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Elma Exploring Family Kitty Photography Pip

Oxford and the Instameet


Eleven worldwide instameet days came and went before I had any clue that such a thing could even exist, but I heard about the twelfth last Wednesday, discovered that there was a meet up in Oxford on Thursday evening and on Friday decided on a whim that we’d go.  H had to travel to somewhere only slightly nearer than the far side of the moon for hockey and spending lots of time taking pictures in a city I know and love sounded like the perfect way to pass the time without him.

So after ballet class we hustled the girls into some clothes, packed the sling, my camera, Kitty’s pink camera and my old phone in a life proof case for Elma, and headed south.  It was AWESOME.  And yes I am shouting in a happy smiley sort of a way.  We were late to the meetup point at the Museum of Modern Art cafe but everyone was still there and we sat and chatted for a while, labelled all of us (stickers = happy children) and got the girls’ cameras sorted (and watched them go and take lots of pictures of the cake counter – spot the children of an instagrammer) before heading out on our walk.

In such a beautiful city as Oxford there are a million different places for pictures and I love that rather than go around the university and look for the stereotype Oxford-y shots of dreaming spires against blue skies we went off away from the city centre to explore some of the less photographed spots.

(my pictures)

The food festival at the Castle smelt amazing and the girls were drawn like moths to a flame to Happy Cakes.  After so many pictures it seemed only fair to buy some which Elma assured me were delicious (as she sat on my shoulders and mushed the crumbs into my hair!).  It was a great place for pictures, there were signs, posters, old castle and much newer vintage food trucks decked out in sparkle and bling.

From there we headed down to the canal, past ducks (20 pictures from Kitty), narrowboats of every colour of the rainbow, and over a very sweet little hump back bridge complete with narrowboats navigating a lock.  Never had they had quite such a big audience and it made for a great group shot.

(Kitty’s pictures)

A little higher up the tow path we headed back over the water and into Jericho.  Picturesque isn’t always the word for that part of Oxford; there’s a fair amount of 60’s architecture and student housing around, but there are walls with gorgeous peeling paint that made a great backdrop, an incredible house at the end of a terrace covered in murals of giant ladybirds, and toadstools and vines, and some houses with brickwork that looked like knitting.

Kitty and Elma were getting seriously stuck in by this point; they started by taking a picture whenever anyone else took a shot, following the grown ups’ lead, but then I think the penny dropped that anything and everything was fair game and so I have a whole host of pictures from Elma of her favourite barge’s doormat, pictures from Kitty of everyone standing around or taking their own shots, and one very sweet one of my own of Elma photographing everyone’s legs.

(Elma’s pictures)

We were walking down the road at one point and she turned to me, asked for her camera, and happily took three pictures of a blue door in a white wall before handing it back so we could scuttle along to catch up with everyone else.  I think my work is done!

Space for the Butterflies - Living Arrows

For little girls with little legs they did really well, Kitty walked all the way and Elma only had an occasional lift on my shoulders until we started to head back to town, which is a tribute to how much fun we had. Pip, mostly happy, occasionally wiggly, placated with cake, was happy as long as we were walking, and once he’d got over some initial shyness at all these new people, spent the rest of the day in full on charm offensive, bestowing smiles and waves to anyone who’d wave a camera near him.

We wandered through the centre of town and ended up in Jericho Coffee Traders (on King Edward Street, nowhere near Jericho) which not only sells pink sparkly cupcakes (full marks from two small, and by this point, rather hungry, girls) but has awesome arrow lights, and a wall of post it notes.

(my pictures)

Apart from the lovely Kat (who my girls adore – Elma thinks she looks like Cinderella and Kitty wore her name badge for the rest of the day!)  I hadn’t met anyone else before and I’ve discovered so many wonderful new Instagram accounts to follow, and met the lovely people behind them which is just the icing on the cherry on the cake.

The #oxfordinstameet hashtag on Instagram is full of all our pictures, including all the group shots (look for two little faces peering through the bridge), and is definitely worth exploring.

There were moments on the way down to Oxford when I wobbled a bit and wondered whether I was doing the right thing, or whether we’d be happier staying home, doing the washing up and going to the park, but I am so so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone; it was a brilliant meet up, the girls loved it and have been telling everyone they meet all about it, and their only question now is when is the next one?




Elma Exploring Family Handmade Kitty Pip Quilting Reading Sewing

Five things for a Tuesday:


1. This morning I woke up and went to find a jumper.  Pip was snuggled up in his winter Gro-bag and H appeared to be wearing wooly socks.  Despite the fact that it is not actually raining right this second, where oh where is the summer of sunshine we dreamed of.  Somehow whenever I imagined our summer as a five, it had long hot days spent under the trees at the park and in the splash pool, not curled up at home because it’s too wet even for us fresh air fiends to get out and about.

Space for the Butterflies

We’ve been contemplating a trip to Europe this summer for a while, but last week’s weather sealed our fate and we came home from the Library with a massive bag of travel books.  So far our plans are, tent plus camping gear plus family in the car, drive to Portsmouth/Poole, ferry to Cherbourg to avoid the chaos at Calais, and then….  Well then we’ve thought of Paris, Normandie, Brittany, Spain and there’s an outside bid from Switzerland.  Personally I’m championing anywhere that speaks French because that’s the only European language I can manage more than “I’m English, do you speak English, where is the …?” and if we could make it that far south I would love to take a selfie outside the swimming pool in La Rochelle (which will only make sense if you too learned your French from Tricolour 4).

So as I know there are lots of wonderfully well travelled people who read, where would you go on holiday in Europe for a little summer sun?

2. I’ve just finished my free trial of Mummy Workouts.  As a Mama to three little ones, two of whom are breastfed, and one of whom wakes up again during the evening and scream at anyone else, I don’t really get to do much exercise.  I also don’t have a huge amount of motivation to do any exercise, I like cake and blogging and knitting and sewing so much more.  Actually leaving the house doesn’t work for me because I can’t guarantee that I can get out with any regularity, and while I’ve tried exercise DVDs I just found I got cross at them, firstly because they got boring, and secondly because I am spectacularly inflexible, and rather lanky so I can’t touch my toes, or anywhere near.  Anything that says “just put your hands on the floor and….” has a tendency to be growled at.


(picture clearly not me! I could show you me but I just look hot and sweaty and I think you can imagine it)

Mummy Workouts is different; it’s actually a live class.  It means that the instructor can see me and hear me if she wants and so when my downward dog in the yoga class was nowhere near downward or dog like, Tina could give me some tips about what sort of shape to make and how to get the right sort of movement, working with what I’ve got.  I’m far from perfect but I’m a lot nearer than I was and that makes it all the more fun.

The classes also change.  Even if the routine you’re doing is exactly the same, the talk through is always going to be slightly different and that makes a huge difference to my motivation/boredom levels.

It’s Body Workout and Yoga tonight and I’m signing up again, and hopefully my dog will be ever more downward!

3. As well as raiding the library for travel books I’ve also had a little influx of new cookbooks (thank you birthday bunnies), including this one, The CSA Cookbook.  I found out about it while hunting for advice on when to harvest garlic, and came across the wonderful Garden Betty blog (which does include advice on garlic!).  The cookbook is about making use of veggies that you find at the farmer’s market, grow yourself, or get in your veg box, especially the ones you might not recognise or be quite sure what to do with, and it takes a ‘nose to tail’ approach to veggies (borrowing from the idea that if you’re going to eat meat you should have a use for every part of the animal and not waste it).  Did you know that you can slice up the pale green section of a watermelon rind and put it in stir-fry for example? It’s been eye-opening, and yummy, and there’s a very pretty trailer here:

4.  Did you know Oliver + S is having a pattern sale?  This only makes sense if you like making clothes for small people but if you do – run there now.  They have a number of paper patterns at 60% off which makes them spectacularly good value and a small (see H, small) number may be winging their way to me just as soon as I can decide which ones! It finishes on July 31st, hence the running!

5. Kitty and I have a new project.  We discovered The Bramble Patch on the way home from an adventure this week and as well as adding to my stash of books, fabric and tiny rulers, she is now the proud owner of five fat quarters of batiks with a plan to turn them into a quilt.  Space for the Butterflies

I’m thinking of doing a sort of subway tile pattern.  Initially we thought squares but I’d like her to have a go at sewing on the machine (with me in control of the foot and going very slowly) and as I find it hard enough to match points as an adult, I think it could be frustrating to do it as a four year old, hence the change to something with a step out so we’re not trying to match things up.

Space for the Butterflies

But am I missing something obvious here, is there an ideal pattern than only takes five fat quarters and is perfect for small sewers? I’m not averse to adding a contrast neutral but while I have more batik in the stash that I’d happily contribute, I’d actually like it to be all Kitty’s fabric because they were her choices.

And they’re rather gorgeous choices too; just look at that lovely orange!

Exploring Family

The Travel Bucket List

 I come from an adventurous family.  I know this because on school expeditions my Dad was regularly teased by my mother as being Mr “Just one more site!”  Let’s just say it was not entirely uncommon for him to persuade the coach driver to add in a little extra stop along the way, nor was I surprised to find myself legging it back to the bus on a classics trip in Delphi because we’d both wanted to climb just that bit higher.  The year they retired Mum and Dad went on a serious trip of a lifetime to New Zealand and Dad’ last holiday had him scaling mountains in northern Spain.
(South Devon where I grew up – on days like this you wonder how we ever got further than the nearest beach!)
While H and I aren’t planning any major expeditions just yet, we have both been lucky enough to travel a bit as children and in the pre-our-children days. My parents took my sister and I to Greece, to France a couple of times and on the most amazing trip across Canada, and H and his family have explored huge swathes of Europe and some sizeable chunks of the USA. Our first holiday together was to Rome, we put together a trip to New York and Boston on a whim, having seen a picture of the Empire State Building in a craft shop window we walked into the travel agent next door and booked the flights and although I’ll gloss over our trips to Florida which always seem to end up with me in the hospital, Paris, Venice and Southern Spain more than made up for it.
Suffice to say we have some plans.  And the bucket list starts with…
1. The Pacific Northwest
Top of the list for a few years now, I want to start at Portland and drive north, through Seattle and up and on into Canada.  The coastline around the Olympic peninsula looks incredible, and so completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, I want to go to really see it and touch the rocks and feel the wind whipping in over the sea and know that the next land in that direction is Japan; it’s just a smidge wider than the English Channel.  And when we’d tired of beaches (could that ever happen), Oregon and Washington state have spectacular mountains, and forests with trees that reach to the sky.  It’s everything we love the best at home but super-sized.
In Canada we would be crossing the path of my childhood trip but the area around Vancouver is just so beautiful and I’d love to introduce H to somewhere that I’ve been that he hasn’t.  I’d have to include a trip out to Vancouver Island to relive memories of fire roasted salmon on the beach and then travel further inland to see some more of the Rockies, though whether I’d go across the Capilano suspension bridge again and with three children I’m not so sure – I remember it being very wobbly, holding on very tight and being rather worried about the possibility of my glasses leaping off my face and disappearing over the edge.  And if we’re really making it a trip where all dreams come true then I’d want to be int he Rockies at the right time of year to see, or rather hear Thunder-snow; I love snow and I love watching thunderstorms so the two together intrigues me.
It would be the trip of a lifetime and I suspect the way I’m planning it we’d need to go for at least six months just to fit everything in.
Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life
(this is North Devon – an equally dramatic coastline!)
2. An island entire of itself
I don’t actually have a set destination for number 2 on my list, because there a quite a few places around the world that would fit the bill, it’s more the experience that I want. I want to go to an island that is practically uninhabited or totally uninhabited and is small enough to walk around in a day.  I don’t live in a terribly populated part of the country but there are always people within shouting distance and I’m a little curious to know what it would be like to be truly alone.  Alone, but not stranded, I’d want a boat to go sailing in and we’re not talking about Bear Grylls style hunt-a-caman-and-drink-your-own-wee kind of an island, more like anywhere from RM Ballantyne’s A Coral Island upwards. I think I can go so far as to specify that it should be warm, and sandy, not populated mostly by midges, free from snakes and spiders, with a bay suitable for swimming and sailing.  Part of me is tempted to say that we’d have hammocks to sleep in under the stars, and part of the appeal would be the darkness at night, but for the sake of H, who is entirely unconvinced about camping unless it involves hockey festivals, I’d be looking for something a bit higher up the accommodation ladder, complete with a bathroom where you can sit in the bath and look out over the ocean, I’ve always wanted to go somewhere where you could do that.
H says I should try the Seychelles (warm, sandy, luxurious), I’ve always been rather fascinated by Pitcairn (slightly colder, every so slightly less accessible but with all the history of being populated by the descendants of Fletcher Christian and the rest of the Bounty muntineers), and I’m sure that somewhere out there is out perfect island adventure, we just have to go looking for it.
Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life
3. Volcanos and the stars
And for my final choice, after much deliberation, I’m going to go with one of H’s contributions to our joint list and say Hawaii.  I know the stereotype for a Hawaiian holiday is sun, surf and cocktails, and I’m sure we could fit that in the schedule somewhere, and we’d definitely want to do some sailing to see some of the spectacular coast, but the chief fascination comes from two things: stars and volcanos.
I’ve never seen a volcano up close and when you stop to think about it it rather blows your mind; watching the earth’s molten core bubble away just under the surface can only make you all the more aware of how precarious our existence is, and in awe at the make up of our planet that allows life to exist and flourish.  And fro one planet to all the others, Hawaii is the site of the Mauna Kea Observatory, up on the top of a mountain on Big Island.  Hawaii is one of the best places on Earth for astronomy; it’s got nice dark skies, it’s near the equator and the mountains mean you can get above whatever cloud and humidity there is.  H and I both love to watch the stars, and we know how much fun it is to find a clear night at Dad’s house and sit watching little twinkles of light pop into the sky the more and more you look at it.  The idea of being somewhere that makes the beautiful Devon night sky look like a cloudy night in central London is just so very very tempting.
Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life
Looking back on my list it seems that the recipe for a perfect holiday for me is sun, sea, and mountains; it sounds pretty good to me.
This is my entry to Transun’s #TransunLights competition to win a trip to see the Northern Lights.  I’m quietly fascinated with all things weather and I would love to see the Northern Lights in person and Norway and the arctic very nearly made the list (one day I want to be above the arctic circle in the summer to see a day with no night!).  When I was seventeen I sailed in the Tall Ships Race from Aberdeen to Trondheim (about half way up Norway), well I say sailed, there was absolutely no wind and our lovely concrete hulled gaff ketch was making the sort of gentle progress that puts your flight home in jeopardy so we (along with most of the rest of the fleet) retired, turned the engine on and went to explore a few fijords along the way.  I must have spent every night watch hoping for a glimpse of the lights but I don’t think we were far enough north and we never saw even a flash. I fell in love with that part of the world in an instant, it is utterly breathtaking, and so I very much hope that the wind of fortune is with me this time.
Exploring Family PR Collaboration

Holidays and Heatwaves


Last Thursday morning, after much much refreshing of the emails, the website and keeping half an eye out of the kitchen window for the postlady we got the news that we had been expecting. Kitty has a place at our village school. It wasn’t as nerve racking a wait as for some, we knew that if she didn’t get a place someone had to be hiding 30 preschoolers in a basement somewhere between us and the school and thankfully that turned out not to be the case.  But it did drive it home how little pre-schooler time we have left.  We’re already in the summer term here, it ends on 17th July and from then on we’re the parents of schoolchildren until 2032 at the earliest. Yes, you read that right, 2032. Eighteen years in which we can only go on holiday in the school holidays.

It made me wonder whether we ought to have planned some wonderful around the world adventure while we can still take advantage of cheap holidays, there seems to be some sort of accepted wisdom that once your children are in school you can only go away if you also happen to be a multimillionaire lottery winner. I don’t doubt that there are some places where the end of July sees a massive price hike, but if we’re going to load up all three children and their accoutrements to go on one of our dream trips I want them to be old enough to remember where we went.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And I know from experience that it isn’t impossible.  My Father was a teacher for his entire professional life, he was tied to school holidays before I started primary school and long after I left for university, and yet he and Mum made it work, and we had some amazing adventures.  The summer I was seven they planned out a trip to Greece, to go sailing around the islands and to meet up with the parents of a pupil who had become family friends.  My little sister was four, dainty, cute, and very very blonde. Which turned out to be a huge advantage, because what you may not remember about the summer of 1987 was that there was a huge heatwave in Southern Europe.  Just about everywhere in Greece reached temperatures of 45C or more, and the islands were no different.  So there we were, Mum and Dad, my little sister and me, on a four berth yacht named Illustrious whose awning was an old tablecloth and whose ‘fridge’ as I remember ran off a large block of ice.

Every port we were in my Mum and sister headed off to buy ice with the latter smiling winsomely at the shopkeepers.  Little blonde girls must have been a bit of a rarity because she was generally adored and admired everywhere we went, and we did manage to buy the ice we needed.

Now that I’m only a few years younger than they were when we went I can see how much planning, organising and hoping must have gone into it, and some bits I can look back on with a wry smile; the matching bright turquoise outfits for the two of us to make sure we were instantly spotable for example, or the decisions they had to make the day when it was so hot in port that we set sail, Mum helming us out with her feet in a bucket of water to try to keep cool.

So often I think your childhood memories can be influences by photos, sometimes you’re not sure whether you remember the event or just the photo but I know I really remember Greece, and I’m glad we went when I was old enough that I could.  There are things in my memories that aren’t in any photos; the feeling of the heat, the taste of watermelon in sunshine, watching the little silver fish who would swarm around the melon if you threw it in the sea,  eating cake on the last morning as we sailed back because that’s all that was left, and huge meals of meatballs eaten at the outside tables of little cafes, the four of us and the five of our friends on one huge table with a red checked paper tablecloth, drawing pictures and playing games on the cloth to pass the time while we waited for the food.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And I suspect it cemented my idea of a good holiday: boat, sunshine, book – sorted.

We’ve taken the girls on holiday, Kitty to Venice and both of them to Southern Spain and I know they both had a wonderful time when they were there, but Kitty has already forgotten Italy and they’d be doing well to remember Spain when they’re grown up.  So for now we shall make our plans for adventures slightly closer to home and one day, school holidays or no school holidays we shall take them all on the kind of adventure that they really remember. Preferably without the heatwave.

 Thanks to First Choice for the inspiration

Books Elma Exploring Family Inspiration Kitty Pip Reading

When Kitty met a Spaceman


Have you ever met one of your heroes?

At age four I’m pretty sure Kitty’s heroes are mostly Daddy, and she sees him every day, but if I were going to hazard a guess at her “when I grow up I want to be …” list, I think Chris Hadfield might just make the top of the list.  She is fascinated with the Canadian Space Agency’s YouTube videos, she’ll tell you all about crying in space, or how to make a sandwich, and how everything just floats; and we’ve had a whole heap of conversations that start with “when I’m in space…”

So when we realised that far from spending a quiet December appreciating the beauty of a lot of Canadian snow, Cmdr Hadfield was in fact doing a whistle stop tour of the UK to promote his new book, and that one of the stops was our favourite just-a-little-bit-down-the-road bookshop we knew that we had to take the chance to take Kitty (and Elma and Pip) to Blackwell’s in Oxford to meet a man who knows what the world looks like from the outside.

And that’s exactly what we did. We took the girls for lunch, we may perhaps have had a slight detour to the Blackwell’s children’s department and come away a little less empty handed than we had originally arrived, but before too long we were standing in the queue that ran the length of the Norrington Room plus a few squiggles down into the medicine section trying to keep the family relatively well behaved (with a little extra help from my very dear friend and Elma’s godmother who came to catch up with us while we queued) and not to be too distracted by the gorgeous books being showcased by the travel section (nice marketing technique there by Blackwells; though I can’t decide whether they had the signing in the law section to (a) shift more law books (b) because no one would actually want to be there for textbooks and therefore it would be quiet or (c) just to give me flashbacks to my undergraduate days!).

And then with my eyes firmly averted from Megarry & Wade (it’s a textbook, it will never ever feature in What We’re Reading) we turned the corner and reached the front of the queue.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Of course in my dreams of this moment my girls were both friendly, confident, shining examples of ‘perfect’ children, and probably if I’d thought about it, wearing their shoes, but this is real life.  In the event Pip was asleep in the sling and Kitty was so overcome with the reality of meeting someone she usually sees on the computer that she became uncharacteristically shy and could barely be persuaded to do more than peek out from behind H’s legs.  Elma though was fascinated, pulling up on tip-toes to see this spaceman, and to look at a brilliant picture of a maple tree biscuit floating in the middle of the ISS. I think she might also have asked him to sign her copy of Slinky Malinki but we’re not quite sure.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And we did manage to ask the chief question concerning Kitty at the moment; do they ever see Father Christmas and Rudolf from the ISS. I can tell you that I now have it on excellent authority that they have a Christmas tree on board, on Christmas Eve they all hang out their stockings, and on Christmas morning the stockings were filled – what more answer could you need.

It was truly an honour to meet Chris Hadfield; he is someone who had a huge dream, but he pursued it, and kept at it, and worked for it to become a reality.  If he is inspiring my children, I couldn’t ask for more, whether that leads them to want to take up space travel or not.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And I also know that despite her shyness in the moment, my Kitty is always going to treasure her signed copy of You Are Here; she hasn’t stopped carrying it around with her since and has barely stopped talking about it either!

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

I also wanted to say that I thought Blackwell’s were wonderful; they had a very slick operation to make sure that you weren’t queuing for too long, but that you also got to spend a little time having a chat, and it’s the Blackwells staff that took these photos.  They were also unfailingly kind to the girls, as was the chap behind us in the queue who very sweetly said he’d been having parenting 101 while we waited and that he very much meant it as a compliment – phew!

And do you want to know a secret? Well it’s not much of a secret if I’m about to share it with the internet – I’m so very excited about looking through Kitty’s gorgeous new book with her that I might just not quite be able to wait until she wakes up!