PKU- and proud.

I’ve already mentioned these t-shirts in a previous blog post, but this is a special preview of them for some V.I.P PKU guests! I would apologise to those who have seen these before, but they are DEFINITELY worth a second look…!

So a while ago (around this kind of time…) I got the idea of making some charity t-shirts to raise some money for research into the genetic condition that Polly was born with (PKU.) And I managed to chance upon a fantastic graphic designer who responded to my Twitter plea for help with some artwork for them. I wanted them to be really beautiful, and worth having even without the fundraising aspect.  There are loads of boring charity t-shirts, and people with PKU deserve better, frankly. They already have a restricted diet; they need interesting t-shirt design. So Beth (her lovely website is here) designed these little beauties! They say PKU and proud, because there are many negative aspects of PKU – but there are also really positive things to be found – that sticking to your diet enables you to live a full and ‘normal’ life, that actually, the fruit and vegetable-based diet together with the perfectly balanced supplements, and lots of home-made food can be really healthy, and that each year the food gets better and better: new products and recipes appear all the time. I’m all for some PKU positivity; hence the slogan.


The designs around the text are inspired by the natural elements of a fruit and vegetable diet, as well as protein structures.

This is the more grown up design:


I want to get these printed on t-shirts, on babygros, on  hoodies. I want the slogan ‘PKU and proud’ to be on a range of information sheets I am currently working  on (I’ll have to get all the info cleared by professionals first)  which can be downloaded and printed by parents coming to terms with the fact that their babies have just been diagnosed with PKU, and by kids who aren’t sure how to talk about PKU. I want to do everything I can to raise some money to go directly into researching new treatments, and I want the message that you can be positive about living with PKU to get to as many people as possible. Including Polly, who is going through a bit of a tough time with it at the moment. So.  Next up: organizing the printing of these lovely t’s. Spread the word, people! Let’s get some orders!

Poetry, and some great design. A perfect match.

I’ve been absent from my blog for a bit, due to working on exciting Other Stuff. I’m actually missing it a bit, which is either lovely or a sign that I need to get out more. Or both!

Sleeping Keys

Two things: Firstly, it’s National Poetry Day today, apparently. And, as luck would have it, I’ve just bought my first new poetry book in ages, after hearing the author Jean Sprackland on Womens’ Hour. (Yes, I do listen whenever I get the chance. I love it! AND the Archers. Although after that I do usually switch to 6music just to remind myself that I’m not actually my parents. Yet. And incidentally, whilst we’re on the subject of radio, I now find it impossible to do housework without listening – and singing along to – Absolute Radio 90s. Britpop and a bit of light house music turns out to be a perfect soundtrack to washing the kitchen floor and dusting. Don’t tell Blur that though.)

ANYWAY. Sleeping Keys is a really beautiful collection, and I can totally recommend it to anyone who likes easily accessible and elegantly crafted poetry. (Oh, and check out Jean Sprakland’s website. It’s also beautiful.) There’s also a great review of the poems here, which explains far better than I can why this is such a good collection.

Sometimes particular lines of poetry catch me because of their familiarity. In the poem ‘In’ she writes:

“First week in the new house and there’s a muddle over keys.

She’s back from somewhere with her daughter in her arms,

Three months old, electric with hunger. ”

I especially love ‘electric with hunger.’ The screaming of a hungry baby does have that about it. And I have done that very thing, and been stood in a doorway, sheltering from the rain, with a weeping toddler clinging on to my knee, and a screaming baby, realising that I am locked out. That is truly a feeling of utter despair, and possibly best viewed from a distance.

The other thing is that I while ago I mentioned that I’d had my blog header redesigned, and that I love it. The masterpiece is by a brilliant young lady called Beth Burr, who I ‘met’ totally by chance when I tweeted about needing someone to design some charity t’s. I was so impressed by her work, that I asked her to make me a new blog header too, while she was at it. She is clearly going to be a massive graphic-design superstar, and you should all check out her work here, immediately.

And the charity t’s? Well they are going to be in production very soon. But they’re so fab I can’t resist showing off a sneak-peek. They’re going to raise money for the charity which supports people with the rare condition that Polly was born with, PKU. They are so lovely I almost can’t get over them!

BethBurrPKU BethBurrPKU2

The patterns in the second one are based on protein structures. PKU necessitates a low-protein diet. I didn’t ask Beth to do that (I hadn’t even thought of it!) – she just did it. Such a simple idea, but it somehow makes these all the more special.

On egg disasters and brilliant cake.

Tilly and her tub of blackberries.

Tilly and her tub of blackberries.

I’m not usually very evangelical about baking, but I feel moved to share my marvellous using-up-of-blackberry-stash recipe find, incase it is helpful to anyone, who like us, has a fridge full of margarine tubs of enthusiastically-picked berries and is in need of some inspiration. The children have really taken to foraging this year, which is great, but they completely dissed the blackberry muffins I made for them, and they don’t like blackberry jam either!

A while ago (here) I mentioned this Hugh F-W recipe for raspberry almond streusel cake. (I think you can guess where I might be going with this.) The original is delicious, but then again, so is the BLACKBERRY version. In a flash of inspiration, I replaced 200g of raspberries with 200g blackberries. This is not exactly rocket science, but it does result in AMAZING CAKE. Which is always a bonus.


Blackberry Cake (and my be-jewelled cake slice!)

Incase you are thinking that I didn’t really put much effort into this post, I’ll have you know that a mis-timed purchase of a box of eggs – just before I had to escort 3 children, 3 scooters and a gazillion bags/lunchboxes/flasks home from school – resulted in the dropping of the shopping bag containing said eggs. Yeah. Omelette in a carrier bag. So in order to retrieve the 4 unbroken ones, I had to put my hands into a carrier bag full of raw egg. Delightful. Perhaps it might be considered theraputic – a bit like a mud bath for the hands. It might, actually, be to the 2010’s what swimming with dolphins was to the 1990s. But less expensive. And less traumatic for dolphins.

So in summary, I suggest that those with blackberries to spare try the cake. You won’t regret it! Just don’t do the egg-bag thing.

On doubt, worry and writing anyway.

I read the most beautiful article today. Wry, poignant, and so true I wanted to shout ‘yes. YES. YEEEEEES!’ at the screen as I read it. (Never advisable.) It’s about how it feels, and what it means, to be afraid to do what you really want to do. To live your life feeling that your are always somehow inadequate, or just not quite good enough. It’s by Anna Maxted (author of one of my favourite books Behaving like Adults, which makes me snort out loud with laughter.) Read the article here, if you haven’t already. It struck a chord with me, because it is exactly how I felt a couple of years ago.

For a long time, I was scared of writing. I knew I loved it, and that I wanted to do it, but every time I went to write something, the fear of other people reading it and sneering at it appeared out of nowhere and stopped me. I studied creative writing as part of my degree, and I loved it. But I was so intimidated. Many of the people on my course were clearly brilliant at writing fiction, and poetry. Some had already had things published. All the stuff read out in class was original and exciting and it scared me. My work was OK – not terrible, but certainly not as gripping as the other stuff being written in those classrooms. I decided that writing was great, and all, but not for me. I also developed a complete fear of anyone reading my work. People reading things I had written made me feel like I was naked.

It was only years later, after Sarah and I set up our business – which was something we were both terrified of, but egged each other on enough to manage to actually do it – did I feel that we had a story to tell, and I started this blog to tell it. Perhaps, because I had already done something that scared me, it became easier to do it again. I can’t tell you how terrified I was of getting it wrong. Petrified. But actually, the process of writing it was easier, and far more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I began to (whisper it) actually enjoy it. I began to think that I might be capable of writing other things too. As I wrote more, I got better at it, and people were so positive and encouraging that I began to think that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t quite pushing the boundaries of modern fiction. It didn’t matter, because it meant something. Not only to me, but to some of the people who read it. There are many things that I would still like to do, but am worried about failing at.  But increasingly, I see that whilst in some cases, I am fearful for the right reasons (I have at least several insane ideas for various ridiculous projects a week, all of them scare me – with good reason. They are all stupid.) in some cases, I am really just worrying about failing and looking silly. Well, you don’t need much perspective to see that a little bit of looking a bit silly because of something not working out is a lot better than a lot of looking on at other people trying things out and thinking ‘oh, I wish I could do that.’

As Anna says:

“In our hearts, we know what’s right. I tell my son, “If you didn’t run and jump, you wouldn’t get hurt, you’d be a bored child, sitting on a sofa, with no bruised knee. But you love climbing, exploring – the knocks are worth it for the joy.”

So I bite my tongue, and let the children climb to the top of every tree. I refuse to infect them with my fear; instead, I learn from them – try, because if you think you can do it, you probably can.”

If you want to raise confident children -and I do – I don’t want my kids to have the same fear of putting up their hand in class, of reading out their work, as I had – then you have to be prepared to take a few risks of your own. The last few years has taught me that the benefits of ignoring the fear and doing something worthwhile anyway far outweigh the slight hiccups and total blind panic that always ensue in the initial stages of Doing Scary Things.

By the way: this is my 100th blog post. To everyone who has read on so far – firstly, congratulations! You’ve sat through a LOT of poorly constructed sentences with questionable grammar! You’ve listened to me waffling on, you’ve suffered poor puns and you are STILL READING! (Is it some kind of compulsive sadistic thing? If so, I believe there is therapy available.) But thank you. It’s been your positive feedback, encouraging remarks and sharing that has allowed me to stop wallowing in a pool of self-doubt (all v boring) and actually write. When I write my Work of Great Genius, I shall dedicate it to you all.*

*Thereby forcing you to buy a copy.

The blog that Anna Maxted mentions is What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid? You can find it here. Very thought provoking stuff.

Rani, 15, West Lafayette, IN (Phillips Academy Andover) Image from Tumblr.

Rani, 15, West Lafayette, IN (Phillips Academy Andover) Image from Tumblr.

Poetry Monday (yes, alright, it is a bit late,) The Machine.

This was supposed to be posted on Monday. Let’s just say that the events of Monday were not conducive to writing about poetry, and instead I had a large glass of wine. I did, however, make a rather successful cake! (This deserves a mention because my successful cake to really-not-very-nice-cake ratio is a bit skewed in favour of ‘dry-ish sponge that sticks to the bottom of tins’ in recent times. This was an unusual, and therefore precious moment.)



It’s a Hugh-Fearnley-Thingamy (really, I cannot be expected to remember ALL of your names, double-barrelled people!) recipe I tried after tasting a (probably much more accomplished) version made by my friend’s mum. I tracked her down, extracted details of where I could find the recipe, and attempted it myself – it really was that good! A great way of using raspberries – not that you need an excuse. The raspberries were from none other than Grumpy’s Garden™ (Rich’s dad. He suggested the name Grumpy, I should add. It wasn’t just us being rude. He’s a great gardener.) The almonds were courtesy of my mum, as I was gripped with a sudden desire to make this fairly late on Sunday night, and no almond-stocking shops were open! In this moment of crisis, I did what any responsible grown up would do: called my parents and told them I would be arriving IMMINENTLY to relieve them of their almond supply. My mother rose to the occasion in magnificent style.”Do you want the good news or the bad news?  I’ve got almonds. A whole pack. The bad news? They were best before August 2009.” I took the risk. And on hearing the joyous news that ye ancient almonds had proved a success, she commented ‘you can’t beat a touch of maturity,’ which I think is a good lesson for us all.

If you want the recipe, it’s here. (Raspberry Almond Streusel Cake.) If you want some of my cake, tough nuts. The only drawback to successful baking: it vanishes.

Anyway, on with the poetry! This Monday (ahem!) I’ve chosen a bicycle-themed poem. This is because, throughout August, and perhaps a bit beyond, I will be writing a series called A Summer of Cycling, about how over the summer holidays, we’re trying  we’re trying to use our bikes much more as everyday transport. Cycling with children is an adventure in itself, but it’s something I am increasingly passionate about. To get you in the mood, this is a great poem about cycling. And harpsichords.


Dearest, note how these two are alike:

This harpsichord pavane by Purcell

And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.


The machinery of grace is always simple.

This chrome trapezoid,one wheel connected

To another of concentric gears,

Which Ptolmy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,

Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.

And in the playing, Purcells’ chords are played away.


So this talk, or touch if I were there,

Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,

Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.


If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,

So much agility, desire, and feverish care,

As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove


Who only by moving can balance,

Only by balancing move.

Michael Donaghy (1954-2004.)

Sunny Saturdays and Grey Ideas

So, I pulled our old cot out of the garage this evening. It was a great cot – survived all three Smith children, which is a feat in itself. It was bought second hand from a harassed-looking lady who told me it had already been used for her two children, and she wasn’t sure how long it would last. It cost £11 – bit of a bargain in retrospect. I have been a bit reluctant to get rid of it – I’m quite attached to it in that stupidly sentimental way you are about some baby things (some I have cheerfully waved farewell to, others are tucked up in the loft, just in case of cousins, or babies of friends, or anything…!)

It was covered in cobwebs when I pulled it out, but it’s still OK. And because today was sunny and I had a Pimms after lunch and therefore was filled with sudden confidence that I coule create something COOL, I set about sanding and stripping it, and painting it with a watery undercoat using a Farrow & Ball sample pot I had kicking about – pretty much litereally – in the garage. I think that if I make it to a top coat, it will be Farrow & Ball’s French Grey. And, a quick mooch on Pintrest has given me a few ideas about what it could end up as…

Cot 5

Cot 4 cot 3 Cot 2 cot 1 cot 6

Aren’t they cool? Isn’t up-cycling GREAT? Will I ever finish this?? To be continued…


Screw Cancer

I’ve got two lovely friends who have suffered from cancer in the last year, Hattie and Rachael. Hattie has been through surgery and chemotherapy and is now in remission; Rachael is still engaged in her ass-kicking battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They have both been completely incredible and faced everything with such grit and determination and grace. They are both doing the Race for Life in Bedford this weekend, along with a small army of friends. If you want to read more about their fundraising efforts, you can on the Parklife blog here. Inspirational.

Rachael had found a beautiful graphic created by an Australian designer, Danielle Tiedeman. Danielle’s sister had also fought Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and very generously allowed Rachael to have it free of charge. Rachael wanted it on a t-shirt, for the race for life.

Well I know some t-shirt suppliers. And some excellent printers.

Look what a bit of collaboration can achieve.


A whole family vow to screw cancer!


Expertly modelled here by the fabulous Gemma (correct model height, too!)

Tomorrow there will be loads of people running through Bedford wearing these, sold to raise a bit of extra cash for the Lymphoma Society.

If you want to sponsor the Screw Cancer girls, you can here.

Screw it. Screw it real good. Screw Cancer!