Spring, Slowly

After what feels like a long winter, it feels like spring is finally slowly starting to spring! We have warnings of more snow this weekend, but just now the air is cool and crisp, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there are daffodils springing up in the gardens to match those I have been buying for my vases inside since February.

I am nearly halfway through this pregnancy. It feels very strange to write that. Most mornings I wake up and suddenly remember with a jolt that I am pregnant. I’m not very bumpy yet, I have the first hintings of stirrings of movement, nothing firm, almost the idea of a kind of squirming sensation along with the odd little ‘pop’. I can’t wait for a proper bump and proper kicks, maybe then this will all feel a little more real.

I’m busy all the time just now, with a three year old who is heading towards four, a part time job and a house to run it is to be expected. Although I am asleep by 9:00 mist nights I am trying to fill the little nooks and crannies of time with things that feed my soul. I am reading, reading, reading. I discovered Rosamunde Pilcher recently. I’ve been aware of her for years and years having shelved her books countless times when I was working in libraries…but somehow I never got around to reading her work. I find them so comfortable, a real little haven of domestic bliss. You wish you could just slip between the pages and have a weeks holiday there. 
I’ve also recently discovered the Miss Silver mysteries by Patricia Wentworth. I’ve read more Agatha Christie than I haven’t, so finding work of hers which is new to me doesn’t happen very often. Miss Silver takes a different approach to Miss Marple, but they are both of the Golden Age, both knit, both star in well written mysteries, so I am really enjoying these.

I have a little grey dress on the knitting needles for Jessica. I plan for her to wear it next winter, and when it is finished to start a matching one for her little sister. I am also crocheting a pair of bed socks, having seen a lovely pattern on the Tales From A Happy Home blog. I bought the yarn, a lovely soft alpaca while I was up in London a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think I have written about that, but amidst all the snow, having been housebound for most of a week, I managed to get up to the spring Knitting and Stitching Show at Olympia, and had a very inspiring and enjoyable day.

I came across a pattern for some little crocheted owls this morning, and thought a set of those in rainbow colours would make a lovely gift given alongside a copy of Wow Said The Owl which is a childrens’ story book about colours. So many things that I want to make, and so little time!

I am also starting to plan what to make as gifts for Easter, and thinking about a few decorations. Oh, and I saw some beautiful liberty print fat quarters which I would like to use to make a ‘Happy Birthday’ bunting banner. At over £30 I need to find a slightly more affordable option though!

In the kitchen, I’ve been thinking about freezer cookery a lot. I am batch cooking meals for Jessica to try and make our late afternoon/early evening routine easier and more relaxing for us both. My favourite thing I made last week was a batch of meatballs which I froze raw on a tray, then shook into a plastic bag, and a tomatoey sauce to go with them which I froze in a nice cube tray and then decanted into a Tupperware box. When I want to cook them, I just take out some meatballs and cubes of sauce to defrost, pop them in an oven proof dish and bake for 15 minutes whilst cooking the pasta. I like the feeling of peace it gives me.

I read a piece by Tonya Leigh last week, and one line has stayed with me. ‘The person who is being chased through the woods by a bear is not thinking about what to cook for dinner‘ how true that is! And when my own personal bear is disorganisation, it makes me realise that when I am thinking about trying to get a load of washing on, not being sure what we’ll have for dinner, knowing I’ll need to pop to the shops with Jessica to get something for dinner….I’m using my resources on firefighting and not having so much time to just enjoy the dailies was of everyday life, not having so much time to plan all the seasonal joys and little extras. 

As Alison over at Brocante Home has written, it is routine which gets the canvas prepared so you can then enjoy decorating it. Scrubbing the loo and vacuuming will never be glamorous, but when everything is clean and tidy and unfolds as it should, when there are always clean clothes in the wardrobe and a delicious meal on the way to the table…everyone gets to just relax. 

I am making a concerted effort to work on making life as simple as possible for myself. As well as exploring freezer cookery, I treated myself to a beautiful berry red notebook to use as a kind of bullet journal. My lovely friend Annastasia has been keeping a day book for years, and mine is inspired by her, and incorporates my diary. It felt so good last night sitting and drawing out calendar pages for each month and filling them with details of midwife appointments, specially days at preschool, birthday parties, all the things I have been holding in my mind but not pinning down on paper.

Next steps will be to really tweak and pin down a routine for housekeeping, so the washing, shopping, cleaning, and cooking happen as easily as possible.

It feels almost like a kind of soring cleaning, all this looking at new ways of organisation and exploring new authors, starting to be creative again.

And now, I am off to peg the washing out on the line to dry in the spring sunshine. It has been lovely catching up, I didn’t mean for this to be such a long post…if I had known before I had started to write I would have offered you a cup of tea to sit down with!





Inconvenient Convenience

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about housekeeping and homemaking, about what I want to pass on to Jessica when she one day makes a home of her own. I’ve been thinking too about what needs to be tweaked so I can get as much done as possible with as little effort as possible, so I can rest lots in the run up to our sweet baby girl joining us in the summer, and to give us as much cushioning as possible in those hazy newborn days.

Today underlined something for me that I have been pondering for a while. I’ve posted before about how much I’ve missed meal planning but struggled to reinstate it. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about what advice I would give Jessica on menu planning and grocery shopping, and have been thinking that perhaps I should really be taking my own advice.

We woke up this morning to snow. Just a sprinkling, but more falling, and more threatened to come. Snow and not a lot of milk left, the end of the bread, and plans but no provisions for dinner.

Luckily we live a ten minute wander from a corner shop Tesco in one direction, and a farm shop and corner shop in the other direction. Convenient. Only not actually very convenient at all. I wanted lamb mince for a shepherds pie, and tried Tesco knowing that the other two didn’t sell it…but no. So hastily altered plans for cottage pie instead. I had decaffeinated teabags on my list, but they have reduced the range and the only they had were £3.60 for 80 which I most certainly wasn’t going to pay. No matter which day or which time of day you go in, they are always shelf stacking with huge cages so you can barely get round, and constantly have to squeeze against a shelf so they can get past. And they are that bit dearer than in the big branches.

It all adds up to the convenience actually being pretty inconvenient, and has helped me resolve to make a meal plan for the next few days and then arrange for a grocery delivery.

I’ll write more in a few days about my plan for approaching splitting up my housekeeping budget for this.

What houskeeping matters are you attending to this week?

Happy Day

Although this is a very much wanted baby, so far it hasn’t been the happiest or easiest of pregnancies. In the beginning I was so happy to be pregnant, but very fearful having lost three, and still missing those three. Then I had some bleeding which as you can imagine was terrifying. When we went for our 12 week scan, I was so, so relieved to see a live baby on the screen, it didn’t occur to me to worry that anything else might be wrong. Then came the phone call a few days later asking us to go in as soon as possible, as the blood test I had on the same day as the scan gave us a 1:101 chance of our baby being born with Downs. They treat anything up to 1:150 as ‘higher risk’ and even though my rational braon said there was a 99% chance of everything being fine, sitting in a room with a nurse passing you tissues and talking about your ‘termination options’ and telling you the only NHS tests have a miscarriage risk….well it is hard to see the light.

My lovely, kind husband paid for us to have a private test which posed absolutely no risk to our baby (and indeed will be available on the NHS later this year) and we had it last Saturday…and then waited and waited for the results. Gosh it was a nerve wracking time. To be honest in some ways the results didn’t matter at all, our baby would be loved and welcomed just the same. But I think it is fair to say any parent wants their baby to be healthy.

Yesterday we got the news that analysing our baby’s dna shows there to be a 0.01% chance of them being born with Downs….and also, we found out that we are having another little girl!

This morning I woke up to one of those freezlingly cold but fiercely bright February mornings, and my heart felt light. Its been a long time.

We had breakfast out together, then Carl sent me home for a rest and relax while he took Jessica into town. I got home, made tea, put the heating on and ran a bath with my new rose bubble bath. I hopped in with The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth and lost myself for an hour or so until there was a knock on the door. My lovely Mum had sent us the most lovely thing to celebrate our news. Rather than cut flowers, a planter with hyacinths, polyanthus and tete-a-tete.

It matches my spirits perfectly, spring time loveliness, new growth, and joy.

It is a happy Saturday here. Jessica and Carl are in the garden building a little fire together, I am inside under a quilt listening to radio 4. I hope your Saturday is as lovely as mine.





Lent – Cleaning Products

There is nothing like these late winter days with their particular blue skies and sharp sunlight, the sight of the first crocuses and daffodil buds for making me want to clean everything.

Last autumn I read a book (The Natural Home) which had a really good section on making your own cleaning products. They are meant to be effective, cheap, and better for the environment than many of the commercially available products. But somehow, although I have had a list of ingredients written out for a while, I haven’t quite got around to buying them.

I knew I wanted to give our toilet a good clean, because we live in a very hard water area the limescale builds up very quickly. On the way home from the shops I had a ponder. I didn’t really have the time to seek out the products for a homemade cleaner there and then (and I find the urge to clean is best if acted upon immediately!) and I really didn’t want to buy a commercial chemically bleachy cleaner. (I know everything is made of chemicals, but I am using the word as a shorthand for the nefarious ones here).

Despite living in the city centre (admittedly the smallest city there is) there are few ‘big’ shops easily walkable to. There is a Marks and Spencee in town centre, and then it is a short walk to a small Tesco. Not ideal if you want something out of the ordinary. Then I had an idea…I spotted the Oxfam Bookshop and remembered they sometimes sell eco toiletries, so popped in to see if they had any cleaning products.

Happily, they did! The range they sell is called BioD and I was pleased to see it wasn’t much more expensive than a mainstream brand. Definitely affordable. We chose a nice book for Jessica, and I spotted several other nice things I would like to buy over time – a bamboo reusable coffee cup, some fairtrade chocolate….

The long and the short of it is that I am really impressed with the cleaning power, if a little surprised by the strong vinegar smell. I think I will experiment with making my own when this has run out, but for now and to fall back on this is definitely a good buy. Very easy to use – squirt it in, leave to dissolve the limescale, brush and flush.

This has been in my mind since the autumn, I am glad that we are using Lent as a prompt to actually do some of the things that I have been thinking about for so long.

I may have to add a drop or two of lavender oil next time though…just to mask the vinegar smell!


A Rainy Monday Morning

There is something about a rainy Monday morning which serves to throw little homely pleasures into greater relief and make them feel even more cosy. After all, a spotlight only works if the rest of the stage is in shadow.

This morning there has been the scritch scratch of the butter knife on hot crunchy toast, a few pages of my lovely new book, Jessica snuggled on the rocking chair with her patchwork blanket, and a cup of tea that was just right. There are new bunches of daffodils waiting to go into vases on the mantlepiece, dining room table and bedside table. A phonecall with Mum. Amy singing in her cage. Little pleasures scattered like the raindrops against our windowpane.


Lenten Thoughts

I am so happy to have given up all the things it is recommended you give up while pregnant (goodbye pate, Brie, goats cheese, liver, gin, sigh….) but at the same time it does feel like I have given up a lot of my usual little pleasures. 

Rather than think of one more thing to give up this Lent, we decided to look at it from a slightly different angle. Instead of giving up one thing consistently, we decided to look for bad habits in our household we could replace with better ones. There rarely seems to be enough time to slow down and think properly, and some things I end up doing in automatic pilot. So this Lent, I’ll be trying to be a bit more conscious in the choices I make for our little household.

The first one which spring easily to mind was milk, we get through a fair amount with three of us, and me a big tea drinker. All that milk comes in plastic bottles which we do recycle…but I’d like to try another way. I have signed us up for milk deliveries in glass bottles. The immediate thing I noticed was it is quite a but more expensive than buying from the supermarket. I had planned to switch to organic as well, but I don’t think my budget will easily stretch to it, so I’ll look to buy a mix. At the end of Lent I’ll need to decide if the extra cost is worth the convenience, and also reducing our plastic output.

Leading on from this, I was horrified to find that nearly all the teabags available to buy are sealed using a thermal plastic. The Co-Op is the first to announce they are phasing this out, and other manufacturers are apparently working on developing plastic free bags….but until then, next time I need to buy tea, I’ll be buying leaves. You can compost teabags, but the idea of all that plastic breaking down into tiny particles and getting into our ecosystem…well I’ll just say I wish I had known about this years ago.

Toilet roll is something else on my list, and this time it is a nice easy switch, to buying only that which is made with recycled paper.

Cling film is another thing I want to do away with. When I stop to think, I can’t believe how easily conditioned we are to use products like this. I want to have a go at making my own beeswax wraps, but I also saw some fabric sandwich wraps I want to buy. They are laminated in a kind of plastic, but they are not single use, and it is single use and non-recyclable plastic that I really have in my sights here.

I was thinking of buying some reusable straws until several people pointed out they are hard to clean. Instead, I’ll be popping a pack of paper straws into my bag for when we are out and about and we order a drink for Jessica. 

So much of our power as consumers comes from how and where we spend our money, so I’ll be voting for how I want the world to be with how I spend my housekeeping. Where I can I’ll be looking to buy fair trade, and we’ll be eating less meat but better quality meat and making it go further. I’ll be using as many local and/or independent shops as I can.

I’ll be thinking about other swaps and changes we can make as we journey through Lent, and I hope we will find plenty of them stay with us after Lent has ended. 


Pancakes On A Freezing February Tuesday

It is quite a week, this week. Shrove Tuesday today, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and Chinese New Year on Friday!

I had work, Carl had work, and Jessica had preschool, so we had pancakes for pudding this evening instead of breakfast. (Every now and then, while eating her dinner, Jessica will pause and put her head slightly on one side before asking ‘and what is for my little pudding tonight Mummy?’)

A few weeks ago I tried out a new recipe for the ‘rolly up’ crepe style pancakes. It came from BBC Good Food magazine…and was horrible. Maybe it is a case of liking what you are used to, but they were very eggy, so I will be sticking with my tried, tested and trusted recipe which I first came across in Nigella Lawson’s first recipe book.

‘Rolly Up’ Pancakes

120g plain flour

1 egg

300ml milk

I put everything into my little blender, whizz up into a batter, and then fry in hot pan.

Jessica likes hers with lemon and sugar, Carl likes his with chocolate spread and banana. This year I joined Carl, but oftentimes at breakfast I’ll join Jessica.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Our celebrations are simple but heartfelt. Cards, token gifts, but most importantly, time spent together.

I have a lovely book for Jessica for tomorrow, called Under My Love Umbrella. It is so sweet, basically telling your child that wherever they go, there is an invisible umbrella of love over them. I can’t wait to read it to her tomorrow.

I feel in need of a love umbrella today. Yesterday I had a phone call from the hospital…we had to go in and see the screening nurse as our scan and blood test from last week shows that we are at a higher risk of having a baby affected by Downs Syndrome. Sadly the only tests available on the NHS carry a risk of miscarriage. Luckily there is a completely safe blood test we can pay to have done privately. It is expensive, almost a month’s rent, but I feel really strongly that I need to know, and that I can’t do anything that could put this precious little one at risk.