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June 2012

Exploring Family

The 10 great things about a lazy Saturday


1. A lie in – until almost 8am!

2. Crumpets for breakfast.
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3. Nipping into the garden between rain showers to tie up the sweet peas and smell the honeysuckle before they get battered into oblivion by any more thunder storms.
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4. Watching Kitty play with her Scottish cousins on Skype.

5. Snatching a few moments to knit a couple of rows on a little cardigan that I’m designing for Kitty – I need to get it finished before the model grows out of this size!

6. Eating scrambled egg bagels for lunch – that I didn’t cook or have to wash up.

7. Meeting an artist (Alex Echo) whose work I find completely entrancing at his painting live exhibition at the Leamington Castle Gallery.

8. Finally uploading some of my pictures from the beginning of the week to the computer so that I can start to process them.

9. Gripping tennis matches on the tv.

10. All of us being together all day long.


Can you have it all?


The wonderful thing about BritMumsLive is that you think and learn and discuss so much that your brain, heaving with all that new information, feels like you’ve finished a gourmet feast; to the point where you just need to take a little sit down and let it all sink in.

In the ‘Can women have it all?’ session I think I wrote the fewest notes, but was challenged the most, and it’s stuck with me this week, as we balanced nursery opening times with train times to and from London for a work conference, and organised childcare for a couple of necessary extra working days in the weeks ahead.

All of the panel, the bloggers of Muddling Along Mummy and Family Affairs and Other Matters, together with Michelle Chance, a fellow lawyer and head of the Association of Professional Working Parents and Eleanor Mills of the Sunday Times, spoke with what feels like rare honesty about the uneasy balancing act we all wobble through to find what’s best for our families, and those moments where the our two most-worn hats collide.

Michelle touched on the changes to UK maternity policies to allow fathers to take half of what should probably be termed parental leave, currently almost always taken in full or part by mothers (including me) as an addition to the first block of ‘Mummy-only’ weeks.  There’s little appetite for take up by UK Dads, and it seems that European countries are by and large on the same track but I’m not convinced that a change in culture so that both parents are expected to take an equal share of the leave is the right answer or truly workeable.

If my potential employer would have struck me out because I have a daughter, then would they not strike me out for needing antenatal appointments, for the impact of morning sickness on my productivity and for the potential for distracting the entire office from their afternoon’s work with baby scan photos?

Furthermore, there seems to be one fundemental flaw in this planned equality; men and women, equal in so many things, are not actually equal in all.  In fact, men are pretty lousy at breastfeeding.  I’m an enthusiastic fan of breastfeeding babies for as little or long as it works for your family.  That can be not at all, or, well we’re at 21 and a bit months and Kitty’s still going strong.  Pumping is lauded as the simple solution but it’s hard work, a pain in the neck and nowhere near as simple as being there to feed the baby directly.

Is the answer not instead that we accept and embrace the differences and attack prejudice head on as what it is, not try to level a playing field that nature insists is resolutely hilly.    If ‘different’ is perceived as ‘lesser’ or even just ‘more expensive’, can we change that perception into something positive, preferrably in a way that doesn’t involve throwing money around that neither we nor the state can afford?  You can see why my brain started to tie itself up in knots over this one and I don’t pretend to have anything close to an answer ( if you do by the way, you need to be running the world).

We also had a think about the next generation. I’m lucky that I work for a family friendly employer but it wasn’t the first criteria that a 24-year old me was looking for.  What should H and I teach Kitty as she grows up to guide her in choosing a career and employer(s) that will give her the best chance to realise her dreams in both career and family?

When asked, the panel voted two in agreement that we can have it all, as long as we know what we mean by ‘all’, one against, and one undecided.  I think I’m with the majority; if we know what we want, and that’s we as a family, not we as an individual, we can make it work.

But crucially, one family’s ‘all’ is another family’s ‘aaargh eek they did what!’, and if I have any conclusion at all after rambling on at such great length, it’s that the first step towards any of us ‘having it all’ is to throw the stereotype of ‘all’ far far out of the window and stick to the facts – we’re all doing the very best we can, and you can’t ask more than that.

Birthdays Family Finished Knitting

Sock Subterfuge


My yarn stash lives in a cupboard or so in my sewing room.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that it looks like a whole heap of yarn just crammed into a cupboard but it is in fact exquisitely organised – if you have insider access to my brain that is.

I have categories for different types of yarn and the projects they might make and within each category I have a sort of geological strata in which purchases can slowly mature until their moment of glory arrives.  It’s particularly useful for helping H forget about the existence of yarn.

The forgetfulness isn’t needed to fulfil some tacky cliche about smuggling purchases in under the radar of ‘he who holds the purse strings’; a drawful of well worn fluffy socks confirms that this man appreciates knitwear almost as much as the serenity that making it bestows upon his wife, and he views my stash as as necessary as the paint tubes, pigments and brushes that line his studio shelves.

No, the truth is that he’s been to enough yarn shops and fibre festivals that he knows good sock yarn, and the right sort of fibre and colour combination to spin for socks, and so I have an entire mini stash marked up as ‘belongs to H’.  The trick is to leave it in there long enough that he entirely forgets about its existence and then is wonderfully surprised when it turns up in sock format for birthdays or Christmas.

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This year’s birthday socks he chose at the Sparkleduck stand at Knit Nation 2011, a merino/nylon mix (their Spirit base) that is reminiscent of a slightly looser spun Wollemeisse and a million miles from some of the larger commercial sock yarns that wear their ‘wears like iron’ badge on their sleeves.

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These are socks to show off the yarn, vanilla by pattern, with one little twist.  I wanted to do a short row heel to preserve the continuity of the stripes down the top of the foot, rather than my standard heel flap (where the increased stitches for the heel shaping would have created a section of thinner stripes that would have looked rather odd) but I’ve never been that keen on the traditional wrap and turn method.  Alice at Socktopus did a series on the different wraping methods a while back and her favourite, the shadow wrap, is my new favourite.  I used the tutorial on her blog which is here, and I’ve since discovered a sock specific tutorial using this method in the first (and incidentally wonderful) issue of The Sock Report.  The shadow wraps close up the annoying little holes formed by traditional wraps, and it’s really really easy to keep track of where you’ve got to, a distinct plus when knitting takes place in 30 second intervals between handing a budding artist the next colouring crayon, and singing Baa Baa Black Sheep for the 42,357th time.

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H wore them around London on Sunday and I rescued them from the laundry pile for a photo shoot hence the feet imprint and the fluffy edges, the mark of a true seal of approval.

The Bare Necessities

Pattern: A 72 stitch plain sock pattern embedded in my brain, with a shadow wrapped heel turn.

Size: UK10-11

Yarn: Sparkleduck Stripes
Needles: 2.5mm DPNs

Time to make: 1 week.

Would I make it again: Yes – this area of the stash appears to be multiplying faster than I can knit it.

Blogging Exploring Family Inspiration

Good things begin with B: BritMumsLive and Butterflies


It’s Sunday night. The tiny girl sleeps in her familiar cot upstairs, H is providing additional commentary on what I’m told is an oh-so-very-important football match (at the time of writing it’s a lament about England’s chances of ever winning anything on penalties) and I’m tip tapping away at the computer to try to condense the two days of learning, camaraderie and shared Mama-jokes that was BritMumsLive into some sort of coherent blog post.  Actually, I’m not sure I can promise coherency, but we’ll try.

The whole event was beautifully organised and The Brewery provided a great venue so the scene was set for the best of times. 
Some of the sessions, particularly the Discussion Dens deserve a post all of their own, so for now I’m going to try to narrow it down to a top 10 moments.

  • Spending ages trying to choose between sessions.  It sounds an odd highlight, but it’s got to be a sign of a great conference if you’d love to be able to split yourself in multiple parts and go to everything.  I’m hoping to catch up on the ones I missed.
  • Meeting up with friendly faces from all over the internet, and discovering a whole heap of new blogs to read.
  • Decorating cupcakes at the LegoDuplo stand in a bid to win enough Duplo for Kitty to swim in.  Sadly my ‘Space for the Butterflies’ themed decor was justifiably defeated by a very cute hedgehog with chocolate button spines (and probably a whole heap of other cakes as well).
  • More cake, cupcakes, and other food, including a delicious blood orange and lemonade slushie shot during the afternoon tea break that perfectly complemented the pistachio banana bread in my other hand.
  • Coming away from Friday afternoon with my so head buzzing with thoughts and ideas that it took a good while to wind down, and when Kitty woke up at 2am my brain was off on yet another tangent. And that was just Friday.  It’s a good job I wrote a ton of notes, I think I’m going to need them.
  • Sarah Brown’s inspirational keynote speech.  She spoke with refreshing honesty about how she found her voice in the online world, and some of the impact of being a public figure on what she was working to achieve.  Her charity, Piggy Bank Kids, who support research into pregnancy complications and premature birth,  were there running a competition with some stunningly decorated piggy banks; I don’t envy anyone the judging decision on that one.
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  • Listening to Kylie of Not Even a Bag of Sugar (who I met at Birmingham Blogcamp), the other panelists and the audience talking about what bloggers as a collective can achieve in the Blogging for the Greater Good session.  On which note I have a little plug for you on behalf of Camila Batmangelidjh of Kids Company who would love you to visit the Royal Academy Exhibition “Childhood – The Real Event”, to showcase what it’s really like for children growing up in the urban wildernesses of London.  It’s on until 22 July.
  • Cherry Healey’s very practical advice about finding your way in the maze of social media which cut through much of my brain fog induced from a previous session on social media planning that was a bit advanced for me (and by a bit, I mean a whole heap and a little bit more).  Essentially, find a medium that you love and run with it, don’t get ridiculously hung up on the ones that don’t seem to work for you.
  • Chatting to other working Mums about whether anyone can have it all, and what we really mean by it – and that’s definitely one that deserves a whole post of it’s own.
  • The Blogger Keynotes.  The finale to the conference, and they saved the best til last.  Hearing thought provoking, sweet, hilariously funny and touching posts read by their authors was an incredibly special session.  Particular mention must go to Hayley of Downs Side Up who read this beautiful post, straight from the heart and reduced the assembled company to a teary standing ovation. 

But best of all was coming back to beaming smiles and cuddles from H and Kitty at the end of each day.  They were both exhausted but happy and from the little pictures that flew though the airwaves to me, I deduce that they went to Hamleys, saw penguins at London Zoo and that Kitty’s butterfly t-shirt and butterfly wing reigns had the residents of the Regent’s Park butterfly house embrace her as one of their own.  They had as much fun as I did, and were just as tired.


I missed them even while I was having so much fun myself, but I joined them to take Kitty to supper in Leicester Square and to buy her a scoop of icecream to lick on the steps of St Martins in the Fields, watching dusk settle over Trafalgar Square, and today all three of us (and all our luggage – no buggy in sight) browsed the Tate Modern before heading for our train and the peaceful greenery of a little Warwickshire village.

If we manage to get up on time in the morning it’ll be a minor miracle.

Birthdays Family

Good things begin with B: Birthdays


Do you remember that feeling of pedalling to catch up with a bike that was galloping away with you the first time you rode down a hill that was a bit too steep for your abilities when you were learning as a child?  If you’re anything like me it ended up in some inopportune braking, a somersault over the handlebars to act as a soft landing for the offending machinery and a special flowery plaster on each knee.  I’m feeling a bit like that at the moment, I have so much to tell and I want to do it justice and not trip over my tongue along the way. 

I meant to blog last Thursday, but I fell asleep putting Kitty to bed and the next thing I knew it was a bit too late to tell you of H and my very

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H had taken a few days off work so he was there to cook us scrambled eggs for breakfast (his culinary piece de resistance), and there to come to Tots Splash at the pool where our 21 month old daughter modelled a beautiful new swimsuit, only a fraction too large – at size 3-4 years.   I know I’m tall and H is tall therefore Kitty being tall is not news to us, but age 3-4 at 1 and 3/4? That I was not expecting.

We went out to lunch afterwards and came home to try to do justice to the cake to end all cakes:

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It’s chocolate sponge, filled with buttercream, topped with chocolate buttercream, and Smarties, and KitKats.  If ever death were truly to be induced by chocolate, this would be the cake to do it, it’s completely delicious, incredibly rich …. and it’s sat right in front of me – would you excuse me for just a second …

It’s a perk of the internet over pen and paper that I’m only dusting morsels of sponge from my own computer right now. 

So 31, what should I say about you as an age? You are the year that we celebrated a first first birthday, the year when Christmas was all about saucer-eyes and the excited squeaks of a tiny girl, and the year in which I tried to figure out my new normal as a part-time working Mama.  We were perhaps on the spring tide of highs and lows but we can live with that, and 32 is looking to be pretty good from four days in.