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!

Lottie Stuff

Lottie pink


Pretty Lottie

So, um, there is no easy way to say this: I have started buying handmade clothes for the girls’ dolls. Why? Because I need to get out more, because they are beautiful, because the girls like dressing and undressing them, and because I’ve found a lady who makes them in fabrics I like  (she also restores vintage Sindy/Barbie/ Skipper dolls) – you can see her ebay shop here.

Right. Just off out. Think that is for the best!

World Book Day (and jumper foxes.)

It was World Book Day yesterday – one of my favourite days of national celebration. (Alongside national bacon sandwich day, of course. Oh, and Pi day.)  Recently, after a fiasco with the making of a bat costume (for another dressing up day at school,)  which took hours to make but made its owner look like a tiny Grim Reaper, I swore off making costumes. However, I almost immediately fell off the sanity-wagon and started dreaming up plans for Book Day dressing up costumes. Because, well, there really are not enough days celebrating the wonder that is books. And in particular, childrens’ books.

Will had to be talked out of several costumes which required far too much effort, but we eventually agreed on Captain Barnacles of the Octonauts (which were books before they became a TV show, which satisfies my inner book snob.) Luckily, this only required the assembly of a blue belt, a compass and a hat. The whole thing was made much easier by finding these printable Octonaut logos. It had the right badge on, so whatever the rest of the costume looked like, Will was a happy Polar Bear sea captain.


I made the hat from craft foam and elastic: cheap, and required no sewing. The belt was a bit of the bit of stiff fabric at the top of curtains where you put the hooks in, (no idea of technical term) covered with some blue fabric. Only required straight-line sewing.

Polly wanted to be a Maud, from Monstrous Maud, which is an unexpected hit from a random bundle of books she bought with her birthday book voucher from Waterstones. The book bundles are the bright idea of the manager of the Bedford branch, Fern. She selects three books by different authours,  but of the same reading ability bracket, and ties them up in a nice bundle with string. You save a bit of money buying them as a set, and also you get three completely different books. Polly got a Milly Molly Mandy book, Monstrous Maud, and a book about a naughty fairy. They are all completely different, but she’s loved all three. Plus we had the lovely experience of a trip to the bookshop to choose them.

Luckily, the Maud costume required just an old black top of mine, which I livened up with a pocket in skull-print fabric. The pocket was big enough for Maud’s pet rat Quintin, which was a crucial consideration.


(Please excuse the dirt. It had done a whole day at school by the time I got a chance to photograph it. )

Tilly wanted to dress up as Lola, and frankly I leapt at the chance of making something to honour what are probably my favourite  childrens’ picture books after my sacred Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books.  I’ve been meaning to make a pillowcase dress for ages, and Lola’s vintage-style dress prints lend themselves very nicely to one of my mum’s old pillowcases (I did ask her first, I should add.) It was ever so easy, and I just added felt heart/butterfly shapes in felt and some yellow ric-rac to add a little pizazz.


I also, and I can’t quite believe that I am about to type this sentence – I made a foxy/rabbit toy out of Richard’s old jumper.

His head is held onto his body with poppers. It made perfect sense at the time, but I do admit that it does make foxy a bit creepy.


Sadly, on the way to school, a wailing Tilly told me that she had changed her mind, and didn’t want to be Lola after all, and actually wanted to wear her Belle princess dress.

All in all, despite the late night, the needle/finger injuries, the swearing at the sewing machine and the blatant abuse of Rich’s work printer; I’m glad I made the costumes. They are all based on books we’ve read and the kids have listened to (or read themselves, in Polly’s case,) and loved. The children all went to school bringing their favourite book characters to life. Off the page and into their imagination. And as far as I am concerned, that is the greatest thing about reading. And definitely worth celebrating.

Though I will not be making any more jumper animals for a while.

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.)


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.


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





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.