June Journals #6 ~ Face Paint & Finding the House

Yesterday was the last day of the school holidays. The kids wanted to do something fun: a soft play centre or a swim. I wanted to find my house.

Thankfully the sun shone gloriously. Great for two reasons. One, the children played in the garden most of the day and, two, I seem to have killed my tumble dryer. OMG.

As a picture tells a thousand words, here is a short story about the state of my house after a week of half term. (Who I am kidding, it looks like this all the time!)

And that’s just the kitchen, playroom, and ‘homework desk’. The rest of the house was too bad to share! By bedtime I’d found enough floor to vacuum the lounge and bedroom, and stacked the dishwasher, but the rest of it still pretty much looks like this.

The children decided to occupy themselves with face painting. I suggested they paint dolls rather than themselves, as it’s back to school today and face paint doesn’t come off so well. So they did. To begin with. The baby doll ended up completely black and is currently lying face down in the paddling pool. I hope no one calls social services.

Of course, painting dolls is boring. I should have guessed they’d do their faces. And generally that’s okay. I ended up with two rather cute puppies.

But boys, yes? They always have to go a little too far. My son came in black. Coal black. ‘I’ve been back in time and worked as a chimney boy for a day’ black. And when we laughed (mine was hysteria) he got upset and cried. And leaned against the wall and cried. And ran up the stairs and cried. There are black hand prints everywhere. I managed to get him to stop crying long enough to take a picture.


It then took an hour in the shower and bath to return him to something resembling his usual skin colour. I am going to have to tell his teacher that the black marks around his throat aren’t bruises. Half term has been tough, but not that tough! Still, it kept them amused and, on the plus side, they had a bath without complaining. A win’s a win.

It’s been a great holiday but I can’t say I’m sad that they’re back to school today. 33 more days of school until the summer holidays, my daughter tells me sadly (she’ll miss her teacher). My son is ticking off the days on a calendar, because he doesn’t want to go back to school.

And me? I’m trying not to think about it at all.


Home-painted tiger

Home-painted tiger

My son starts school this year. Except he hasn’t. Yet.

The school we selected for our children is awesome, but they do have this terribly long settling-in period for Reception children.

Even though my daughter went back last Thursday, my son won’t have his first session until tomorrow afternoon. Random sessions for the rest of this week, 9-12pm next week, 9-1pm the week after.

Only on 28th September will he start full time (which is only 9-3.10!)

I know he’s nearly five, and one of the eldest children, but seriously – his class mates are all friends from nursery, even the only-just-four ones. They’ve been used to childcare days – 10 hour days for some of them (including mine when they were little!) and often five days a week.

I understand that school is different, and my daughter was exhausted for most of Reception year. Also the year group share a smallish space and there are sixty kids starting. Introducing them all slowly allows the staff to get to know them better.

Face painting at Burghley

Face painting at Burghley

But it’s hard on the children who are more than ready. The ones whose siblings already go to school. My son starts every day with, ‘Am I going to school today?’ and then a sad little face when the answer is no.

As it turns out, he’s come down with a cold this morning, and so another day and a half at home watching TV is probably not a bad thing.

I got the face paints out this morning, because his sister had her face painted at Burghley Horse Trials yesterday, and he wanted his done. But almost as soon as I’d painted a tiger, he’d sneezed most of it off. (Is it bad that he’ll be starting school with black pirate eyebrows?! You can tell he’s second child.)

So, in the meantime, we wait. I wait until I can get the house straight again. The dog waits for a decent walk. My books wait for some love and attention. And my son waits to start school.



At least I’m getting a bit of work done while the poorly man watches TV. (And as he’s poorly I don’t need to feel so guilty about his amount of screen time!)

I decided to get paper copies of all my children’s books, so I can hand them out to friends for feedback. I formatted most of them during the holidays, while the kids were in childcare. The Seren Kitty series and Moon Pony arrived in the post last week – don’t they look cool!

All I have to do is finish the Will on The Water formatting and order a copy of that. It’s my favourite cover, so I can’t wait to see it in print.

Of course, printing them out is dangerous – it feels like ‘job done’ when it’s far from done. I can’t self-publish these books – I’d need an illustrator, and I can’t afford one of those. So I need to find an agent. I should be contacting agents, not playing publisher with front covers.

But it helps fill the waiting and make it all feel more real..! Until they’re really in print, I’ll just keep waiting…


Flexible Minds: 2013 365 Challenge #322

Morris Dancers

Morris Dancers

It seems everything has an up side, when you look at it. Hubbie and I are pretty rubbish at making plans at the weekend. The children don’t do any classes and we don’t have set routine things like cleaning or shopping because I do all that during the week. About the only thing we try and do is go swimming on a Sunday morning at the local pool.

The children had swimming lessons at a gorgeous private pool for a while, until it became far too expensive, and we kept up the routine all last winter. In the summer, of course, we swim in my mum’s little pool. But last week it was time to restart the weekend swim.

So, eventually, after I had written my post, and the children were fed and dressed, we made it to the pool. Only to find out it was closed until the afternoon to non-swimmers, because the pool was broken. (They have a snazzy moveable floor and they lift the ends to under a metre for the little kids. Only one end was stuck above the water level.)

Reindeer and elves

Reindeer and elves

We managed to just about redeem last weekend by a trip to the nearby indoor play centre, and we actually had a lovely morning. This week we made sure we had learnt our lesson. After we were up and dressed and ready to leave, we phoned the pool to see if it was open. It wasn’t. Unfortunately we made the mistake of letting the children hear the conversation and “Want to go swimming, now!” ensued.

We looked into going to a different pool but, like me, hubbie isn’t great at unexpected new. So we dithered. The children whined. They’d already had a whole day of broken plans on Saturday, after the abandoned trip to the zoo, and had coped with that brilliantly.

It turned out hubbie was a bit lost about the whole thing, too. I guess we all get something stuck in our heads. So, by mid morning, a plan was required. Grandad wasn’t answering his phone, the weather was too dismal for a walk.

A yellow elephant?

A yellow elephant?

Thankfully I remembered seeing a flyer on the kitchen table about Christmas events at our local garden centre! Hurrah, it was the day. We’d already missed the parade and the arrival of Father Christmas, but I was okay with that, as it’s a bit early for them to visit the grotto. But I knew there would be other activities, so off we went.

It was great. We met the horses that pulled Father Christmas’s carriage. There were morris dancers and most of the staff were dressed as elves. We had to hunt for balloons and flags, which had been given out during the parade (a nice old man found a couple under some shelves!), but even that was fun.

We didn’t bother with the Punch and Judy or the biscuit decoration because it was heaving. But we went to see the reindeer and we started to queue for face painting. There were six children ahead of us in the queue after twenty minutes (it was free!), when another genius idea popped into my head (I’ll do anything not to queue).

Spooky man with glass ball

Spooky man with glass ball

“Why don’t we buy a cake and go to Grandma’s and I’ll paint your faces when we get home?” I said brightly, muttering quietly, “As long as you don’t look in a mirror,” much to the amusement of a waiting mother. “Can I have a blue cat?” Littlest Martin said. “Of course,” I nodded, praying the cheap face paints I bought and never opened had blue.

So, that was the plan. We were lucky enough to find the balloon man with few children waiting, so we had some balloon models made on the way out. The children asked for Father Christmas and an elephant and got Father Christmas’s teddy and a yellow thing that looked more like a giraffe. They didn’t care.

We watched the spooky many with the glass ball and we went to the supermarket for cake. When we got home I painted a blue cat on my son’s face (my first attempt at face painting and it wasn’t so bad, considering my set doesn’t have black!) and my daughter did her own.

DIY Face Painting

DIY Face Painting

And, do yo know what? There were virtually no trantrums all day. A whole weekend of mixed up plans and last minute changes and they took it all in their stride. They’re three and four years old. They put me to shame! (I’ve been known to have a tantrum or two if things don’t go to plan.)

So even the bits of parenting you think you’re rubbish at – being consistent, making plans without letting the children know in case they change, changing your mind at the last minute, refusing to queue – even those things can turn out to have value.

Everything happens for a reason. 😉


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire’s ears thrummed with rage, as she drove blindly along the country lanes to the hostel. How dare he? How dare Robert interrupt like that? Wasn’t it enough that she was saving his arse, looking after his brats while he went of canoodling with his new lady friend?

She wrenched at the wheel, to avoid a pigeon sitting in the road, and nearly put the car in the hedge. Adrenalin coursed through her body, making her hands tremble. She loosened the vice-like grip of one hand and slammed it against the horn, even though the bird was now twenty yards behind her.

By the time she reached the hostel her anger was piled high like the stacks of clouds lining the endless horizon, obscuring the blue sky and promising a howling storm. Claire pulled into the right driveway, glad she’d already visited the hostel once to check in, and abandoned the car.

Striding into the hostel she wondered what exactly she was going to say to Robert. She hadn’t yelled at him since she was twelve; she certainly hadn’t had such an overpowering urge to gouge his eyes out since they were children.

The hostel seemed deserted as she stalked through the rooms, and her anger began to seep away. She reached the red lounge and stopped short at the sight of two boys wrestling on the sofa.

Great. I had to bump into the kids before finding Robert. I don’t even know which one is which.

Forcing a smile on a face that ached with tension, Claire slowed down to a walk, hoping these were indeed her nephews.

“Hi boys, great to see you. Where’s your father.”

“Bonjour, tante Claire, comment vas-tu?” the youngest boy beamed at her. Claire reeled as if she’d been shot.

Oh crap. Robert didn’t mention that the brats don’t speak English. What the…? I haven’t done French since school.

“Bonjour, ça vas bien, merci.” She smiled brightly, hoping no further communication would be necessary. Pummelling her brain for the word for father, she stuttered, “Où est ton père?”

One of the boys pointed out the door and rattled off a sentence that Claire didn’t understand. She tried not to look blank, but the amusement on the boy’s face suggested she’d failed. He mimed talking on a phone and Claire nodded. With a half wave she turned and hurried out.

Robert I am going to kill you.

She found him sitting in the courtyard, looking relaxed in an open shirt and sunglasses propped on his head, despite the clouds gathering above them. As she stood watching, he spoke into the phone in rapid French. Something about his demeanour brought to mind sweet nothings, although he spoke too fast for her to understand a word. When it didn’t seem likely that he would end the call anytime soon, she cleared her throat.

Robert looked up without a trace of embarrassment. He gave a cool nod and raised one hand as if signalling to a secretary to give him a minute. Claire felt the blood rise again, and looked around for something to hit him with. Robert’s eyes widened slightly and he said a rapid farewell before hanging up the phone.

“You’re here finally, then.”

Claire ground her teeth. “You’ve got some nerve. You called me away from a business meeting, you failed to mention your boys only speak French and now you have the audacity to act like I’m some tardy underling. You can take your brats back to Geneva with you, and you can rot.”

She took some satisfaction from the look of consternation on his face. With a vicious grin and a toss of her hair, she spun round and went in search of a cup of tea.


Cat, Tiger and Craft Book: 2013 365 Challenge #34

Amber's photo book and the one I made so Aaron wouldn't feel left out

Amber’s photo book and the one I made for Aaron

Family day today.

Had to write post #33 this morning as I was too tired and poorly last night, which nearly made us late for a birthday party (that and husband couldn’t get out of bed!). I’ve got behind on the daily blogging and am having to write too many of the posts with the kids awake. Must use the next nursery day I get to catch up as it’s impossible to write these posts with the kids yelling at me. (Plus the guilt is all-consuming!)

Parties are always touchy things – they can be overwhelming events and this one was no different. It was at an indoor play area (the kind with ball pits, crawling tunnels and slides).It’s the sort with two levels and Amber got upset if she couldn’t see a parent easily.

Thankfully husband and son came too so we took it in turns to go crawling around after the kids. Okay so I mostly chatted with the Mummies while Daddy did the crawling but that was only fair as I took them to an indoor play centre yesterday and spent three hours like a hamster in a cage.There was also a face painter which is such a great idea. My kids love having their faces painted.

Amber's Photo Journal Glitter-fest

Amber’s Photo Journal Glitter-fest

This afternoon we did one of Amber’s birthday gifts – a “make my own book” craft kit. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I’m a perfectionist so it’s tough watching her cover everything in glitter and stickers.

I spent the time printing out photographs and putting double-sided sticky tape on the back of them while trying to ignore the glitter-fest. I do get told off for taking over and sticking things straight but there’s always a fine-line between letting the kids do everything themselves and helping them create something they’re proud of and will continue to be proud of.

Amber as a cat

Amber as a cat

This evening was all about Rattle. Rattle is Amber’s comforter – a tatty, much loved teddy that someone gave me after they won it in a tombola and saw me with my baby bump. We used to have two (I tracked down a spare on ebay in the US when I realised how important it was becoming) but Rattle2 “went on an adventure” a year or so ago. We tracked another one down in the US recently and had it shipped to my sister. Unfortunately “new Rattle” has been rejected for, well, being too new.

Aaron as a tiger

Aaron as a tiger

Four years of love has made the original Rattle grubby, lumpy and chewed.

Anyway at bedtime this evening we realised Rattle had been left at the indoor play area. They were still open so we rang in a panic and they couldn’t find him. A very sad girl sat hugging New Rattle and sobbing. Thankfully I thought to text the party girl’s mummy and she had picked it up. Better still her wonderful husband drove the dozen miles over to our house to drop him off. Hurrah, child can sleep.

Right, time to think up a new adventure for Claire. I wonder what will happen today. I honestly have no idea until the point at which I open the Word document and start typing.


“Bagsy I get the bottom bunk; I rather fancy you on top.” Josh’s laughter rang round the small room as Claire glared at him and wrapped her arms around her midriff.

“It’s bad enough that you talked me into sharing a room with you. I can do without the suggestive comments. Don’t push me or I’ll go to reception and move to a dorm. Then you can pay for this whole room by yourself.”

“Surely you’d rather share with just me than a room full of chicks you’ve never met? They might snore.”

“You might snore for all I know. Besides I’ve learned my lesson on that one, I have ear plugs. And don’t think about trying anything either. I’m not interested in a travelling romance. If I hear you climbing that ladder in the night I’ll stick a pin in you.”

“Don’t get your pants twisted Claire I’m a perfect gent. I don’t pursue where I’m not welcome.” He said the words with a glint and Claire was conscious of a warm flush rising up her neck. Ignoring the betrayal of her body Claire dug through her rucksack to retrieve her night-dress and wash bag.

“Nice nighty.”

Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re outrageous. Right, what now?”

“Now we explore.”

It didn’t take long to discover that the hostel had no hidden delights, apart from a little corridor conservatory along from the lounge which was probably lovely in the summer. The whole place felt in need of a refresh, particularly after some of the places Claire had stayed in already. It was like visiting her Gran’s house, before she died. At least it doesn’t smell of boiled cabbage.

“What do people do when they’re hostelling?” Claire sat on the edge of her chair and looked with puzzlement at Josh’s sprawled form.

“Whatever they want. Read, listen to music, chat, meet new people. If you’re lucky someone will start jamming.”


“You know, playing the guitar, singing.”

“Oh god, really? How awful.”

It was Josh’s turn to look perplexed. “What did you do to relax when you were at home Claire?”

Claire gave the question some thought. “I didn’t. I was either at work or out.”

“Where did you go out then? You must have had some fun.”

“Oh yes.” She thought about nights drinking with her friends. And then she remembered Susannah’s comments at her leaving party and wondered if they were really friends or just colleagues who bitched about her behind her back. Images of Sunday morning brunches with Michael, and walking in the park to let the wind blow away their hangovers, besieged her brain. They were unwelcome memories and she shoved them away.

“That’s different, though,” Claire continued. “That’s at home with friends and access to a decent wardrobe. What do you do with a sack full of unwashed clothes and no one to party with?”

“You don’t need clothes to party.”

Claire sniggered, drawing a ready grin from Josh. “I didn’t mean it like that but, yes, that’s one way to party. What I meant was you don’t need to dress up to have fun.”

Claire raised an eyebrow at Josh’s stained clothes, muddy trainers and unkempt hair. He wouldn’t even be allowed in to Tiger Tiger.

If Josh was aware of Claire’s critical scrutiny he didn’t show it. Instead he swung his legs down from the arm of the chair and sat forward, making eye contact. “I asked at reception when we checked in, apparently there’s a pub next door that does a bonzer steak pie. Come with me, we’ll have some nosh and I’ll show you how to be social when you’re on the road.”

Claire looked down at her travel-creased clothing and pulled at her greasy hair. “I could really use a shower and a change of clothes.”

“No, you come as you are. Most of the people in there will have been hiking Hadrian’s Wall all day. There won’t be any glamour, you’ll fit right in.”

Unsure how to take his last comment, Claire grabbed her purse and followed Josh out the door.

If nothing else it will be content for the blog. We’re only going to eat a meal and chat with some people, I used to do that all the time at work. How different can it be?