A Family get together at Box Hill

Box Hill - tea 2

This past weekend was one of the hubster’s work weekends. I often take the boys over to my parents house at times like this, but they are currently holidaying in Sicily (lucky things!). Fortuitously, we had been invited down to Salisbury to stay the weekend with my sister-in-law and her two boys, where they have just moved into their new house after a five year stint in Germany. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances this plan had to be postponed. On the up side this left us free to arrange a get together with my sister, brother in law and nieces for a lunch date on Sunday.

We hadn’t really had any plan until the night before when we suddenly realised that we hadn’t really got any idea about what we wanted to do. It is an hour’s drive between our homes so we thought it might be nice to find something to do which is kind of half way between. After much umming and erring, mulling the pros and cons of RHS Wisley, Painshill Park or, our initial desire – ‘a castle!’ (looking at Hever in Kent, the Boleyn family seat – simply too far for us), we settled upon Box Hill near Dorking, National Trust owned land with plenty of walks, trails, nearby cafes and pubs. As my first thought had been to do something outdoorsy which would give us the chance to appreciate the beauty of Autumn, this was a grand idea and the weather was set to be dry (if not sunny).

We opted to do an early lunch for the sake of the boys who get hungry early (!) which ruled out the Smith and Western restaurant nearby which doesn’t open until 12. We ended up at the Ryka’s cafe which is apparently one of the biggest biker’s destinations in England (!!). It is essentially a greasy spoon caff where your main option is burgers, burgers or more burgers (or, in the case of the kids, chicken nuggets!). We appeared to be the only people in there who weren’t dressed from head to foot in leathers!

Next we hopped back in our cars and drove up the zig zag road which formed part of  the London-Surrey Olympic Cycle circuit (and there are still plenty of Tour de France style scribblings on the road!). It took an age to drive up as the road was littered with cyclists funnily enough, causing my youngest niece to comment that she had a problem with Lycra (leather is OK apparently).

There is a lovely ‘Natural Play Trail’ up there so, wellies donned, we set off to discover: Slippy logs:

Box Hill - slippy logs

Climbing branches:

Box Hill - log climb

Stump sculptures:

Box Hill - stumps


Box Hill - Dens

A portal through a tree to another world*

Tree portal

And some breathtaking views:

Box Hill - Views 2

Not to mention many, many, many muddy puddles (which I appear to have omitted from the camera roll – probably due to a sudden fear that my children would re-play that scene from the Vicar of Dibley where she merrily skips into a puddle which turns out to be waist deep!) Before heading to the cafe for hot chocolate, babyccino, ice cream, cake, flapjacks and coffee (Not all for me I hasten to add 🙂 ). It was here that EJ started singing Happy Birthday much to my bemusement until I realised he’d clocked the NT bunting!

All in all a lovely little outing.

*The other side of the tree.

Linking up to What’s the Story over at Podcast Dove.

 photo 93142f35-6d39-479f-b3de-d94dbca68162_zps58499252.jpg


Word of the Week: Bedtime

New bunkbeds!

Anyone who read my Flat Pack! post on Wednesday will know it’s been all about the new bunk beds this week! Although it felt like a big move – and frankly, a huge transition particularly for EJ who has now gone straight from his cot to a full size single bottom bunk at the tender age of two, I’m glad that we’ve done it. Having said that it hasn’t all been plain sailing. On night one EJ climbed in and went out like a light no problem, but night two he wasn’t quite so docile and cried when I tried to tuck him in and leave. I climbed in with him, sang a lullaby, let him have his milk, tried to leave again but he was having none of it. JJ tried to take over for me bless him, but EJ just wanted his mummy! Eventually I told him I was going to go and have my shower and come straight back and, to my amazement, he agreed! Needless to say he was sparko by the time I returned and we went through the same thing last night too so I’m hoping a routine of sorts is forming and he’ll be comfortable with his new bedtime views very soon ( especially as I’m on my own with them for the next few nights while the hubster works).

It was the hubster’s birthday this week but unfortunately we didn’t have much of a chance to celebrate. In the past we have used this week to take a little holiday (this time last year we had a lovely week in Cornwall) but now JJ is at big school we can’t do that any more sadly. I will have to make a better effort next year – particularly because it will be a bit of a milestone for him!

I’ve certainly been falling into bed each night exhausted myself and feeling as though things I normally stay on top of have slid a bit – not least the cleaning this week as my cleaning day was cancelled out by flat pack hell! I am also still trying to find some kind of blogging flow to my week but right now I am writing posts at random times like 5am in the morning – and just can’t seem to get a routine to it, so it seems that most of my posting is happening in the latter part of the week. I find it such a solitary activity that I prefer to do it when I’m on my own. Unfortunately the hubster’s shift pattern is all over the place and often changes at the last minute so I rarely know where I stand.

Other than that, it’s all good and we are enjoying the absolutely glorious autumn colours ( and finally getting to wear some new layered outfits and boots!) but not so much all these squally rain showers!

How was your week?


The Reading Residence

Memories of summer…

JJ with newborn EJ

JJ and EJ summer 2013

JJ and EJ summer 2014

If I look back into the dim and distant past, prompted by thoughts of summer, the images that pop into my head are generally sun bleached childhood holidays, building ‘nests’ out of dried cut grass on the school playing fields and that feeling of freedom that always came with the school/college/university holidays. I also have a summer birthday which was shared with my aunt and my grandma and so it was always a family affair with early August garden parties and a general air of celebration.

Summer always seems to be a time of happiness and contentment, fun and laughter, which is interesting because it isn’t always the happiest of times. In recent weeks I have had some very negative and worrying thoughts and feelings but you can guarantee that, years later, I will only remember the good bits.

At the height of summer 2012 EJ was born. The birth and those first few weeks will forever be a time of mixed memories – the euphoria of the birth, the relief that he was clearly going to be an easier baby than JJ had been and that we formed an instant bond, combined with a lot of issues surrounding the amount of time away from home that the hubster had signed up for with the advent of the 2012 Olympics.

With growing children, each summer changes so radically year on year as 12 months of early years development is such a huge leap. I have gone from nursing an infant throughout the night in 2012, to the relative calm (before the storm!) of a one year old taking his first wobbly steps, to the full on experience of having a walking, running, climbing, talking, brotherly-interacting two year old. Life has become both easier in some ways and harder in others.

Summertime, long days and sunny weather allow for children to do so much more and experience so much more of the world. Now that JJ is about to start school I also feel the pressure is on to provide opportunities for even better, more exciting memory-making experiences during the holiday periods.

From this point onwards summer memories are no longer about my happiness but that of my children.

Linking up to The Prompt for this week’s writing challenge: Memories of Summer



Three little duckies


This Sunday myself and the boys visited my Mum and Dad for the day. The hubster was working and the house is still somewhat chaotic with the ongoing work on the bathroom so it was nice to escape for a few hours. We decided that, due to the beautiful sunny weather we would take the boys over to the Woodland Gardens in Bushy Park – a place I have adored since I was a little child – essentially a magical woodland filled with (at this time of year) wall to wall purple rhododendron and many coloured azaleas, with the paths and walkways taking you this way and that, never sure whether you will end up in a woodland glade, adorned with bluebells, or at a lakeside vista, complete with totem pole! Pooh sticks and hide and seek behind the giant oak trees and in and out of the strange lands that exist underneath rhododendron bushes were the order of the day for me as a child.

Sadly some of the magic was a little lacking this time round as the powers that be have obviously decided that the rhododenron’s were due for a little crop and have razed vast patches to the ground leaving nothing but a few muddy stumps.


One magic moment for us though, involved the discovery of a mother duck with her three fluffy ducklings – they were so tame – quite happy to have their photos taken – not so impressed by JJ chucking them some stalks of grass intead of a few juicy bugs or even some stale bread!

The kids were mesmerised.


I had to pull out all the stops to get EJ to comply with my request to turn back and head for home – yep, that’s right I pulled out the ice cream card! “Ice Cream” is one of EJ’s only phrases (he’ll shout it out if he spots the right van!) and never have I seen such a prompt about turn!

*Apologies for the rough quality of these photos – I forgot to take my camera with me and this was the best I could muster with my Windows phone!


TTFB Easter Round Up

023Here at TTFB (Then The Fun Began) we like a bit of chocolate. I say ‘we’, the children in particular like to indulge! As we’re pretty secular people Easter then, like for so many others I’m sure, becomes a festival of the egg-shaped variety.

I have to admit that I’ve had a bit of an epic fail on the Easter crafts front and just oohed and aahed in awe at all the lovely stuff all you talented people have been up to (footprint chick cards, toilet roll Easter bunnies and chocolate nest cakes to name a few!). Fortunately my munchkins don’t know any different so they were just happy to be introduced to the concept of the Easter bunny (although the thought of a giant bunny lurking around your house after dark apparently does have sinister overtones…).

So here is some of the stuff we’ve been up to:

Our Easter fun began on Monday with a little impromptu egg hunt at my lovely friend Vicky’s house with her two gorgeous girls.

On Good Friday we visited Clandon Park, a National Trust property where they were holding one of Cadbury’s Easter Egg Trails. We visited with another best friend and her two boys and I finally paid up for NT membership and received an exciting pack of booklets, maps and stickers.

For the trail, you are issued with ‘Eggsplorer’ passports, maps and do-it-yourself paper explorer’s pith helmets and follow six clues leading you to cross off one of six Easter egg pictures one at a time leaving only the magic Lulu bird’s egg and proving that you are worthy of delving in to a large cardboard treasure chest full of funny face chocolate eggs and having your passport duly stamped.

Here is a picture of the boys in their helmets with Clandon House in the background:


JJ came across this gigantic Lulu bird footprint:


And EJ was let off the leash for a run in the fresh air  (completely disappearing for a heartstopping five minutes!):


It was a lovely day trip and the boys had so much fun.

Then this morning the munchkins awoke to find little eggs hidden all over the downstairs of my parents’ house and JJ (extremely quickly it has to be said) rounded them all up, dishing out a fair share into his little brother’s easter bucket. Then it was chocolate for breakfast all round.

Later on my sister, brother in law and nieces joined us for a lovely Sunday roast and we exchanged even more chocolate!

I have already researched what to do with leftover Easter Egg chocolate as this much in one go frankly, scares the pants off me! I shall shortly be attempting chocolate chip cookies made with smashed up eggs which can then be divided and conquered by whoever fancies a nibble!

All in all a lovely (if somewhat pagan!) celebration with friends and family!

Linking up with Charly over at Podcastdove.com for What’s the Story?

Word of the week: Outside!


Isn’t it amazing how a little bit of sunshine can turn your life around in 24 hours? Last weekend we had two outings – one to Fisher’s Farm Park and one to Hampton Court (post to follow!) and on Monday we were very kindly invited over to a friend’s house to take part in a little impromptu Easter Egg Hunt in their garden, which will be the first of three for the munchkins! (God help us when the chocolate *really* kicks in!!).

My mum also took the pair of them to Alice Holt Forest on Wednesday morning for a picnic and apparently the place was heaving! She was relieved that they had arrived relatively early because cars were literally being turned away by the time they left.

I took an early finish from work the same day and we went into town to buy JJ some new sandals. At the weekend we had taken them both to have their feet measured and buy new shoes at Clarks for the first time in ages (bad Mummy!). JJ had been wearing shoes a size too small for goodness knows how long and EJ had been running around in an old pair of JJ’s which were practically falling apart. EJ got some very lovely Doodles and cute sandal/shoes:

whilst JJ insisted he must have this pair with a plane on the side and flashing lights when you stamp. They look a bit like bowling shoes but he’s not bothered!

flashing aeroplane shoesUnfortunately they didn’t have any in his size so they had to order them in. We will pick them up this weekend and then the outside world is his oyster again!!

Late afternoons have been spent playing in our back garden instead of cooped up inside together.

Today we are heading off to Clandon Park (a National Trust property) with friends for the NT Easter Egg trail. We’ve been to one of these before when The Girl was about four and there are lots of kids activities laid on as well as the trail so we are looking forward to that a lot.

There is definitely that strange feeling that everything has changed almost overnight, from cold, wet, cloudy days spent touring the soft plays of North East Hampshire to a blue-skied holiday vibe – we are finally coming out of hibernation!


The Reading Residence

The Prompt: Spring is the time of plans and projects

Spring daffodils at WisleyI have a little personal guide to the seasons which allocates three months to each season (although winter sometimes seems more like 6). For this reason Spring theoretically starts in March (see: blossom, daffodils and a bit more daylight) but actually, for me April is the month that epitomises the season of renewal. April is the start of both my Leave and Financial years at work, I began my current job at the beginning of April 2007 and returned from maternity last year at the same time of year.

I always look forward to April and I feel that this is the time of year when you see the most change for the better in the outdoor environment.

This year my world is changing a little bit again come April as I’m dropping a day of work from my week and am really looking forward to having a bit of time to myself. I have so many plans and projects – everything from bike rides to crochet to organising and de-cluttering the house. I have baking projects (I’ve always wanted to try baking some different breads) as well as wanting to figure out what to do with my blog to make it prettier, better organised, more personalised and better connected.

I’d like to try my hand at some crafts – I’ve got a thing about buttons and after many hours surfing the Pinterest boards I am very motivated to come up with some button-inspired art.

We also have an April date in the diary for our long awaited bathroom makeover! I’m really excited about this because there are so many things wrong with this room currently – everything from a horribly lime-scaled up toilet to a rubbish old wall cabinet which the doors have fallen off, to a completely unused stand-alone shower (it can’t be used as it leaks damp into the room below). I currently have to wash my hair in the bath using a plastic jug to rinse. Watch this space for the bathroom makeover before and after post, come early May!

This is definitely a time of year for holiday plans too although we haven’t quite got that far yet and I made a promise to myself that I would arrange birthday parties for the children (July and September) well in advance this year so that’s another job on the to do list for April. I’ve also been inspired by other bloggers and friends to consider taking out memberships in various attractions be it the Royal Horticultural Society, National Trust or various standalone attractions. Its been hard to reconcile the cost of this kind of thing against the fact that a baby or toddler under the age of two is not going to appreciate much of what, for example, a stately home can offer.

Some plans and projects have been on the back burner for a long time. I think that’s what happens when you have a baby. However this year EJ turns two in July and I believe that this will make a difference – at least I hope it will because there is ever such a lot on my Spring agenda!!

This post is linking to The Prompt from Sara at Mum turned Mom who’s prompt this week was: Spring is the time of plans and projects. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.



Favourite pressies Christmas 2013!

Some presents get played with straight away, some come into their own later on so a week into January is probably the right time to take stock of the situation.

Firstly, the below photo of my Dad shows him sporting three Bee headbands from the ELC Crazy Bee Game that the boys got as part of their pressie from my parents. Each person has to wear one headband with a dangling magnetic bee hovering over a tray of magnetic balls and then its a bit of a free for all to see who can gather the most treasure! This, as you can probably imagine,  led to a certain amount of hilarity only rivalled by numerous hands of “Smelly Baby Nappy” (essentially the Horrid Henry version of Old Maid)…

Bee headbands

Next, there was a quick walk with JJ and hubster down to the Thames riverside to see the extent of the flooding which gave JJ the perfect opportunity to try out his adorable new dinosaur umbrella! (Ironically it wasn’t raining).


Here’s a shot of the two of us surveying the scene:


Here’s one of JJ’s not so successful pressies – a Matt Smith (Dr Who) apron. I guess he’s not destined to be a future “Who-vian” like his cousin… (the ride on is EJ’s!)

Matt Smith apron

This last one was taken just this morning with both boys absolutely loving EJ’s new V-Tech Toot Toot Garage – bit of a cacophany but worth it to see them playing happily (mostly!) together.

V-Tech Garage

And just for the hell of it, here’s a last little Christmassy montage:

Never accept a negative label…

plodding donkey

OK so I recently read this post by Mummy Tries and I wanted to comment but, you know, do you ever read a blog post and feel that your comment would be inappropriate without a prolonged explanation? Well that’s how I felt. So instead I thought I’d just mention it here.

(Just as a precursor to these thoughts I should mention the fact that I come at this perspective from the point of view of a deep thinker who loves words and language and loves to analyze and deconstruct meaning. I studied literature at degree level and that included literary theory which encompasses the writer perspective and the reader perspective for pinpointing meaning so I am well aware that this is only my take on what was written).

The post argues that most people fall into one of two categories which are called ‘doers’ or ‘plodders’. There is a very balanced argument which says positive things about both categories (and, in fact, this is primarily a post about being inspired by others), but I can’t help but be a bit dismayed by the terminology. ‘Doer’ to me, has very positive connotations, yet ‘Plodder’ has quite negative ones. ‘Doer’ says: ‘get up and go; ‘energy’; ‘creativity’; ‘can do attitude’. ‘Plodder’ says: ‘drab’; ‘lumbering’; ‘uninspired’. Even Wikipedia points out that “Plod or P.C.Plod is a British slang term used to refer to a police officer, particularly one slow-witted or dull”.

I think the heart of my dismay lies in the feeling that, certainly lately, I would probably fall into the ‘Plodder’ category as I feel that I am generally reading or observing the creative and inspired projects of others yet not finding the time or energy to jump into the fray and come alive with projects of my own. At the same time I feel it’s a bit unfair that someone may now label me a ‘plodder’. I was trained in journalism (a long time ago!) so I know how useful labels can be in rounding out a written article and summarising contained ideas (and I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say I never do it myself). Look at parenting – nowadays we have ‘Helicopter Parents’, ‘Snowplough Parents’, ‘Attachment Parenting’, etc, etc. But really, as a human being it would be nigh on impossible to fall within such a rigid and defined category on an ongoing basis without ever doing something completely contrary (even to a deeply felt and consciously crafted way of life).

I was out Christmas shopping today (which I loved!) and a quick glance around Lakeland got me quite excited about what I could be doing for Christmas next year. Home-crafted gifts are a fab idea and definitely include a big dollop of love which bought presents don’t have. I love the idea of pressies in jars (and have a good friend who sells Christmas cookie mix in a jar and mulling syrup in a lovely glass bottle – both of which I will be sampling!). Its also a great way to keep it natural and (maybe even slightly) reduce your carbon footprint… I just discovered this page which shows some absolutely adorable ways to use Kilner jars. (I’m particularly loving the idea of brandied cherries or cocktail syrup which can be used as the base to create Mojitos, Margaritas and Mint Juleps as well as home-made sweeties, snow globes and pot pourri).

I’ll also be Elf on the Shelfing next year (EJ will be going on 2 and a half), and it is my intention to learn how to create some home-made bunting and cushion covers as well as some little crochet projects like flowers, handbag charms or something like this adorable fox stash basket:

crochet fox

I have no idea whether I’ll be any good at any of these things but I think I would enjoy doing them.

I may feel like I have very little energy or time right now, but I know that organisation and planning ahead are key to being productive and timely (especially with regards gifts) and that is my goal for 2014.

Sometimes you can be a dreamer and a planner and a thinker and even a writer, but anyone who is content to be classified as a plodder must be someone with very limited horizons (in my honest and humble opinion!).