We can never know enough …


I dipped a toe back into the pool of Education this week for the first time since I left School, almost 20 years ago. It was a beginners course in Digital Photography at a local Adult Education centre in Canterbury, Kent.

My girls are growing up fast and this September they will embark the ladder of their own formal Education,  with my eldest child starting School and my youngest child starting Preschool (Nursery).  My time is gradually being returned to me and the awareness of pursuing my own interests and carving out a career whilst dove-tailing their new routine is something that is preying heavily on my mind in both an exciting and anxious way.

The problem I am finding with Adult Education is that there is so much to choose from. Where do you begin ?, How do you choose to study something new that is both appropriate, engaging and affordable to set you on the right path?  I was never someone who knew what they wanted to do with their life. I never had a calling or a vocation. I only knew I would at some point like to be a Wife and Mother. I also knew when I limped through my A Level’s at Sixth Form College I’d had enough of learning by then, wanting to get on with living and earning money. Ambition in itself, perhaps.

Now, with the opportunity to further my personal interests and cast my net afield I’m trying to hold onto that infamous line ‘find a job you love doing and you never do a days work in your life’. With this at the forefront of my mind I sat and thought about all the things I LOVE to do and at the top of this list is Writing and Photography.

By nurturing these interests I am hoping to discover if I can turn something ‘I love’ into something ‘I do’. I’ve looked at the wealth of courses available to me, during the days when the girls are at School/Nursery and nights when they are tucked up in bed.

The idea of pursuing my interests by using resources at hand, came to me as a direct result borne out of my 5% Course Correction I spoke of previously,  it has enabled me to see what I really want to try to do versus what I actually do with my time. My priority is still being home to look after my girls, so for now I am trying to take small steps to laying solid foundations for my future. It is difficult for a person like me, that is all or nothing,  to keep a tight rein on going all out and biting off more than I can chew.

I have looked at the free TED talks you can watch online, which I initially did through YouTube and then downloaded their app so I can personalise my playlist and listen to them during the day or when driving in the car through bluetooth. They are on average 15 minutes long and a great resource for the time starved and those with limited concentration skills, like myself. The catalogue of talks they have available is vast and inspiring.

Then I discovered the Open University FreeLearn resource. Again, they offer hundreds of free courses, open to anyone with access to a computer and Internet connection.  I honed in on their Creative Writing courses, opting for a 10 week course and joining thousands of others to create an online community of support, at a time that suits me during the week to pick up and drop off. This works perfectly around my existing commitments. The course says it’s a 3 hour minimum commitment each week but of course it could be more. What you put in, you get out I guess.

I am so enjoying the course, taking it at my own pace and doing the exercises and hearing from other Writers. The practices and habits they enthuse you to adopt; keeping a daily notebook to jot ideas and stories down and flexing that writing muscle daily to keep the creative juices bubbling away. Most importantly the art of editing. Writing and re-writing and re-writing again as well as receiving ‘constructive’ criticism for your work. I find it invaluable and rewarding.

The learning bug has hit me hard and I’ve also since enrolled on a 5 week Digital Photography class. I found myself sitting alongside 10 other complete beginners in a class room last Tuesday night, listening to our Lecturer lay the foundations for what I hope is a promising path to somewhere new for me. Even if I learn to take only marginally better photos of my family it will have been time well spent I reason.

I arrived on time for my first lesson, a little nervous and after introducing myself took my place at the back of the classroom. Old habits die hard it seems. It was then I realised just how long since I last graced a classroom for my own gain, with heavy irony that I volunteered and paid to be there. In my case Education was largely wasted on my youth. How I would day-dream about escaping hours of lessons back then to now day-dream about finding myself lost in one for pleasure. This misplaced sense of being is a running theme throughout my life.

As I sat there waiting for the lesson to begin, in the sterile perfunctory class-room with its illuminated smart board taking centre stage (what ever happened to chalk boards I dare not ask ?)  I noticed my impatience with the opening platitudes, they were draining my concentration. I just wanted to get on with learning. We were told about basic housekeeping practices – the best places to park, where the fire exits were,  vicinity of the toilets in case they were needed and even where the best coffee machine to use was, blah, blah, blah. I wanted to fast forward this part like you do on Cable TV, yet on reflection I suspect this was a rouse to not just familiarise ourselves with the alien campus facilities but most importantly, put us at ease. It’s scary to go back to being a student and starting over. I feel this acutely especially having spent most of the past 4 years in the company of children.

The difference I felt sitting there as a ‘mature’ student was palpable to me. I didn’t care about any comparison of my contemporaries or their level of ability and my confidence in asking questions and getting what I wanted out of this lesson was all I cared about. As a student first time around I was always hampered by the fear of what others thought of me, too scared to raise my head or hand above the parapet to stand out.

Aside from the technical information which was new to me, our Lecturer who is a Professional Photographer himself made me seriously question what I like to photograph and what it is I want to do with photography. We were asked to share our thoughts.

As I stood up and gave my answer I realised then exactly what sort of photography I like to do. Social commentary in the every day, my family, those portraits that reach into other’s souls and lay bare who they are. I don’t for one minute imagine myself to be the next Annie Leiboivitz, except during the small dark hours when no one is listening,  the reality is I am hoping this course sets me on a path that triggers a whole new adventure. For now I am happy to be enjoying learning a new skill.

What I hadn’t expected as the two-hour course came to a close on Week One was how exhausted I felt as I left. I felt emotionally and physically drained and my brain ached with all this new information I was trying to digest. I really am sadly out of the habit of learning which I must break, after all we can never know enough ….


One tree and not two


I’ve been flying solo this week. That is, being home without my husband and taking sole charge of our girls. He has gone back to his native country, South Africa, for his 25 year school reunion.

Having his own business and working a lot from home we get to spend more time together than the average family do. Whilst his work schedule is more punishing than most, he manages to wrap it around our family life quite nicely so he can be there for breakfast, sometimes pop in for lunch and more often than not bath and bed time during the working week.

To some this may seem an extravagant luxury, to others an unhealthy suffocating schedule. After all not every one suits living in each others pockets and there are times when I definitely agree complacency does breed contempt, which we have occasionally fallen victim to.

Since he left for South Africa on Tuesday lunchtime, with the girls running alongside his car blowing kisses, I can now see how much he helps me being home with the girls, where before I was in denial. The small things really do add up and make my day easier. To illustrate my point I haven’t made 9pm once since he has been gone, so exhausted am I from the demands of running our home, alone. I most certainly wouldn’t put my hand up to be a single parent and my admiration is wholly magnified for those that are. There are just no breaks from the demands of looking after young children until they are in bed and no one adult to sound off with once they are.

Why is it only after something has gone do you really appreciate it? It’s not until he isn’t here, sitting across me in ‘his’ chair, flicking through endless channels looking for something to watch until he settles on some depressing War or Serial Killer documentary before I yell ‘is that the best you can find ? do I see how easily we are now settled into our roles with each other and how we could possibly be taking one another for granted. With the long weekend stretching out before me to fill, do i realise just how much we need each other and how much we rely on each other to enjoy our lives.

After 6 years of marriage and two children, that’s probably a good thing, right? At least I’m lead to believe it is by the Minister who married us.

Just before we were married in Cape Town back in 2009 we had to undergo ‘Marriage Lessons’ a form of couples counselling. The Minister joked that he had a 95% hit ratio with successful Marriage statistics and wanted to ensure he kept it that way.

We went along for three, one hour sessions. We sat in a tiny room with three chairs placed in a triangle shape. He asked questions about us as individuals, as a couple and our thoughts on various subjects; religion, politics, life goals. He interspersed these questions with anecdotes from his own marriage and family life.

At the start of the sessions I rolled my eyes as we went in, thinking it was a lesson to endure. I just wanted him to marry us. After the first session I changed my mind, because talking openly and honestly with our Minister was an incredibly worthwhile and inspiring experiment.

Our Minister was quick to pick up on us being very different, strong-minded individuals. The important thing he noted whilst talking to us was our shared belief of the same overall goals. There was nothing we couldn’t overcome if we showed a willingness to compromise and show respectful kindness to each other. At that point in our lives, a week before we were married, we had that in abundance.

He told us a story of a difficult time from his own marriage. They had a family pet, a dog who was so loved and treasured by him and his wife and their young children. This dog died and the family were bereft and a dog sized hole was missing in their lives which never dried up for his wife. She begged to get another dog, even got the children in on the begging but he refused to be moved and give his blessing. He just didn’t want another dog. He said it acted as a catalyst and began to cause major problems in his marriage. They built a wall of resentment between each other and recriminations were thrown like hand grenades. He admitted that he even considered leaving his family home so big their problems had become, until one day he came to the realisation that his life was never about what he truly wanted, but only the happiness of what his family wanted. That was his true joy, that’s all that really mattered to him, deep down. So he apologised to his wife for the pain he caused her during their arguments and reluctantly agreed to get another dog. The point was he said that he loved his wife more than not wanting another dog and her happiness was his happiness. Of course in time he loved and looked after their new pet, and actually in time this dog became more his dog than his wife’s, where it would sit at his feet in the evening. He says looking back, he doesn’t understand how it came to be a big deal. How easily things could have fallen apart, until he put the needs of his wives before his own. We will not go far wrong in our marriage he said if we remember that, to put one another’s needs before our own, if we can. Advice I often forget but am reminded of in his absence.

On our Wedding Day we had the reading from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres. When I were looking for a poetic interlude during our service I fell in love with the message this verse simply gave and 6 years down the line, home alone as I write this do I realise now more than ever how meaningful these words are for me and how absence has made me appreciate what I have all the more.

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your root was so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is.

Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

We do have choices

Choice photo

I hail from a line of blessed over thinkers, cursed with extrapolating the minutiae in a moment. It is both a blessing and a curse to slow life down and observe the detail.

For me it is often like walking through a field of positivity and negativity. Managing my path through this minefield is the tricky part. When I have weak moments, as we all do and I allow myself to wallow the slowing of my narrative can put its cursed hat on if I am not too careful. From this hat I can pull out its sardonic relatives of Anger, Jealousy, Bitterness and Rage. All emotions that have their place at the table, are necessary to acknowledge and feel so that we can find a truer picture of ourselves. As long as we keep them in check and send them on their way before they can let themselves into the party, drink all the rum punch and cause chaos. They are empathic guests mind you and hard to close the door on.

Then there are those moments of syzygy, where the positivity we feel emits sunbeams from our eyes, we allow the good in ourselves to shine, where we give benefit of doubt and choose to see and feel only good and they become infectious, we in turn feel good to be around them.

These are the party guests we need only welcome and let in. On the surface they may look like less exciting guests or those that look vulnerable but they are the ones to go the distance. They will wake up the next morning well rested and happy. With no regret and shame marring their thoughts.

On Wednesday my four year old daughter woke in the night and cried out for me. She told me she had a bad dream. As I sat on the edge of her bed in my sleepy daze, cold from the night air and taking refuge in my dressing gown I stroked her brow and consoled her. I try so hard to turn the negative things she feels and see’s into positive ones, a habit I hope she will carry with her. I whispered that her dreams were her own and she could dream anything she wanted to; going to the beach, having a picnic, being at the park with her Sister, whatever took her fancy. They were her thoughts and if they were her thoughts she can choose to have good ones or bad ones.

Clearly this had never occurred to her in all her four years as she looked up and said I can dream anything? Of course it’s just a story I replied.

The next day I felt let down by a friend and the party in my head started where Anger knocked on my door, with Rage and Bitterness trailing not far behind. I let them in and offered out the drinks, before I caught myself realising they had to go. They were already causing too much damage and I could see this not ending well.

If I can tell my four year old she can choose her dreams then I can choose my waking thoughts too. I showed my nihilistic guests out and put in a few calls to Love, Peace and their long suffering cousin Acceptance.

How glad I am as I received numerous text messages later that night apologising for letting me down.

The things that happen to us rarely are in our control, what we can control though is our reaction to them. We do have choices.


In Our Heads and our Hearts


I’ve mentioned before in previous postings about an older Lady I visit for an hour once a week on behalf of a volunteer Befriending Charity. It has been well over 18 months since I started and we are the firmest of friends.

You can read these postings by clicking on the links There to just listen and Memories.

I sit with her in her home and talk; small becomes big when you are aged and isolated.

Last week my Old Lady asked if there was any way I could make a copy of a Poem she had heard and loved. Given to her by a carer who comes to help get her get up and dressed most mornings. She asked if she could first read it to me.

Here is it:


What do you see nurses what do you see?

are you thinking when you are looking at me,

a crabby old woman not very wise, uncertain of habit with far away eyes,

who dribbles her food and makes no reply when you say in a loud voice I do wish you’d try.

Who seems not to notice THE things that you do

and forever is losing a stocking or a shoe,

who unresisting or not lets you do as you will with bathing and feeding the long day to fill.

Is that what you’re thinking is that what you see.

Then open your eyes nurse you’re looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am as i sit here so still, as i use at your bidding as i eat at your will.

I’m a small child of ten, with a Father and Mother, Brothers and Sisters who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet, dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.

A bride soon at twenty my heart gives a leap, remember the vows that i promise to keep.

At twenty-five now I have young of my own who need me to build a secure happy home.

A young woman of thirty, my young grown fast bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty my young ones now grown will soon be gone, but my man stays beside me to see i don’t mourn.

At fifty once more babes play round my knee, again we know children my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me my husband is dead. I look to the future I shudder with dread, for my young are all busy rearing young of their own and i think of the years and the love i have known.

I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel. Tis her jest to make old age look a fool.

The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart there is now a stone where once i had a heart.

But inside this carcass a young girl still dwells and now and again my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain and I’m loving and living life over again.

I think of the years all too few gone to fast and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes nurse open and see not a crabby old woman Look closer – SEE ME


As my Old Lady – and she is still very much a Lady, read aloud with both her hands gripping firm to steady the well thumbed folded paper, there was a steady cadence to her voice until it trembled and broke at the part of ‘Turning Fifty and her Husband is Dead’. She recovered well as she made it to  the end  then she apologised for her little interlude.No apologies needed I reassured, it is quite remarkable.

There is no sadness to be felt here, she has lived her life and a very good one from all that she tells me, just ironic melancholy that age must come to us all. This is not lost on me being at the polar end of the life spectrum, if the natural order is observed.

If I am lucky enough to get the opportunity to look back over the rose tinted years and remember the love, laughter and shared joys in my past, like the Summer in late August when the  climes become colder and the Autumn of our life begins to make itself heard.

Teasing chilly nights slip into those smelling of Fire, punctuated by Rockets and Wheels to awaken to the Winter of lives with only cold, hard soil and bare trees remaining.

All that has happened has gone, yet all that has happened remains; in our heads and our hearts.




Panasonic Bread Maker

I had been tempted before but managed to resist each time the Lakeland catalogue dropped through my letterbox, with its promise of a shiny new gadget emitting heaven personified in the shape of freshly baked bread. I have enough gadgets collecting dust in dark over crowded cupboards which I were reluctant to add to.

Yet I bent to my hearts will and succumbed. Pressing ‘buy now’ in my online shopping basket and suddenly, as if by magic, a box, a huge box arrived. As I  am signing for it I hear my minds chatter mentally chiding itself for buying something I now have to find the time to use and justify the expense. “It can go back if I keep the receipt I reasoned”. Stuffing the receipt into the ether of some messy draw I am likely to never find again, thinking it’s more likely to be relegated to a shelf under the stairs by Easter and in the garage by Christmas and on ebay by the New Year.

I had to rearrange my whole kitchen surface space with the gadgets I currently have in residence. There is the bean to cup coffee machine, the microwave, the kettle, the chopping boards, the toaster, the knife rack, the egg basket, the radio…..and with jengo like feng shui precision I found a little space for a big bread maker. Next to a plug socket. Its a tight squeeze but it gets in there.

I read the manual which drained my enthusiasm levels. It felt like hard work, until I got familiar with and understood their way of explanation. I had no choice but to perservere, my husband was watching over my shoulder ready to raise his eyebrows at my latest must have purchase.

I bought the ingredients needed; mainly flour and yeast. I set the timings and waited 4 hours for my first loaf. It felt like a labour of love as I listened to the blade turn and twist and when the first loaf was despatched I marvelled at the relative ease and  glorious smell that radiated through my home. We ate the first loaf still warm, with dollops of salty butter.

The next loaf I made came courtesy of the timer, less than 24 hours after the first. Clearly on a roll. Excuse the pun. I set the timer so it was ready for breakfast time. We woke to the smell of freshly baked bread, with its quixotic charm permeating through our home. Again ingested with copious butter but this time washed down with copious bean to cup coffee.

And it was in this vein that the love affair continued. I baked rolls and tried all varieties of flour, mixed seed and even scouted out locally milled flour from a mill just down the road, Willesborough Windmill. There was no end to my baking, until, well, we ate a loaf too many and our jeans began to tighten and feel a little uncomfortable.

Bread as we know, is not a great bed fellow of a lean and healthy diet. Well not in the quantities we were consuming it in. Most certainly not in moderation.

It has been year since I bought our bread maker but it has not once left its little spot, either for a cupboard or garage shelf. It has been a surprise purchase that keeps on giving and one i’m questioning if we could do without now, should a desert island gadget question be asked.

My only gripe with it if I’m honest, is that the freshly baked bread using the recipe and quantities they suggest produces bread which is only really suitable and edible for eating on the day such is it denseness. Nothing I seem to do is able to make it a little lighter.

Yet when I buy shop bought bread packets suitable for bread makers, a favourite of ours is the 99p Waitrose Oat and Linseed bread (which has everything in it except the amount of water and butter which you are to add) It makes the perfect loaf. Light, airy, edible the next day and suitable for freezing.

Ive tried to find the quantiies of flour to yeast they use but to no avail. I’ve searched online forums looking for others with similar problems but again to no avail. I know others who have the same issue as me, but enjoy the dense ‘rustic’ bread or buy shop bought packets ready to go.

That was until this week I had a lightbulb moment. A true Eureka of a revelation that came to me in the early hours when my middle of the night insomnia interrupts. If the shop bough bread mix, which only requires me to add butter & water already has the yeast in it, why when i make my own bread adding all the ingredients in their desired quantity must I put the yeast in the separate yeast holder which according to the manufacturer instructions drops it in at the moment it is needed. Why can’t I add it to the bread tin loaf from the start with the flour, butter, salt, sugar and water ?

I am no baking genius, I do not profess to understand the vagaries of baking and the importance of yeast in the mix, but I tried doing this – adding the yeast in along with everything else and i produced a loaf worthy of a theatrical bow. The lightest, tastiest, still good the next day loaf came out the machine. Have I  invariably stumbled upon the method? I do not know, but will surely keep you posted with my vigorous experimental testing and bread consumption.

Either way,  shop bought or home prepared freshly baked bread is something we still enjoy over a year later either as a mid week treat or with our dippy eggs at the weekend courtesy of our Panasonic Bread Maker.



Second time around

Having two children, both girls, borne of the same parents, grown in the same womb and watered in the same garden I am acutely aware of how different a parent to each of them I am.

Naturally, i love each of my children the same, but differently. I also take equal turns to dislike them fairly too. Depending on who is being a rat bag and being completely unreasonable which in our house works on a rotation basis. At this present moment the two year old is proving particularly tiresome with her constant emotional instability that only two year olds have. They don’t call it the terrible two’s for nothing, nor the year of the three-nager or well, i’m not sure what the four year olds nonsense is called yet; i’m only a few weeks into that stage and the jury is still out.

The Mother i was first time around is definitely not the Mother i am second time around. Not all better, not all worse, just again different and clearly a determining factor when considering the role birth order has on our personalities. I am one of three. The middle one as it happens. The child that is statistically most likely to be troubled vying for their place in the family pecking order, leaving the nest before the others, but one who is most likely to develop better empathic social skills through the ability to be flexible. Only one of those statements are true in my case so far and i’ll leave you to ponder which one that is, but there is a lot that can be said for the child who is second born and a middle child at that. I keep a lot of this to the forefront of my mind when i think of my second child who is incidentally our youngest.

As i said previously she is currently in the phase of being a troublesome two year old who just like every other child in this Country,  like her older Sister before her, received a letter from our Health Visitor (those who are designated responsibility by the State for overseeing progress and well being of a child) offering my daughter an appointment for her two year review. This generic review is to assess her development taking in her speech, fine and gross motor skills and whether she is developing in line with normal parameters, or what is deemed normal at this age.  I opened the letter, knew what it was all about having been through it with my first daughter and decided i couldn’t be bothered to make an appointment and drag us all there only to be told what i already knew, that everything was indeed progressing normally with my daughter. There is no duty to attend this review, its purely should you wish to do so.

I am quietly confident my youngest daughter, not having had the obsessive anxious parent peering into her crib every two minutes checking for a pulse has benefitted enormously from this. She is currently 6 months ahead in terms of development in comparison to her older sister, a typical case in point of a second child. Learning from what is happening around her and just getting on with it.

I threw the letter away and got on with other things. Until i received a phone call from the Health Visitor asking if my daughter still lived at this address ? “Urm, i think so” i laughed into the telephone. “Unless she’s moved out and not told me”. The voice at the end of the line tittered. I don’t think she appreciated my humour. “It’s just you declined the two year health check we offer and wanted to ensure there were no problems and that we had the right address for your daughter”.

Then the guilt set in. I wouldn’t have done that for Child Number One. Infact i often rang chasing these appointments so keen was i to be reassured my child was normal and hitting the developmental milestones. So i did what I do best in these circumstances in which i regret my decision, i lied to cover my tracks. “I am so sorry, i completely forgot to ring and make an appointment. Thank you so much for reminding me, can i please make an appointment now?”.

So i did and we went and i found out we actually got a lot out of the process. It is always extra special to me when i get to have one on one time with either of my daughters, so conscious am i of nurturing them as individuals as it so rarely happens. Whilst we waited for our Health Visitor we cuddled, laughed and chatted as we ate a chocolate lolly i brought along. The Health Visitor clearly had a winning inveterate formula to assessing small children.

On the floor were a number of age related toys carefully chosen to promote interaction and conversation. My daughter was asked to build a tower with small coloured blocks, complete a simple puzzle and asked to try and identify different farm yard animals whilst I vetted questions about her diet, sleeping and toilet habits. 

Having two young children i am often guilty of overlooking the small steps they make that are actually a big deal. For me being with my girls all day every day i miss the subtle changes in their growth. Until I find myself wondering why their fringe is suddenly getting in their eyes or their jeans won’t do up and are too short and look like they’ve had a falling out with their ankles. 

It’s the same with their speech, gross motor skills and understanding of instructions and the world around them. I take it for granted what they can and can’t do. Conscious to not be the over bearing Mother prompting her child for the right results from the wings, i sat quietly next to my daughter on the thread bare carpet offering quiet reassurance.  I found myself looking at my daughter through different eyes, seeing her as the Health Visitor was, looking at what she has mastered in such a short time. Something that rarely gets to happen.

I may have been here before, passing these milestones through overly anxious eyes but second time around that has left me because that day i devoured the pleasure in it all. The wonders of all that has happened to my little girl to reach this point and all the wonders that i knew, through her older a Sister, were yet to come. That is the true beauty of second time around; being a little less frightened and if you can carve out the time juggling two, getting to enjoy it more.

She is generally a far more easy going child than her sister. Generally, just not right now. How much of that is Nature versus Nuture i never will know for sure, but there has to be a huge advantage by not having an anxious, scared parent handle you. She is more fearless, she is more spontaneous,  mischievous in her endeavours, she sleeps better and she wants to be more independent – ‘own’ is her favourite word right now (meaning I’ll do it all on my own, as modelled from her big Sister).  All probably as a result of her having to share her mothers diluted attention and neurosis . She might not get the one on one care her elder sister had but for all the reasons i’ve just noted she’s probably better off for it. I can enjoy her more without fear of the unknown, second time around.

I took a 5% course correction


Forever bemoaning the fact i never seem to have enough time to do all the things i really want to. Always feeling like i’m chasing my tail and never making progress with my self imposed to-do list, i took the advice of David Carter the author of the self help book ‘The Breakthrough’ where he suggests if you want to really see a difference in your output try correcting your current course by 5%. In other words making small changes can end up totalling big ones. Which ties in for me with the one liner Albert Einestein allegedly said when doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,  his definition of insanity. They may have a point, time to think differently I thought. 

I am at home with my children most of the time and often the mundane monotonous toll of housewifery can sap the life out of the most ardent focused neat freak like myself. I have to keep busy to achieve my equilibrium but sometimes being busy, isn’t the same as being smart.

And lately, i don’t feel like I’ve been smart with my time. So i listed out all the things i need to do alongside the things i want to do alongside the things i actually do. It was a great exercise in time management and i saw a number of things i could do differently and should do differently which could quite rightly produce different results in me and my life.

First up was the amount of time i spent on social media sites, then quantifying the sheer daily depth of an Ocean in News content I devour & am bombarded with, emails, home & life admin, household chores, activities and time spent with children and time spent with husband and finally the things i like to do, for myself (i’d like to caveat this list is in no particular order, most especially order of priority!)

I noticed the things i placed importance on weren’t all that important as it turns out. Social media for one. It’s incredible being able to keep up with the thread of your ‘friends’ lives with a ‘quick’ dip into Facebook over a coffee break, giving minimal effort in exchange for a daily spot in others lives you care about. A quick ‘like’ to a photo or shout out to someone having a bad day. Takes two minutes to make a difference. It’s all good, infact it’s all great that we can stay so connected, its just being able to unconnect that i’m noticing i had problems with. Two minutes totalling too many minutes by the end of a day. My intermittent breaks were increasingly spent doing this and therein was my problem. It started eating into my downtime and became a means of procrastination to other things i need to and would like to find the time to do.

With this realisation i deleted the app from my Smartphone. Gone. I felt like i was in Facebook AA. It has been 3 hours since i last checked in……as i took the 12 steps to recovery and wondered all that i was missing out on as i did it. (Spoiler – not that much it would seem).

I then started making a list of other social media sites i use all too frequently, twitter and my one of choice Instagram. I needed to do the same and limit my usage again.

Once i took this liberating step i noticed it left a void of what to do when i did get intermittent breaks. I started to make lists of things i’d like to know more about and finding free online resources that offer these. This 5% course correction to my day was already reaping huge differences and ones which felt positive and for my own benefit.

What i’ve realised from this little experiment of mine is that I have more time than i realised to pursue the things that really matter to me. I’ve signed up to the Open University to begin a course which takes as little as 3 hours a week (at my own leisure, so once the kids are in bed) another evening course at the University of Canterbury and my writing projects have flourished and the biggest most important realisation is that when i am with my children i am a little more present and not on my phone and that is hugely important to me. 

I also took the step of asking others how they manage their time on such sites. Most of my friends admitted they had to be careful how much time they gave themselves daily. Some got really smart with their settings and tweaked them so they saw exactly what they wanted to of chosen family & friends without getting side tracked by other distractions, maximising their online user efficiency.  Others were so disciplined with their usage dedicating a certain point in their day; over breakfast, morning commute or whilst waiting for their dinner to cook to connect. Again all effective habits to keep the pendulum of moderation in check. 

 I have since rescinded my self imposed exile from my Social Media sites and discovered I don’t miss Facebook or Twitter as much as I thought I would. I am also using them responsibly, i missed knowing what my ‘Friends’ are up to and in this day and age to not use is just as inpractical as to use too much, with awareness of what i am using MY time with forever at the forefront of my mind. 

 I’ve found its good to do some personal house keeping and will do so again and again when I wonder why I can’t get the things important to me done, so I’m really pleased i took a 5% course correction.   

Leith’s Gammon with Marmalade & Wholegrain Mustard

Meat Tastic Gammon
Meat Tastic Gammon

I love Gammon. However it comes; in torn off chunks dripping with mustard, with pineapples on top or in big white floury baps. I love the salty bacon-esque meat-tastic taste you get with a joint being broiled and then roasted. Hot or cold, marinaded or not, i can’t say no to a slice.

Yet, weirdly i’ve never attempted to make my own because so many family & friends make them, along with fancy packaged shop bought ones which are too hard to resist when you are stalking the Supermarket aisles famished.  I’ve just never needed to do it for myself until i had a desire to try a receipe in Leith’s ultimate cooking book i’ve advocated before. It’s her Marmalade & Wholegrain mustard receipe on page 261.

I salivated when i saw the recipe and marvelled at its simplicity so gave it a whirl. I cooked it for a Sunday Roast and then served the off cuts (of which there were many, too many perhaps) throughout the week in sandwhichs, salads, pasta dishes and finally partnered with fried eggs and chips…..woefully underrated these days in my humble opinion.


1 x 675g piece of Gammon – I bought a 1.75kg joint and corrected the receipe to reflect

1/2 onion

1 carrot, cut into chunks

1 bay leaf

2 fresh parsley stalks

6 black peppercorns

1 tablespoon thick cut marmalade

1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard


Serving suggestion: Mashed sweet potato, broad beans in parsley sauce, peas

Note: If cooking a larger joint, allow 25 minutes per 450g for the simmering time.


1 Place Gammon in saucepan, cover with cold water and add the onion, carrot, bay leaf, parsley stalks and peppercorns. Bring slowly to the boil, then simmer for 40 minutes

2. Preheat the oven to 220C / 425F/ Gas Mark 7

3 Leave the gammon to cool slightly in the stock. Then lift out and carefully pull off the skin and a little of the fat.

4. Mix the marmalade and mustard together and spread it evenly over the fat.

5. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until dark and sticky.


It came out so fantastically well, was economically a great way to make the pennies go further as it went into so many other meals during the week. More than that it was so satisfying to finally make something i love.

I am not a confident chef and when taking the autodidact approach by following recipes or watching cooking programmes i have to be careful to choose those that i think i can do and will take pleasure from and which will spur me to have a go with something else. This was definitely one of them, Leith’s Marmalade and Mustard Glazed Gammon.

Make your own Pizza

Homemade Pizza
Homemade Pizza

I’ve tried many times in the past to make my own pizza, but with Domino’s on speed-dial and Supermarket shop bought ones winning the price war it’s always felt a like it belonged in the too hard basket, especially for last minute dinners.

That was until a friend shared her fool proof Pizza recipe with me, which i have tried a good few times now and has given us perfect pizza every time just the way we want it. It’s also been something my young children love to do – making their own dinner.

What you’ll need to make six Pizza bases – You can either eat the lot, freeze what you won’t eat or double/half/quarter the recipe for the amount you do want.

Ingrediants for the Pizza Dough

* 800g Plain Flour

* 400ml room temperature water

* 5g Yeast

* 3 tablespoons Olive Oil

* Salt


How to do it

Put the Water, Oil & Yeast in a bowl.

Mix the Salt & Flour together and gradually add to the bowl with the Water, Oil & Yeast until all incorporated. Knead until it’s a compact giant ball.

Cover with Cling Film or a dry tea-towel and leave to rise for 20 minutes.

Then cut the dough into 6 even pieces and shape into balls putting back in the bowl and re-covering for another 3 hours.

After 3 hours – take one of the balls to make your first pizza. Soften by kneading in your hands, then using a rolling pin, roll out onto a floured surface so its nice and thin and if you can manage it, round. Pick it up and stretch it gently between your hands making sure you don’t tear it.

I use a round medium size stoneware plate which i bought from Pamperedchef, which is non stick and cooks everything evenly and continues to cook even once out of the oven, if left on it.

Heat the oven to 200 oC, warm up your stoneware plate (or baking parchment lined baking tray) and then place on a heat protected surface, put your pizza dough onto it, spread it out for the rustic look, and add your toppings.


When time is not of the essence i like to oven roast a tray of different tomatoes, salted, peppered with some garlic and then once roasted so all squishy add in some fresh basil. I use this as my tomato sauce topping, otherwise i buy a fresh tomato & basil pasta sauce and spread that.

We like using Mozarella, Emmental, Feta cheese, parma ham, salami, pepperoni, mushrooms, jalapeños, – infact there is no end to the toppings you can use or the concoctions you can make.

We like to get a system going. Once the first pizza is in the oven for 14 minutes – we find that cooks it to our perfection –  we start prepping the next one. Once the first is out of the oven the second is in….which is great if you have friends over for the evening as it ensures a continuous supply of pizza and everyone gets to try their hand at making one just the way they like it.

If you find you have too many pizza doughs left you can always wrap in cling film and put in the freezer. The receipe says as long as they are taken out of the freezer 6 hours before they are needed they are fine. It even says you can make the dough the day before leaving in the fridge and getting out a good few hours before they are needed so they are returned to room temperature.

I’ve even tried using the dough as a base for garlic bread. I softened butter and stirred in crushed garlic. Like, 3 cloves crushed!,  then spread it over the base and cooked as above. It worked a treat and i would definitely recommend it. Great way to use up extra dough or as pizza in its own right perhaps, either way its weirdly so satisfying to make your own pizza.

Getting the kids in on the act
Getting the kids in on the act


Laughing at Cancer


‘Laughing at Cancer’ could almost be classed as an Oxymoron, or an example of one because there is nothing remotely funny about it at all. Let me make that abundantly clear.

My weekly visit to see my befriendee, Penny on Monday surprisingly resulted in us rolling around laughing, figuratively speaking – for Penny can barely walk unaided – about the vagaries of Cancer in the lives of those people around us. Those that are in the midst of fighting the deadly beast and their tales from the battlefield.

For a subject matter so dark and so despairing, leaving no gender, race or creed untouched it is the cause of untold misery for millions of people worldwide. For those that have it and those that have to watch family and friends suffer from it, so to find myself laughing with a woman who I discovered this week has herself battled Colon Cancer in the past, it was the unfunniest of subject matters. Or so we thought.

Let me start by telling you my Monday morning started really early, on the back of being up for a second night in a row with a poorly baby. I felt tired and my irritable state was compounded by a nasty friction burn i had sustained just below my left elbow when rescuing the same poorly baby at a children’s soft play centre a couple of days before. I had to climb like Jungle Jane to the highest point of the soft play centre and help her down a too small curly yellow slide that suddenly seemed too scary and in the process took most of the skin off my left arm on the way down. I’m not normally a wimp but this kept burning and hurting still days later.

When Sarah my cleaner arrived i was desperate for some coffee to get me moving. How’s your week been is my normal opener but Sarah pipped me to the question first. Just about to launch into my Monday story of woe with my bad sleep and sore arm story, I stopped myself and said ‘Coffee first’. She folllowed me into the Kitchen as i asked her the same question so i could get on with making the coffee. Thats when she told me her partner Phil, who had been in and out of hospital having treatment for kidney stones, had been told he was suffering from Blood Cancer.

That put my burn and tiredness into perspective, i told Penny later when i went to visit her. We laughed as i stroked my burn, as she recognised my awkwardness and almost terrible timing.

It was then that our conversation moved onto Cancer in general and how so many people we know are affected by it.

‘If i get Cancer i said, I just don’t want it in the bum’ i offered. Of all the places i reckon thats got to hurt the most i said’. Penny lent forward laughing, at the same time as her eyes closing to exaggerate how funny she found that to be, as she told me thats exactly where she had it some years ago. My dignity died the day i laid on the Oncologists couch she said.

She regaled me with her own tales from the Battlefield, fighting the big C which i’m sure time has allowed her to see the funny side of. She was prodded and poked and cleaned inside out. I left as clean as a whistle she sniggered. I do try to forget, she laughed some more.

I thought i had a rough time of it back then she went on, although the other week an old friend called to tell her that one of her family members had found a tumour on her neck and it had grown to an obvious and uncomfortable size. She had to go and have Chemotheraphy directly on the tumour, she was given a bespoke Metal Mask that pinned her head to a table where she had to sit for half an hour every day for 17 days. It didn’t help that the poor love had claustrophobia.

Horrified as she is telling me this, i self consciously want to laugh. My lips curl and i stifle it, but I want to laugh at the absurdity of the image in my mind. Almost as though Penny can read my thoughts, she said the same. I put the phone down and couldn’t stop laughing. I just can’t stop picturing her with her head pinned to a table inside a metal mask as her body rocked within from her phobia of confined spaces. How unlucky can one poor soul be ?!

Now in print, this doesn’t seem that funny and as I’m relaying the story to you i’m worried i am offending all those with bowel cancer and neck tumours and all they have to endure, but through our laughter Penny and I came to the landing that, with most horrific things that beset you, the only thing you can do in the face of Cancer, the only thing you possibly can do to endure the pain of it being and not let it rob you of the ability to try and find humour to laugh at Cancer.