August and everything after

The first pingy pingy notes of ‘Round here’ by Counting Crows on “August and Everything After” immediately transports me back to Maine, and my first proper summer away from home. It’s exactly half my lifetime ago, and I wonder where I’ll be in another twenty years.

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I’ve been thinking about what sixty will look like for me, assuming I get there. I mean, my family are pretty good models of longevity but it’s not understating the matter to say “I could be helping myself out a bit more”. I had some routine health checks done recently (the GP’s receptionist chirpily told me that they were offering them to everyone over forty, like we’re some sort of endangered species) and I was surprised the results all came back ok, to be honest. I was semi-primed for disaster. Ok so I was glad there was no bad news, but perhaps I needed something to Get My Arse In Gear? I’m not unhealthy, or at least not in need of intervention, according to medical definitions, but I’m not exactly brimming with energy and I’m still carrying baby weight. Hell at this point I’m carrying about two Sproggetts’ worth of extra poundage around with me. I. Don’t. Like. It.

So as usual, much stock taking going on around here. I read a couple of blog posts that sparked steam trains of thought, although the usual themes are the same – productivity, what I want to achieve, what the hell am I doing with my life. Do you get like that? I sometimes look around me and think – wow, how did I get here? That’s not to say I’m not happy with my life, hell if anything my worrywart gene kicks in bigtime when I take stock of just how lucky I am, and I get petrified it will all fall apart (that’s when I usually start forecasting the zombie apocalypse and getting worried that I can’t run very far and how long could I carry Sproggett for…?).

So I read Lucy’s post about Making A List. Ooh I love a good list, might be connected to the stationery fetish. Also the husband uses lists to great effect and we both use an app called Things which works well with the the GTD system. I like its notion that ‘Your brain is for having ideas, not for holding them’. Although where I usually fall down is on the reviewing element of GTD, I’m excellent at braindumping. It literally makes you feel lighter when all the swirling screaming ‘must do’ things get removed from your mind and stored somewhere. I’m also a massive fan of Evernote, btw, and that link gets you a free month of their premium service although the free one is fab.

Last night just before bed – with eyes almost closing – I scribbled out a list called ‘By the end of 2015′ as the start of a road map for August and everything after.

I surprised myself with what was on it.

Lots of it was health related, like

  • Able to run for 60 minutes straight
  • Able to weightlift properly
  • Have a sub-25 BMI

I know that the second one, in particular, needs to be quantified – defining what I mean by weightlifting etc.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve restarted the NHS Couch To 5k podcasts – mainly motivated by an amazing friend who is a couple of weeks ahead of me on the programme, and I’m into week 2. This morning, after a night of broken sleep thanks to Sproggett and a tumble drier that was possessed by the devil, when Mr D shouted ‘I thought you were going to run this morning?’ up the stairs at me, the very last bloody thing thing I wanted to do was haul my arse out of bed and bumble around the park.

I procrastinated checked Dark Sky and it told me there would be rain for the next hour. My running kit was still wet thanks to aforementioned temperamental appliance. I WAS TIRED.

Then I remembered Liz Goodchild’s blog post and thought, no I don’t feel like it. But I want to be able to run for 60 minutes, and unless I go out and slap one flat foot down in front of the other, repeatedly, I’m not going to be able to do that. Not by 2015, not ever. I’m not going to get less tired unless I get fit.

So I wrestled my iphone back from Sproggett, who has lately learned the phrase ‘my turn’ which he thinks is a magic spell for him to get whatever he wants, found some shitty Apple headphones that are like about as comfortable as trying to wedge grapes in your ears, and walked out the door.

Thirty minutes later I was slightly damp, home, and glowing. A little bit of smug, a lot of JESUS IT FEELS GOOD TO ACTUALLY EXERCISE. Why can’t they bottle endorphins?? Just a little of it makes me want to go back to running marathons (ok it was only the one but distance running is just the best thing ever, IMHO) and lift sofas over my head. A couple of weeks ago I went to a weekend Power Pump class at the gym which turned out to be full of semi-pro lifters and although I didn’t walk properly for four days afterwards, I was buzzing like a four year old on Frosties afterwards, and I realise how much I miss that feeling.

But I’m not signing up for marathons or even 5ks. Not until I can run one. This time around I’m looking for ways to change over the long term, which is why I’m thinking through to 2015, rather than a quick-fix that doesn’t last, and doesn’t work.

I can’t decide whether I’m an optimist or a pessimist but I’m sick to the back fecking teeth of thinking ‘I wish I’d done’ ‘where did all the time go’ ‘what have I achieved’ etc etc and so I’m going to take stock, and Make A Plan. Through 2015 which frankly should give me enough time to take over the planet.

There might be a better way of going about doing this – it’s the spew-inducing notion of ‘goal-setting’, isn’t it? The first step is finishing Couch 2 5K. Then we’ll look at the rest of the list.

Want to encourage/compete with me/buddy up with me for running? Search for me on Nike+

 

Photo from Linh Nguyen‘s Flickr stream under a Creative Commons licence

Bring me all the (Dairy Girl’s) cheese

Hello!

Blimey, hot enough for you, etc, how’ve you been, going anywhere nice on holidays? Yes I know, you haven’t seen me around here in ages. I’ve been blogging less partly because my life feels like it’s all about Sproggett, and I don’t talk about him that much on here (which ironically is a whole other post).

Anyway like with my last post about cold brew, at the moment we’re all about how to make food shopping and cooking easier. Since having a small human we’ve had to get out of the habit of ‘throwing something together’ (ahem, ordering a takeaway) for supper or thinking ‘oh I’ll just pope out and get those three esoteric ingredients that come from a specialist shop in favour of planning ahead. So that’s a big food shop on the weekend, prepping lunches in advance, planning what to eat a week at a time. It’s one of those things that a bit dull but rewarding.  That’s what I keep telling myself. 

I’ll be honest, we find it quite hard but it’s getting better. I’m now thinking that maybe a veg box scheme would be good – although not knowing what’s going to arrive in the box would kind of screw up planning, right, unless you plan the night that the box has been delivered?IMG_2453

We recently received a sample delivery from The Dairy Girl, which is a bit like a veg box scheme for cheese, with curated monthly deliveries. And no danger of an oversupply of kale. I’m kidding, but the service is actually a rather nice idea. If you’re the sort of person who likes visiting Neal’s Yard or La Fromagerie and picking what looks appealing then I think you’ll like this – you’re able to narrow down the selection by giving the your preferences and then you get the cheeses and recipe cards with tasting notes by courier.

We had the taster box of four, and that worked well for two (fairly cheese-greedy) people. I know that cheese isn’t long-lead so you don’t want it sitting around but one or two people would get through the taster box fairly easily.

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Our box contained Rachel, Pont L’Eveque, Badentoy Blue and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, and between following the suggested recipes, like Pont L’Eveque with pears and the Mrs Kirkham’s for cheese on toast, and just eating it in place of dessert, we were very happy bunnies. 

The branding is lovely and the tasting notes are a nice touch.

At £17.95 + delivery it’s positioned about the same as a chesemongers – no, this isn’t value cheddar and it’s not for making kids’ lunches unless they are very bloody lucky – it’s great food from small producers. It’s subscription-based but the site promises you can pause or change your preferences easily. 

You can also gift it easily which is a nice touch, I know that ripe-enough-to-drip-off-the-board unpasteurised cheese was one of things I was dying to eat again after being denied it when pregnant. Also good as a wedding gift for any couples you know, as you can do up to six months of deliveries as a present.

Good luck to Rachel, it’s a lovely idea and she seems uber-passionate about taste, the industry and working with small producers. It’s a lovely way to get introduced to some new cheeses you might have to work find to discover otherwise.

Oh and if you ever end up with any spare Gruyere from your cheese box, make Smitten Kitchen’s Rosemary, Gruyere and Sea Salt crackers, ideally as tiny bunnies

 

Disclosure: We received the box as a gift but the review is entirely my own opinion.

Cold Brew Coffee

God, I bloody love this stuff.

Because I love coffee. And I am fussy about coffee. But I don’t always have time to be fussy about coffee. 

Even making an Aeropress can sometimes take too long if the toddler is rampaging. Also I quite like the small ceremony of the Aeropress routine, and to take my time with it.

I also, slightly freakishly, like coffee when it’s gone cold. Again, useful when there’s a toddler around. But yeah, it’s sometimes more bitter than you’d ideally like (more on the science here).

So I decided to make some cold brew. Which sounds like beer to me but it’s actually an immersion method of slowly brewing coffee.

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I coarsely ground some Union Hand Roasted* coffee, 110g of their Abahuzamugambi ba kawa microlot from Rwanda. Cold brew can give a smoother taste but only if you’re using decent beans in the first place, and these are amazing.  Candied orange and milk chocolate notes. 

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Then I put the grounds in a huge Kilner with 2L of water, gave it a good stir – and you can see it start to bloom, above –  and left it 12 hours. To strain, I lined a sieve with two Chemex filters and poured the whole thing through, which took about 15 minutes.  Then bottled it and put it in the fridge: beautiful coffee concentrate. Depending on who you talk to, it keeps anywhere from two days to two weeks. But it’s not difficult to make so I think we’ll aim to prep a batch every three to four days. 

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Since then – sun or not – I’ve been throwing a cup of it over ice and usually adding a little whole milk. It’s amazing coffee flavoured rocket fuel. Can’t imagine I’ll be brewing any other way until there’s frost on the trees!  

 

 

 

*Union are a client but I choose to buy from them anyway, and pay for my coffee myself

I like a Big Lunch

I really like where we live. I know most people would hope to say the same, but there’s a lovely sense of community around here – something that London is sometimes criticised for lacking. We have a brilliant park at the end of our road and last June we formed a ‘Friends of…’ group to try to make the most of it, and make it into a thriving local resource. 

We did some bulb planting last year but our first major event was hosting The Big Lunch on 1st June. We knew the weather would make or break it. I woke up at 5:30 on Sunday morning and my first thought (after ‘oh Sproggett go back to your own bed) was ‘zomg it’s bloody well sunny’ and it turned out to be a scorcher. 

We were on site from 9:00 setting up, and left at 5:00 after a brilliant day. We had yoga for kids, bee hotel making with Friends of the Earth, a police car to clamber into, ‘art growing on trees’. I was mostly behind the cake stall (having baked all Saturday, after our last three-hour planning meeting – including biscuits that were supposed to be rockets but actually looked like cycloptic monsters wearing braces, see below) and lovely lovely Edd came to judge it. Even the Bunting for Life got an outing. 

We enlisted some of the visitors to the Big Lunch for a few minutes to help for the tear-down We got chatting with people who tentatively ventured ideas for future events we could do, and it was so great to see people get excited, and see the potential in our park and our community. We’ve already been asked what we’re going to do next (which is a bit like asking someone with a newborn when she’s having the next one, #toosoon) but we have tentative plans for something Bonfire Night related. Lots of small children and fire, what on earth could go wrong?

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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