Choices ...

31 March 2011

On the bus home from school today Lily told me how she ate Chicken Chow Mein for lunch today. Not that unusual you might say ... but Lily has, until lunchtime today, always been a vegetarian. To be honest I wasn't really that shocked or surprised by her confession. She said that she put her name on the vegetarian list, but they didn't have that information in the dining hall. I asked if she questioned it with a dinner lady and she said 'no'. It obviously didn't bother her very much, this dish of Chicken Chow Mein.

David and I stopped eating meat some twenty-one years ago, so it just seemed natural to bring up our children with a meat-free diet. Lily eats well and generally enjoys her food and until recently just accepted the fact that she didn't eat meat. She was quite proud to wear the 'vegetarian' label.

But recently at school peer pressure has been creeping in. She's not being mocked for being vegetarian, but she sees her friends eating this forbidden food and is inquisitive to try it for herself. She has told me on a few occasions that she want to eat meat because her friends do. I've had the 'why we are vegetarians' conversation with her. I explain to her my reasons for avoiding meat whilst not forcing my principles onto her. It's a careful balance. Sometimes she'll respond with 'Yuk! I'm never going to eat meat', other time she shrugs matter-of-factly and says 'Well, I just want to try a bit'.

Some days I've swayed towards letting her try it other days I've thought, no she eats as we eat until she is old enough to make an education decision. If she asked for sweets for breakfast, I would say no, so why is this any different?

But today, she made the decision for me. She said she quite enjoyed her chicken. Maybe that's it - an experience realised, or maybe she'll want more. All I know is that as children grow older and find their independence the parent has to learn that sometime their children have to make choices for themselves. We, as parents, can't force them to be any such way. Arthur has long hair; that is my choice, it makes him look cute. But I know that once he is old enough to voice an opinion, he probably say 'Mum, please cut off my girly hair!' So, I'll just sit tight and see where the vegetarian thing goes. I read an interview not long ago given by Paul McCartney; his children did exactly this and it didn't stick with them. My money is on it being a whim of the moment.


Party Time - Part Four: The Bags

It's onwards and upwards with the 'party posts'. The subject of this post is the all-important party bag. Now, I'm unaware of when the party bag thing became an essential part of a children's party - sometime between being a child myself and becoming a mother who throws birthday parties for her children I guess. In my day you would take home a slice of birthday cake wrapped in a piece of kitchen roll and, if you were lucky, perhaps a balloon. 

Well Lily assures me that party bags are the pinnacle of all good parties and every child loves to receive a bundle of booty to take home with them. I've been witness to many types of party bag over the last few years. It seems that the likes of Disney Princess, Hello Kitty, Spiderman and Thomas the Tank Engine have the monopoly on the party bag, which seems wrong to say the least. Also they are incredibly 
un-eco and throw-away. So if Lily wants party bags she has them my way; unique, simple, handmade and hopefully longer-lasting.

The bags themselves I make from fabric. They are really quick to run up on the sowing machine. They are fasten with ribbons that I finished off with some spare pom poms that I had left over from the fabric party hats. The contents were kept simple as the children also took home their fabric party hats and a tissue paper pom. Inside each bag was a Chocolate Bar, a Tunnocks Teacake (just love the wrapper), Bubbles, Seeds (Giant Cinderella Pumpkins), Coloured Pencils and a printed poem (The End by A. A. Milne from Now We Are Six). To make the contents that little bit special I replaced all the wrappers (other than the Tunnock Teacake of course!) with my own wrapper designs that fitted my theme of 'bright patterned retro prints'. Some may say it's a step too far, but I found it a rather nice way to round things off. 

A Tune for Tuesday No. 3

29 March 2011

It's Tuesday again, so time to post another 'Tune for Tuesday'. Random, nostalgic and good-for-the-soul, this week's tune is one of my favourite David Bowie tracks. I first came to really know this song in fairly recent years. An old friend who now lives in Ireland, posted me a CD with this one song burnt onto it whilst I was heavily pregnant with Lily. I played it over and over, and it now brings back happy memories of excitement and anticipation of very nearly being a mother.

As if that wasn't reason enough to make this song 'A Tune for Tuesday', today is also the said friends birthday. So it has to be and can only be.

Enjoy (& Happy Birthday Kevin! x)

Party Time - Part Three: The Hats

28 March 2011

This is the final 'party' post for today, but there are still a couple more to come tomorrow or later in the week. Now let me introduce you to my homemade Party Hats. 

In the back of my mind, I have a business plan to start a small venture, providing 'bits' for children's parties. These hats were the start of that idea and I used Lily's party as a trial run for them. Without doubt people love them, but they are so very time consuming to make. I need to find a way to cut back on the time otherwise they're not a viable product to make money from. Any advice or feedback would be gratefully received!

Many of the fabric's I used were vintage or vintage inspired. I remember a yellow and brown floor-length party dress I wore to lots of parties as a little girl and that memory triggered the inspiration for these hats. I started off with mass-produced pom-poms for the top, but they were too perfectly formed and fluffy, so I bought some wool and made my own, which I think finished each hat off much better, yet added another five minutes per hat!

I'm a bit 'hatted out' for now, but soon I will revisit them and see if there is any life for them out there in the mad and crazy world of children's parties.

Party Time - Part Two: The Poms

These are my Poms. Everybody loves a Pom it seems. I made fifteen of them to decorate our living room with for Lily's party this weekend. After the party each child took one home with them. A few children on receipt of their Poms squashed them on top of their heads to make them look like hats and did several laps around the living room - it was a full energy party you know! Other's carried them out the door like they were the most delicate petal flower they'd ever held and took them home to hang from their bedroom ceiling - it has to be said, that reaction warmed my heart deeply. 

I first made Poms for Lily's party last year and they went down really well. This year was going to be all about my fabric party hats - these were to be the new Poms. But as the party drew nearer parents of children who came last year began to ask if I might be doing the Poms again this year as their son or daughter loved theirs and still had theirs up from last year. One mother even told of her daughter's recent Pom trauma that was bought on by the delicate Pom not surviving their recent house move. I felt a huge responsibility to go down the Pom road again and I ordered my batches of tissue papers.

Poms are actually great for many reasons. Firstly they create quite an impact decoration wise and they are cheaper to make than alternative similar garlands. They're also a good eco option as the children won't want to throw them away and the Poms can continue their existence quite happily hanging from a bedroom ceiling. The original reason we opted for Poms was that unlike a balloon they won't go bang. With Lily not keen on balloons it seemed the best option. Who would have thought they would have gained such a fan base. I'll probably be making them for her wedding reception in years to come!

Party Time - Part One

This weekend was the 'big' weekend of Lily's 6th Birthday party. An event that I had been preparing for for many weeks and a day referred to on a regular basis by Lily for about the last 6 weeks .... no pressure then for me to pull it off! I have a reputation for going the extra mile when putting on a party. Some people really do think I'm a sandwich short of a picnic. I relish in the creative freedom you can choose to have with a party, particularly that of a six-year-old girl's.

Lily likes to have a certain amount of involvement, but also likes a balance of surprise. So she was involved with some details such as the making of the party hats (which almost became a part-time job!), yet the cake was made after dark in topmost secret.

I set out to document the party and all the bits that I made for it, but some things weren't photographed due to the last minute chaos that always happens when putting on a party no matter how in control you think you might be. So I will share with you what I did manage to record over the next few posts.

I started off with a simple theme of pattern and colour. Naturally it gave a nod-and-a-wink to the nostalgia of the nineteen-seventies. It was to be a simple party at home like we had in the good old days.
We had fifteen children in all. We were certainly pushing the limit in our living room, so we were thankful that the sun came out and we were able to let the children spill out into our courtyard. On arrival each child selected a party hat (which they later took home). We played lots of fun games from pass-the-parcel (with forfeits) to musical statues. I made individual lunch bags for the children each with some mini danish pizza's, cheesy biscuits, breadsticks, carrot sticks, grapes and a little pot of cream cheese. There was orange or apple juice to wash it all down with and then came out my homemade strawberry and rainbow sprinkle cupcakes and No. 6 shaped chocolate-chip cookies. The lunch concluded with the birthday cake and a song of 'happy birthday'. After a pretty crazy two hours it was home-time and everyone left with their hats, a party bag, a tissue paper pom and a piece of birthday cake. Lily throughly enjoyed herself and I dare say that the children probably all slept rather well that night. 

I however, have decided that next year we shall either take the party out of the home or do something on a smaller scale. Six year-old's parties are, shall we say, quite a few steps up the scale from a five year-old's party. A large glass of wine was much needed once I had got my house back. Now I can get back to normality with a much reduced to-do list. Lovely!

Happy Birthday Lily Biba!

25 March 2011

Yesterday Lily turned 6. It's a strange feeling. On one hand I find myself thinking how has six years has gone by so quickly, yet on the other hand I can't remember life without her. What birthdays do though, every year without fail, is remind us how very quickly our children grow up and that their childhoods are to be cherished.

Her day started with a excited rush of cards to open and presents to unwrap, then day-to-day reality interrupted and she went off to school, albeit with a box of homemade jam drop biscuits for her classmates.

After school and back home we (lily, arthur, mummy, daddy, nanny and grandad) went to our local beach-side cafe for pizza and icecream, which according to Lily all made for a very special day. She has her party tomorrow, which is known as 'Birthday No. 2', then she'll start her count down to her 7th birthday.

A Tune for Tuesday no.2 ...

22 March 2011

So, I started 'A Tune for Tuesday' last week and it's now time for another. I heard this much-loved song on the radio recently. I'd forgotten what a lovely nostalgic quality it had. It simply makes me smile. So turn the volume up a notch and enjoy.

Family Weekend & Night Shifts ....

21 March 2011

Well, here's to the start of another new week. It's promising to be a busy and eventful week with a good dose of happy times. Lily turns six on Thursday and we're throwing her a party on Saturday. My parents are coming to stay for a few days and my really good friend will give birth to twins (on Lily's birthday!).

We had a weekend that was packed to the brim for both work and play. Friday night was a rare treat; David and I had a night out together. We hired a babysitter and headed out with friends for a few drinks followed by a bite to eat at our local Thai restaurant, The Giggling Squid. It was a great evening - the kind that passes by all to quickly and you end the night saying in earnest, 'we really ought to do it more often'.

Saturday was a day of chores and more prep for Lily's party. I made some chocolate chip cookie dough for storing in the freezer until later this week and had a big clear-out in the children's bedrooms and toy cupboard. I've got a few big bags of old toys that I will donate to Arthur's playgroup and now I can rest-easy knowing that there is room for any new toys that may came our way this birthday week.

After such a busy day, I was ready for an evening in front of the TV and an early night, but David and I had to turn our weary heads onto work mode. We stayed up until late planning-out and wording a client press release. Day-to-day in the studio, David is pulled in all directions with press requests and can struggle to find time for such things that require a bit of focus and thought, so they sit on a to-do-list in hope of attention soon and if the forecast looks grim, they comes home to be done after-hours.

Sunday was, for most parts, a breath of fresh air. We actually had a proper family day out. Like our evenings out together, these days don't happen as much as they ought to, what with chores, commitments and work eating into our so-called leisure time. We packed the kids up with a good supply of breadsticks (they won't travel beyond the end of our road with them!) and a few toys and took a sunny morning drive to Dulwich to visit the Mid-Century Modern Fair that was held in the grounds of Dulwich College.

David and I share a fondness for mid-century modern design and we had a few friends such as Mini Moderns, Michelle Mason and Zoe Murphy who were exhibiting their fine wares so it was fun to pop along for a gander. The fair was full of desirable pieces to tempt the purse strings, but with a one-year-old on reigns in tow there wasn't much time for a leisurely browse. It was more a case of keeping a constant eye on Arthur, particularly as we went by exhibits of beautiful glass and ceramics. I found it a bit crazy that they market the fair as a family-friendly event (there were plenty of children there) yet they don't allow pushchairs into the building. Had we had a pushchair, Arthur would have taken a nap and we could have had a more relaxed experience. At one point we were witness to a heart-stopping near collision involving a toddler (not on reigns) and an artfully stacked shelf of ceramics. Still, maybe they will revise their pushchair policy next year.

Once done at the fair we looked for food and an open space. We went to Dulwich Park and lunched on sausage and chip. Arthur slept in his pushchair and Lily explored and played in the swing park. Then before leaving we stopped by at the ice-cream van. It was a beautiful crisp and sunny day full of the promise of spring. Blossom, Bluebells and Daffodils signaled that perhaps the long cold days of winter were now behind us .... that put a spring in all our steps.

Back home, once the tired children were tucked up in bed, David and I again devoted an another evening to work. This time we worked on a complex proposal for a design event we may be promoting next year. This evolved into a gone-midnight exhausted discussion on the huge unbalance that exists in our world of being self-employed. When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them that my husband and I have our own PR business, they think how lovely it must be not to be committed to the nine-to-five job working for someone else. The reality is an unrelenting and immense pressure to get results so to bring in the money. It completely steers our quality of life and that of our children.

It's a livelihood that we created ten years or so ago, as a means to get by at the time. We didn't see it as the structure which now supports our growing family. We're so busy that we don't have time to think about it, but when we do it can be scary to think of all that relies upon it and that it is solely our actions that keep it ticking over. We need to find the time from somewhere to look at growing our business and increasing productivity and balance; seven days annual holiday is pretty poor. I remember an old accountant of ours once telling us of a business phase for people whose work takes over their life without much financial reward and he called them 'busy fools'. That has always stayed with me.

A Tune for Tuesday ...

15 March 2011

I decided to have a bit of fun and introduce what I am calling 'A Tune for Tuesday' to Buttercup Days.
Music has always played a big role in my life. My dad shaped my taste of music with his vinyl collection of late 60's and 70's music. We would often spend an evening or Sunday afternoon as a family playing LP's. In the kitchen my mum would have the radio on throughout the day and I would hear the hits of the time on Capital or Radio2. I clearly remember getting my first radio/cassette player and recording my favourite tunes each week from the Top 40 Chart show - pressing 'Play' + 'Record' together. No matter what your technique the sudden starts and raw ends that held each song were very much of the technology of their time and never really bothered us. Years later, music is still played in my home from the point of waking until bedtime. David has a vinyl collection to rival many of Brighton's independent record shops. So it looks like my 'growing up with music' will certainly pass down another generation. I think that is a good thing.

So 'A Tune for Tuesday' is born (now I've the pressure to come up with something every week!). My selection of tunes will be varied. Don't be put off on the first listen - it could be something completely different next week. There is likely to be a common theme running throughout; songs that have that nostalgic glow to them. Some may want to make you sing or dance, some might take you back somewhere for 3 minutes ... either way I find most music is best played loud, so turn up the volume a little. To kick off 'A Tune for Tuesday' I have unearthed this song. Listening to it can only be describe as having honey poured in your ears .... listen and you might see what I mean.

Extended Family ...

13 March 2011

I love a happy occasion and I love any excuse to bake. Yesterday we all went to the engagement party of David's niece Lucy and her fiance Dom. It was the first time both Lucy's and Dom's families met.
We had a lovely afternoon; a fun one that without anyone really noticing spread into the evening ... time has a habit of doing that when you're in good company. I baked and took along a cake to celebrate the engagement. It was a 'Chocolate Guinness Cake' topped with a cream cheese and white chocolate frosting. Appropriate I thought as Dom's family are from Ireland. It seemed to go down well ... I've been asked to make the wedding cake.

Now We Are Six .... well almost

11 March 2011

Several times, on a daily basis, Lily is informing me of how many days to her birthday and how many days to her party. This countdown has been in full-flow for a good two weeks or so now and we've still almost that much time to go again to we get there.

I have however, probably added fuel-to-the-fire by having started preparations for her party. I pride myself on being organised - I have lists (and in some cases notebooks) to catalogue the various projects and daily tasks I have in my life. Lists keep me sane.

So the party. Well, we are having it at home. I've yet to venture holding one of Lily's parties outside of the home, although the day after each years party I swear that next year we're hiring a hall or that Lily can pick a few select friends to have a dinner out with. She's not having it and to be honest neither am I. I love the idea of young children having their parties at home, just as we used to. Their expectations are relatively small; a party bag, games, pass-the-parcel, dancing and cake.

I relish any chance to get creative, and my children's parties are good opportunities in which to do so. 
I enjoy the run up, the preparation, much in the same way I love the run up to Christmas. I set myself a goal to try make each years party individual, fun and memorable. I'm sure in a few years time, Lily will be begging me not to get 'so involved' and that she would rather just go out and have pizza with her friends, so I shall therefore, as they say, make hay whilst the sun shines. This year my (rather loose) theme is bright colour and pattern with a wink-and-a-nod to children's parties of the 1970's. It will be a crafty homemade affair through and through. I've made a start on making some fabric cone party hats for each of the guests and I've got fabric for my party bags cut and ready to sow.

Now the countdown really has begun. The invitations have gone out. The invitation design came about through my recent obsession with the wonderful Ed Emberley Picture Pie books. It's a rather therapeutic way to spend an evening or two, cutting and sticking these simple shapes. I hope that these invitations have gone some way to setting a taste of what is to come.

Bread & Stuff ...

8 March 2011

In our house, with the odd exception such as Christmas Day, we tend to eat our dinner in the evening as our last meal of the day. It was much like that for me as a child too, but I distinctly remember having 'tea' some days, probably at the weekend or during school holidays. I refer to 'tea' as the meal one would have at the end of the day if the main meal had been taken at lunchtime.

The 'tea' that remains clearest in my memory was 'Bread & Stuff'. It was a simple but comforting fayre that could be put together in a jiffy. You'd need to sit and serve this at a dining table. In the centre goes your loaf of bread (white unsliced bought from the bakers), then add all your savoury options to the table, Cheddar Cheese, Pickle, Pickled Onions, Marmite, Peanut Butter and Fish Paste (yes fish paste, but remember I'm going back some 30 years). Next your sweet options - all flavours of Jam, Golden Syrup, Treacle, Chocolate Spread and (set) Honey. The rules were simple - you start savoury and end sweet. 

Occasionally I will present a table of Bread & Stuff to my children and they embrace it fully. I am very lucky though, as I can take my Bread & Stuff 'Tea' to another level courtesy of my local baker, Sugardough in Hove. Sugardough is the most adorable little shop just moments away from the seafront. The shop is small, but perfectly formed. It is charming with its traditional yet relaxed interior. Racks of artisan breads and pastries; too-pretty-to-eat dainty cakes sitting on vintage cake stands; tarts and pies seduce all my senses making me want to 'move in' for the morning. The bread is baked daily on the premises (except for Monday's when they are closed), which is a rarity these days. It's wrapped in paper and is nearly always 'still warm'. The staff are welcoming and friendly - they always, without fail, get the door for me as I struggle to maneuver my buggy out of the shop. I favour a crusty Sourdough for my Bread & Stuff 'Tea' and theirs is hard to beat. 

I also adore their individual custard tarts. They make for the perfect self-indulgent treat with a good cup of coffee. I've also found them a very effective baby-sitting currency for my sister-in-law, who like me, appreciates my exceptionally good local baker.

Sugardough can be found at 12 Victoria Terrace, Kingway, Hove, BN3 2WB. Tel. 01273 727227

Smile ...

7 March 2011

I don't really plan ahead with what I write on my blog. I'll write about various moments in time I experience that leave some kind of impression that I feel is worthy of putting into words.

On thursday of last week, I found myself watching a television programme in the evening. I hadn't planned to watch it. It was just that I had fallen into that slumber on the sofa where the effort to do the sensible thing and take yourself upstairs to bed is just too greater a challenge, so I find myself becoming engrossed in a programme that just happens to follow the programme I had been watching.

It's the fact that I am still thinking of this programme fours days later, that makes me want to relay what captured me about it. I was watching Famous, Rich and in the Slums, a moving two-part documentary for Comic Relief in which four TV personalities are sent to the slums of Kibera in Africa. Stripped of all their possessions, they were left alone for a week to work and survive in one of the most impoverished places on our planet. The viewer is witness to some terrible things; it doesn't make for comfortable viewing. What really left an impression on me was this man who lived  in the slums with his wife and children. He was a gentle man with a beautiful smile. He made his little money making and selling street food. He had eight children and the youngest was sick. The man was unable to take his son to the doctors as he didn't have the money to - money we would regard as loose change in the western world. He was asked if he thought there was 'any hope of getting out of the poverty' to which he smiled and replied 'no'. 'But you're always smiling' the man was told. His reply? He said that he must smile, he had to. He had children and they need to see him smile so to give them hope.

There is a lesson to be learnt in that isn't there.

A Sick Note ...

6 March 2011

It's been a week of high's and low's. It started with a high - my birthday, as documented in my last post, but the next day I came down with a sickness bug and only now am I starting to feel 'normal' again.

I'm very rarely sick. I possess a great ability of avoiding the kids coughs and colds that they bring home from school and playgroup along with their finger paintings and homework and I can steer myself clear of sore throats that David might catch on a commuter train to London. It's probably something in my make-up, I wasn't a sick child either. But every now and then, as with this week, I will buckle-under to something. 

My bug entered my life very suddenly and was quite intense for twenty-four hours which meant having to stay in bed. Oh well, such is life, sounds simple enough .... but the problem is I can't phone in sick to work and neither can David. There's a one year-old to entertain and feed, a five year-old to get to and from school and have supper ready for and a business to run. David managed to reschedule some important meeting for the next day and juggled a bit of work with the kids at home. I had the pressure of less that twenty-four hours to make a recovery. I did it - just. David made his meetings the next day and they all went well. I even managed to take Lily to her school disco on Friday evening. She's been on a promise that I would take her for weeks and we had bought tickets and selected outfits ... there was no way I could of let her down. Being a full-time mum in a self-employed household does not allow for adult illness - I dread to think what we would do if either of us got ill for any length of time.

So today will be spent catching up on the delayed 'to-do-list' and hopefully we'll be up-to-speed for tomorrow and the new week ahead. Onwards and upwards!

A Birthday ...

1 March 2011

When I woke this morning, I knew it was going to be a good day because it is my birthday. Birthday's are days that you are spoilt and you allow yourself a bit of slack, even if it is a Tuesday.

My day started early, with two children bouncing on my bed, a cup of tea and an exciting bundle of cards and presents. Any enthusiasm that I woke with, Lily had ten-fold on my behalf. So as soon as I managed to prop myself up on my pillows and had put my contact lenses in, it was a frenzy of cards and present opening.

As ever David, Lily and Arthur gave me the most beautiful, personal presents that I will forever treasure. I have a real weakness for 'collectables for the home', things such as vintage vases and retro ceramics. Over the years David has bought me some beautiful pieces and today he added a gorgeous Bitossi Blu Rimini ceramic cat from The Lollipop Shoppe to my growing collection. Lily and Arthur gave me some beautiful wooden candlestick letters by Studio Yra, a 'L' and an 'A' and a '&' to tie them together nicely. I also have two beautifully painted cards that I love receiving from Lily and Arthur as and when such occasions arise.

Now the day is drawing to a close and I am looking forward to a few glasses of wine and a takeaway supper once the kids are in tucked up in bed and calmness finally enters my day. 
My ceramic cat and my wooden letters now have their new home in my living room and I am enjoying them very much - like the people who gave them to me, they make me smile.