Sleep: how to achieve it

Getting to sleep isn’t a problem, it’s staying asleep that I’m finding hard these days. I’ve reached the age where my children no longer wake me during the night, it’s now hot flushes and the dawn chorus. Reaching the menopause has really affected the quality of my sleep and I wake up often in the night, finding it very difficult to get back to sleep. I am not an expert, and I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know but these are the things that have worked for me.

Creating habits and rituals helps to establish routine, and routine make me happy. Once your body has begun to understand your bedtime routine it will automatically begin to wind down. I know that for me personally I need some calm quiet time to relax before I go to sleep.

No coffee after 4pm. This includes espresso martinis.

Eating well is important, a large meal later on is going to lead to a night of very disturbed sleep, add alcohol into the mix and I know I’m going to be awake most of the night.

Exercise is usually the answer to most problems, it took me forty years to work this out! A long walk or run each day not only helps to tire me (who am I kidding? I’m always tired!) it grounds and calms me and helps me to work through any worries which are on my mind.

A bath in the evening will raise your body temperature, the rapid cooldown period afterwards relaxes you and has been medically proven to promote a deeper sleep. Now you can’t have a bath without using all the luxurious bath products, what would be the point? I love a really oily bath, with candles burning and sumptuous body lotions to leave my skin smelling delicious afterwards. Recently I have been using Neom Organics scent to sleep range. I light the candle whilst I’m soaking in the bath, then massage the facial oil into my skin after applying my night cream. I finish off with a spritz of their pillow mist. Honestly, I’m so relaxed by this point it’s an effort to get into bed. The essential oils, including English Lavender, chamomile and patchouli, in their products help me achieve such a deep sleep.

Next we need to think about the bedroom. This room needs to be a comfortable and relaxing room, it needs to be tidy and not a place where you would normally work. My room is painted in a deep turquoise which is tranquil and soothing. It’s an old house with single glazing so believe me it’s never too hot. We have heavy floorlength velvet curtains to keep the drafts, and the sunshine, (during the summer months out). There are lots of lamps ensuring that I don’t have to turn the big light on and that the lights are low when I head to bed! I like bedlinen to be made out of natural fibres, and lots of layers so that when I wake up in the middle of the night sweating cobs I can easily cool down. I have been a long time fan of Christy home; their bedding has a luxurious feel and each collection is available in a thread count of 180 or higher. The geometric design of this Urbis bedlinen is inspired by Christy’s Manchester heritage and the music floor of the cities Town-hall. This peacock shade was an absolute must have for my bedroom don’t you agree? I have complimented it with their Jaipur throw in ink and piles of cushions, which we have to throw on the floor before we get in. This room really does feel like a safe haven, a cocoon, all the different textures which are layered together create drama and a luxurious vibe.

https://www.christy.co.uk/urbis-bed-linen-peacock

I love a posh pyjama or nightie. These days they’ve got to be made of natural fabric and loose to cope with the menopausal night sweats. This pretty Damsel night shirt from Wallace Cotton is just perfect and what Instagram is bedroom would be complete without the Insta slippers of dreams from Onaie? When they are not placed carefully next to my bed, they are just the thing for posing on doormats and tiled floors.

No phones near the bed, when you are lying there wide awake during the might the temptation to read the whole internet is all too real. Once you’ve picked it up to check the time before you know it you’re googling lists of past coronation street characters, important dates in September and Matt Baker. I am not going to lie and say that we do not have telephones in the bedroom, because we all know the first thing that everybody has to do when they wake up in the morning is to scroll through Instagram, but I plug it into charge of the other side of the room and I have it switched on to do not disturb. We also choose not to have a TV in the bedroom.

(Actual screen shot of the Google search history on my phone).

So that’s it, having a good night sleep is so important to me, and something which recently has become difficult to achieve, it’s something I’ve had to work at. I am really lucky to be working with some brilliant brands to give you the chance of achieving the perfect nights sleep to; Head over to my Instagram post to be in with a chance of winning;

A set of Urbis bedding from Christy Home,

A damsel night dress from Wallace cotton,

A three wick scent to sleep candle and sleep spray from Neom Organics,

A pair of moccasins slippers from Onaie.

Those were my top tips for getting to sleep now I’m going to give you a list of things that keep me awake.

The bastard cat coming in and padding on my bladder to wake me up.

Boy races driving past in the early hours with very loud music which shaking the windows.

Foxes fighting.

Noisy owls.

Snoring husbands.

Indigestion.

Invasive thoughts about Matt Baker, past characters in Coronation Street and important dates in September.

Sleep tight .

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Not all girls love pink.

We were never really planning to decorate this bedroom, I loved the Cole and Son wallpaper far too much. Unfortunately the little one wasn’t as keen, so when an email from Murals wallpaper dropped into my inbox how could I resist?

There was so much choice on the website, at first I thought I would like to try to save the existing wallpaper and go for something to complement that, I rather fancied one of these Maps, but eventually settled on this Beautiful galaxy one.

The next bizarre coincidence was Graham and Brown getting in touch with me asking me to try out their new app. It was fabulous because I could see what different colours would look like on the wall before I committed to buying them, and I settled on a beautiful damson colour which I had picked out of the mural. I used the app to cover up the existing wallpaper I knew it had to go.

I hastily took a few before shots, because have you even decorated if you don’t?

I think you can agree it was pretty grim!

There had been a fitted wardrobe in one of the alcoves ever since we had moved in, they weren’t very nice to look and the problem was it was now too narrow. It had been perfectly fine when it just housed tiny children’s clothes, but the doors were unable to close now that there were bigger hangers in there. Luckily Jack and I had won a competition at the Casa collective meet up, and with my prize allowance I chose a gorgeous wardrobe which would fit perfectly in the space from Owo living

Once the wardrobe was removed, the mural could be hung. It went up really easily and we were amazed with the results. The rest of the walls needed a couple of coats of the fabulous damson paint and the room was ready to style. The galaxy wallpaper dominated the room, so it was obvious to stick with a space theme.

This is always the fun bit, I always have a picture in my mind about how the finish project will look and often start shopping for accessories before we have even bought the paint!

My first stop for bedding is always Christy. I knew exactly the range which would fit in there perfectly. I chose a beautiful polka dot brushed cotton quilt cover and pillow case and finished off the look with this stunning infinity and beyond throw and matching cushions.

The pretty star cushion is from Meggyandme.

I had seen a shelf I wanted but couldn’t find it to buy anywhere on line, and in the timescale I needed. This one was whipped up in no time by Tim, I think you’ll agree that it’s just right for this space, and allows for plenty of faffing and styling opportunities.

The velvet floor cushion is from Scape interiors Leigh and makes a super cosy reading area. If you use the discount code HARDCADTLE50 you’ll get 50% off a cushion of your own.

I really wanted to make an effort to get some unique art for this room.

I was thrilled when Jazz from 5iftyprint contacted me and asked me if I’d like to work with her to create these amazing pieces. I loved the origami prints she already had available and asked her if she could do some more to reflect my little ones loves; mermaids, sharks and unicorns. I was blown away when I saw what Jazz had created but I love them even more in situ because I think they look just like star consolations. Each print offered is 1/50 and available in a range of sizes. As I’ve explained they offer commissions and all the pieces are produced with the environment in mind, from the paper and the printers they use through to the packaging the orders are sealed in. There is a little discount code available HARDCASTLE20 Which will give you 20% off your next order right up until the end of 2019.

These other fab prints from independent brands are;

The star man print is from Dip Dip Design.

The pink moon is Ink and tot

And the lion is Nova loves.

The whole look was pulled together with some bespoke bunting, from Rachel’s handmade with love, fairy lights, a belly basket of dreams from Anna’s Interior Attic Shop.

My space girl is over the moon with her new supercool bedroom, I can’t tell you how thrilled she is with the finished look.

Refeathering the nest

Hardcastle towers is a tall four-storey Edwardian house. When we first moved here we were a family of three, we very rarely ventured up to the attic floor as we had no need for it it. For years it was a baron dumping ground filled with all sorts of junk. As our family grew we were able to move up into this space and utilise it well. The front attic bedroom is the biggest room in the whole house, it only has a tiny window, which is quite high up so there is a tendency for it to to be dark in there. It’s a really funny shape with low sloping ceilings, I love these as it adds so much character to the room and is a brilliant place to drape bunting and fairy lights from. As it sits directly beneath the roof it is cold in winter and warm in summer.

My oldest daughter, Lily, has been in this room since we decorated it for her when she was a little girl, about twelve years 12 years ago. We chose a very light wallpaper to reflect the light back into the room and to keep it bright, white hemnes furniture from Ikea and a cream carpet. A large mirror dominates one wall as she was an avid dancer from a young age spending hours prancing around up there perfecting her moves. Macaroni, the rocking horse that her grandad made her when she was born lives there too.

The space is very tired and in need of much TLC, I’m sure you can imagine it has seen better days. The record for the amount of people she had sleeping in there was 10 and we got used to young teens tramping up and down the stairs in the middle of the night. One night we awoken as a stranger opened our bedroom door and turned on the light I don’t know how was more shocked when she said oh sorry I thought this was the bathroom! The ballet posters were torn down over the years down and replaced with Polaroid photographs and gig tickets, these in turn were ripped down when she flew the nest and headed off to university. (Ripped being the operative word). The cream carpet has stains from spilt drinks, make up and goodness knows what else.

Continue reading Refeathering the nest

Insta rules

Here is a crib sheet of all things insta.

There is this mysterious thing called the algorithm, no one has ever seen it or knows what it does but we need to obey it at all times and we must keep it happy. Just when you think you understand it it changes.

You must post at regular intervals. There is a legend that the best time to post is 7am or 7pm. The most prized time of all is Sunday evening, when people are laying comatose and scrolling through their phones with antiques roadshow on in the back ground. If you don’t post the insta gods will put you in the naughty step and not show your subsequent posts to very many people at all.

I have been told that the first hour, half an hour or ten minutes are crucial (depending on who I’m listening to). You must get lots of likes and at least eight comments within this time period. If you get a comment you must reply with a comment of longer than four words (emojis don’t count) if you get this just right then the insta gods will show your picture to more people. This is only if the insta gods are in a good mood, they could quite easily just leave it under a pile of kitten videos.

We like to get lots of likes, this is called engagement. Ideally we would like 10% engagement, this means that you get 10 likes for every 100 followers. However, there is no rhyme or reason to the number of likes you will get. You may as well shake a dice or pick a number out of the air. If your post makes it on to explore this is exciting, it means more people will see it. No one is quite sure how to get there though.

The pictures which do best are full room shots. You can do close up detailed shots, featuring a seasonal accessory such as a daffodil, pine cone or hot cross bun, or a flat lay. These involve laying your items flat on either some rough wood or crumpled fabric with flowers and or fairy lights sprinkled around them. It must also contain a mythical thing called blank space. I am rubbish at flat lays.

Do not used the filters which are available on Instagram. You must download another app, snapseed is my favourite. You must learn to filter, just enough but not too much. Too much makes your pictures look shit, like you’ve tried too hard. You must also lean to filter out all electrical wires and plug sockets, these are not insta worthy.

Do not edit your post after you have posted. This will mean that you go right back of the queue and need to get your likes and eight comments all over again, it also means that your post will show up in the notifications of anyone you’ve tagged, every bloody time you edit it. It also means that if you’ve made a typo or a grammatical error it is there for the whole of insta to see. A way to avoid this is to have your post ready and save it in drafts, you can then post it at your optimum posting time.

You are allowed to use thirty hashtags. If you use just one more insta will gobble up your caption. This will only ever happen once, and then you will learn to copy the caption before you post it. There is an insta law that says you must change your hashtags often and never put them the same order. (I break this law all the time, I have two lists which I copy and paste, if you look closely more often than not it will say #kitcheninspo on a bathroom post and always #blackcatsofinstgram)

Talking of hashtags, there are various ones;

a) Competitions, for these you need to follow the hosts, if you can’t find them don’t worry because they will remind you at every available opportunity. There may or may not be a theme or prompt. This could be monthly, weekly or daily. There may be prizes, like actual things, or the prize may be the glory of becoming a co host. If you become a co host you can ‘remind’ people that they need to follow you too.

@sophiecsophiedo has written such a good list of them all this month, this is the back page.

https://instagram.com/sophiecsophiedo?utm_source=ig_profile_share&igshid=1ls8nvmmp25ru

b) Trendy hashtags, these are really big pages with lots of followers. They often sound like nonsense words or can be in a different language. Some may just be words made up by big accounts for a laugh. We like to use them because the ‘success of your post is down to the hashtags you use’, Apparently. (#sodomino, #abmathime #interieur)

c) Words that actually relate to your post. We never use these. (#bath, #kitchen, #plant) these are for losers.

Some people run giveaways. You have to follow that person and the prize giver. Giveaways are sometimes to celebrate a milestone, but are usually to gain more followers.

Sometimes, if you have lots of followers, a brand may ask you to collab (orate). They will send you something to take a picture of, when you post the picture you must use #gift or the world will implode. Your followers may be able to win the product, there may be a discount code or we might just hope they go and buy it for themselves.

Events or insta meets are gatherings of insta people. We all wear bright clothes, usually leopard print, and take pictures of our food and drink. We all love meeting each other IRL (in real life). There is always a party bag, this will include lots of typography prints, possibly a towel and hopefully something good to eat. The people there will be middle aged ladies and gay men.

(Two Middle Aged ladies and a gay man)

Insta gold, this is a shot you pull out of the hat when your posts haven’t been getting many likes, we all have one. I like to make sure that mine is always visible in my last nine posts.

(Insta gold)

Props can be used to enhance a picture. We like sheepskin rugs (sheepies) cacti, neon signs, stings of fairy light and in between September and the beginning of December ALL the pumpkins, especially little white ones.

If you want to look at lots of statistics about your profile then switch to a business account. There are lots of graphs, pie charts and lists to confuse and bewilder you here. You don’t have to have a business to have a business account. You can also download an app which tells you who has unfollowed you, but this can make you anxious.

If you like too many pictures too quickly then you will get blocked and put into insta jail. We do not know where this is or how to get out of. There is an option to report it but it’s just a case of sitting it out, as I said earlier we have no idea who is in charge. Sometimes you can get put in insta jail for no reason at all. This is very annoying.

Once you reach 10, 000 followers you get the ‘swipe up’ function. This is good, because it means you can put a link in your story and do a swipey action with your finger to direct people elsewhere on the interweb. You can also apply to get affiliated links, this means that you will get commission if your swipe up leads to somebody buying something. The commission is usually 0.0001 pence.

Sometimes your post will bomb, we like to think this is because we posted at the wrong time of day, or used the wrong hashtags. Usually though it’s simply because our picture was shit.

The heart of our home

We have just taken delivery of a brand spanking new dinning table, it was gifted to us from made.com (https://www.made.com/iona-large-dining-table-solid-pine-and-pebble-grey) It is a beauty; it seats six, eight at a push and the four chairs and bench we were given too means at last we can all fit around the table comfortably. When Easter rolls around there will be no need to deploy the piano stool, dressing table stool and any other emergency chairs we can find.

It’s made me think through, the battered table it’s replaced was made for us and delivered here the very day we moved in, almost twenty years ago and the whole of our family life has revolved around it ever since.

As first it seated two rather tired, grown ups and a longed for baby sitting in her high chair. This was a special baby, a baby the grown ups were told would never be theirs. She was spoilt rotten and her every whim pandered to. She was a princess and she was enveloped with love. She was such a clever baby, she could do all the animal impressions by the time she was nine months old, and was firmly deciding what she would and wouldn’t eat soon after. She wore the grown ups out.

The table witnessed tears and heat ache as the grown ups waited for a brother or sister and had their hopes dashed time and time again, but eventually it had a Moses basket resting on it with the most beautiful baby girl inside. She was just perfect, smooth olive skin, spiky black hair, and the chunkiest legs you’ve ever seen. And she was such a good baby. She just laid their sucking her tongue while the grown ups still dashed around after her bossy big sister. The grown ups were so very happy.

The table was covered in newspaper for the girls to paint on, and make play doh jam tarts on, both girls learned to write on it, and if you look closely you can still see the indentations. The girls did their homework on it and revised for SATS, GCSEs and A levels there too. It was covered in blankets and was a den, and it was a wagon when the girls and their mum got chased by red indians.

Seven different cats have clawed at the rattan seats on the chairs and patiently waited for scraps under it as the family ate.

It held thirty three of the girls birthday cakes and witnessed birthday parties from carrot stick and egg sandwiches to dark fruits cider and dough ball fights. It strained under nineteen huge turkeys and homemade Christmas puddings and didn’t get bored with the same Christmas pass the parcel game every single year.

It entertained friends and family old and new, best friends and boyfriends. Hosted dinner parties, afternoon teas and buffets, it listened to chat as cups of tea and coffee were drunk around it and nonsense after too much wine.

Decisions were debated and and paperwork completed and the four became a five. It was a hard, difficult step, but still the family sat there. When things weren’t working quite as planned each week a family meeting was held and new rules agreed upon and soon the five began to work well.

Exam results were celebrated and cried over there. Student finance applied for and halls of residences decided on. The five became a four once more. The grown ups were excited, proud and sad.

It was danced on on more than one occasion and stormed away from on many more.

How could we get rid of it? It’s part of our history and it’s waiting patiently in the cellar until it can move into one of our daughters houses and enjoy family life all over again.

Mothers’ Day

The bond of motherhood is the strongest thing in the universe, stronger than a hypernova. It follows then that the pain when that bond is broken is unquantifiable.

I have been motherless for more years than I was mothered.

I have been a mother for more years than I was a daughter.

I was going to say I lost my mum when I was seventeen, but I didn’t lose her, she died. It was as horrible as you are imaging, and then a bit worse. She was 37 years and one week old, we had just returned from a holiday to Spain and she had a 1980s suntan that only she and her beautiful olive skin could achieve. She was glowing with health when she collapsed on the bathroom floor in front of me that Saturday morning. My dad was washing the car outside when I ran out to get him, the bucket was still in the middle of the road when the ambulance came. By the time she got to the hospital there wasn’t much they could do, she had suffered a massive brain haemorrhage. She died in the early hours of the Monday morning, the 15th August 1988, assumption day. A date that is forever emblazoned in my mind.

My life up until that point had been really normal, unremarkable. I had a happy childhood with a brother and a mum and dad. I was studying for my A levels and planning to go to university. We lived in a gorgeous house, had two cars, holidayed abroad every year. Life was good. On that August Monday morning my life changed for ever. I’m not going to waste time telling you how my dad behaved in the days and months following her death, he doesn’t deserve it, but from that point I was on my own, looking after my little brother I had to grow up fast. I realise now that as part of my survival mode I locked my mum and childhood away in a box and I really don’t go there very often at all.

That doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt though, I ploughed because that’s all I could do. I chose to survive. Mother’s Day, her Birthday, and the anniversary of her death still stung and they still do thirty years later.

She left a hole I needed to fill. I needed to reform that maternal bond. I’ve written a previous blog ( https://hardcastletowers.wordpress.com/page/2/) talking about my struggle to become a mum. I miscarried six babies. This period of my life shaped me like no other. It deepened the hole inside me. When I was told I’d never have children of my own it felt like my world had ended, it really was rock bottom. A pain like that never goes away, instead you grow around it, it is always there deep inside just as it should be. It’s a pain I’ll never forget.

Mother’s Day during this time was incredibly hard I was motherless AND childless.

I’m lucky though. I have a happy ending, I won the game, I had the two most wonderful daughters and I honestly count my blessings every single day. I’m a mum, a role I have poured my heart and soul into for twenty years.

I still find Mother’s Day incredibly hard, I have such complicated feelings about it. I invariably end up in a shitty mood and having a cry. I can’t help it.

I suppose I just wanted to say to anyone else out there who dreads it that I get it too. I’m a foster mum; I have another young person living here who has a complicated relationship with her mum. My brother and his wife lost their son at four weeks old. I was involved in a web chat this week were I spoke to other people with equally sad stories. I want to remember all those people who don’t have a mum, who don’t like their mums, who can’t be a mum, who can’t be with their mum, who’ve lost children.

I salute you all.

Happy Others day to you.

Learning to…

I’m learning to navigate this whole insta thing.

This last month my followers have jumped from two thousand to three.  I’ve been shocked by the report on my phone telling me exactly how long I’ve spent on it, but I love the new world I’ve found here inside my phone.

I’ve posted an astonishing 3387 pictures, and hope that since this first post in December 2012 that they are a little more sophisticated, I know for sure that my captions are!

For a good few years I posted multiple pictures of cakes, cats and my children. There were a lot of trees too, and they were never knowingly under filtered. Little by little I got drawn into following accounts, it was more exciting than Facebook. You could interact with so many different people and have a feed full of beautiful pictures which were tailored just for you. At first I loved the lifestyle accounts and the instamums. (Erica is still my number one girl crush). My account was private but I toyed with the idea of a fashion account, I found it hard to manage the two, and noticed that my house was getting more attention than my clothes. So in January this year I tentatively joined in the hashtag #ahouseindays. I soon stumbled across this insta interiors community. Since then I’ve become interiors obsessed, made friends, started a blog, won prizes and had an actual magazine shoot in my home. I love all positive things it has brought in to my life, and the attention but I do find it difficult to manage.

The first stage was becoming interiors obsessed, even more than I already was. I went through a stage of wanting all of the new things I saw other people have all of the time. My house is now so full I think I’ve gotten over that. I’ve learnt love just how my house looks as it is and take a pride in being able to share it. I’ve also come to realise that this is my style and enjoy what I already have. That is apart from plants! I’m blaming insta totally for my plant obsession, and any plant lover knows there is always room for another plant.

I’ve made friends, real actual friends who I connect with on a daily basis. Some of whom I’ve met in real life. I was so nervous before I met Janice from @lovefrenchvintage in France this summer, but I realised once that connection is made you’re pretty much guaranteed to get on in real life too. Continue reading Learning to…

Me and Tim.

This was first published in May this year.

It’s my wedding anniversary tomorrow. Twenty one years since the day poor Tim was so nervous, he’d had a large glass of Brandy, had to have his Uncle Colin fasten his tie and had forgotten his name and address by the time he met me in the Registry office at noon. Last year we mistakingly thought it was our silver wedding anniversary and had a weekend away to celebrate.

I was eighteen when I met Tim, we both have different recollections of how and when. I remember his friend bringing him to a Eurovision party I was hosting, he remembers me flitting around a local night club well before that being annoying, but we’ve agreed to differ. We both do agree that a few months later, having set my sights on him and knowing he was an electrician, I asked him to mend my hairdryer. Two days later he turned up to mend the it (he never got around to it, something I was going to have to get used to) and the rest as they say is history.

I was nineteen and he was twenty one. I wasn’t looking for Mr right and I can’t imagine he was looking for Mrs right either. It just kind of happened. I going through a pretty rough chapter of my life, having lost my mum two years earlier and I had an awful lot on my plate trying to juggle a grown up job, an errant dad and a wayward younger brother. Poor Tim must have wondered what he’d stumbled into, when he introduced me to his mum and dad he warned them I wasn’t like any other girl he’d ever brought home. I’m still not sure what he meant!

Two years later we bought our first house. It was a tiny cottage and it was beautiful. Tim didn’t dare tell his parents until just before we signed the final papers! His dad’s reaction was ‘Well you could have done better and I don’t mean the house!’ (honestly that’s nothing to what he thinks of Meghan Markle). I suppose you could say he didn’t agree with us ‘living in sin’ or that he particularly liked me all that much. We were dead poor, but that house was gorgeous and we were so happy there. His dad still wasn’t keen, and I had yet to learn to bite my tongue and ignore him, but that would come in time.

Next I wanted a baby, but Tim said we had to get married first. Well with me being a feminist vegetarian member of Greenpeace you can understand that I wasn’t too overly impressed with that idea. We carried on with the ‘I want a baby, we need to get married, I’m never getting married’ conversation for a about seven years until one day it went ‘I want a baby, we need to get married, alright then when?’ And again, being a feminist -vegetarian-member of Greenpeace, I certainly didn’t want to get engaged (this is the bit where my future self would tell my past self to stop being so bloody stupid and get a ring, cos you sure as hell won’t get one later) so we set a date for the following May, because it would be sunny (and we had a share option due to mature) it was seven months away, and that’s when, with the worst possible timing in the world, I found out I was Pregnant.

Well let’s say it was a lovely surprise once we’d got over the shock. If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know it didn’t end well and we lost our first baby just before Christmas. The wedding went ahead as planned, all be it with me in a normal wedding dress and not in a bell tent to cover my eight month pregnant stomach. We were married in the local registry office with a reception for forty in our back garden. Unbeknown to us I was infact already pregnant again, and I suffered with terrible morning sickness all throughout our honeymoon in Rome and Florence. I lost that baby too, and then another one later on that same year.

Eventually, against the odds, our lovely Lily was born and we had to move house because we couldn’t fit the pram and high chair in the house at the same time. After we moved into our current house, we then lost three more babies before Iris was born three years later. A good few years after that we became a family of five when we began to foster (see previous blog ‘We are a fostering family’)

So we’ve now been together for twenty eight years, and have been through some incredibly tough times but lots more fun times and are are still plodding on. Here are my reflections on our happy marriage.

1. We were so young when we met we did our growing up together, we had no check list of what we were looking for in a husband or wife but have somehow grown around each other and are two halves of the same person.
2. We respect each other.
3. He is the best dad any child could ever wish to have.
4. We both have the same values, ideals and as I’ve eventually persuaded Tim the same politics too.
5. We are both family focused and that’s a good job as our hands are well and truly full with the girls, and will be for the foreseeable future.
6. We know each other inside out.
7. We don’t lie to each other, (although I’m very good at manipulating the truth).
8. We’ve been poor, and we’ve been better off. I’ve always had a shopping habit but we live within our means and only spend what we can afford. Tim has no idea what he earns or what things cost, but what he knows can’t harm him and it’s in his best interest for the house to look pretty and for me to be well turned out.
9. Tim is a grumpy sod and I’m an over anxious control freak, we both know and accept this.
10. We argue. I’ve always been one to get things off my chest and speak the truth. Tim prefers to bury his head and carry on like every thing is ok, but usually arguing wins through.
11. I once threw a cucumber at Tim’s head (his football skills came in handy as he did a super fake dive) and he once threw a hairbrush at me.
12. Tim is super laid back, to the point of inertia. I’ve had to learn that somethings will just never get done. I’ve also learnt that to get things done we need a slow build up of gently nagging flowed by a full blown paddy.
13. Once when I’d been admitted to hospital Tim dashed home to get some essentials for me. I’ve almost forgiven him for coming back with a hairbrush in one pocket and a pair of knickers in the other.
14. We would both argue that we’re the better driver and I still maintain that knocking the wing mirror of his brand new car or getting another one stuck in a gate do not count as a crash, unlike the time he reversed into a member of our anti-natal classes car or drove into that woman in Batley when I was showing him a picture in a magazine.
15. I’ve never felt more proud of Tim as I did when he carried my Grandads coffin down the aisle at his funeral or when he recently stood and read a poem at his mum’s.
16. The way to my man’s heart is definitely through his stomach, unless it’s mackerel carbonara.
17. Tim prides himself on bringing me breakfast in bed most Sundays, but to get the said breakfast in bed it requires at least an hour of me huffing and prodding him.
18. Tim is still trying to learn that when I’m upset, cross or anxious I don’t need an answer I just need an ‘awwwwww’ and a hug.
19. Having (literally) dealt with the fall out my uterus caused twenty years ago he’s once again at the mercy of it as it drags me kicking, screaming, sweating and crying through the menopause.
20. I will never have matching crockery or a full set of glasses as Tim breaks at least one item each week.
21. Tim likes sport, Tim needs to watch all the sport, especially football. That’s ok as if he takes the little one to watch the football that’s a free Saturday for me, and I’ll always nod off before match of the day starts.
22. No matter how annoying Tim’s family are we both know that no family can be stranger than mine.
23. We have blue jobs and pink jobs. Blue jobs are the jobs I don’t want to do.
24. When we lost our babies I was so sad and upset for such a long long time and Tim just wanted to make me happy. He still does.
25. I say the wrong things at the wrong time and have a temper like a ferocious dragon. Tim has had to pick up the pieces on many an occasion and has got me out of more than his fair share of sticky situations.
26. Tim was once nearly beaten up in a pub one New Year’s Eve when I pulled the tail off a man’s lion costume and handed it to him to hold.
27. My anxiety has lead to some quiet bleak episodes but somehow he always understood and supported me. When I’m in a full blown anxiety driven panic he’s the one who knows how to calm me down.
28. When I was pregnant Tim used to go and buy me McDonald’s milkshakes at two in the morning. Likewise I once had to park my car in a very dubious area and go and find him in a grotty take away whilst wearing my pyjamas at a similar hour.
29. He will never accept that I’m poorly, and when I broke my leg he made me walk over a pebbled beach towards the car before he took me to the hospital. A few years later, when I broke my arm, he sat me in the bath and went to buy a Christmas tree before he’d take me there.
30. When he had appendicitis and been ill all weekend I did just drop him off at the hospital doors on the Monday morning.
31. We are on cats number six and seven and once had a goldfish called Simon.
32. Tim doesn’t like drawing attention to himself in public, whereas that’s what I spend the entirety of my life doing.
33. I’ve lost my wedding ring twice. Once it turned up in a bag of spinach in the bin, the other time it turned up six weeks after I’d lost it on Valentine’s Day, in a puddle, in a car park!
34. Tim hates his elbow or Adam’s apple being touched and I can’t bare him touching my feet or little fingers.
35. He must be crazy and Sagittarius cos I’m a Leo and I’m hilarious (little nod to the Housemartins there)
36. We love each other unconditionally.

Here’s to the next twenty one years 😘

Advice to my daughters.

Don’t scrimp on haircuts or shoes, always spend as much as you can afford on them.

You can be anyone or anything you want to be and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Find someone who adores you just as you are and loves you just as much as I do, like I did with your dad.

Be kind.

Don’t wear chipped nail polish.

Always wear good knickers.

Don’t save anything for best, wear it, eat it, drink it, who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Eat plenty of fruit, but remember smoothies rot your teeth.

Take your make up off before you go to sleep.

Always be the better person, don’t ever give anyone a chance to speak badly of you.

Never be knowingly underdressed.

Instant coffee isn’t real coffee.

Get out in the fresh air at least once a day.

Don’t worry about being too fat or too thin, too tall or too short. Love yourself as you are.

And if you can’t love yourself as you are, change it.

A fringe always looks good.

Live in the present, don’t worry about what’s going to happen or what already has.

Surround yourself with things and people who excite you.

Lipstick only comes in one shade worth buying, and that’s red.

Don’t leave it until you’re too old to have a baby, they’re hard work and things don’t always work out as you’ve planned.

Look after your sister.

Work hard but remember to have fun too.

Don’t waste time making your own pastry.

Leopard is a neutral.

Look after your mum, she loves you more than you’ll ever know.

Game Changer

What was your interiors game changer, the moment you found your style?

Our first house was a little cottage and it was tiny. It was the nineties and it had quite a look, very ‘Changing roomsesque’ with lots of bright colours, stencilling and lime washed wood. We had a blue checked sofa, a plump yellow arm chair and lime green towels from Habitat. We worshiped at the alter which was Ikea. We loved that house, we even had our wedding reception in the garden there, but when we had to start putting the pram outside to put the high chair up we knew we’d outgrown it.

We bought our run down wreck of an Edwardian house with no money spare for renovations and a very demanding baby. We had one week to clear the main living room of graffiti, nicotine stains and beer bottles before we were to host our daughters first birthday party. Then we ran out of money.

The kitchen consisted of an old grease encrusted free standing gas oven and a sink unit with a sloping concrete floor which had been painted red. There was a rusty freestanding bath in the bathroom, bare floorboards and woodchip wall paper hanging off the hallway walls. The front room had a hole in the wall where the fireplace used to be and the paint splattered bedroom walls were the things nightmares were made of. We had to bide our time and learn to live with it, we had no other option.

Slowly we moved into rooms and began to renovate them, but the sheer scale of the house terrified us and we lost our nerve. So at first we played it safe. The beautiful green living room you see on my insta was painted pale cream, with curtains the same colour (I can’t bring myself to admit to magnolia) The dinning room was pale blue and BEIGE (yes, I know!). Nothing could be bought off the peg, everything had to be made to measure so we wanted to make sure they’d stand the test of time. It was all a little bit boring to be honest and certainly not us.

The game changing moment, the time the house first began to find its feet and personality was when we went dark in the dinning room. We’d had the paint mixed to match a sofa I’d fallen in love with. Tim hated it the whole time he was decorating but when he’d finished it felt so cosy and dramatic, bright colours just popped against it. We’ve never looked back. The dark grey of the dinning room was quickly followed by the rich green in living room. Then came the pink fridge and turquoise walls in the kitchen then tiled floor in the bathroom and all the stuff, the Pompoms and fairy lights, the cushions and the plants. We’d found our style. A quirky eclectic riot of colour.

So my advice is don’t try to do it all at once. You have to grow into your style. It can’t be bought as a job lot, or off the peg. A house which has evolved over time will have so much more personality and a style which is truly unique.

I

This is me; a house in days.

I really enjoyed starting my blog earlier this year, and had some amazing feedback from it. I shared some tough experiences which I hope explain who I am. I’m proud that my stories gave comfort and strength to others who are going through or have been through similar experiences. Recurrent miscarriage, death, loss, parenting a special needs child and dealing with the resulting mental health issues and anxiety was tough, they were hard stories to share but I’m ok you know! Well I’m a bit eccentric as my father in law likes to say but I can still be happy and fun and I hope that’s what you’ll find here.

My Instagram account is interiors based on the whole, but you may have noticed I do like to tell a tale too. So to coincide with joining Stephen over on @alfredontheboy as a permanent co host I’m going to give it a relaunch. The prompts which Stephen sets are fun, quirky and eclectic, but for sure they always lead to a good story. The idea behind the hashtag is to be mindful; to really think about what we’re posting and the stories behind our homes. You can post every day, once a week or three times a day, it’s up to you. There are three monthly winners, one for consistency, one for inspiration and one for originality. I like the fact it makes me think of new things to write, as I do love to write, drawing from my experiences (and I will admit to using a little artist licence at times!) I always try and link it to playing along with other hashtags too, its really easy to do as our prompts can be bent and made to fit to lots of things, it’s up to you to be as creative as you like.

I’m going to see where the prompts take me with this blog. You know I’m an over sharer and always have a story to tell. As is the vibe with this hashtag, I might post everyday or I might post once a week so let’s just see what happens.

I’d really love it if you would subscribe to my blog and if you left a little comment I’ll love you forever and may even bake you brownies.

We are a fostering family.

I still forget that not everyone knows this. It’s something we’re not really allowed to talk about on social media, so that part of our life is very carefully edited.
We are actually a family of five and have been for almost three years now.
I didn’t give up work to become a lady of leisure as some people think, but to be a carer for my birth daughter and my foster child.

I’m sure that anyone who has read my previous blogs will not be surprised at all how we ended up here, it was something we had considered all those years ago when we thought we’d never have children of our own. As my girls were getting older I felt like they didn’t need me as much, I suppose now that was the beginning of the empty nest stage which eventually floored me when the oldest moved away to University. I did go through a stage of wanting a dog, but Tim wouldn’t let me. When a close friend told me they were going to foster I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and knew it was something which I still really wanted to do.

Tim agreed more or less straight way. I was really surprised as he usually needs a lot more persuading, (you should have seen him when I first wanted to paint the dinning room grey!). We then spent a few weeks just mulling it over and thinking about it. Wondering how our lives would change with another one along for the ride (Oh how naïve we were…). We spoke to our girls when we were absolutely sure and asked them what they thought, we would have never make a decision that momentous without them on board. Everyone had an opinion, some friends thought we were mad and my brilliant Grandma thought it was ‘just lovely’.

The whole process took about six months from beginning to end. It involved training courses, intense sessions with a social worker, pouring over our past lives, our politics, our family values, (it was like having therapy!). There were reports to write, references to collect and endless forms to fill in. It all culminated with a formal interview before a panel where we were approved as long term foster careers. (During the recruitment processes we had decided that short term fostering would be too disruptive for our family as our youngest daughter likes routine, and a succession of troubled young people living with us would be too much for her). After that we had to wait to be matched with our young person, complete more paper work and go before another panel before being approved for that match on my youngest daughters thirteenth birthday.

There are rules about how you must now live in your own house. No walking around naked (no biggie for me as it’s not something I was ever into). All the knifes, cleaning products, matches had to be rehoused in safe places. We had to get rid of the blind in the spare room and get curtains as the chord was considered to be a safely hazard. The window in that room had to be fitted with safety glass too. When the social worker started to measure the distance between the spindles on my beloved Edwardian staircase I’m sure the look I gave her told her she’d gone a step too far. We had a fire safety check from the fire brigade and had first aid kits for both cars. The insurance firm had to be notified.

On the 4th April 2015 we became a family of five. I had spent the previous weeks nesting true to form. The spare bedroom was transformed into child’s room of dreams, with a feathery light shade, bursting at the seams with books, soft toys and cushions. Every cake tin was filled with freshly baked goods. There was an extra chair and new place mat at the table.

Now, I had begun the process thinking it would be like having a third child, the recruitment stage did dampen this somewhat and we were told what the reality was like. All foster children are different, no two are the same. The one thing for sure is they all have issues just from the nature of their experiences.
I can liken it having your first baby, you can read all the books and prepare as much as you like but honestly nothing can prepares you for the actuality of it.
This child doesn’t want things, it just needs love and attention and it will get that attention any which way it can.

I can only imagine how scared and terrified our little one must have been as they moved into their new home. The next morning we were woken at 4am as they burst of of their bedroom collecting the Easter eggs we had carefully hidden for our usual family Easter hunt. They didn’t go back to sleep but spent the next few hours noisily banging around in their room. After breakfast my front room was trashed as they jumped on the furniture and built a den with all my cushions on the floor. This was when reality hit for the first time. I cried in my bedroom upstairs. Despite having mothered two children I just wasn’t ready for this. I realised that we now had to teach this little one EVERYTHING. Years of working in schools taught me that we had to start off as we meant to go on. There would have to be firm boundaries and rules right from day one.

Those first weeks and months passed in a blur. I cried, we argued and I spent a lot of time hiding in the bedroom. Having a child who is scared, needing attention, who hasn’t had the experienced normal family life, living with you is hard, so much harder than you can imagine. All your careful plans and ideas get thrown out of the window as you try to find your new norm, and adjust to the new family dynamic. I was now responsible for two children with special needs, that’s two sets of behaviours to manage, two sets of professionals to deal with and more than double the appointments and meetings I had previously had. This is in top of the endless paperwork there is to complete. Eventually I had to give up work to concentrate on bringing up my family.

We had little support from our social worker, in fact she was the reason we so nearly gave up in that first year. She tried to micro manage us and expected our lives to revolve around our foster child at the expense of the needs of our own family. She wouldn’t accept that we needed and deserved respite to stop the placement from breaking down. Eventually things came to a head and we were placed with a new social worker who had a more realistic outlook, and was far more supportive of the family as a whole unit. That’s when things finally began to settle down we started to tentatively find our way.

Three years on and there is such a difference in the child who now lives here. They’ve been places and had experiences they could have only dreamed about before. They identify as a significant part of our family and that’s really good. They feel safe, know that there is always food on the table and that they are surrounded by love. They know that normal families do fall out and argue and that it’s not all roses around the door. They know there are rules to follow, and disappointment to deal with when they are broken.

People often ask, do you love them? Yes I do. It’s not the same love as the love you have for a child you’ve given birth to, but what could be?
Another thing people say is ‘Oh I couldn’t do that, I’d get too attached,’ Yes I am attached but how can you ever be too attached to a child who just needs to be loved?

Don’t think that we are saints or that we want praise. We’ve made mistakes and often worry that we are not the foster parents we set out to be. We moan and complain, but we laugh and take pride in our little ones achievements too. We have realised that we probably set the bar too highly the beginning, and this was never gong to be about having our third child. Our foster child will be with us until they are a responsible adult, we are not bonded by blood but by, I hope, years of love, trust and nurturing. I hope they will always be a part of our lives. This is our new family, and it’s a different one to the one we set out to have but I think we all muddle along quite well.

Refresh with Hello Fresh

I was absolutely delighted when Hello Fresh contacted me and asked me to be part of their refresh with hello fresh campaign. It’s something I had seen people using on social media and had often thought I would love to try it but I’d just never got round to it. I am a keen home cook and enjoy preparing meals for my family every evening, (Up here in Yorkshire we call this tea) but I had got into a rut and we were cooking the same meals over and over again. It had got to the point where cooking our evening meal took up a huge chunk of my time, and don’t even mention the supermarket shopping, it has got be my worst household chore! I wasn’t sure how this collaboration would be received by people who are used to looking at pictures of my house, but I knew it would fit with my stories as I often share recipes with people on there.

We were all super excited choosing the first weeks recipes, I made a conscious decision to choose things that we wouldn’t normally eat. (The things I usually cook at home are curries with chicken, lots of pasta, and usually one mincemeat recipe per week, for example Bolognese, chilli or meatballs). I really enjoy vegetarian food and was keen to find some new recipes which the family would enjoy equally. We very rarely have fish, but enjoy it so I made sure we chose fishy recipes too. The app was really easy to use, we went for the family meal plan with four meals. The four week meal plan still allows us to have pizza Friday, no cook Saturday and Grandad for roast dinner on Sunday (The jury is still out as to whether this is a good or bad thing).

We were so excited when our first parcel arrived on the Saturday morning. I had been worried about packaging, but was very impressed that most things were recyclable. I loved how the fridge stuff is packed with ice packs and the ingredients for each meal are in their own individual, numbered bag. We waited until Monday to try it, I can’t believe how eager everybody was for tea that night! It was cod with crushed new potatoes in a tarragon sauce. I very rarely cook fish at home but the recipe was so easy to follow as it was broken down into six easy stages, all the ingredients were there, in the exact quantities. It could not have been easier, and it was delicious, everybody cleared their plates. The girls were excited because it was new, and they didn’t complain and pick at their food like they usually do. Typically I have to start cooking tea at about 3.30pm to have it ready in time but these recipes were just taking me half an hour every evening!

I have always planned our weekly meals and wrote a detailed shopping list every week. This had turned into such a boring chore, trying to think of different things to cook and remembering to buy all the ingredients. I hate shopping so much that the big shop has become Tim’s responsibility, but he is a little bit forgetful, and this means when I’m cooking tea most evenings I have to get into the car to go and buy a key ingredient. I can’t tell you the angry phone calls that he gets on his drive home from work, sometimes he has to say ‘Joanne somebody is in the car with me,’ so I don’t swear at him. So I could say that hello fresh has been good for my marriage too?!

This is our last week being part of the campaign. I suppose the proof of the pudding is am I going to carry on with my hello fresh boxes? I’ll be honest, I wanted to go back to cooking freestyle again, we have slowly built up a bank of fabulous recipes, some which we loved more than others and would definitely cook again. I have learnt new cooking techniques, which were far more simple than what I was used to. Teatime has become less of a chore, and we’ve eating lots of different things. Fortunately, I have been overruled and the family who have insisted that we carry on with the boxes. I really can’t recommend them enough, the ingredients are fresh, there is lots of variety; we have all eaten so many more vegetables than we usually eat and they have been cooked in different and exciting ways. I have learnt about portion control, all the ingredients are sent and the exact measurements you need for the recipe so it’s very difficult to over eat. (But there are still leftovers for Tim to take to work the next day).

The code is still active for you to get a discount from your first box Click here and please ask me if you have any questions because you know I will answer them honestly.