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July 2013

Elma Family Kitty Me and Mine Photography

Me and Mine – a family portrait for July


It seems that the biggest challenge to taking a portrait of the whole family each month isn’t so much a lack of intent or the motivation to do it, at least where the adults are concerned, and, as I so ably demonstrated last month, Kitty is remarkably responsive to that old standby – the chocolate biscuit bribe.  And it isn’t that I’m particularly self-conscious about taking pictures with the tripod and timer.  No, it’s a bit more basic than that.  It’s my house.  H and I are not minimalists by any stretch of the imagination, and neither are our daughters.  We love colour and pattern and beautiful art and our lounge walls are filled with H’s paintings, beautiful prints, and a really great watercolour which we liberated from my parents-in-law’s garage several years ago.

The pile of quilts in the corner, the cushions a little faded and dog-eared from being dragged in and out of the garden, the vibrant red and blue play kitchen, boxes of Duplo and baby stuffies, and a bookcase exploding with the family’s current reads make our lounge the heart of our home.  That is after all its primary function, although there are times when the photographer-Mama wishes for a little more light and a little less cross-trainer in the background.

I could I suppose develop gargantuan powers of de-cluttering tidiness but frankly I’d rather read another story, play another round of ice cream shop (today’s flavour is “purple”) or embark on another round of Playdoh-is-not-for-eating-please-take-it-out-of-your-mouth instead.

Besides, who’d want to see twelve months of photos of my sofa anyway.

I think a good part of this challenge is going to be exploring places for pretty photos and if those of you that have been doing this longer have any top tips I’d be more than grateful, although if December’s photo turns out to be four very cold people visibly shivering in my back garden I may re-think the tidiness thing.

But for July, I always knew I was going to have it a little bit easy, with our trip to Devon offering up both photographer and any number of pretty locations.  So just to spice it up a bit it seemed only sensible that the location should move.  A lot.  After all, why when you have all the scenery of an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, would you not take your photo on a steam train.

We set it up, girls scooped onto our laps, camera handed over, and Dad, feet firmly braced between two solid seatbacks and the carriage doors steadied himself, waited for the perfect jolt, and let fly the shutter.


It captures so perfectly their intense excitement at the world passing by, even though I think we’re in a cutting judging by the greenery, that nothing, not even their much adored Grandpa could draw their eyes away from the window at that moment.

Even when we took a few more pictures from a less wibbly perspective Kitty’s eyes are sliding across, just to make sure that she doesn’t miss a thing.

Me and Mine, Kingswear Steam Railway, family photo, family portrait

This has been the month in which Elma and Kitty’s relationship as sisters has really started to blossom; especially now that Elma is sitting confidently on her own, although I’m not sure that Kitty’s that keen on how many of her toys are now within Elma’s tiny grasp.  They giggle and splash each other in the bath, prod and poke each other in the shopping trolley and babble and chatter while we play.  If Elma cries Kitty runs to her side; “don’t worry sweetie pies! Mama is coming! Come on Mama!”, and she often asks to give ‘squeezy hugs’.  In the same moment I’ll be quieting toddler wails while unlacing chubby baby fingers from her sister’s blond curls, or having yet another variation on the conversation that begins “not all of the things belong to you”

But I think this photo shows it best; Elma’s delight and Kitty’s watchful love, holding her sister so carefully, despite all the grown up arms around them both.


My little family, in July.


dear beautiful


Books Elma Family Kitty what we're reading

The Worst Princess {what we’re reading}


The Worst Princess, Anna Kemp, Sara Ogilvie

My eldest daughter is not a tomboy.  True enough she likes running around, getting wet and mucky, kicking a ball and poking at the ground with sticks, but there’s an inherent girliness in our Kitty that is every bit as much nature as it is nurture.  And its current manifestation is her affection for all things pink, purple and princessey.


We’ve not really discouraged or promoted it (apart from a little strategic use of Disney princess stickers), just tried to allow her to make her own choices, within reason.  If her dolly Cinderella helps her to feel safe cozy and relaxed as she falls asleep at night then I’ll overlook its aesthetic shortcomings.  She likes to paint pictures that are almost entirely purple, to build castle towers taller than herself using every available piece of Duplo to house “Princess Ginger”, several zoo keepers, Ariel from the Little Mermaid and a station’s worth of firemen, and one of her current favourite toys is “my tea party”, a Cinderella themed pink, blue and white heart-shaped plastic tea service, all stored in a giant tea-pot. And with each and every one of these I love watching her creativity come to the fore, and hearing the little make believes that chatter along with her playing.DSC_0004-3

Perhaps surprisingly we don’t really have many pink and princessy books, but I think it’s a little hard to find a princess book that fits Kitty (and my) idea of what a princess should be.  We’ve had a few pink sparkly creations out from the Library but after the first flush of glitter hypnosis they lie neglected at the bottom of the book bag.  In fact, there’s just one.  Read, re-read, requested and so loved by both girls that I had to glue the cover back on today. Again.


Let me introduce you to Princess Sue.


Smart, funny, and wonderfully ingenious, Sue is a terrible princess as far as the ‘look pretty, keep sweet’ model goes.  She’s after adventures, not sitting in a tower all day twirling her hair waiting to be rescued, so with a strategic networking manoeuvre worthy of Machiavelli, and an all important cup of tea, she teams up with the dragon to put the world to rights.


This is a book written to be read aloud, the rhymes have beautiful cadence; there aren’t any verbal clunks where words have had to be shoehorned in to make sense, or popular pronunciation stretched to breaking point. It’s also responsible for the phrase “my perfect peach, my precious flower” entering the family lexicography, usually in reference to a certain small someone giving full reign to her mischievous side.

The illustrations have all the energy of the story, and gorgeous colours to match and I love the quirky details, like Sue’s converse trainers under her pretty princess frock.


It’s no surprise that it was shortlisted for the 2012 Roald Dahl Funny prize, a favourite hunting ground of mine for really good new children’s books.

The princess phase will probably run its course with Kitty just in time for Elma to take up the baton, but I rather hope Sue will be with us for a good while to come – although perhaps I should buy a back up copy.


We’re not the only bookworms around either; I can’t wait to see what Kelle at Maggie Stone and Lucy at Dear Beautiful have been reading this week – Kitty’s birthday wish list is getting longer every week!

Maggie Stone

Elma Family Kitty

The Third Week That Was – According to Instagram


This was the week that a thunderclap reverberating above our heads woke us up, the alarm clock mysterious stopped working and left us asleep, and two tiny girls ran and wiggled around us in circles leaving their parents blissfully exhausted.

The week that we were …


Blog post: The Second Week that Was – According to Instagram
… munching strawberries at H’s cricket match on a hazy hot afternoon just to make sure that we’d really nailed the national stereotyping. It clearly added the necessary oomph to the ancient English rain dance and the thunderstorm forecast started to roll in.



… scurrying through our chores to get to the splash pad before the storms. I’d forgotten that the school holidays had started and it was heaving. But Kitty splashed straight into the fray, rolling in the cool water and chasing in and out of the fountains. Back at home we pulled out some of Kitty’s older toys for Elma, to her very great delight.





Blog post: Stuck {what we’re reading}

… waking up to crashes and grumbles overhead as the heavens were ripped up by passing storms. The cloud bursts that followed were just about enough to float the ducks on the patio (I knew I shouldn’t have cleaned the drainage), and Kit and I cast all common sense to the wind, and ran around in the rain for a little while. After the initial shock of getting wet it was actually really lovely to feel cool again after a week in the heat.




Blog post: Vive la Liberty

… playing with scissors. With Elma’s second dress finished at the weekend, it was high time that Kitty got a little Mama-made something so I pulled out a length of cotton earmarked for her at least two years ago and spent a happy afternoon in the studio tracing, pinning and cutting out, with Elma boinging away in her bouncer beside me. I chat to her, tell her what we’re doing and how it will all fit together, and ask her if she thinks Kitty will like it, and she babbles back to me; tales of the butterfly, elephant and monkey that live on her bouncer perhaps.




Blog post: Sandy Toes

… painting, cutting, sticking, baking and, if you’ll forgive the invention of a word, glittering. While Elma napped, Kitty and I made a batch of salt dough with a handful of silver glitter thrown in for good measure and brought out the seashells from Devon to press into the dough. And while that hardened in the oven we broke out the paints to start a porthole picture.

The tablecloth, already on its last legs from a combination of toddler use and some over enthusiastic rotary cutting by a family member who shall remain nameless, turned up its polka dotted toes at the latest onslaught of paint and a little shopping expedition, and a metre and a half of oil cloth later found us the proud new owners of its near relation, a wedgewood blue tablecloth, also with polka dots.




Blog post: {this moment}

… meeting friends in the park to play, chat and test out a new to us splash pool. While not quite as big as our usual pool, I think it’s a better kept secret so it might be somewhere different to try out during the school holidays.

Both girls were exhausted by the end of the day – but only one of them was interested in actually going to sleep!




Blog post: Early in the morning, down at the station

… eating waffles and raspberries for breakfast in the sunshine. H’s parents gave me the waffle maker many many Christmases ago, long before even Kitty was born, and I love it for being gloriously cheesy (in aesthetic rather than taste although I’m sure waffles could be cheese flavoured if you really wanted). Kitty, an intermittently devoted Minnie Mouse fan, thinks that this could be just about the most exciting thing she’s ever had for breakfast – what better way to start the day!


As in previous weeks, I’m joining in with Hannah over at Make, Do and Push so do go and say hi and see what else this week had in store.

Elma Exploring Family Kitty Uncategorized

Early in the morning, down at the station …



Devon has a secret.  A not-very-secret sort of a secret, but one unknown to anyone arriving by way of the M5.  Because for a true introduction to Devon you need to be on the train.

The problem with Devon, where trains are concerned, is Dartmoor.  A massive hunk of granite looming across the spine of the county.  If you’ve ever wondered why Devon looks a little chunky after Cornwall’s rough skinniness, that’s Dartmoor.  It goes up.  Trains do not like up if they can possibly help it.

And so as the line leaves Exeter it turns to the coast, hugging the cliffs, weaving in and out of red sandstone as it wiggles its way around Starcross, Dawlish and Teignmouth before plunging up the side of the River Teign to Newton Abbot and Totnes. I’ve never forgotten the exact point at which to look for that first glimpse of water, the smell of the sea, or the largely silent shared mirth of a carriage when the idiot who’d been having a crafty smoke out of the window into a winter’s night got an unexpected and entirely deserved bath when a breaker thundered over the sea wall at Dawlish and sploshed into the side of the train.

For me, the train stopped at Totnes and as I never timed a trip well enough with the tides to finish the journey by boat, nor could be bothered to drag all my belongings across town to the bus stop, I met the sea by taxi, parental or otherwise.

When Dad made that same journey from Oxford some thirty-something years earlier, his connection at Reading steamed all the way down the country, along the banks of the Dart and into the heart of home.  The train stopped at Kingswear, a few feet short of the water, where an official British Rail ferry shuttled everyone across the water to Dartmouth, or sometimes my grandparents would come across on the car ferry to meet the train, Dinah the dog baby woofing frantically as she searched in the crowd for that familiar pair of kneecaps, and the boy above them, hiding behind a sturdy hooped trunk.

Dad’s time at university was a season of hard winters, probably the last time it snowed heavily and regularly each winter in that usually temperate neck of the woods and I remember as a child being told of the Christmas when Dad arrived to a blanket of snow.  Both Dartmouth and Kingswear had all but closed down, enveloped in thick soft white. Without any vehicle running for miles around, the car ferry had called it a day, and only the passenger boat scuttled back and forth across the river, carrying a few intrepid railway passengers, Dad, and his trunk.

Heading for one of the few places still open, he stowed the trunk in the Sailing Club, and set off, hauling up the steep climb out of Dartmouth and striking out for the village, walking home in the snow for Christmas.

The Paignton to Kingswear branch was officially uncoupled from the national network a few years later but has been run as a private line ever since.  When we suggested taking the girls on a little train ride, I did wonder whether for Dad it would be a bit like someone asking me if I’d like to catch the 8.24 to Birmingham Snow Hill “just for fun”, but then again, my commute doesn’t run on a steam train, and steam trains are cool.


They’re just such phenomenal pieces of engineering; fire-breathing dragons, all glinting black paint and burnished copper.


Kitty, who admittedly would be excited by a trip on the 8.24, didn’t need asking twice.


She loved the model line at the station, the brio engines lined up just for tiny hands to play with, and when Grandpa discovered an all important 50p in his pocket for the Princess Karyn, she was on top of the world, even before the train arrived.



I know I posted this picture as {this moment} a while ago, but I can’t not talk about the devotion she had for “my choo choo train” without including it.

Kitty, train toy, Kingswear steam railway

The Princess was the honoured recipient of more than a few lingering hugs, with Kitty telling everyone in earshot “I love my train.  I just really love my train!”

The real train arrived in a flurry of passengers. It doesn’t turn at either end of its run, but runs backwards to Kingswear, then trundles along the train to recouple at the front.  Kitty lent her own level of supervision to the recoupling – “Mummy, what that man doing now?!”, before we all hopped into a blissfully empty carriage at the front, and set off in a maelstrom of steam and hooting.




And as for my littler daughter, well she snuggled into me as the train rocked and rolled, and no tunnel, no whistle, and certainly no highly excited and possibly chocolate fuelled big sister was going to prevent her from enjoying her nap.


At Churstow we waved to a field full of girls playing rounders,


and as the train coasted down into Paignton there were beach huts and cliff walkers, sandy bays and boats.

At Paignton we strolled to the water’s edge, a little strip of pinky red beach between the promenade and the waves, and added that all important sandy seasoning to our sandwiches.  Elma, wide awake and very determined to avoid wearing her hat at all costs, decided that Grandpa made an excellent seat, and Kitty and H decided to see how she’d look as a mermaid.





And then all too soon it was time for an ice-cream (it’s Devon, the appropriate reaction to all activities and events is ice-cream), and the ride back home.


As we crested the hill and started a gentle descent through the trees, Dad lent up against the far windows of the carriage, waiting for the moment that he knew was coming.  The trees suddenly cleared and the train roared into blazing sunshine along the banks of the river, with Dartmouth beautiful and lovely, sparkling across the water.  The look in his eyes said everything, recognition, sheer delight and that unshakeable moment of homecoming.


Elma Family Kitty {this moment}

{this moment}


Kitty and Elma

Joining in with {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no  words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, sale special, view extraordinary  moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

To see more, check out  the comments to Soulemama