others. Today I am a magical glass dolphin. Occasionally I get to choose, but mostly my entity for the day is assigned.

On the day that Lara came to visit we were magical hummingbirds. We were looking after her as part of a childcare swap with some friends. On the Friday my boy had been entertained royally with a visit to Stockwell Park with its great museum displays and play areas. My plans for the return day were a little lower key. We weren’t able to use the car for boring carseat reasons and she is not a scooter fan so instead we started in the garden apple-bobbing and picking up windfalls.

 

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Lara instantly bought into the idea of being a hummingbird and the kids fluttered down to the community garden round the corner, stopping to sup nectar from flowers in front gardens along the way.

 

I’d planned that we would pick elderberries (for wine!) from the forest garden but hardly any were ripe so that only lasted about one minute before the kids went and played on the swings and slides in the park.

After lunch I decided to up my game – we would make paper boats – and sail them down the river. The kids were enthusiastic: we followed a video on YouTube for the origami bit and had fun decorating them before launch.

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I’d anticipated we’d be able to get into the river and float them down to each other quite a few times before they got too soggy. I’d done this last summer on a different local stream. After ice creams on the riverbank we headed to the launch spot but I hadn’t anticipated huge amounts of water weed and silty mud fringing every possible river entrance.

“Not to worry” I said cheerfully “We’ll drop them off the bridge and wave them on their way to the sea!” The kids were excited – they posed for photos before excitedly dropping them off the edge of the bridge and we had at least 10 seconds of delight as we watched them sail on their way.

 

In no time at all they were all stuck in the waterweed a few metres downstream and regrettably well in sight of the bridge. My younger boy burst into tears immediately and demanded I free his boat. We tried in vain for about 5 minutes to enter the water to release the three little stuck boats from their leafy ports. Then my older boy’s boat abruptly sank. I guess it just got too soggy but at this point he also burst into tears.

I tried to persuade them in my cheerful voice that we’d carried out the plan, we’d launched the boats and that was great and now we should just leave the bridge and go and play in the nearby sandpit. This cut no ice at all. I got cross and they cried louder and, well, it wasn’t my finest parenting hour! Lara was very stoic about the whole thing though, bless her, and eventually the draw of the park was enough to distract us all. We had to cross back over the darned bridge with its emotional boat-drama cloud still hanging over it to get home but the promise of Paw Patrol before dinner solves all.

And that last blog about wanting to experience summer rain? Well, the very day after I posted that was wall to wall drear and I had absolutely no desire to go outside. Summer rain or not, I had no energy, no wish to leave the sofa and certainly no desire to get wet. I think we did some kind of painting effort and the telly definitely featured heavily and I had to smile. Maybe next week!

Anyway, enough tapping at the keyboard, these holidays are done! It is now the day before school starts and while enough of the uniform mercifully fits, in no way is it all laid out and ready for school so I’m going to post this at summer’s close and ready us for the start of the autumn term. Deep breath…

My river

What is your favourite place? I think mine must be the little chalk stream in Hampshire that runs through the village where I grew up. It is my river 🙂 It’s one of my favourite places in the world and a couple of weeks ago I shared it with my boys.

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It’s a funny name, looking at it objectively – Me-on, named after the ancient Briton tribe the Meonware apparently. It was where I spent many a summer afternoon after school with my best friend from my village. As soon as we got home from a long hot bus journey, we would rush inside, grab our swimming things and head for a swim in the deep mill pond at the bottom of the mill race. It‘s the only part of the river deep enough to swim and it’s actually on private land but the owner used to put up a notice saying “In this hot weather, any local children can swim in the river”. These days it just says “Private: please keep to the footpath”. I feel a bit sad that the village kids these days can’t do that any more.

After our first cool down, my friend and I used to head downstream to a secret bit of river between two bridges, only accessible from either end and out of sight almost straight away. I remember sunshine, yellow flags and the occasional kingfisher. It was too shallow to swim so we invented “river gliding”, making your body as flat as possible and pushing yourself downstream, which we’d do until we reached the public bridge south of the church.

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It is to this stretch by the bridge that I took my boys – it was too cold even for river gliding but we had fun in a rubber dinghy and pretending to be explorers as we set foot on the new island that has established around what was once just a fallen log in the middle of the channel. I’d anticipated heading there every day for picnics by the river during our five days in Hampshire but this was the second week in August, if you remember it, and it rained a lot. But as you can see from these photos one morning we had just enough sunshine.

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We had a little moonshine too… Somewhat tipsy after (the same as it happens) school friend’s fantastic wedding in the village, I dragged Dom down to the river just before midnight. The moon was so bright and it looked beautiful down there, I even managed a shaky photo.

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The river links my present to my past. Combined with the warm haze of a few drinks and the moonlight, it was a special moment to share at the end of the wedding day of the friend who’d paddled there with me years ago. It is my river and it always will be.

Summer time: and the living is easy?

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Our first summer holidays! Well, since they were last a thing which was… Student days I guess. For so long now they’ve just been a chunk of time to be avoided like the plague in order to enjoy crowd-free, relatively inexpensive holidays. Now we have 6 weeks of school-free time to be filled with fun, or at least survived!

Week one: the Pembrokeshire coast, staying in a picturesque converted barn, the four of us and my parents. It was a great start to the summer – we explored castles, harbour towns, cafes and beaches and generally enjoyed the really-good-considering-it’s-west-Wales weather ,which equated to two days of actual sunshine. These were our beach days. People split don’t they? Into beach people and not beach people. I’m a beach person; my husband is not, although he also enjoyed the couple of days we had, filled with plenty of sand castles (which he insisted in turning into major construction projects – children optional) and rock pools, especially at the gorgeous Broadhaven beach in these pictures.

While my dad and the boys got stuck into some serious “drainage works” (digging channels and diverting small streams across the beach), I persuaded my mum to come with me for a swim.

“Go on, it will be great!”

“But I left my swimming costume in the car”

“Oh that’s OK, I have a bikini and a swimming costume, you can wear mine”

“But I have nothing to change under”

“Here’s a towel”. Ha!

Excitedly we headed down to where the wavelets were breaking gently on the golden sand… Oh. My. Goodness. OK so it’s the Welsh coast but even so. Unbelievably cold. Now I don’t pride myself on much when it comes to physical efforts but I grew up playing in a chalk stream every summer for 18 years: I am good at going in cold water. But this was something else! Eventually after much gasping and squeaking we were in and swimming and out again less than 5 minutes later, giggly and glowing.

It struck me after those two sandy, breezy, paddly, rock-scrambly days, with that truly icy swim, just how little I use my sense of touch in everyday life. Despite my good intentions this year (and the added incentive of this blog), we still haven’t got outside as much as I’d like to. I’d like to feel more on my skin: I’d like to experience the rain and the wind more and actually feel the ground under bare feet (without ending up completely drenched, cold and miserable with sore feet obviously). Often I tell myself that I avoid the elements for the sake of the children, but I guess it comes back to my fair weather tendencies that I wrote about in January. Except in summer there’s certainly less excuse, so something to work on!

Anyway, where was I? Pembrokeshire… Another holiday highlight was a day trip to the wonderful seabird island of Skomer. We started with a fun boat ride out which my youngest loved and my older boy was thrilled to see gannets diving near the cliff edges as we approached our landing spot. We then had most of the day to explore the island and try and spot some puffins and other seabirds.

Skomer is biggish for short legs so we kept the boys entertained with imagination games as we explored. The boys didn’t seem to notice or care that they were each involved in a different game and my husband is perfectly capable of tuning them out if he has something to say (I envy men this capability).

“So in this part of the island they are trying to re-establish heather for the owls to nest in” states my husband, the ecologist.

“Fold your wings back and diiiiiiive” cries my magical gannet boy simultaneously,

“Raaaa, lets hunt for triceratops Mummy T-Rex!” roars my youngest, in synchrony.

And of course I’m expected to interact with all of these. Not quite the mindful, relaxing, island experience I was after but it helped us cover the distance with limited whinge – which these days I’ll take!

By the end of the day we’d seen puffins aplenty floating on the sea and flying back to their cliff top burrows, kittiwakes and fulmars (like tiny albatrosses) nestled into steep cliffs and all-importantly, for my excited two year old, the boat returned to pick us up.

“Mummy when’s the boat coming?”

“We’ve only just arrived sweetheart”

“Mummy can we go and catch the boat?”

“Not yet, let’s explore the island!”

“Are we going to find the boat now?”

“Have you seen this… seagull?”

“Mummy…”

“Look here come’s the [don’t say sodding] boat!”

Luckily he loved the journey back every bit as much.

So Pembrokeshire was great. Which left us with one week down and five to go. What to do now that the main event was over? And are we going to find the creativity, patience and money to get through the rest…? More in the next post!

Spring adventures

Everything changes with spring! For a start we have got our largest room back: our garden. From now we’ll spend many hours and most of our mealtimes outside until we’re forced back indoors by chilly autumn days. Our garden has its own mini wood (OK, 4 small trees!), meadow (little flowery patch of grass with bench) and pond and it’s exciting to find out who we’re sharing our small patch of land with this year.

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A puss moth on the apple tree

Some, like the lizards on the wood pile and the cheeky wood mouse that used to run around the decking while we had our dinner didn’t survive the arrival of next door’s cats. But the birds, bees and butterflies are more resilient. Leaf cutter bees have made their home in a proper little bee house, the awesomely-named hairy-footed flower bees are obsessed with the catmint outside our back door, tawny mining-bees are building miniature soil volcanoes in our lawn, and today I saw a queen bumble scouring for a new property in the long grass at the bottom of the garden.

Meanwhile, a comma butterfly fiercely guards a patch of wallflowers in one corner, a beautiful furry puss moth turned up one morning, and there’s definitely a robin’s nest nearby because the parents are busy feeding chicks we can hear squeaking in the hedge.

Back to the woods…

What I’m loving most about Spring is not having to force myself outside any more. At the beginning of the month, we enthusiastically headed back to the wood elf woods (Hitch Wood) for the first time since Christmas.

We went in search of their homes and found them in the gnarled hornbeam trees on the edge of the woods: a couple of rather splendid palaces, a store stump and some more humble residences. A friend commented on my earlier blog that they also found wood elves in Hitch Wood a few years ago – it’s obviously a good place for them!

We’ve also been bluebelling. On one trip with friends to nearby Wain Wood we found a den that was so well built we reckoned it can only have been constructed by a couple of competitive dads! The four year olds were suitably impressed although they quickly moved on to climbing the trees nearby while the 2 year olds busied themselves finding big and little sticks 🙂

I forget now at what stage the stick thing stops but clearly not yet and I’m glad! We ended up in a pub garden drinking craft beer wondering why we don’t make this a feature of more of our weekends.

DSCN9904Gransden and Waresley Woods last Sunday was spectacular – a stunning carpet of bluebells and we were thrilled to find some early purple orchids by the path edge too. “Early purp-kids is like eagles” announced my two year old obscurely.

We’d also promised the boys some paddling in a little stream that cuts through the wood but when we got there it was completely dry.

“I want to splash in water!” complained our youngest.

“Sorry poppet, the river’s empty. It’s all dried up.”

DSCN9890“There’s water up there” an older boy pointed upstream, as he passed us on the bridge. So we picked our way up the dry streambed and it wasn’t long before we triumphantly found puddles and then larger sections of water. Our four year old was delighted and splashed around enthusiastically. “I want to see the empty river!” declared his younger brother loudly.

My husband and I just looked at each other.

So there you are, a few things to share about our spring so far. It’s still only April and spring is my favourite time of the year so I hope there will be more to come although I have a fifth birthday party to organise in mid-May so goodness knows if I’ll manage to actually carve out time to write! We’re having it in the garden and our house is way too small for twenty kids so if you know any good sun dances let me know…

Slow living, slowly!

Finally back! February was a bit of a non-starter when it came to blogging. To be honest most things didn’t happen that month – we all got ill, proper flu. It’s taken aaaages to feel better and get back on top of things and here we are, mid March already!

I’m glad to finally get a chance to write again. This time it’s to reflect on one of my resolutions from the beginning of the year: to embrace “slow living”. Living more slowly is supposed to be about making time for special things, the things that make you feel like you’re actually living life, not just rushing through it. Easier to write than to do! I’ve definitely learned quite a bit about myself in trying to change this aspect of our lives over the last few weeks.

To start with the good stuff, I know now that we can do it and when we manage it, it’s great. It also helps with my resilience against an otherwise pervasive feeling of powerlessness in the context of Brexit, Trump etc. (Though I have now stopped listening to the news and that helps too!). So, some successes: a three course valentines dinner and bubbles by candlelight was a winner; a walk with an old school friend and our children through the pools, woods and rushes of Fowlmere nature reserve was my favourite day of half term; spending overdue quality time with one of my oldest and closest friends has been awesome; and I’m glad we remembered to light candles at dinner to celebrate Candelmas, the wonderful festival that extends back thousands of years marking the mid-point between the longest night and the arrival of spring.

Carving out time for these things has been great but it’s underlined the extent to which you have to make time to be able to take the time to get the most out of an experience. Basically you have to be pretty organised! Now we come to the nub of it: I’ve never been organised in my life! It’s become clear that I’m going to have to change a couple of pretty ingrained habits to really shift our lifestyle.

The first thing that needs to change is the amount of time we spend clearing up after ourselves. If we’d only put things away properly rather than down in some random location, we’d be in a much better place. You’d think this would be easy to crack: you stop putting the things down and you start putting them away, right? Ha, if only it were that easy! We even started a Down/Away Hall of Shame where we spent a fiercely competitive two days pointing out everything the other person left lying around in a bid to shame ourselves of the habit. We tallied up every error on a piece of paper stuck to the kitchen cupboard. Predictably amazing for marital relations, the energy behind this has subsequently dwindled to a background level of nag and we’re back to our old habits. So work to be done there!

Secondly it’s really highlighted the extent to which I have a pathological failure to look ahead, even to the next hour sometimes, certainly to the next day. Life’s constantly taking me by surprise in an entirely avoidable way. And for that reason even simple things can take ages!

One silly example involved baking chaos on a grey Sunday in February. It was so cold and grim that I decided to stay in and make cookies with the boys. My two year old has recently started cooking carrot porridge in his pretend kitchen so the timing felt right. I loaded up a recipe on the phone and quickly got the boys measuring pouring and mixing the flour and sugar whilst I cubed the butter… Ready for the creaming with the sugar that was now extremely well combined with a large volume of flour. “This is why I don’t do baking!” I railed. But I hadn’t actually read the recipe! What kind of idiot just reads the ingredients list? “It’s OK, we’ll use it to make a crumble” declares my husband optimistically waving his hand at a large pile of apples in the fruit bowl. He even offered to go and get more sugar from the shop down the road. But then it turned out I hadn’t even read to the end of the flipping ingredients list either because the last item on the list was vanilla essence which we were out of. I had to go and get that so the shop guy wouldn’t notice that we like to buy our baking ingredients individually, at ten minute intervals. (At least our neighbour who regularly watches our comings and goings from across the road had not chosen that moment for his fag break.)

None of this was the end of the world – the boys loved making the biscuits, friends and colleagues enjoyed eating them, and we had apple crumble! But it took twice as long as it should have done and was just a bit more fraught than it needed to be.

More significantly, last week I went on a management training course which I’d booked myself onto a good six weeks before. It turned out, at 10pm the night before, we had five exercises we needed to do in advance and when I showed up, somewhat underprepared, I found that my CEO was on the course with me. Amazing. So while that was nothing to do with my slow living efforts, it sure as anything underlined my need to start looking ahead and being more organised!

So, slow living, we’ve made a (slow!) start and I’m determined to keep trying to change these habits of a lifetime. In the meantime, if you have any tips…

In my next post… Spring! So happy it’s finally here.