2018 was…..

I don’t like to wish time away (my mum always tells me not to); but even so I won’t be too sorry to say goodbye to 2018. It has been filled with challenging times and this, combined with continuing to juggle all the different balls that adult life requires us to juggle, has made it particularly draining. The fact that I have found my children more challenging than normal this year is, I’m sure, no coincidence – my temper has been short and my patience thin. All in all, I have found 2018 more than a little overwhelming.

BUT there have been adventures, memorable days and huge achievements; and I know that when I look back on this year I will remember the highlights as well as much as the challenges. Christmas has been the perfect tonic to a tricky year, particularly our Christmas evening drive around our local streets admiring the lights and listening to Elvis Presley (more on that in Twin 1’s section) which I know I’ll always remember.

I can’t possibly sum up a year in one post but I do like to have a go…..so this is my attempt at a snapshot of 2018.

About you:

2018 was the year that football attempted to take over our house – I have struggled with this just a bit. The constant football chat, the attempts to recreate matches with whatever you can find to kick around the house; and the chanting combine to make me want to go and hide in a dark corner. ‘We do not live in a football stadium‘ is one of my most frequently repeated phrases – I am starting to bore myself. As the year draws to a close I feel we are reaching a reasonably happy compromise….the understanding is that there is no football chat at the table and that we balance out our football fun with other activities and interests; of which there are many. Football aside, 2018 was also the year that you discovered a love for Italian pop music, or for one Italian singer in particular. In 10 years time, when wondering why you have an extensive collection of Italian pop music, you will probably ask me how and why this happened. Well, whilst rummaging around for something to listen to in the car one day, you happened to find a very old CD of mine from the year I spent in Italy. You then started to request it on every car journey, over and over – we listened to it so often that it was driving me mad and I decided to buy another just for a bit of variety. Since then, an Eros Ramazzotti CD has started to become a feature of most birthday presents in our house. I see it as our own little family stand against Brexit – while the nonsense continues outside of our car, we will continue to drive around in our own little bubble of European music.

Eldest boy – for Christmas you got a wonderful selection of books, a cosy jumper; and a pedometer which is, you declared very earnestly on Christmas day, one of the best presents you have ever received. You now record your steps every day in your journal. Your new interest this year is Mythology – you bought me Stephen Fry’s Mythos for my birthday in an attempt 20180715_103715to help me keep up. I have read it, but haven’t quite retained all the stories and names as you’d hoped I would.  Maps are still a favourite activity – studying them or drawing your own – as is writing song lyrics and inventing your own languages. With the help of a course over the Easter holidays, 2018 was the year in which you finally got the hang of riding your bike. It still isn’t your favourite activity, but you mastered it and I could not have been more proud. You joined a football team at the beginning of September and this has easily been one of the highlights of your year. Whilst football inside the house is driving me mad, outside of the house I can see how it has helped you to gain in confidence and come out of your shell.

Twin 1 – 2018 has been a transformative year for you, as well as being the year you finally got the skateboard you’ve dreamt of since you were two. For Christmas you got plenty of Lego, a colour-by-numbers book and an Elvis Presley CD – Elvis has been a favourite for the last two years (I can’t recall how or why this came about) and you can now be heard singing ‘All Shook Up‘ as you potter about the house. You have a compulsive spinning habit and are still something of a whirlwind, as 20181103_145719anyone would be able to see if they looked at your handwriting; but over this last year you have got the hang of absorbing yourself in an activity. Board games and puzzles have been a real feature of 2018; and more recently you have even been sitting down to read a book. I’m not always sure how much you are understanding but the fact that you are choosing to pick up a book is the most enormous stride forwards. When you are not absorbed in an activity you are always on the go – you are lean as a bean, a whizz at Junior Park Run; and Saturday morning football training is absolutely the highlight of your week. You race around that pitch high-fiving the other children looking like you’re having the time of your life….. although you have been known to let goals in because you were too busy spinning.

Twin 2 – Christmas present highlights for you were your George Ezra CD, a Watford FC football and a step-by-step drawing book. I feel you need a bit of encouragement to follow your own interests rather than feeling you always need to follow your twin, so right now I am all about bigging up your drawing skills. I call you our resident artist – if a20180421_140939 birthday card needs making, you are my go-to boy.  You also love your football training and are a little more focussed and less wayward than your twin; as well as much less likely to be spinning whilst in goal. You have always been an earnest little soul and your feelings are easily hurt. You come into your own when you have some undivided attention from an adult – you love a proper chat, and to help out….mopping the floor is a real, actual treat. When you’re in the mood you can be a bit of a performer – you love singing ‘I’ll be riding SHOTGUN‘ on repeat, and the first time I heard your Bruno Tonioli impression I had to double-check Bruno wasn’t actually in the house. ‘Oh my DARLING that was SPOT ON!‘…… and it really is spot on.

You watched….

Apart from Match of the Day, anything with numbers, scores and results has gone down well. The Eurovision Song Contest, the Winter Olympics, the European Championships – all were big hits. And once again, Strictly Come Dancing took over the house from September onwards, with you boys regularly attempting to recreate an American Smooth before school. Your main Christmas present from us was tickets for the Strictly Tour at the O2 – the excitement when we get there will be off the scale.

Weekend family viewing has become a thing, with Saturday Night Takeaway also being introduced this year (unfortunately also meaning that we had to explain what ‘Drink Driving’ meant) as well as Dr Who. And one rainy Sunday afternoon you eventually agreed to re-watch Paddington 2 with me – it is still a perfect film; and that was a perfect afternoon.

You read….

Eldest boy – well, having finished Harry Potter, we needed to find another series to keep your enthusiasm for reading going. The How to Train Your Dragon Series was a great one for you to jump straight into, and fortunately you then discovered the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan; which has fed your interest in mythology nicely. There have been other reading highlights for you this year – The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle was a wonderful read and The Phantom Tollbooth, Dragon Rider and The Explorer all went down a storm.

For you 6 year olds, this year has been about trying to move onto chapter books – I will not pretend it has been easy finding books that have engaged you; but finally we might be getting there (how is for another post). We battled through a few Beast Quests – the shiny covers went down well but nobody understood what was going on. The Daisy and the Trouble With books were usually well-received, and you will now sit and read The 13 Storey Treehouse series quite happily by yourselves – in fact, Twin 1 you are gobbling them up and I am just keeping my fingers crossed that this enthusiasm transfers onto other books.

Away from stories, we are all fans of The Week Junior which provides us with a good catch up on the week’s goings on (that includes me).

Out and about

We ticked two things off our family bucket list this year – one of which was Eurocamp and the other was getting the sleeper train all the way to Inverness, which I wrote about here. Both were real highlights of this year – I will never forget the excitement as we waited for that train to Scotland and Twin 1 telling me it was his ‘best life ever‘.

Aside from our bigger adventures, weekends are now mainly dominated by football but during school holidays we have continued to enjoy pottering about at National Trusts, with Grey’s Court being a new discovery this year. Bekonscot Model Village was established as a new favourite day out destination (turns out that children LOVE life in miniature), we are still big fans of Kew Gardens for a good runaround; and we made it up to the National Space Centre in Leicester which is amazing but very full-on – don’t even attempt to get round it all in one day……you get a return ticket included in the price so plan another visit instead.

My year

This year I have done a lot of staying in. I have been attempting to learn Spanish using Duolingo which I love and would highly recommend. And I have made some major changes including cutting down hugely on meat – I wouldn’t say I have quite gone veggie, but I have gone ‘flexi‘ and only eat meat very occasionally these days.

My book group continues to be one of the highlights of my life – not just for the books but also because it is hard to beat spending regular time with a group of friends you feel completely at ease with. Onto books though, one of the stand-out books of my reading year was To Obama: With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair – such an inspiring read all about the ten letters a day which Obama read while he was in office. I’d just recommend that you read the actual book rather than the Kindle version, on which the letters are…..well, really very difficult to read.  As well as Obama, I also loved Bookworm by Lucy Mangan, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (the recent TV adaptation is also amazing); and enjoyed re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time since my teens.

2019 is the year I’ll turn 40. 40!! I can’t really be doing with resolutions, but mainly I am hoping to spend more time on the things that make me happy and shed some of those things that have made this year a little overwhelming. All in all, I am looking forward to carrying a lighter load in 2019.

Cheers to that, and thank you for reading my blog and for all your lovely comments this year. Happy 2019! x




Happiness = a National Trust card

Earlier in the week, this arrived through our door. Which was a happy coincidence really, ntbecause my next post was always going to be about the joys of National Trust membership. And no, this is not a sponsored post, nor do I work for the National Trust’s marketing team (although that does sound like a nice job); but as we were enjoying a spontaneous, albeit slightly drizzly, Sunday stroll around the grounds of Hughenden Manor earlier this month, I decided that the brilliance of the National Trust really deserved a post of its own.

Our spontaneous trip to Hughenden happened on a wet and gloomy Sunday – we were all suffering from a bit of cabin fever following the festive season and desperately needed to blow off the cobwebs. I knew straight away that this was the best thing we could have done. I watched as my boys raced around the gardens and delighted in finding a dog made out of wellies, a bug hotel and a man made out of ceramic pots all within a few metres of each other. When we announced it was time to go home, they immediately asked when we would be coming back. And that, really, is our experience at every National Trust we go to – it is one of the few things we do as a family that I feel reasonably confident will result in a good day.

We were much later to the National Trust party than we should have been. For years we would rock up at the gates – ‘would you like to join?‘, asked the lovely gatekeepers. ‘Well, we do keep thinking about it‘, we would say, ‘but maybe next time’. I don’t know why we kept putting it off – I think us Brits just tend to find it easier to say maybe next time.

But one day I decided I’d had enough of ‘maybe next time‘, plus on that particular day the queue for non-members would have taken longer to get through than filling in the forms and joining; so we finally said yes. And now…..well, who wouldn’t agree that for a family with young children, National Trust membership is surely up there as one of the best things you could possibly have? Because it isn’t just access to one attraction – it gives you amazing day out options right across the country. We use ours at home and we use it on holiday. We use it as a convenient place to meet up with friends or family; or as a vastly more appealing option than a service station to break up a long car journey home. And because it isn’t just aimed at the children, everyone goes home feeling like it’s been a good day; rather than parents simply grinning and bearing it for the sake of the kids.

When it comes to days out with children it turns out that what I’ve long suspected is actually true……or it is for us anyway – more stuff often equals more stress. If you’ve paid a hefty entrance fee to get in somewhere that has a myriad of attractions, then you want to get your money’s worth; but getting your money’s worth with small children in tow isn’t always easy. They have little legs, they need plenty of toilet and refreshment stops, and they are easily over-stimulated. And, as we know, days out with youngsters are necessarily short. But a National Trust outing doesn’t need to involve racing round a host of attractions – that’s not to say that there aren’t things to do, but you can take it all at a more relaxed pace. It is a reminder of the simple things that children love – hide and seek around the hedgerows, scrambling up an old tree, running down hills, collecting up sticks for a pretend fire, getting lost in a maze, crossing bridges, spotting bugs; and the simple joy of being outside.  It can be a whole day or a couple of hours; which when you have little ones, is just the way you need it to be. It reminds you of the joy to be found in all the seasons – giant puddles, frosty lawns, spring blossom and autumn leaves. It gives you options for those days over the weekend or school holidays when you have no plans but you fancy a little adventure. For children, it is space to run and freedom to explore. It is something which, once you have, you will wonder why you took so long to get.

Basically, it is for those who enjoy open space, but with coffee, cake and toilets within easy reach. And what’s not to love about that?


If you’re not yet a member but have been persuaded, here is the link you need!