I’ll only see 39 again if I come back as someone’s front door

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As Mr D has taken a few days off, it’s officially a long weekend in our household from tomorrow.

Today isn’t marked on the calendar, mainly because we don’t tend to do that sort of thing much. It’s the end of my 30s. Goodbye to a decade that saw three houses purchased: one joint, then thankfully released to one on my own and then finally just two weeks after I became Mrs D, the purchase of what has turned out to be a very happy family home. Even if it’s growing more ramshackle by the day.

This little terrace and my life is filled with a metric ton of plastic crap, more Ikea furniture than I’d ideally like but hey, it does the job, much sleeplessness due to teething at the moment, and two amazing men (one grown-up, one miniature.)  I could never have predicted how my situation would be at 40 and it’s vastly different to how my 30s started – and I’m so grateful. This city, London, is a constant but lots of other things have changed and only for the better. Apart from my knees. I’d like my 30 year-old-self’s cartilage back please.

Todays’s also significant for the celebration – or not, they keep it fairly low-key – of my parents’ 42nd wedding anniversary. I think it’s significant that when my father doodles mindlessly on the newspaper, it’s always the digits 27, which I ascribe to this day. My mother always snorts lovingly when I say that and rolls her eyes, bringing forty-two years of experience to bear. 

Tomorrow they’re flying over to spend the weekend with us – ostensibly for my birthday. Mainly to visit Sproggett. We will spend the weekend child-fussing and gardening, I’d say. Not exactly an exciting stay in London for them but actually the best pressie I could wish for.

There are birthday plans in there too – most of them are secrets still – and then on Sunday it’s the maternal motherlode – a family birthday lunch which also neatly brings my husband and I together with our respective mums for Mothering Sunday.  Sproggett gets two grannies (and granddads) to coo at.  He may actually implode with excitement. I predict him being like a metronome, not knowing whose attention to aim for. I am more grateful than ever for a mother who’s a best friend and a gift in the form of a mother-in-law. It’s not always the case and I count my blessings.

Monday is a secret escape and our first night away from the wee man. I am still conflicted about this – desperate for the sleep and getting to be a grown-up with my husband for a whole night; grateful he’ll be looked after by people who love him best and will spoil him rotten; infused to my core with guilt for not being there when he wakes in the morning.

Of course at the rate he’s been going he may just stay up all night. So that will solve the problem, right? 

 

 

Photo from Leo Reynold’s photostream under a Creative Commons Licence 

How to do Westfield with a toddler


I have to admit that since having a small tyrant person on board, the whole retail experience has become somewhat different. When they are tiny it’s sling them in a sling or pop them in the buggy, and as long as your destination has changing facilities, it’s all pretty simple. You can still eat, shop, and baby cinema is awesome until they are at the crawling stage!

However, once they are mobile it can be a whole different ballgame. To keep everyone happy (him, us, the general public) try to think ahead for days out and plan it a little. We’ve found that Westfield is particularly family friendly and the east London one is near us. We usually tend to head for the “John Lewis end” ie the opposite end to the station. This is how we handled a recent day – ie 3.5 strategically spent hours – at Westfield Stratford City.

1. Timings

P1050711 Get there early. Turns out that Westfield is indeed open at 9:00 on a Saturday (I thought it was 10:00) and this extra hour of bimbling about is invaluable. At 19 months, Sproggett likes nothing better than to leg it off into the distance, which was fine when it was empty and it helped to burn off a little energy. The guy in the Phones 4U shop was also very patient as Sproggett spent ten minutes cooing and pointing at all the handsets, because the store was still empty.

2. Travelators

Again, this works if you’re there first thing before it gets busy. Take child’s hand firmly. Do the roundtrip of the travelators 8-10 times for pure child glee – while staying out of other people’s way, obviously. Like getting there early for exploring, this uses up some extra energy. If there are two parents or carers, one of you does this while the other sorts out the vehicle.

3. Transport

P1050720Like a lot of things pre-baby, I kind of wondered if those little car trolley things were really necessary. Answer – possibly not necessary but definitely a nice to have. It costs £6 to hire a Kiddy Car for a day, plus a £2 returnable deposit. Ample shopping bag and coat storage space too. Before I’d finished filling in the forms, Sproggett was ensconsed and pretending to be Jensen Button. Easier to steer than you’d think but do remember to take the brake off (doh).

4. Pitstop meals

Following on the Formula 1 theme, we have mostly given up leisurely brunches (so no Balan’s this trip) in favour of quick treats along the way. At 19m it’s difficult to keep him in a seat for too long so this works better. We started with coffee, and for Sir, a pain aux raisins from Grind, or ‘my Stratford office’ as we know it because I often have meetings here.

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It’s a very decent indie Kiwi coffee shop that roasts its own beans. I have frequent daydreams about their halloumi salad from the lunch menu. Child is brandishing one of their loyalty cards – eight drinks and the ninth is free, and they also offer a smartphone loyalty card. P1050744

 

I bloody love Pinkberry. The original flavour was the only thing I genuinely craved when I was pregnant, and that was our end of shopping stop-off. Obviously we spoiled the vaguely healthy vibes by adding peanut squidgy delicious stuff. Shopping can be tiring, you know? There’s a Pinkberry loyalty card in my wallet too. (it’s not the first, frankly)

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Just before we left, we stopped by Japan Centre to pick up fresh sushi to take away, as it was nearing nap time. I wanted to buy the amigurumi needle felting kits too – they sell everything!

5. Targeted shopping P1050730 P1050731 P1050732

First stop, Foyles, which happens to be right by Grind. In fact one of you could still be finishing your coffee while the other one moseys on in with the kid… it has a lovely Children’s Department, complete with a cosy corner to sit in and soft toys to keep you company while you try out the books. Again, grab their ‘Foyalty’ card to earn points on your spend.

We bought some lovely board books including the brilliant A Deal’s A Deal, from the amazing Stephanie Blake who also wrote Poo Bum, a current favourite.

Next pop by Playworld, a small indoor playground which is a fun diversion for a few minutes, for kids under 5. After that, it was Mothercare and one of my favourite kids clothing stores, Polarn O Pyret.

We have bought, borrowed and been gifted various pieces from their layerable winter ranges and it’s great quality. I also like that they use lots of bright colours in supercute designs suitable for boys or girls.  Plus they have a train track in the store for kids to play with while parents browse. Look at the beary trousers for tinies! P1050725

 

 

 

Compact

Given that a lot of the kids’ stores are on the ground floor at the same end of the centre, it’s easy to pop into a few in a relatively short space of time and without any sign of a toddler meltdown at all (ie our definition of a very successful shopping trip.)  There’s a number of toy shops, and when Sproggett is older, I imagine that he and his Dad will be spending more time in the Lego store!

In short, Westfield works really well for us when we’re going shopping as a family (and the parent rooms, with changing and feeding facilities including separate rooms for breastfeeding, are really useful, and there are similar amenities in John Lewis). And it’s not just because I can get my Pinkberry fix.

 

Disclosure: We were invited to visit by Westfield but the review is entirely my own opinion.

March is Shitty First Draft Month

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird

Hellooooo is there anyone out there? I’ve been off chasing a toddler and working like a loon. I kind of fell out of the blogging habit again.  I did absolutely nothing worth noting, or that’s what it seems like. So busy with so little output! And there probably won’t be much time for it next month either. Because…

Before long I will probably be wishing that I’d chosen to observe only National Bed Month in March, but I’ve got some other plans.

I’ve a big birthday looming and a sort of diary perfect storm means that I won’t be taking on much freelance work next month. But for some of that time, I’ll have lots of childcare so I have no excuse for not writing.

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My plan is to bash out, as per Anne Lamott’s sage advice, a shitty first draft by the end of March. Or, #myownprivatenanowrimo as I’ve been calling it. Also #theshittyfirstdraftclub. Yes, I’ve been spending too much time thinking in hashtags and procrastinating already. And writing blog posts.

Are ya with me?! This will be SO MUCH FUN!*

 

*as anyone who has ever written anything knows, this is the well-recognised condition known as “Pre-writing Bravado”.

Let me know if you’re interested in being word-count buddies. Support, egging on, derision if targets aren’t met, all available by email.

Image from Novel Pursuit‘s Flickr stream under a creative commons licence

Fancy making real bread?

There’s a community project afoot near us, that is tantalisingly close to get funded… The Hornbeam Bakers Collective are a couple of hundred pounds away from their £3000 total. They’re building an oven in new premises near Blackhorse Road in east London and will be running a number of bread-making classes:

Hornbeam Bakers Collective

Basic loaf, Shaping breads, Speciality Breads, Sourdough Breads, Special Diets Baking (vegan/dairy free, wheat free, gluten Free, sugar free), Ancient and Alternative Grains, Pizza, Pastry, Cakes, Fermentation

There are lots of rewards for different levels of funding, or you could just sign up in advance for some of their classes – sounds like pretty good value at £30 a session.  The £3000 will pay for the oven and its installation, to allow then to get off the ground teaching more classes and baking more bread to sell.

Have you been to any of their classes? Would love to hear a first-hand account!

Planting in the Park

IMG_1198 I’ll be honest. It wasn’t the most auspicious weather in east London last Sunday, for our community group’s first event, planting 400 daffodil bulbs.  It started off fairly dark and dank. The gazebo we’d brought almost lifted off in the winds and everything was pretty soggy, including us.  Someone clever had brought a big tin of Celebrations though, and I’d made enough Splody Pies for the entire neighbourhood.

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We thought that the rain might mean that the ground would have softened a little. We were entirely mistaken. Gah. But everyone got stuck in – literally – and we got through all of the bulbs in 2 hours. (they’d been provided by B&Q – thank you! – and psst lots of their bulbs are half price right now)  The weather eased too, with the worst showers happening when we were setting up, with pretty perfect conditions for the actual planting.

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I love our local park. It’s at the end of our road, although as it borders a cul de sac, lots of people can lay claim to that. It has a newly refurbished play area with a zipline that the entire neighbourhood seems to have tried – I am sure I’ve seen more adults than kids on it.

We recently set up a Friends of St James Park group, as this basically gives us a lot more credibility with the council and we can have a say in what happens in and to the park. The official standing also gives us access to training in Waltham Forest to improve the group and understand how to access local services for it – it certainly all sounds promising.

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Some of the group were extremely hesitant to get sucked into the Facebook vortex, which is how a lot of groups seem to communicate and publicize if they haven’t gone down the route of getting their own website yet. We’ve gone with Streetclub instead – coincidentally also a B&Q thing but they don’t really get involved it it. It has the same functionality: conversations, postings, events, a diary, and the rest, but the difference is that to join your postcode should be within two miles of your chosen group’s specified location. The whole point is to keep it local. That’s why I wanted to be involved with this group really – we use the park twice a day (in better weather) and we want it to be a hub for the community, along with the lovely Pumphouse Museum. Our side of our borough is a little bit neglected and the park can be something that really unifies it.
IMG_1203We ended up with quite a large group of people – the team you see above were on one of the four patches we planted, by the entrances and opposite the end of some of the streets which face the park so they’ll be really visible. I got talking to a lady who seemed familiar, then remembered we had chatted in the park last summer as our sons ran around us – in fact Sproggett tried to steal her [much older] son’s ball, unsuccessfully. We had a couple of teenage boys slink past, on their way out of the park, with their football boots slung around their necks. One of the planters tried to engage them in conversation.

It turned out that one of them grew potatoes and beans in the back garden at home. They were enticed back into the middle of the clatter, with toddlers slinging miniature trowels about, and they carefully planted a couple of bulbs each, by the notice board.

“Next year I’ll be able to come back and know that that was my one,” we were told, and they were shy but proud.

I can’t wait to see our handiwork in the spring.

Six months spin past

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I try to get some writing or some work done between 7:00 and 8:00am – plus, you know, showering and dressing – FUN TIMES. The more sunrises like this that I see from our attic office, the more I want us to rip the roof off the house and put our bedroom up here. It’s just a small matter of finding many, many thousands of pounds.

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Can’t lie. There hasn’t been a whole lots of baking going on, as we’ve largely given up sugar. Actually we have completely given up sugar, although there’s still some boozey goodness in the house. The community had a jumble sale at our local museum and I wanted to add something to the café to fundraise for the Philippines appeal.  Why I’m outing myself I don’t know (GUILT) but I actually used box mixture and premade frosting for these. As I didn’t eat any I can’t tell you if they were obviously chemical. I feel like a fraud. But I reckoned that it was better to make something than nothing, and work time was about thirty minutes. And made for plenty of pound coins in the donation box. Loving getting to know people locally, in our little neighbourhoody home.

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Yeah, life is mostly about these guys. Love these guys. We three rub along well. Especially now that we are all getting some sleep.

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I’ve been working almost full time. Sometimes this is the daytime view I get out my window, which makes up for a lot of evils. I’ve temporarily traded off some time with the small boy to be able to help to pay for some big purchases – most notably a car (oh what adventures we will have). But working-mummy guilt – when it hits, it hits hard. It’s going to be a delicate balance, and one I have to work on. Yet it suits me better to be working some of the time. Just have to get my head around it properly. I’ve worked with interesting clients this year, now I need to cherry-pick with whom, and what I’ll be doing in 2014.

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There has been a very tiny amount of crafting. That’s a bit of a tease as it has to remain hidden for a little longer. But it was tremendous fun and enticing. I want to do it again.

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I also want to do lots, lots more of this. We got so desperate about his sleeping habits (he didn’t have any) that we worked with a sleep consultant. We all have our lives back. Now all I need to do is force myself to go to bed earlier.

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There are plans for dress making and crafting and all kinds of things in 2014. Some sew-alongs perhaps, and also stash busting. Living beside Walthamstow market is not helpful for a compulsive fabric hoarder (even though it’s only two boxes now).  And there are gems like Wood St Market, above, to explore.

Other grand schemes also include a ‘go big or go home’ plan on really making this into our dream house. We even have a plan – one that a proper architect came up with – but of course it’s all down to cash.

So I must go. I have a bank raid to plan.

Cheeky Monkey cupcakes

First off, some house-keeping.

You may notice some new posts have popped up here – when I got preggo I decided to set up a new blog to discuss non-food topics, as OMG had become firmly food-focussed. But recently I decided to incorporate Bake Make Rake in here for lots of reasons, but because I hate the tumblr CMS, really. Unfortunately none of the lovely comments came with the content during the import which makes me sad as some of them were very heartfelt, on rather personal, ranty posts.

On that note, expect more about craft and kids here now.

So, cupcakes. There’s an imminent first birthday in this household and I really want to try to make some fun things as my contribution to the joint spread (for Sproggett and two of his tiny cohorts). Now I know that I’ll have the Irish grandparents here in the run-up which is awesome as my Dad was a baker so should be able to offer some help (although he’s more the ‘crack six dozen eggs in five minutes, bake 288 loaves of bread type baker) but I did a practice run of something that’s simple and quick so I’ve at least one thing up my sleeve.

NB There are BIG PLANS for the actual birthday cake. Some hints here on Pinterest. But first:

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Super Cheaty Cheeky Monkey Cupcakes

Ingredients:

equipment (which you don’t even need, in a pinch):

  • Piping bag
  • Star piping nozzle

method

  1. Chop in half as many white buttons as you’ve got muffins or cupcakes, and twice as many chocolate ones.
  2. If you’re using a piping bag, fill it now and generously slather each mini muffin with frosting. You could also spoon it on and then rough it up with a fork to give it some texture.
  3. Place pairs of chocolate button halves as above to make the monkey face, then use either the piping bag or the tine of a fork to dot some frosting as eyes.

Of course if you have time, make the mini muffins, and ganache, and sugarpaste decorations. I admit I am a little bit curious as to how they make frosting that apparently “stays fresh in the fridge for 30 days after opening”. Gulp. But mostly these days I’m just happy if I manage to leave the house in shoes rather than slippers and don’t forget the baby, so this might be my level of expertise for a while.