Goodbye 2013

Congratulations on making it to day 365 of 2013!

What’s in store for you this year?

It seems at this time of year we have an urge to talk about fresh, new things and inevitably, after recent fattening up on booze and Quality Street, we are all thinking about getting smaller again.

I’m already ahead on the fitness goals having started in September at the gym so feeling smug about that, if a little horrified at how much it’s going to hurt on the 7th January after a fortnight off.

I’ve got a way to go before I achieve body beautiful but this year I may have to adjust my aim after reading recently about setting realistic goals in order to feel a full sense of achievement.

So, when I dream of having teeny, tiny lean buns (ahem, buttocks) which may look more at home atop of a pair of young male legs, I am not likely ever going to achieve any feeling of satisfaction. I am simply not, realistically, going to be able to get them.

The best body outcome would be for me to not feel completely panicked about baring all on the beach on the Barcelona trip booked this year. Now that would be an achievement.

Apart from the big house move looming in January we are hoping for a year of fulfilment. A change in career perhaps… a gearing down of lists of tasks…less guilt about things we aren’t attaining.

I want satisfaction in the good, wholesome things; learning to make great soups and stews and to fill the freezer with them, installing a wood burner and enjoying the first fires installed in the lounge at our new house, the boy getting to grips with reading and enjoying stories all to himself, actually catching up with the great pals who don’t live around the corner and whom we don’t see/contact regularly enough.

I wish you whatever you wish for during the next the orbital period of the earth moving around the sun. A happy and healthy 2014 to all!


Hebden Stars

The start of December brought with it an early sensation of the overstuffing of Christmas. Way before the huge food fest of the 25th I was feeling the excess of the festive period.

I listened to a Radio 4 programme about buying what we need rather than what we want and I was enthusiastically nodding my head to it in the car. It really rang true.

A couple weeks down the line, however, with huge tree installed in the lounge and a gaudy gold stag head up in the hall those feelings seem to have been digested. And, while I don’t want to be materialistic, I have to admit I love buying things for people that I know they will like and I love unwrapping presents myself. So it is going to be a lot about what we need and also a bit of what we desire because Christmas is a time for some excess.

This is the start of the final Christmas in our home. The house we have worked relentlessly on for the past five years is almost complete – ready to pass on to the buyers who are (hopefully!) moving in mid-January.

So this year Christmas doesn’t feel as much like the buying frenzy craziness which leads to the wind down of the holidays. It doesn’t seem so much the end point as a time to think about new beginnings – a little earlier than we might feel it in the New Year.

Christmas 2013 means consciously buying less so we don’t add to the mountain of moving boxes. We will be buying for our future family place (er, not certain where that will be up to date) and we will be buying locally as much as we can.

Here is our top ten present lust list from the Hebden high street for the whole family with emphasis on smaller things, goodies to eat and items for our next step.

1) Great Rock Co-op. This amazing little shop held at a farm at Blackshaw Head is open on Saturdays from 10-2pm. It is staffed by volunteers and has shelves of goodies which are prepared/baked/crafted locally. It’s a gem and the last chance to visit before Christmas is 21st December. Staups Lee Farm, Higher Eastwood, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, OL14 8RR.

2) Snug. We are looking for something beautiful and ornamental in here.

One of the many lovely things from Snug

One of the many lovely things from Snug

I’d like to say we’ll be going for a fine piece of pottery but with a toddler and a boy charging around the house we would be better going something well attached to the wall. There’s a lovely choice in here.

3) Molly and Ginger. The big Market Street window of this shop often draws me in and this dress is really lovely. It’s a gorgeous purple above the knee number, with a lace bodice. (It’s a tulip shaped skirt which also gives a bit of room for the post-dinner stomach stretch).

Delightful Christmas day dress

Delightful Christmas day dress

4) The stalwart of the high street, The Bookcase, has been open for 30 years has enjoyed a recent update. I did a bit of last minute the first year I was in the town and bought a Moleskine diary for my other half from this place. It’s now become a tradition. I also got a great Moomin book for the children too.

5) Valley Organics will be the place I’ll head to for veggies to roast for Christmas dinner and will stock up for dairy-free chocolates for our little allergy-ridden one.

6) Made in the Valley Pop Up Shop. Valley-crafted loveliness! Got my eye on new crockery for the new house and lots of things for under a tenner so a great place to head for teacher gifts which might be better received than the smellies and chocs they usually get 25 of. Open every day but Mondays until Christmas. made in the valley

7) Dynamite. Fairtraded and organic and sustainable clothes that don’t necessarily look it. I’m on for a cosy Seasalt grey cable-knit cardi. Will also be picking up some great stocking fillers here.

Cableknit cosiness

Cableknit cosiness

8) Greens Vegetarian Café on Albert Street. I’ll be drawing out a voucher for us to visit on an evening for our first date night of the new year.

9) Radiance. Beautiful things to light up the place so that when the fairy lights come down post-Christmas with a little something from here your lounge won’t look so shockingly bare.

10) The Old Treehouse. I was in labour in a Burnley hospital over five years ago and thinking about buying in Hebden. The midwife, who was from Halifax, told me about this beautiful shop. She said visiting Father Christmas here was the most magical one she could have imagined. Unfortunately he doesn’t have time to get to the shop anymore (he’s got to spread himself thinly throughout the world remember) but the toys in here are fabulous though so we will be popping in without the children this week to buy some last minute gifts.
It may not be practical to dump Amazon but if you still have some presents to buy for your loved ones then get down to our lovely high street stuffed with independent shops.

The business owners will thank you for it and the town will continue to be great because of it. If you are working during the day then try the late night opening on Thursday.

Merry Christmas, wishing you peace and good times x

Holiday House Swap

It can take us a while to catch on.

For years we had listened to the conversations of friends buying homes near to decent schools. I say listened, actually it was more of a nod in the right place while thinking of weightier issues such as where to go on a Saturday night and which new outfit from Topshop might be best to buy for said night out.

This was before the children made their appearance. And even then when we realised school days would be coming their way we did not fully think through the house-near-the-best-school-for-our-child-thing.

It dawned on us around Christmas last year – approximately half way through Finn’s reception year. As soon as we understand we leap into action and get stuff sorted, y’know, just about a year late.

It’s the same with family holidays. Buoyed up by the prospect of maternity leave plus parental leave rights for Ken last year we managed to have an extended holiday. We drove through Europe on a nine week break. It was a wonderful opportunity and I am glad we deferred some of the house renovations to pay for it. We imagined this might be the future of family holidays for us.

Early in 2013 we started to discuss our next summer break. Where would we go, how long for, whether we should fly and so on. Checking out flights we were horrified. What? Wow, prices really do go up during school holidays. …by HOW MUCH? For some reason we had thought this topic was made of exaggerated moaning and that somehow we might be exempt from the price hikes.

With this in mind we began to explore the idea of a house swap. If you have never been on a house swap website please prepare yourself. It has all the joy of the Rightmove house-porn viewing. Plus you don’t have to deal with estate agents or solicitors in order to live in the houses featured.  (Ok, it is for a limited stay but still it is entirely viable that you could be staying in Barcelona, or in Australia or anywhere there is a person willing to come to stay in your part of the world. And there may be more than you think.)

As Lonely Planet voted Yorkshire as one of the top three places in the world to visit (especially I with the Hebden Valley’s proximity to Tour de Yorkshire) this could be a timely opportunity to get your house listed.

After scouring of websites we eventually decided to keep it as low cost as possible and have a ‘staycation’ (oh how that word jars but it’s the right description…). There are many parts of the UK I have not yet visited so I was open to the destination.

And then an old friend got in touch. She is living in Suffolk after years in London and now has a family. An age ago we had discussed a swap of houses and she was wondering if we were still interested.  We agreed a date and where to leave keys and that was it. And it didn’t feel like such a risk as we knew each other.

We arrived at her place in late August.

Suffolk is beautiful. Being in this steep sided valley means that when we set off on long walks one of us inevitably is in tears by the time we get home (by that I mean usually me; pushing the double buggy uphill homewards with the scooter and the bags hanging off the bars and two children refusing to walk). In Suffolk we walked for hours along the flat miles.

My friend’s house is lovely and our children were ecstatic to find a place full of someone else’s toys they were free to play with. 

Perfect lazy seaside times

Perfect lazy seaside times

We spent blissful days on the beach at Aldeburgh and Southwold and enjoyed the warmer weather. During the holiday I did think if southerners are purported to be softer then it’s no wonder – I would be softer too in that climate. It was positively balmy in comparison to what we had driven from a few hours north.

One of the best things we happened upon was a Victorian-era pier in Southwold. It was a seaside treat of eccentricity built by engineer and cartoonist Tim Hunkin. If you are in the area you should definitely visit.

Hopefully we will be able to repeat the Suffolk experience again next summer and it’s made us braver when we started to look for an apartment to stay in Barcelona in April next year (we might even pay the sign-up fee on a house swap website to secure a place).

Hands up who likes the beach!

Hands up who likes the beach!

Even though we are not particularly pleased about the prices of breaks during school holidays, this way we can continue to be blissfully ignorant about it. The Suffolk break was incredibly cheap – we struggled to spend money. A posh shopping trip to Waitrose with its food aisles of pre-prepared gorgeousness was perfect for holiday eating (no being tied to the kitchen for me), a couple of tanks of petrol and splashing out of gorgeous ice creams and we were more than satisfied.


Have a look and plan where you might go for your next trip:


Just a Minute

I’ve got a standard showering time down to three minutes. Still, apparently, it’s not short enough. The whole family gravitate to the en-suite whenever I turn on the taps. By minute two someone (usually Ken) is laid out at the bottom of the shower door screaming my name.

I am often heard saying , “Can I just have a minute to myself, pleeeeease.”

Nobody listens.

A couple of weeks ago these single minutes I plead for were all counted up into one big stretch of time and I headed off to London with a pal. It was marvellous. We got off the train at Euston, headed up to the champagne bar at St Pancras, swooned over the beauty of product in Liberty, shopped in flagship stores, watched the Rolling Stones in the heat of Hyde Park, stayed in Covent Garden and visited the Bowie exhibition at the V&A.

Now this blogpost isn’t to sell the concept of London to you. We all know it’s there and it’s an amazing city. It’s taken six years to return since my last visit but booking a train and heading south is easy enough to organise.

My big concern on the run up to the weekend was what to wear. Superficial, I know. I am happy with work attire; it sits there in the wardrobe waiting to be grabbed in the morning pre-office preparations.

The school run sees me in standard fare of simple tops and skirts. Admittedly many days I wear stripey tops -much to the horror of fashionistas who bemoan the demise of the Breton now that slummy mummys have claimed the item. (Guess what… I used to rock a Breton long before I had children…it just happens to be that I still wear them in my post-birth life.)

Out for nights grab something black, right?

But, London? Where there is more polish and swish per capita than the rest of the country. I needed an outfit that was to work from the two hour train ride at 7am, visit said champagne bar, enjoy the outdoor gig and do lots of walking in between…

And I think I managed it in the end. The simple formula (I imagine has been much discussed in ‘capsule wardrobe’ articles I have skimmed over for years) was this…cool linen dress (a little bit vintage – Tara Starlet 40s daytime frock –the ‘home front dancing dress’ is the current nearest), a pair of Clarks Originals flat sandals, a cross body bag and a backpack.

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

The sandals are imaginatively called ‘Kestral Soar’. In 1985 my Granny Alice bought me a pair from a shop in Leigh and made me wear them. On the bus back to her house I cried all the way.

They were definitely called Jesus Sandals back then. Funny how things change. I recently, willingly paid good money for them and, wow, are they comfortable.

Clarks Originals jesus sandals

Clarks Originals jesus sandals

I know that I am no style guru and not in a position to preach to anyone about what to wear, it’s just a bit of simple information. A modest backpack was big enough to fit in all I needed for the weekend. The guaranteed dry weather forecast helped – it made it easy to pack lightly.

So if you find yourself shouting for a minute remember to keep a tally. It might turn out they quickly build into hours and then even a couple of days. Then it’s a dress, flat sandals, cash and you’re away.

I returned feeling post-London tired and had left my voice in the big smoke but I also felt revitalised. And the best thing about getting back was seeing Ken, Finn and Tilly at the station and feeling ready to give them all of my time again (until my next break-out).

In’t Milk Brill

It’s surprising how you get used to getting your boobs out in public. Maybe because it’s just the one-out-at-a-time approach when you’re breastfeeding – or maybe the efforts of the breastfeeding militants over the past few years doing their best – but I’ve not been self-conscious about feeding Tilly.

Well, apart from that time when my (very traditional) father-in-law came into the lounge when Tilly was a few months old and I was feeding her. He looked my way and gave an alarmed look. He then sat on the sofa looking in the opposite direction carrying on our conversation – interspersing his sentences with “sorry”. I did respond to his turned back but I felt a bit desperate. He’s not to blame; he’s from the generation when it became very much not the done thing to breastfeed.

A panicked drive to A&E when we started to wean Tilly at six months made me happy I worked through the month long pain barrier that was breastfeeding when she was a newborn. She was given oral steroids due to her allergic reaction to dairy. Her mouth became swollen after munching on a piece of pasta that had touched cheese in my bowl. So far, so good on the breastfeeding front.

Things people have said along the way have made me laugh. “It’s just not natural,” had me rolling about (sorry H!). Because she is a big girl some people have said (as my nipple is in her mouth): “Are you still feeding her?” Obviously yes, otherwise I would be doing a weird teething ring option…

I had planned to give it up at 12 months but her allergy has pressed me along until I am confident she is getting all her nutrients from food. The thing is now I want to stop and there’s not a great deal of advice about how to give it up. La Leche breastfeeding league recommend self weaning. Ha! This very morning after feeding on and off all night (teething makes her want more …and she seems to be teething more often than not) I refused to feed her as I needed to get ready for work. She swiped me across the face and growled. I get the feeling she is not ready to self-wean.

But I am ready. It’s been a wonderful thing we have been able to share. It’s provided us with a thing just the two of us can do. By that, I don’t want to make any non-breastfeeders feel bad. You can create the same closeness feeding with a bottle – in my case though, I think I would have taken the opportunity of passing her over to Ken with a bottle while I got on with the house work jobs.

The house has taken a back seat… although I have learned to adeptly manage tasks one handed with a baby hanging off my chest so it hasn’t quite gone to the wall. I have fed in some unusual places. Once, while walking through Barcelona looking for a particular place, I fed her when she was in the sling. And it has been great not to have had to bother with the faff of sterilising bottles and all the equipment that goes with it.

I was hoping a non-dairy milk substitute in a cup would work but she’s not interested. Anyone been here? I’d love a fail-safe plan to work to.

And looking forward to that day when I am finally able to wean her the thing I am most looking forward to is the freedom to go to my wardrobe and choose what to wear based on how I feel (rather than easy-accessibility to my chest). Polo neck jumpsuits here I come!

Life Saver in the Park

park life cross the top

It finally happened. The heat has returned to the valley for the first time this year. The pavements of the town were swarming. You head to your usual cafe, boy in hand and baby in the buggy, and you realise there’s no chance of getting a caffeine fix.

Or at least that was how it was until a year ago. The parents of many a child breathed easier on their day-long stints in Calder Park when Park Life Café opened their doors in March 2012.

You know how it is with kids, you pack a standard day outing covering every eventuality; poo, sick, pee, mud. Changes of clothes for everyone. Snacks for the whole day. Waterproofs for the down pours. Factor blanket for the sunshine.

You get to the park without any serious life-threatening mishaps (even on five hours of sleep) and you think all is well. Except you can’t string a sentence together and are desperate for a cuppa to help you feel normal again. That’s where the café-in-the-Calder-Holmes-Park steps in.

A shining beacon offering huge plates of chips and homemade cakes too – it’s got to be said it is a fabulous place in the sunshine. The old bowling green in front of it is the ideal spot on which children can run around safely in view. And the outdoor seats are the best place in Hebden for a breakfast.

park life cafe

Kim Blackburn and Charlie Carr are qualified youth and community development workers and spotted an opportunity to provide a spot near to the skate park that would encourage young people to use. They have regular dog walkers and other customers who they call “Park People”.

They are part of Friends of the Park committee and have been involved with the Fair for Youth and say they are always keen to work with whatever is going on in the town.

They had a celebration after making it to a year of business recently and are happy to see the warmer weather return. “In Hebden we had seen the coldest summer last year and the wettest March this year (not to mention the floods) so it has not perhaps been the best year for a new business but we feel lucky we have made it through.

“This spring and summer season we have decided to be flexible about opening hours and stay open later in the summer if there are people out and about enjoying the lighter nights.”

charlie carr park life

So if the kids are in tow you’ll be made very welcome (always a relief) and if you are interested in a quiet drink on your own there’s a nice selection of art books and a subscription to National Geographic to enjoy.