Life, Lately | July 2017

Friday 21 July 2017

Well, it seems like this is it. Summer, I mean! Finally here in full force, just when we least expected it.

Of course, this being the UK there has to be the odd day where it plummets back into midwinter after a week of blazing sunshine, so it’s never quite safe to pack away your winter woollies entirely. But generally, it's been really nice.

Have you been making the most of it? I feel like there is a pressure to be doing stuff because it's so uncertain that summer is actually here to stay.  We need to do ALL OF THE THINGS before the sun abandons us!

Family Days Out

So something that was a bit of a personal goal for me this year was to schedule in a few more day trips with Theo. He’s at the age now where he’s really curious and interactive, so it feels like the right time.

 As I work full time, I can sometimes feel like I’m missing out on him a bit. The weekends disappear before you know it, and then you’re caught up in another week. Carving out time to really focus on having fun together has become quite important to me (working mum guilt present and correct…)

Seeing my maternity leave friends is quite rare now, but I did take Theo to meet up with Lisa and her little girl Millie at Drayton Manor Park. I’d never been before and didn’t quite know what to expect, but we had a brilliant time!

I thought most of the park would be for older kids but there was plenty for littlies to do. Theo absolutely loved the toddler-friendly rides at Thomasland, which featured trains, cars and planes aplenty – all things he’s obsessed with. He doesn’t watch the Thomas and Friends TV show, but he still adored all the vehicle-based rides and other attractions like the traditional carousel.

His favourite was a ride where you sit in a little aeroplane which spins around, and you can press a button to ‘take off’ into the air. We also had a really nice lunch at one of the many restaurants there and they were very child-friendly. There was such a lot to see and do that we didn’t get round to a couple of things I think he’d really have liked – the Dinosaur Trail and there’s also a small zoo.

Considering how much is there for kids in his age group, the ticket price was good value and I think we’d definitely visit again, as its only about a 40 minute drive from our home.

I also met up with another friend, Liz and her little guy Rudy. Liz and I used to work together and our boys were only born three days apart, so it was amazing to catch up with her.

We took them to the Big Fish Little Fish baby rave. It is exactly what it sounds like – an event with DJ’s, kids activities, bubbles, lights and all the rest. Each one has a different theme, and this time it was ‘Flower Power’. The music is from credible house DJ’s and there’s always something new to explore, from arts and crafts like headdress making, to bongo drum and hula-hoop workshops and interactive light installations.

Theo absolutely loves to dance at the moment, so he was in his element. There’s a bar there, so parents can grab a drink if they fancy, and plenty of juice and ice-lollies for the kids. It’s just a really nice, fun event for kids who love to play and parents who like to think they’re still cool.

We also took Theo and his cousin Jude to see the Dinosaurs of China exhibition currently on at Wollaton Hall & Deer Park. This was pretty exciting because it’s the first ever opportunity in the UK to see some feathered dinosaur specimens that have never been shown outside of Asia. Many were only discovered in the last 15 years, and they’ve changed the understanding of how dinosaurs evolved completely.

There was a Mamenchisaurus, the tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the UK, and the amazing Gigantoraptor, the largest bird-like feathered dinosaur in the world. I didn’t think I was all that interested in dinosaurs, but I actually found it fascinating. Theo is a little bit young to really understand, but he is into dino stuff so he enjoyed the kids activities.

Wollaton Hall is lovely for a day out anyway, as it has a big deer reserve and a large adventure playground as well. Well worth a visit, especially as the Dinosaurs of China exhibition runs until the end of October.

We took a trip to Twycross Zoo as well, which is somewhere I haven’t visited for years. Like most small children, Theo is captivated by animals and really enjoyed our visit to the Gardaland Aquarium when we were in Italy, so we thought he’d get a lot of enjoyment from it. He adored the monkeys and apes as they’re so entertaining.

Personally, I loved seeing the giraffes – they’re such unusual creatures – and also the leopards, who were really active when we went. The zoo has lots of interactive zones now, where you can walk through the lemur enclosure and have them come right up to you, which made it really special. You can also buy jars of nectar to walk through the lorikeet aviary with and feed them.

 As well as zoo animals, there’s also a petting zoo section with more domestic farm animals and pets. We all loved meeting the alpacas, and Theo even learnt to say ‘alpaca’ which made me smile. A picnic in the sunshine finished the day off to perfection,

A day out doesn’t have to involve a lot of effort and expense though. We had a really nice morning at Rushcliffe Country Park with Theo’s cousins. There are lots of trails with sculpture and mazes and things for the kids to play on, and a big play park.

There is also a steam railway there and Theo loved seeing the stream train go by – I found out that you can go on a train ride with Santa at Christmas time, so that’s definitely on the list!

We had a few days off work, just hanging out as a family, baking banana bread and doing some gardening, and it’s those quiet times that are also lovely. We took Theo to nursery a couple of mornings so that we could just get on with some jobs around the house and life admin that we never seem to get time for -  so we did thrilling stuff like washing all the sofa and cushion covers (I know, I’m ALL glamour) and clearing out our wardrobe space with a few visits to donate to the charity shop. It feels good to cross off a few hovering jobs like that and just feel more sorted out.

We also booked a family holiday to Croatia for the end of August, so that’s something I’m really excited about.

Nights Out/Nights In

Any working parent of young kids will know that the first thing that tends to disappear is your social life. It sounds ridiculous to say that it’s hard to see friends, but often it can get squeezed. Every time that we manage to get our act together and socialise, I enjoy it so much and come away promising to make more of an effort to see people and do stuff rather than lying on the sofa catching up with Love Island.

Last weekend, we had a very rare night out with our friends Katie and Rich (of course I couldn’t resist the chance to do an outfit post, either!). Theo slept over at his Granny’s house, which is the first time that we’ve let him stay away from home overnight and it was so nerve wracking.

We’ve actually only left him in the evening a couple of times total – once for a wedding and once on our anniversary, although we were back before midnight and he didn’t actually know we’d left! I did go to China with work for a week, but although that was tough, at least I knew he was with his dad and at home.

We went over in the afternoon for a barbecue and then left him there, and driving off without him was seriously weird. I know that we need to get used to it though, as it gives us a bit more freedom and broadens his horizons too.

We took the opportunity to try out a few of the newer bars in town. We started off at The Curious Townhouse in the Lace Market area. It’s quite a unique venue styled up with random junkshop finds to look like an eccentric manor house. It’s the first time I’ve visited, although I am more of a regular at its sister venue, The Parlour in West Bridgford. The bar staff are super friendly and attentive, and we felt very welcome.

After that, we moved onto one of my favourite venues, The Hockley Arts Club. An unobtrusive archway in a wall is easily missed, but cross the courtyard strung with fairy lights and you find a venue across multiple levels that manages to be buzzing while still feeling like a well-kept secret. I love their Secret Garden lounge. Tucked away in an attic, overlooking the Nottingham rooftops, its covered in cherry blossom and birds, so you feel like you’re sipping gin cocktails in an oriental arbour. There’s something really magic about it, and it’s the best place for a catch up with friends.

Finally, we rocked up at specialist tequila bar 400 Rabbits. It might have been the warm evening but I literally felt like I’d been picked up and dropped in Mexico. Everything from the casita décor with sugar skulls everywhere to the eclectic music policy (there was a mix of reggae, hair metal and 60’s rock and roll when we visited) made me feel like I was on holiday – and that’s a great feeling! We had a really fun evening, although we were very relieved to pick Theo up the next morning!

We also had friends over for dinner recently. Seb and I both enjoy cooking and part of the reason we’re so focused on getting the house sorted at the moment is so that we can host lots more events. It’s the perfect chilled way to see friends without having to worry about babysitters and taxis!

We made a Moroccan chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives that we slow-cooked and served up with flatbreads we made and a simple salad. Note to self: dinner parties don’t have to be complicated. We made a Tiramisu for pudding that we prepped in advance so it was all surprisingly little effort for a fun evening.

I also had an old-school girls night in with my two oldest friends, Holly and Claire. We don’t often get the chance to see each other as we live at opposite ends of the country, but they are those kind of precious friends where it doesn’t matter how long it goes, we can always pick up the conversation right where we left it. As I get older, I’m realising more than ever how valuable friends like that are.

Instead of a night out, we often like to get in a load of nibbles, stick on some 90s film from our childhoods that we don’t watch as we’re too busy talking, and have an epic catch-up.

Holly is getting married later this year, so there was a lot of excited chatter about that. She’d brought some old photo albums with her, so we had a right giggle going down memory lane. Teens today have access to so much internet-based wisdom we didn’t and they don’t seem to have to go through that awkward phase with crap hair and brown shimmery lipstick that we did! But at least it gives us something to have a laugh about when meet up. A perfect evening in.

In Full Bloom

This is the bit where you know I’m cruising happily towards middle age, because I’m going to mention my garden (not sorry).

I’ve always had the least amount of interest in plants but since we set about transforming the featureless lawn of our home into more of an eclectic wilderness, I’ve been hooked. Gardening is slow, you definitely don’t get instant results, and there’s a whole heap of trial and error, but in a way, that’s the beauty of it in a fast-paced Insta-culture (okay,  now I really am sounding old…) It has been really satisfying watching things we plant flourish though.

We’ve added in flower and herb beds, and a large vegetable patch that’s now bursting with kale, purple-sprouting broccoli, sweetcorn, strawberries, petit pois, rocket, courgettes and more. I can’t wait to make my first home-grown meal!

We back onto the river, which is great for making friends with ducks, but not so good for danger-chasing toddlers, so we’ve also recently added a hand-woven willow ‘living fence’ that we’re training wisteria, jasmine, passionflower and honeysuckle to grow up.

A patch of bare concrete by the garage has been transformed with slate chippings, potted olive trees and a table and chairs so we can sit and drink coffee in the sunshine. Then we’ve also added a patio with an outdoor dining set and a little pizza oven, and built our chickens a large living enclosure, and added a sand play table and a swing for Theo.

It’s all coming together beautifully and I’m in love (so is our cat, Shilling…). There’s been a lot of weeding, mowing, planting and raking to get here but now we’re enjoying it – we even managed to get the paddling pool out in the recent warm weather, which Seb and I promptly commandeered to sit and drink beer (responsible parenting in action…).

Keep On Running

I’m doing really well with my running at the moment, and as I’m definitely not a ‘natural’, I’m so proud of myself for persevering. Living with a Serious Marathon Runner (aka my husband) I’ve always been intrigued by (and envious of) his ability to speed off, bouncing along like a gazelle while thinking zen thoughts.

I’ve dabbled in running before, even completing a 10K race a few years back, but I’ve never gotten to the stage where I actually enjoyed it. Now I finally feel like that’s slowly beginning to happen – its getting a bit less of a mental struggle.

I’ve had to consciously retune my brain though -  from thinking ‘oh god this hurts when can I stop?!!?’ every step to forcing myself to repeat ‘I love running, its so good for me!’ like a demented mantra as I puff along. But now I’m finally getting to a place where it feels a bit less awful and I’m getting lots of benefits – I feel fitter, I have more energy and it gives me a mood boost.

I’ve even signed up for my first event – a gentle and silly 5k ‘colour run’ with bubbles and powder paint clouds. If that doesn’t take the sting out of it, I don’t know what will! I’ll be posting soon on how I got started and what tricks I’ve discovered to get running. It’s so liberating to be able to strap on my trainers and just go.

Little Boy Blue

Our little boy has just hit what I think are incorrectly named as the ‘terrible twos’. Incorrectly, because a) he’s not two for a while yet and b) veteran parents warn me that it doesn’t stop at two. He certainly knows what he wants these days, which is amazing to watch, but usually doesn’t make our job as parents any easier.

He seems to be rapidly shaking off babyhood and is very much a little boy now – I keep doing the clichéd, misty-eyed ‘Where has my baby gone?’ thing at the moment. He’s still obsessed with cars and wildlife – he adores hanging out with the chickens, chasing the cat and spotting horses and pheasants on the way to nursery in the morning.

He’s so good at communicating and seems to understand everything we say to him, and he’s coming out with proper sentences or surprising us with words he knows all the time. He can count to ten and name a handful of colours (although he insists everything is ‘purple’ at the moment. Unsure if he’s just keen on that hue, or colour blind like my Dad…)

He always wakes up hungry and asking for ‘Brioche, pease!’ which is the most adorable thing. The big issue for us at the moment is him going to sleep. He always used to drop off pretty promptly, but now we’re struggling and it’s not unusual for us to spend an hour trying to get him to go to sleep. He insists that one of us sits in his cot with him, which is a horrible habit for us to have gotten into. So usually I can be found with my Kindle perched in the cot of an evening.

This probably needs to stop but both of us are much softer than I thought we’d be, and there’s something peculiarly heartbreaking about him pointing to the space next to him and pleading ‘Mummy IN!’. I think we are going to have to get tougher though,. Of course I’m so proud of him I could quite literally burst.

I’m reading...

I haven’t had all that much time for books lately, and I seem to be reading more magazines than anything else! I have just started on a ‘family biography’ of the Brontes by Brian Wilkes. I’ve studied several of the sister’s books doing my English Lit degree and Wuthering Heights is definitely one of my favourite stories of all time (I even have a first edition, published under the male ‘Bell’ pseudonym which Seb gifted me – and I say he isn’t romantic!).

I knew a little about the family’s circumstances and intertwined lives, but I’m enjoying learning more about the extraordinary group of creative people they were.

I’ve also just completed ‘The Girl with a Clock for a Heart’ by Peter Swanson– a tense, terse thriller about false identities that I’d highly recommend to anyone looking for a pacey page-turner for the beach. It’s not the usual kind of thing I read, but after racing through all of Gillian Flynn’s books and really enjoying them, I was looking for that kind of read again – so if you liked ‘Gone Girl’ and similar, you’d probably love this too.

I’m watching...

We've been pushing belatedly through the latest series of Orange is the New Black. I’ve fallen in and out of love with the programme over various series, and there have been points where I considered giving up, but this last series has been the best yet – powerful, moving, dramatic and intricate. Female-led drama at its very finest.

I’m listening...

Most of my new music discoveries are behind the curve. I only really pick up new stuff via YouTube and I don’t have the time to hunt it out, but sometimes music that speaks to you seems to hunt you down. So it was with BANKS.

I’m all about a sultry female vocal (think Indiana, Delilah, Raye…) so this is very much in that vein, with perhaps a little more venom. Her second album, The Altar, came out last year but its taken me this long to find it. She toured with The Weeknd a couple of years back, which makes me want to rewind time and get to that show! The songs ‘Better’ and ‘Mind Games’ are really stand-out tracks.

And finally…

There are some brilliant freebies with the glossy magazines this month. I mentioned before that I used to have a big magazine buying addiction, which I’ve scrapped in favour of Readly, an app that lets me access thousands of titles on my iPad. But the one downside is you obviously miss out on the free gifts. If they’re good enough, I’ll still go and pick up a copy!

So this month’s Red has a full-size Rodial Glamolash XL mascara (worth £24). It’s a great way to try the brand if you haven’t already – its basically the high-end sister of Nip + Fab, and they’re both great brands. I’ve tried the mascara out and I really like it.

Then, Marie Claire, has a choice of Eyeko’s Sport mascara, brow gel or their Black Magic lash curlers – again, really great freebies worth trekking to the newsagent for.

So that’s my life, lately  - what have you been up to? Link me to any posts in the comments below!

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