Under House Arrest

Despite my best efforts, this week is clearly going to be one of those weeks. One where I spend an inordinate amount of time watching Cbeebies and dispensing calpol, and flitting about the house, finding annoying little jobs to do but achieving very little.  The eldest is poorly now, and I shouldn’t complain really, as she is not much trouble.  Now she can read whole books to herself, she mostly just lies on the sofa and reads, watches DVDs and asks for a drink now and then. It’s hardly high-maintenance nursing. Plus, the house is cleaner than it would usually be, due to my enforced time inside, in particular spending time looking out of the filthy front window when the sun finally put in an appearance.

“Ooooh look, the sun’s coming out….AAAARRGH! Why am I not the kind of person who cleans windows more than once a year??!”

And my absent-minded googling has led me to discover that it is National Storytelling Week at the moment, so I am celebrating by starting to read the first Harry Potter book to Polly,  a treat (certainly for me) that I have been looking forward to for some time. I also took the time to find this little treat on youtube: David Tennant reading a great book – Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton. It’s the next best thing to having Dr ‘Converse’ Who turning up in the flesh to read the kids a bedtime story.  (“Mummy, go away and stop stroking the man. He’s trying to read…”)

I should point out that although the book features ‘Matilda’s mummy’ – I am in no way like that  Matilda’s mummy. My Matilda would be most annoyed if I kept calling her on the emergency telephone. She likes to keep her princess phone free for calls to royalty, hairdressers and friends.

 

In other news: I have been making more cake stands from recycled plates. The label says ‘Eat Me’, but quite obviously, it refers to the cakes (I don’t have a surplus to use for display purposes, sorry!) and not the stand. Crunch.

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A bit of a Wally…

I am terribly, un- apologetically bad at keeping New Years’ Resolutions. Which is why I have pretty much given up making them. I have a theory that I like to quote that January is the worst month of the year for giving anything up or taking up any exercise  anyway, due to the cold grey weather, the lack of money and the presence of leftover Christmas pudding/cake/chocolate/ alcohol. (I’d be kidding myself if I said that any of this would be still hanging around past the 3rd Jan,  but you know what I mean.) But having not made any fitness based NYR’s for several -this is an underestimation- years now, I am suddenly gripped with some sort of mad desire to do something, anything, to get a bit fitter. I miss being fit (ish). I get out of breath sprinting down the road chasing my fast- scooting children.  And my competitive instincts are coming out in all the wrong places.  I don’t want to be one of those ‘seems very nice but then knocks other mums to the floor in order to win at sports day’ kind of mums.  And it’d be nice not to have to sit on my hands in an attempt to stop myself trying to race  preschool children on bikes in the park.

But I need some extra motivation. So I’ve found a suitably weird sounding event to train for. It’s a 5k race. Now, I know that 5k isn’t a long way at all. It’s basically a run around the park. Some of my (questionably sane) friends run 10k, half marathons and even whole marathons with terrifying ease and regularity. I’m not saying this is a worthy sporting challenge. But, and this is the bit I like, it is a ‘Where’s Wally’ race. Everyone who enters gets a costume, and runs or walks the course dressed as Where’s Wally. (Imagine trying to find someone you’d arranged to meet there! Imagine the photos!)

Wally Girl

It’s to raise money for the National Literacy Trust, who campaign to raise literacy levels in deprived communities. I read about the work they do for children who grow up in homes where there are no books, and whose parents struggle to read. I thought about how much I love reading, and how much our children love to read and be read to. I thought about how awful it would be to get important letters from school, from the council, from the bank and not be able to read or respond to them. I thought about having to sign documents you didn’t understand, simply because you can’t read them. I thought about not being able to read your children a bedtime story. It would be so utterly awful,  like being blind, but not wanting to tell people you were blind. And I thought that dressing up like a, well, like a wally, and doing my weird, lumbering run around a 5k course would be totally worth it to raise money for a charity who help adults and children to improve their reading. I’ve copied and pasted one of their success stories here, just because I was so moved by it.

Mia

“Eight-year-old Mia lives on a tough estate. Most of the adults she knows don’t have a job. Her parents can’t read or write so no-one has ever read her a bedtime story. There are no books at home, no bedtime stories and no trips to the library.

Mia is only eight but she is already struggling at school. It’s tough being the one who hasn’t got the answer. It will soon become easier to hide the problem than to fix it. Mia’s brother hid his poor literacy for so long it stopped him getting a job. Recently he has been in prison. Her mum and dad want the best for all their children but they know their illiteracy is a block.

But a year on and against all expectations Mia has become the first reader in her family. The National Literacy Trust has worked with her school, holding fun storytelling events and giving books of her own to keep for the first time. We have taken her on a visit to the library and she has become the proud owner of a library card. Her improved literacy means she can keep up in the classroom. We will continue to support Mia and work with her secondary school to make sure she has the skills she needs to get a job. Now Mia has a route out of poverty.”

If you want to read more about their brilliant work, you can do so here.

It’s World Book Day on 7th March, and all school children will receive a World Book Day token, giving them £1 off a book of their choice.  (Or the chance to buy one of eight special £1 books.) Lots of people reading this blog will be parents. If you are, and your children are like mine,  already tripping over stacks of books at home -and learning how brilliant it is to read a great book –  use the book token and then maybe you could donate £1 in return to the National Literacy Trust.  Just to give those kids who don’t get the same chance a bit of a leg-up in the literacy department.

Book girl

If you want to sponsor my Wally Run (!!) you can do so here. I can’t promise you a fast time, but I can promise to get as many amusing photos as I can to post on here.

http://www.doitforcharity.com/AliceS 

Of principles, bikes and monkees

Let’s get the monkees out of the way first, shall we? It’s generally considered good practice.

Monkee Genes was one of the brands that I looked at when we first thought about setting up our little ethical clothing business. Monkee Genes make jeans. And cords. And shorts. Bottom-half-wear, essentially. They are a great ethical business model, their strapline being:

‘No slave labour. No child labour,  No blood. No sweat. No tears.’

That’s pretty ace, right? They are also the only denim brand to have accreditation from The Soil Association, as well as the Global Organic Textile Standards people. They’re made from organic cotton, and in their own words ‘are made by people who care. Because they are cared for.’

Monkee Jeans was created in 2006 by Phil Wildbore who was ‘disillusioned at Primark and disposable High Street Fashion,’ and decided to take a stand against it. In denim.

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I first fell in love with The Genes in one of my favourite shops in Cambridge: Cult Clothing. I picked them up, totally unaware of the ethical credentials; I loved them purely because it was as if someone had taken my dream jeans shape and made them. And given them a cool banana button. They may not be for everyone, shape wise. They do skinny, supaskinny and flares. Proper, big flares, of which I am especially fond. They are a total pain in the rain, where the dampness can reach your knees in minutes, and they usually get dragged along the floor hoovering up all the tat you walk through, (as I generally refuse to wear heels,) but apart from that – I love them to pieces. Literally. So having finally destroyed my original pair, I have just purchased another pair of flares, in their sale. If you fill in the survey on their website, they’ll give you an extra £5 off your order. You can also choose a free ‘patch’ that fixes to the back of your jeans, which is interchangeable with the banana one that comes with the jeans.  I could go on. I won’t. Visit the website, have a look for yourself. I’m fairly sure that a certain junior dandy of mine will be getting a pair of these for his birthday. The boy does love his skinny jeans. (Yeah, I did not expect that either. I thought: boy = ripped up jeans, mud and stuff. But no! He likes bow-ties and polo shirts and skinny jeans – but also, reassuringly; mud. )

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Kids’ jeans too! In lovely colours!

Even if you aren’t in the market for flares or skinnys, Monkee Genes is an inspirational example of an ethical fashion brand that stands by its principles, and is very successful at the same time. It’s crazy that in 2013, they should be the exception, rather than the rule.

Righty-ho, onto our own ethical clothing malarky. Last year was very bike-y, let us all agree. There was Bradley ‘The Sideburns’ Wiggins, Mark ‘The Sunglasses’ Cavendish, and Victoria ‘Don’t cry, we all love you!’ Pendleton, amongst many, many others (Sir Chris ‘OH-MY-GOD-LOOK-AT-HIS-ENORMOUS-THIGHS’ Hoy, I should probably mention too.) My five and a half year old -halves are very important when you are five, and should be included- Will, really got into cycling, and loved watching bits of the Tour de France and all of the Olympic cycling as well as tackling the local parks on his new chopper-style bike. Rich not only went mad and bought a very posh bike, but also found a very good, old one in the tip. (We do love our recycling. It’s like a family hobby.)

Anyway, it’s national cycle to school week in March, and I really want to support it. Even if your kids can’t bike to school, it’s good to encourage them to see cycling as a healthy, sustainable form of transport, as well as being loads of fun. So I put local designer, Fanzine editor-in-chief and the generally lovely Lloyd on the case. The brief was, and I quote: ‘wibbly hand-drawn-retro-ish bike.’ Now I like surprises, so I won’t ruin this one, but let me just say – he did good. T-shirts will be printed in Feb, ready for wearing whilst tearing down the cycle track. You heard it here first!  (unless you’ve been eavesdropping? Weird.)

Happy Birthday Blog!

A year ago yesterday, I wrote my first blog post. So my little blog is now a year old! Is this an excuse for cake? I reckon so. Hell, perhaps even a bottle of ohmygod-I-paid-over-a-fiver-for-it vino! (I do not do fizz. In that way, I am remarkably like a hedgehog.) It has been so much fun writing about the adventures, mis-adventures, and all the rest of it that I’ve waffled on about over the last year. And I do fully intend to carry on with it. WordPress tells me that I have readers in 58 countries, which is marvellously exciting (and baffling – to be honest I think I might struggle to name 58 countries.) Germans seem especially fond of it – and to you guys I say Veilen dank! Sehr sehr much. To people who read, comment on and share it – thank you so much. To my lovely friends who have been very encouraging and excited about it – YAYAYAY – shall we go for a drink to celebrate?! A blog-anniversary party is so deliciously 2013. To the one person who arrived at my blog having searched for Zara shoes, I apologize. (But I will congratulate you on your excellent  taste in shoes, lady! – or man?) Right, that’s the Oscars speech over.

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I wish!

I could blather on for quite some time (believe me!) on what I hope to achieve this year, but  reading this is not meant to be an endurance test. Here’s a cheery little list of what may or may not be coming up over the next year:

1. I will make a Death Star – Star Wars themed bookshelf-based thing for Will, to even up the Sindy house thing. It’s all gone a bit Blue Peter here.

2. Two new t-shirt designs are in the offing. They will happen. I am excited! Spring time, new life, new growth – new t-shirts.

3. I need to get better at promoting and marketing our products. I also need to abandon the idea that wearing a sandwich board or dressing in a comedy costume, standing in public places with a megaphone counts as promoting. I know it doesn’t, but frankly that is what I picture whenever someone says ‘you just need to get your brand out there!’

4. I need a brand.

5. I want to write more about what it actually means to be a mum, at home, trying to balance some work, three children, being vaguely creative and keeping a sort-of-life. And not a domestic-goddess, good-at-keeping-her-patience mum. Because I am sarcastic and a bit selfish and generally very un-domesticated, and I couldn’t possibly fake it. It might be nice for people who are also not domestic goddesses/gods to read. If I wasn’t writing it, I’d be looking for something similar to read. I had to lie down in a darkened room for a while when I first started reading mummy-blogs. There was far too much earnestness and instagrammed perfection. Family life is lovely, don’t get me wrong. And I consider myself very lucky. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not bloody hard work, or that I don’t feel the urge to be sarcastic about it.

6. On a personal level, I’d like to improve my ice-skating skillz and remember to get my fringe cut more often.

There are loads of other ideas and projects I want to do too. But obviously I can’t write about them all here, otherwise there’d be no point blogging about them! So, thank you once again for reading – I love you all, daaaahrlings! Seriously, I should have got myself a posh frock and a load of diamonds to wear whilst writing this….

The Dolls House Challenge. Part 1.

This is part of an ongoing saga that I may as well call Alice v Barbie – although in real life I would never, EVER take on Barbie. Yes, she is skinny and very top-heavy, making her all to easy to knock over, but have you seen the shoes she wears? Stilettos like that should be classified as weaponry if you ask me. (I do realise, by the way, that Barbie is not a real person. Just thought I should add that.)

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Ouch. Lethal in more ways than one.

So, I needed somewhere to house our growing un-Barbie collection. At the time of writing, this includes two Lottie Dolls, a Moxie Girl who can RIDE A HORSE which therefore makes her very exciting to my pony-obsessed seven year old, a Vintage Sindy Doll, and Fleur, who is a Dutch version of Sindy from the 1970s , who has endeared herself to Tilly because you can take off her head. I’m not entirely sure why this makes her so much fun, but it makes for some amusing ‘look what’s on the table!’ jokes. We also have Swimming Barbie, mostly because she came with a swimming pool, and the girls needed a swimming pool. It’s tropical in our playroom, you see.

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But, guess what. I don’t like the Barbie house you can buy. It’s very big, and very pink, and very plastic. Not that there is anything wrong with that in the scheme of things. It’s not made from asbestos, or built by slaves on greenbelt land or anything. It’s just a personal taste, er, ‘issue’, shall we say. So I did what any other slightly-less-than-sane person would do, and went and got a Billy bookcase from Ikea. White, three shelves, probably wouldn’t stand up to an earthquake, but cost just £20. This is based on the Sindy House me and my sister had when we were little. It was a bookshelf that someone (not us, we had it second or thirdhand,) had made a full-size door for, with windows and a front door, and they had covered it in brick-design paper to make it look like the outside of a house. We thought it was beautiful.

The first thing I did was wallpapered the piece of cardboard which acts as the backing for the shelves with some samples of Orla Kiley wallpaper and some stripy wallpaper that I found in John Lewis. I told the woman working in the wallpaper section that I was wallpapering a dolls’ house, and she was most helpful and didn’t object to giving me the samples. THAT is why they are the best department store ever. Well, that and excellent quality, and customer service and stuff. For anyone who wants to try a similar thing (well, there might be other slightly insane people into mini interior decoration, no?) it is useful to know that you don’t have to use wallpaper paste. You can just use regular craft/PVA glue. I think wallpaper paste might bend the cardboard. Another tip might be NOT to put the wallpaper in upside down, even when you have already checked it is ‘the right way up’. Or to make sure that all of your dolls can stand up in the ‘floors’ that you are creating. Only the little girl dolls fit in the kitchen section in our house. In real life this would be liberating, but ultimately quite annoying.

And this was the end result:

A dolls' house

 

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It’s a work in progress. But I’m really pleased with it, as are the girls. And probably, the dolls too. But they haven’t said much, frankly. Rude.

Shiny and New

How do you like the new look so far? I have more changes planned, but as yet they have amounted to lots of umming, ahhhing and general procrastination, but very little actual decision making. So I thought I’d try out the first stage, otherwise it will be mid-March before anything gets off the ground. I realise that the blog title might a bit hard to read, all in joined up writing – although my seven year old would be most pleased – but you’ll just have to live with that I’m afraid, because I liked the main font (which is of crucial importance to me) and the colours.

The first post on the face-lifted (and I mean that in a fun way, not in a creepy, Hollywood way) blog will be all about BOOKS. I am so excited when I find a really good book, for me or for the children – and sometimes all of us -that I just can’t be cool about it. I have to share. It’s like a compulsion.

For Christmas, my youngest was given another book by Julia Donaldson (of Gruffalo super-fame, also the Childrens’ Laureate) to add to our burgeoning collection. This, though, is Tilly’s favourite so far:

Paper Dolls

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It’s a wonderful story (and is beautifully illustrated by Rebecca Cobb) about a little girl and her adventures with her paper dolls, including Flo with the bow, Jacky the backy,  and Jim with two noses. A lovely story, and a great big poke towards some simple crafting with the kids. It certainly inspired us to make some paper dolls of our own. And before you go thinking that is a bit of a girl-exclusive, Will and Richard made some storm trooper versions. But there is a wealth of paper doll variation out there, should you choose to look/google. I spotted this very nice Thom Yorke doll, for cool and aloof crafters.

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And speaking of storm troopers (which these days I often am,) Will has been most excited by his gift from Grandma and Grandad of a set of these excellent Star Wars reading books:

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Now he is at the point where he’d like to read for himself a bit more, and is less enamoured with the adventures of Biff, Chip, Kipper and the gang, these are perfect. Not too many tricky words and full of information about stuff he is actually interested in. The history of the Empire, Jabba the Hutt, and Anakin’s back story, naturally. He may trip over words like ‘which’ or ‘because’, but he can read Emperor Palpatine without flinching.

And as for the newly seven year old girl, we chose a set of the Moomin books. They are very different to her current books of choice (The Magic Pony/Unicorn/Kitten/Bunny or Roald Dahl) but they are magical stories and the pictures are just something else.

Because even when you are an ever so grown up seven year old and like to read to yourself, lovely pictures are VERY important.

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New Year, Same Me, (but doing More Interesting Things!)

-It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I love this quote. It’s Charles Dickens, from the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. I’ll remember that forever now, having got it wrong in a pub quiz once. However, the law of pub quizzing demands that I will never again encounter that as a question. Annoying. I always think of it at New Year, when everyone is summing up the previous year. For me, 2012 has mostly felt like the best of times. Perhaps there has not been a huge amount of wisdom, but certainly lots of light and hope and having everything before us.  There have been some worst bits too (as there always are. The superlative degree of comparison and all.)

My New Year’s resolution last year in 2012 was to write a blog. I’ve loved it.

Magic 8ball pen

I’m ready for the challenges of 2013 now though. First up will be prettying up, expanding and tweaking this blog. As Tilly in Miranda would say: ‘bear with, bear with…’  it might take a few weeks. I am the least technical-minded person in our house. I should really get one of the children to help. They’d definitely be quicker and probably more stylish.  But please keep reading, commenting, sharing and even shouting at me in the street:  “hey – nice blog!” – Ok, that’s only happened the once. But I did not object. I just dropped all the stuff I was carrying.

I’m not sure about a New Year’s Resolution this year. I should definitely eat a bit less cheese, and I seem to have developed fatted-calves syndrome, which is threatening to break the zip on my lovely new boots, so I should squeeze some Lycra on and get exercising more.  But I was thinking today of how much more fun it is to try to do new things.

‘New Year, Same You ! (but do More Interesting Things!)’  is my catchy working slogan.  So far, am thinking:

Eat at a new (as in somewhere you’ve never been before) restaurant once a month

Try a new cocktail each month

Go to one live music event every month

I am much less likely to break these than the giving-up kind of resolutions, and they sound way more fun. 2013 – the year of lots of hard work but a new cocktail each month just sounds like a great plan to me!

In September 2013,  my littlest girl goes to school.  And the wonderful, exhausting,  frustrating and yet magical years of being at home with my three lovely children will come to an end. I’m excited for her, and about the freedom and the possibilities for me, and at the same time I’m terrified of the finality of it. 2013, whatever I achieve, whatever I don’t manage to do, will be momentous.

Future