A break from routine….and what it means to come home

I started writing this at 4.50pm whilst sitting on a plane. I’ve never written a post from an aeroplane before….. I’ve never written a post on my phone before either. But all day I had been hoping that we would get home in time to say goodnight to our boys; and then came the announcement that we would instead be sitting on a runway for two hours. Watching the rain. So I started writing this to give myself something to think about, other than the fact that I wouldn’t be home for bedtime.

We were on our way home from a very important three day child-free mission to find the best custard tarts in all of Lisbon*…..also known as a mini-break to celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

(NB. If you are only interested in the custard tart mission then you might like to skip to the end.)

And it really was a treat, even if it was so cold that I had to buy myself a new scarf and bobble hat on day 1. There we were, free to ride the trams, enjoy pre-dinner drinks, finish conversations, and admire the Portuguese tiles. Breakfast was a) prepared for us and b) a peaceful affair; and my days did not begin with a boy in a Stormtrooper costume asking me if I would like a game of Ludo. But a strange thing happens when you get a break from your offspring, which is that much of your thoughts and conversation still tends to revolve around them. My husband and I would amble along and notice things that one, two or all of our boys would have liked – the transport museum, the amazing food markets, the trams. We would, despite being child-free, remark upon the child-friendly nature of the city. As we waited in one particularly long queue, I commented on how patiently the two small boys just in front of us had waited, before going on to wonder how their (very stylish) parents had managed to get out with the two boys, a baby, and not a bag between them. Where were the nappies? Where were the snacks and drinks? And more to the point, WHY was any of this even going through my head when I didn’t have any of my own children with me??

But it was. And then of course I would start wondering what my boys were up to, before running through all of the times I had lost my temper too easily, or shouted too quickly; and finally going on to promise myself that I would return home refreshed and ready to deal with challenges in the calm, patient way that I had always imagined I would.

Our final day was one of those proper rainy going home sort of days, and I could have wept when I heard that our flight was delayed. Yes, I had loved the peaceful breakfasts, lunches and dinners; the coffee stops and the walks through the tiny cobbled streets; but I was ready to get back to the noise and the chaos that would greet our arrival home. I have written about home before….. I love a beautiful home, although keeping one is not my strongest point. But, whether it is calm and serene or messy and chaotic; the familiarity of home is precious in a world that seems to be lurching all over the place.  My house is a mess, but it is also a reassuring constant. And, whilst I already miss those custard tarts, I was absolutely ready to get back to those excited little voices and fiercely tight hugs.

And I couldn’t wait to be woken up by a boy in a Stormtrooper costume.


*If you are interested in the outcome of the custard tart (nata) mission, then let me update you. We did venture to Belem (about 30 minutes on the tram from central Lisbon) to sample tarts from the original factory, Pasteis de Belem – the queue went out the door, but standing in a queue with people who clearly loved custard tarts as much as I do was quite special; and yes these ones were were worth queuing for. However, if you don’t happen to go to Belem then let me also recommend Manteigaria, which is just off one of the central squares in Lisbon – it is tiny (standing room only) but the tarts are warm (you can watch them being made) and absolutely delicious.



You ran into the house all excited with your little friend, who had come to play after school. As he walked through the door, the first thing you told him was that we had new blinds. These new blinds have been such a big event in our house, I don’t know why I’m surprised that you think everyone else will interested in them too.

When it comes to home improvements, we’re just…..well, a bit rubbish really. It is partly that we’re not much good at doing things ourselves, but also that we aren’t very good at picking up the phone and calling someone to do jobs for us either…..and that the thought of disrupting our routine to have a new kitchen fitted just seems a bit daunting. I know it’s possible to juggle work and family and house renovations, but it’s just not something that we do. So while we’re faffing about trying to make decisions over a couple of sets of blinds, friends are having walls knocked down, extensions put on, new kitchens, new doors, two rooms knocked into one…..you know, they are generally busy making their homes look lovely. Whereas I look at our house and think about all the things we could do if we put our minds to it; before sitting back down on the sofa.

I have been thinking about our home a lot lately and wanted to try and capture it for you. Because yes it is a bit cosy and noisy and chaotic; but we also love it. So this is it, boys, this is where we live…..

You walk in the front door to our slightly too narrow hallway, where you all fall over each other as you take your shoes off. Some people have lovely spacious hallways with tables and shoe storage and things…..well that is the dream, but for now we make do with tripping over each other and squabbling over who gets to open the front door. The walls are grubby and need a new coat of paint, but the hallway opens onto the dining room and the staircase and everywhere else so painting the hallway sometimes seems like too big a job because it involves painting half the house. So for now, the walls stay grubby.

If you turn right off the hall, that is our sitting room. This would be our logical mess-free grown-up space but it isn’t, because we’re not quite organised enough for that. There are various toys strewn across the floor, a beanbag which doesn’t have anywhere proper to live, and half a dozen soft toys which have made the beanbag their home. There are nice little features which we haven’t really managed to make a feature of, because they are too full of Lego and Playmobil and crates and boxes.

Leading straight off the hall is what should be a dining room, but what we call the middle room. I am looking around the middle room now. On the floor is a giant storm trooper helmet, two light sabers, a Brio bridge, tunnel and station, and Dog Bingo laid out as we are mid-way through a game. There is a dining table – occasionally this is used for eating at, but more often it is a dumping ground for unopened post, drawings, Bird Bingo, lists, reminders, water bottles, spare dressing up clothes and anything else which we plonk there ‘temporarily’. The middle room also contains a piano, which there isn’t really space for. The piano was given to us for free by someone who was moving to Australia, so it seemed too good an offer to turn down despite the fact that we had nowhere to put it. It desperately needs tuning – this has been on the to-do list for about three years. When the piano first arrived, mummy asked that it wasn’t used as another place to pile papers. The piano is, largely, used as another place to pile papers.

Under the stairs is the dream storage unit. The dream storage is often admired, and I feel quite proud of it – it is one of the only major things that we have had done to the house since we moved in (not that I installed it or anything, obviously). We thought the dream storage would solve all our storage issues; but we still don’t have anywhere to put anything.

And at the back of the house is the kitchen. When we first moved into this house, it felt like the dream kitchen. There was an island, and room for a table. I imagined clear worktops, space to bake, and a KitchenAid. And now, the island is an island of clutter. As well as the fruit bowl, scales and giant bell which we use to announce mealtimes because we got so fed up of no-one listening to us when we actually spoke; there are tins of biscuits, a panettone, treat tins, a jar containing conkers and pine cones, and, as of this week, two potatoes with googly eyes, and cocktail sticks sticking out of them. You 5 year olds have been making ‘Supertatoes’ at school…..I wasn’t anticipating you bringing them home.

In the corner of the kitchen is our kitchen table. This is where we eat most of our meals. Mealtimes at the kitchen table are generally full of squabbles about who is touching whose foot. On the wall by our kitchen table are a variety of vintage-y posters and postcards because we like that sort of thing. There is also a weekly to-do list which has never been filled in and which you boys are desperate for us to start using. You don’t understand why it is up when we never write anything on it……and you have a point. And there is a blue wooden plaque that says ‘Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad.’ This is not our sort of thing at all – we are not into overly soppy statements. But eldest boy, you are a sweetheart and you chose it from your school ‘Secrets Room’ for Father’s Day…..so it is up. You think we love these, so much so that wesoppy words.jpg have two more upstairs: another one for daddy, and one for me which thanks me for always being there to pick up the pieces.

Above our kitchen window is some bunting which we put up when our friend was over from America. That was almost two years ago. We haven’t quite got round to taking it down.

Our fridge is covered in photos of nieces, nephews and friends’ children – they go up on the fridge and never come down. Some of these children are practically adults now. There are also key words, drawings of robots, and a Pudsey bear which the eldest boy coloured in about three years ago. Stuck up on our cupboards are drawings and paintings you boys have done – every so often I look at them and realise they desperately need updating now that you are capable of something a bit more visually pleasing than a splodge of paint on a piece of paper.

But let’s leave the kitchen and go upstairs, past the gallery of photos which are also desperately in need of updating as well as always being knocked off the wall. One frame got broken and hasn’t yet been replaced, so for now we just have the photo hook to admire instead. At the top of the stairs is where you boys like to fling yourselves down dramatically, exhausted after the tiring walk up the stairs. The second boy up will always trip over the one who has flung himself down, and then the boy who has flung himself down will scream that he’s been TRODDEN ON! I am always asking you not to fling yourselves down at the top of the stairs, but you all do it anyway. And here we are, outside our only bathroom. Every so often, you ask why we don’t have a downstairs toilet – this is another dream, along with the larger hall and new kitchen. I just hadn’t anticipated how much of an effort stairs would seem to small children who needed a wee. I’m sorry about that.

There are various posters along the landing, including a Blue Planet poster courtesy of the OU, a scratch-off map of the world, and our height chart. Height-wise, in January 2018 you are as follows:

  • Eldest boy – the longest green bean ever grown
  • Twin 1 – a munchkin
  • Twin 2 – a grass snake.

You boys have lovely bedrooms – bright and cosy and busy. Eldest boy, for 2018 you have a Planet Earth calendar, and 5 year olds you have a penguin calendar. The day I gave you your new calendars you reacted like I had given you the world. That made me happy. There are, however, little things in your rooms that need addressing. Eldest boy, your floor is covered in books – you desperately need some new book storage, as well as a wardrobe. Littlest boys, the bottom drawer of your chest of drawers has completely come apart. We are sorry about this, and at some point we will think about taking some action.

And now onto our room. I love the idea of a peaceful haven where I can relax after a tiring day. A room with crisp bedsheets and lovely lamps and a clear bedside table with nothing but a journal, a nice pen and the book I’m currently reading. We have not yet achieved this ideal. A key feature of our bedroom is the ever full laundry basket, which is a constant reminder of all the washing waiting to be folded/sorted and put away. Just behind the laundry basket is the giant bag of too-small-clothes to be sorted out. And just under the window is the enormous Christmas box, which hasn’t yet made it back up into the loft. We do, however, have new blinds in here too…..which I look at when the laundry basket is getting me down.

My dressing table has two giant piles of papers, unopened letters and cards made by you boys. I feel strongly that none of this should be thrown away, but not strongly enough to have sorted through it yet. I like to tackle it at the manageable pace of one item a day, but have realised that this doesn’t work when you are adding more than one item a day to the pile. Daddy’s bedside drawer is full of mysterious plugs, adapters, wires, earphones and more. I do not go near this drawer.

Everywhere I look in our house there are wicker baskets and plastic boxes and piles of papers to be sorted and put away…..only I’m not sure where. There is a whole drawer dedicated to takeaway menus (why, when we only ever really use two of them); and another full of instruction booklets for equipment we no longer own.

I would love someone to come and tell me how to organise our house. To tell me where we should put all the drawings and the crafts and the junk modelling and the photos. But also, well…..I also sort of love the chaos of our house. I love the fact that there is bunting up from two years ago. I love the fact that there are little stories practically everywhere I look.

And if I need to look at something perfect, well then I’ll just admire the blinds.


This is my home

I would guess that my husband and I have no use for around 80% of the things we have cluttering up our house. Neither of us has ever been particularly good at keeping a clutter-free home – my husband tends to keep everything just in case (empty boxes in particular) and I just can’t be bothered to tidy up. It’s got to the stage now that the de-cluttering job is just too enormous to even contemplate – so rather than tackle it I’ve decided to sit down and write about it.

I’ll give you a few examples, and then you can just assume that the rest of our house is exactly the same.

letters tray

Here’s one to start with. This is a nice post / letters / memos holder. It is exactly the sort of thing I buy in the hope that it might help me get organised and avoid having piles of paper lying around the house. What actually happens is this – we shove unimportant things in here knowing that they will be forgotten about, and so end up keeping various ‘to do’ piles elsewhere. Like on the dining table, which should be for eating but is instead covered in letters from the eldest boy’s school.

display cabinet

Here is a lovely display cabinet. I hope you agree that it looks even nicer with the bag of gift bags shoved down the left hand side, and with the cardboard boxes (which the small boys now use as boats, obviously) piled up in front. On top, in case you were wondering, is an array of scooter and cycling helmets. We thought this seemed like the obvious place to keep them.

Last summer we acquired a piano. I instructed my husband that the piano was NOT to be used as a dumping ground for more stuff. Yes, we could put photos, vases and other nice things up there. No, we weren’t having more rubbish.


Here is the top of our piano almost a year later. Yes, that is a dinosaur mask you can see sitting in a crystal bowl. There too is a robot from one of my more successful attempts at crafting (apart from his broken arm).

We have some little cubby holes in our sitting room. I have no idea what you’d call them, but they are clearly intended to display something that is pleasant to look at. garage

Here is one, which we decided to use as a garage for broken toy cars. Except it isn’t really a garage because the cars never get fixed.

Now I am very aware that a bedroom should be a restful, clutter-free environment. A place to wind down and drift off into a blissful night’s sleep – perhaps something like this:

Image courtesy of photostock at freedigitalphotos.net

Ok maybe not quite, but you know what I mean.

But unfortunately it’s exactly the same story in my bedroom. I lay in bed surrounded by washing baskets and plastic storage boxes, which I buy with excellent intentions but quickly find I am not using at all effectively. I just had a look in one and found a couple of pieces of tinsel.wardrobe

My wardrobe is so full of boxes, bags, shoes, and presents for the ongoing round of birthday parties, that there is now barely space for my clothes. It is a shameful state of affairs.

If we continue to accumulate clutter at the current rate then soon we will all have to fight our way through a sea of broken cars, empty boxes, wicker baskets and Lakeland catalogues just to get to the front door.

It is definitely time for some action. Perhaps I’ll start by buying some more boxes.

Your home as a gymnasium – a toddler’s guide

We are Trouble and Not-Quite-So-Much-Trouble, and over the last couple of years we have been exploring, experimenting and discovering an increasing number of ways in which our home can be used as a gymnasium / indoor activity centre. Your parents probably try to convince you that you have more than enough toys to keep you amused, but toys really aren’t as good as everyone makes out. Furniture and other everyday items in your home, however, can provide hours of fun AND keep you fit.

We are very lucky because we’re twins, which means that fairly early on our parents lost the will to try and keep us under control. It also means we learn from each other and can help each other to reach things which our parents repeatedly tell us we shouldn’t be touching.

With our easy-to-follow guide, you too could be using your home as a gymnasium in no time:

  1. Establish the ground rules early on. If you make clear from the outset that you’re going to be an adventurous, active child, your parents will make provision for this. As soon as you’re able to climb up on the sofas, fling yourself off a couple of times and they might decide to put some duvets on the floor for you. These are your crashmats, and already you are on the way to creating your activity centre!
  2. Climbing can be practised all over the house – don’t limit yourself to sofas and stairs. Obviously anything with rungs will be easier for beginners – a good sturdy bookcase being a classic example. Kitchen drawers can also give you access to kitchen surfaces – useful if there are tasty snacks available. But with a bit of practice you will be able to master flat surfaces too – as long as you have something to grip on to (a kitchen worktop for example) you will be able to hoist yourself up no problem.
  3. Chairs are your friends – if you have just started walking/climbing then you are probably discovering this. Climbing onto chairs gives you to access a whole range of things which your parents think are out of your reach. And the best thing about chairs is that they can be moved so easily, giving you access to almost anything, anywhere.
  4. A sofa is an excellent piece of equipment if you’d like to develop  your vaulting skills. Take yourself around the back ofsomersaults your sofa, hoist yourself up using the technique outlined above, and then somersault over the top attempting to land in an upright position (this might take a bit of practice). Your parents will immediately try to stop you from doing this, so I recommend you team up with a sibling or get some of your buddies over – safety in numbers. They will soon realise that continuously diving behind sofas to remove children is a tiresome and thankless task, and will then be applauding your prowess.
  5. Depending on its design, you may find that you’re also able to use a sofa arm as a beam. If not, then a poorly sibling can be useful – take advantage of them being sprawled out on the sofa and try walking the length of him/her.  This is a really fantastic way to develop your balance.
  6. basinYes, this is a simple bathroom basin, but that’s no reason why its use should be limited to the washing of hands and brushing of teeth. Next time you’re in the bathroom, give swinging from the basin a go – this is particularly enjoyable when your parents are attempting to get you clean.
  7. Similarly, simple tasks like getting down from the table do not have to be as dull as they sound. Rather than getting straight down from your chair, try leaping from your own chair onto a nearby chair before then making the descent. There is no reason why simple activities such as this can’t be turned into mini obstacle courses.

We hope this gives you a few ideas to get you going, and we’d love to hear from you if you have any ideas for us to try out. Happy vaulting!