Saturday 27 July 2013

30/52 A Portrait A Week

Henry: He found a bee and his face when he bought it in to show us was really the picture, but by the time I'd got the camera the delight in his eye was firmly focussed down inspecting his find... he did hold it out for me to take a photo though.
Coco: She has a little crown on her forehead and sometimes it sends a few hairs off in a different direction. She was so pleased with Henry for finding his bee.

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel

Friday 26 July 2013

My Future Shoe Designer

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that a while ago I suffered the first - of probably many - shoe shop meltdowns.

Coco needed plimsoles for PE and her very first sports day. She wanted trainers - which I would have been happy to buy IF we had had a more imaginative choice. But hey, guess what? We could either have had trainers in pink or in blue, or green.
I tried to convince her of the merits of converse which were a bit more imaginatively multicoloured but she was having none of it. She wouldn't even try them on.

I remember the shoe wars of my childhood very well. We had a shoe shop in the family... it stocked a lot of Clarks - funnily enough as I type I'm wearing a lovely pair of Clarks sandals that I've had lots of compliments on, but when I was younger I dreamed of Freeman Hardy & Willis - anyone remember that shop? I was not allowed to have shoes from there; which of course made them all the more desirable. Actually that is not strictly true, when I was 10 I had a pair of FH&W patent red pointed toe shoes with a plaid bow on them. I LOVED them. I remember the day after I got them I woke up and thought I'd dreamt them up, but when I peered over the edge of the top bunk I saw them sitting on our blue carpet. My shoe love was born.

So I really do empathise with Coco - and so I let her try on the glittery pink 'trainers' she desired. They didn't fit. Now as much as I would have probably let her get them, I'm not going to buy her shoes that don't fit (well, maybe if the seriously cute converse ones hadn't have fit, I might have considered it) so on the spur of the moment while the tears started trickling down her cheeks I had a brainwave.

I bought the plainest pair of plimsoles the shop had and then... This happened.

The shoe designer gets cracking...

Customised trainers - complete with her 'new' name de jour 'Sophie' written on them!

And here they are in action - the egg and spoon race.
A nearly Happy Ending...
...only nearly as we had more tears on sports day due to the fact that one of her friends was wearing the previously mentioned glittery trainers. Sartorial battles, peer pressure. It all starts here.

Thursday 25 July 2013

29/52 A Portrait a Week

Portraits and Out-takes too this week (I'm in an indecisive mood and couldn't really choose one photo this week.

Coco: Catching bubbles. Wow bubbles can be stressful, we almost always spill the bubble mixture, Henry wants to make bubbles but gets cross when Coco pops them and Coco just wants to catch them. I just want to get photos.
Henry: Enjoying drinking some fizzy water; which he calls 'spicy water', it delights him and surprises him everytime.

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel

Wednesday 24 July 2013


Once upon a time there was a little girl of five. Her mother had died and she lived with her father in a little flat in north London.

Every morning she would get herself up and dressed for school, she'd make her own breakfast. She was very independent. She was always ready to leave for school when the neighbours called round to pick her up.

Her father would sleep through all her preparations, he got up in the afternoon in time to pick her up from school, make her supper and spend time with her before she went to bed and he started work... going to bed himself before his little girls morning routine began again.

That little girl is my older sister.

Makes you think doesn't it? Maybe a little bit of independance goes a long way?
All the chivying and shouting and imploring that I do in the mornings to try to get Coco to school, maybe if I just left her to it then she'd take responsibility.
Or maybe not.


It's Coco's first day of the holidays today - so no more school run for 42 days - and lots of independant breakfasts for Coco and Henry just like the one pictured above.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Hugh's 40th Birthday #2 - A Home-Made Photobooth

So one of the many plans I had for Hugh's 40th birthday party was to make a photobooth.

Which I did... as you can see (although I took this photo today for the Papermash washi Wednesday comp)

I had a pin on my much neglected pinterest board of the blackboard painted thinking and speech bubble sticks for ages. So the day before the party - after a morning at Coco's school sports day (why does everything have to happen at the same time!?) - I finally sprang into action and cut out some shapes from form board, which of course I could very easily have done months before the party.

Then I painted them with some leftover blackboard paint from when we painted the wall in our kitchen.

I also made some arrows too. They all got a bit bendy when they were painted so I ended up doing a few coats back and front. The wooden dowel is for the record-breakingly long running roman blind project - but as they I haven't got around to putting them in the blinds yet I could use them as the sticks for the bubbles.

Next up I popped round to our local camera shop and bought a remote shooting wire with two metres of cable. Now here is where I went a bit wrong - in my mind; and it unfortunate that I pride myself on being quite good at judging distances; two metres was easily enough to reach from the camera to the 'booth' (wall) so people could just use the shutter release cable to take photos.
So I merrily continued with my set up and failed to test it with the cable... you know what is going to happen right?

I made a frame on the wall with washi tape and I set the camera up in a shelf opposite... I took this photo after I'd actually dismantled the camera set up.
After that (and finishing the cake and tidying up and spending time with the guests we had staying etc etc) I went to bed...
The next morning Hugh was delegated with finishing off the booth and of course one of the first things he did was discover that the remote cable wasn't actually long enough to reach from the camera to the frame set up on the opposite wall.
So he fashioned a plan B which involved the laptop staying connected to the camera and him using his phone as a remote control to work the laptop which in turn worked the camera... hmmm, quite round about. But it worked, kind of. 

We left a variety of props (borrowed from Coco's dressing up box) and chalk to write on the think/speech bubbles and went off to enjoy the party... and then we checked the photos out the next day - quite a nice party come-down activity.

So there you have it - our homemade photobooth and lots of lovely friends to go in it - although I think the majority were slightly baffled by it - they'll get it by the time we have Hugh's 50th birthday party.

 (I adjusted the photos with photoshop to make them look like instagrams; how around the houses is that? But if you want the photoshop action you can find it here.)

Tuesday 16 July 2013

New Shelves for the Kitchen

Hosting the Nursery was a big incentive to get a few things done around the house - there is nothing like opening your home to a handful of strangers to make you want to feel a bit house proud (I'm sure Hugh would say this was a big incentive for hosting... I always like to give myself a deadline).

One of the areas of the kitchen that was still unfinished was the fireplace area - under the mantlepiece that I love to clutter up.

It was under dispute between me and Hugh for a while. I was quite keen to try to re-install the fireplace inner (which was pretty badly degraded) and find new tiles for it - Hugh on the other hand won out with his plan to put some shelves in the space (and I think he might have had the right idea).

Shall I start at the very beginning!? (Long pause while I go off and dig in the archives for suitable photos)...

2009 - this was the fireplace in the kitchen - back in the days of bad photography; am ashamed that this is the best illustrative photo that I could find.

The tiles in the surround which are hardly visible on the left, we cleaned up and used in our sitting room fireplace - the hearth tiles were in a really bad state so we got new tiles, same pattern but different colours. The mantlepiece, which is all cast iron (hence why it has all the stickygrams and magnets on it all the time) was striped and repainted by Hugh.

So for a long time the fireplace looked like this, cluttered mantle piece with a void underneath.

But then, du-dun-duuuuun... the tools come out... (Henry was disappointed to be kept at arms length from the action) and Hugh built a lovely free standing unit out of various bits of mdf that we had stashed away just for this very kind of project.

Hugh fitting his box (which if we ever do change our mind about will be easy to take out again)... and with the shelves and mantlepiece in place.
The actual shelves are made from left over trim panels from the kitchen which we didn't need but are handily spray painted in a Farrow and Ball 'Bone' - and so therefore are a perfect match for the fireplace...

Me and Coco choosing books to go on the shelves - childrens ones on the top and adult ones below. We've put lots of our hardly ever looked at coffee table books there so that we might actually take them out and browse through them one of these days.

Naturally we don't want to ever FULLY finish a job (or what would we have to aspire to...?) so the final filling and painting around the mantlepiece is still on the never ending to-do list.
But a big improvement... and another step closer to this house project being done.

Monday 15 July 2013

28/52 A portrait a Week

Coco - Walking back from a day on the beach on Saturday.
Henry - He has taken to wearing Coco's hat backwards - I found him like this one morning in his own world with books and a pencil case - I later also discovered some 'drawing' on the carpet...

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel

Thursday 11 July 2013

Hugh's 40th Birthday #1

Hugh's 40th birthday party feels like it was a long time ago now... but I have failed to do it justice here on my blog.

I'd been looking forward to an excuse to have a proper party in this house ever since we moved in... Me and Coco and Henry all have our birthdays between Oct and January, but Hugh is a summer baby so having a big bash for his 40th was pretty compulsory.

I started thinking about doing a surprise party way back in February. I must confess that one of the first things I thought about was how to decorate the garden (which ended up being a mute point as the weather was predicted to be bad in the run up, so, even though it was fine(ish) on the actual day I couldn't see all my decorating plans through) but I also wrote lots of lists with thoughts about food, entertaining children, booze etc etc.
There were so many things I didn't do - but here is a run down of what I did do:


Now, 99.9% of the time unsolicited mail and leaflets that fall out of bills or magazines really F***ing annoy me.
But the day the 'watirose entertaining' leaflet fell onto my lap I was a very happy girl.
I'd planned to try to cook a chicken chorizo and chickpea casserole for the 80 people I'd invited. I was going to cook it in batches and freeze it ready to defrost all together on the day and serve with bread... But one batch to feed ten took me the whole morning to make with Henry 'helping' and didn't even taste that good (Hugh came home and 'improved' it later...)
The following few days after my test run I was awake at 5am worrying, but then the leaflet came. I didn't log on to waitrose straight away, I let myself sweat a few days before going online at 4.30am and ordering £200 worth of food which turned up on the morning of the party and recquired the minimum of effort from me. And it was all really good. Considering it probably cost me about £20 to make the casserole I'm pretty sure I almost saved money too!? Hmmm, well maybe not, but I don't think it was bad value.
We topped up with a few extra salads and bread and my friend bought over a load of chutneys left over from a school fete stall, strictly I probably didn't order quite enough - there was nothing left apart from a morsal of coleslaw... lesson for next time, but as the afternoon went on there were ice creams for children; cake and then at about 6.30pm we did a pizza run to Franco Manca for the stragglers who were still hanging on in there.
I got the bamboo plates and wooden cutlery - which are now being drip-fed into our compost bin - from Little Cherry a very good online shop with lots of eco party supplies. 


The Fullers brewery is on our doorstep; so a cask of London Pride seemed almost obligatory but I also ordered (far too much) wine and fizzy stuff from Yapp Brothers a fantastic wine merchant based in Mere in Wiltshire who specialise in French wine. Hugh is a big Yapp Brothers fan and I think still would be even if we weren't friends with one of the Yapp brothers. Tom used to live opposite us in Hammersmith; we spotted a car with their branding on it parked on the street a few times, then Hugh did a tentative order online and so we met Tom and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ready to drink...


As I'd opted myself out of doing any cooking bar a couple of salads I felt I HAD to make the effort to make a cake... I'm not really a baker, but with a little moral support from a friend who came and sat with me while I made it (essential to keep Henry at arms length from the action) I made a huge Victoria sponge. Hugh would have prefered chocolate, but by the Thursday before the party I wasn't into the idea of taking risks...

I smothered it in a vanilla butter cream icing and someone at some point during the party put a load of strawberries on it. I might have had a bit too much to drink by the time it came to sample the cake; but in my memory it tasted pretty good.


Because we are of an age when a lot of our friends have children it felt natural to have a party that included children (and include children it did; over 40 of them) but I also wanted to lay on enough for them to do so that the grown ups could have a good time. I must confess I threw a bit of money at this problem - I hired a party entertainer (not something I had done before) but it was one of the best things to spend money on. I booked her through Cheeky Monkey's parties and she was great, bubbles, glittery tattoos and lots of balloons.

I also asked a neighbours nanny to come over and help out with babies - we had 23 children under three around, so again that was money well spent.

Of course most of the time they did all manage to entertain themselves...
How many children can you fit on a trampoline? A lot.


Now this was a bit of a luxury and seems like quite a crazy move, but I also hired three lovely helpers to assist in keeping the drink flowing, serve food and make ice creams for the children etc. They were recommended by a friend-of-a-friend who is a caterer and they were BRILLIANT. They didn't stay for the whole party just the first couple of hours but it was great - they helped get the door as people arrived sort out coats/bags/buggies and they kept people's glasses topped up. I want to have parties with staff forever more. I won't be able to though, but for a seriously special occassion it was perfect.
I quote one of my friends who texted me the following day:
"Look at you with all those staff!! to the manor borne!"

Henry wasn't on the payroll - but he did try to help. Buckets of water and ice - what's not to love!?


IF the weather had been better I was planning on trying to seat everyone outside (the lists of people I had that I could borrow tables from was long...) and I wanted bunting and decorations hanging from the tree and jam jars of flowers on the tables. I even planted sweet peas extra early in the hope that I'd be able to pick them to decorate the tables... but it wasn't to be; in the end I used my jam jars and milk bottles decorated with offcuts of wrapping paper and washi tape for flowers inside (bought agapanthus and catmint from the garden), the few tables I put out had small terracotta pots on them - we still used bunting (borrowed from a friend who used it for her wedding) around the bell tent.

Having the tent up was great - not only did it serve as a wonderful screen for the compost heap but it was used for kids to craft in and adults to sneak off and have a lazy lie down and chat... I do love our tent.

The other bits I did were setting up a homemade photobooth - mainly as I knew I wouldn't end up taking many photos and to make some little activities for the children to do... both of which I'm planning to post about separately!

At the end of the day Hugh was a very happy nearly 40 year old.

So - that's the end of part one. You might get a part two and even a part three if you are lucky so stick around...

Side note 1: This was a ONE-OFF party, I'm normally much more frugal than this post may depict me - but I'm being honest... ok!?
Side note 2: I was too busy having fun to take many photos - and naturally things weren't ready far enough in advance for me to spend some time taking photos pre-party so apologies for the lack of illustrative images.
Side note 3: I had hoped that my daughter might wear one of the many beautiful outfits she has; but on the day she a right stick-in-the-mud and insisted on wearing her red dress. Yep; the one she wears every bloomin' day of the week. Urgh.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

27/52 A Portrait a Week

Henry - bouncing in pants (I've abandoned potty training since this photo was taken - I don't feel ready for it yet, we'll try again in a couple of weeks).
Coco - bouncing in ballet shoes (and socks again - even though it was baking)!

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel

Thursday 4 July 2013

July Flowers

I was inspired by Polly over at Nice Kind of Blue to gather a sample of each flowering plant in our garden today and photograph them together; I was fortunate to have some assistance in my efforts - although it also meant that I didn't really get a say about the layout.

Coco taking care of the samples as we made our way around the garden...

It's been such a joy watching the garden grow this year and we are on the verge of having sweet peas and scabious and salvia and helleniums, although we've already said goodbye to so much too; the stunning iris', the alliums, tulips, hellebores...

It's a funny old business gardening, I wonder if I'll ever feel like I know what I'm doing; but I appreciate our space so much. Even when it feels like the weather hasn't been great we still seem to be out there everyday; Henry pottering and never tiring of playing with buckets of water*, Coco in her own little world sorting out the pegs from the washing line or bouncing on the trampoline, we are starting to harvest lettuce and peas and we've had a couple of strawberries too. On Saturday we cooked kebabs over the fire and let the children stay up until dusk while we sat around enjoying the warmth from the fire as day cooled down.
It's just good to have that outside space - even if the tube rumbles by every 10 minutes or so at the bottom of the garden.
I didn't have a garden growing up and to be honest I didn't mind at all... but maybe it was more that I didn't know what I was missing.

I still haven't done a full story-of-our-garden post - but there are a couple of old posts that give a little insight into what our garden was like before.

May 2011 - no grass/grass
March 2012 - and a year later... a few very small plants.

* We've actually had to resort to shutting down the supply to the outside tap to stop Henry from running up the most enormous water bill and/or single-handedly causing a drought across the Thames valley as he turns the tap on continuously and will fill trugs, buckets, watering cans and anything else he can get his hands on. 

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Boys will be Girls

He's such a boy.
I hear this a lot, lazy stereotyping.*
In relation to Henry it's an easy comment to make, he is often engrossed with his train set or shouting at the top of his lungs for no reason or being 'physical'. But then he also loved wearing his sisters sparkly shoes and making necklaces on Saturday, so you see, it cuts both ways.
Yes he can be 'such a boy' (but don't say so in front of Hugh unless you are interested in getting a lecture) but he can also be 'such a girl' too, so please, don't label him.

*I could go on and on about the boring genderisation of toys & clothes, the lack of choice for parents who don't want to force pink on their daughters or superheros and football on their sons - but really, you know the gist and many other people have written about it much better English and with way less typos than me.

Monday 1 July 2013

26/52 A Portrait a Week

Week 26 - On the Bus
Coco: Front seat on the top deck of the bus rocking the socks and crocs look. She almost always wears socks with her crocs/sandals, it's her style.
Henry: This is the way Henry looks when he is exhausted. On this occasion he'd had a very busy morning at the pirate park (long live summer)!

One portrait of each of my children every week in 2013. 
A 52 project started by Jodi of Che & Fidel