Dreaming of an Italian family adventure


Tuscany

Yesterday I wanted to hibernate. The ex hurricane Bertha came to visit earlier in the week you see, unceremoniously crashed through our front door, stomped all over the country side with big hob-nailed boots, and gave us a great big smack in the face on her way out again. This is all figuratively speaking thankfully and our little McMansion on the hill remains weather-proof. The flooding to the surrounding area was quite dramatic though and the weather was more winter than mid-august. Unsurprisingly, conversation turned to holidays. The grandparents decided to kidnap our children for the night, so with the rain battering the windows in a vain attempt to enter our cosy house and the wind whipping down the street as if it were in a rage, glasses of red wine were filled as we reminisced over some old photo albums. (Is that not just a typical sign of middle age when red wine, photo albums and a cosy sofa is classed as an ideal night in?).

We started off with our wedding album, laughing at the drunken antics of our guests and trying to remember if that was great-aunt Sue or second cousin third removed Shirley with the flamboyant hat. Then we moved on to our honeymoon album. Two weeks in glorious Sicily that seemed like a lifetime ago. A perfect holiday where I wished upon a falling star (yes, really!) from a boat within view of Stromboli’s nightly show of erupting power…that was when I wished for parenthood.

We vowed to return to Sicily and promised ourselves we would spend our next holiday exploring Italy. I’d spent an odd, slightly disjointed summer in Tuscany as a student, waiting for the travel bug to bite and wondering what all the fuss about Inter-railing was about. I’m more of a destination person, enjoying the journey has always been an issue for me. So I promised my new husband that I would take him to Tuscany. I would show him the towers of San Gimignano, feed our souls on the art of Florence and fill our tummies with pasta, pizza and gelato. Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 13.59.36 But that wish I made upon a star during our honeymoon came true, so we now have 2 little people to cater for on any Italian adventure we embark upon. I’ve looking into camping, touring around Italy with a smart tent and eating pizza in front of a camp fire every night. But Hubbie has decreed that self-catering holidays are banned (LOVE HIM!) and he’s not so keen on the camping aspect either…I can sort of see his point. Holidays with young children are only a true holiday if they include some aspect of luxury we’ve discovered. Otherwise the cooking, the negotiations and the daily peace keeping just feel like you’re at home. But without the home comforts. Somewhere like Villa Pia would be ideal for our Italian adventure though. All inclusive, child friendly and in Tuscany. Perfect. They even offer cookery courses for the kids – how perfect would that be? We’d return from 2 weeks of Italian sun to the kids cooking us some Italian cuisine. My 8 year old foodie would be in heaven, while the 4 year old could exhaust himself on the trampolines. Meanwhile, I can’t stop imagining myself lying by this pool, something cold and sparkling in a glass within reach and a pile of trashy novels…well, a girl can dream.Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 12.44.17

 

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Clutter

I know it’s been ages. I haven’t written properly (on here anyway) since last year! It just hasn’t felt right, sorry peeps. But there’s been lots going on behind the scenes. Lots of living and loving and being, in the real sense. Just not so much going on in this little corner of my virtual world.

But today is different (probably because I’m procrastinating on some writing work of the paying kind). I’ve had a wee epiphany you see. I’ve finally realised that I cannot think straight if I’m surrounded by clutter. Or mess. Or confusion. It just muddles my brain and invades my creative thinking space. It makes me jittery and restless and I don’t like it.

For example, right now I’m sat at the kitchen table with 3 dirty glasses, a pile of freshly laundered towels and a box of Beano mugs the 7 year old discovered in a charity shop. The dishwasher is full of clean dishes and the sink is full of dirty ones. The thought of this alone makes me itch. But I’ve let all this muddle and mess stay where it is, all day, because I needed to just ‘get on and do some work’. But I haven’t ‘got on’ at all. I’ve faffed about, drunk coffee, nibbled biscuits, huffed and sighed and generally not been very productive at all.

And now I’ve written all that I’m suddenly struck by how dull it all sounds. But I’m going to press publish anyway because at least I will have achieved something today! Right, I’m off to blitz the kitchen. Maybe then I’ll achieve something more than a half-hearted blog post before the kids return from a day with the in-laws.

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This is where I really want to be today. Not working at my kitchen table but on the slopes learning to ski! More about that later though.

Putting the vital into vitality

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Ok, so I know I’m late off the starting blocks with this one and everyone and their dog has already blogged their new year wotsits.

But that’s just tough. It’s my blog and I’ll be 12 days late 2 months late to the party if I want to be. Fashionably late, of course.

So instead of having resolutions to stick to this year, I’ve decided to focus on a word. A single word that inspires me over the next 12 months (ok, 11 months and 2 weeks 10 months for all you pedants). So I’ve chosen Vitality. I want 2014 to be full of vitality. I want to feel vibrant.

Life lessons

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This one has taught me more in seven years than I ever thought possible…he forgot to include the update require for his little brother though!

One of the vey first bloggers I followed, the lovely Julochka, was writing about life lessons today. So I’m blatantly copying her and writing my list of what life has taught me so far:

  • no two children are ever the same, even if they look darn near identical and you struggle to tell who is who in baby photos
  • just because you’ve already parented one child to the ripe old age of 7, it does not mean you are an expert on subsequent children (see above)
  • salted caramel is highly addictive
  • my children are like puppy dogs. They need feed and exercised at regular intervals to be happy. Also prone to occasional accidental puddles.
  •  fresh cut flowers sitting on my window sill make me oh so happy and are worth the expense
  • when it come to chocolate, quality does count
  • no matter how much storage space you have, your junk belongings will expand to fill it
  • doing something you fear is good for your soul
  • judgey pants are flattering on no-one
  • sometimes it’s just easier to accept the quirks in other people that bug the hell out of you – they’re not going to change (nor should they) so deal with it
  • when it’s a choice between housework or messing around on the beach/in the woods with the kids, choose the beach/the woods. Every time.
  • cakes from supermarkets may look prettier than homemade, but they are all style and no substance AKA not worth the calories
  • a drizzle of honey and a splash of cream is the only way to eat porridge while holidaying in the Highlands. Totally worth the calories
  • emptying the dishwasher before you collapse into bed is worth the 5 minutes of pain. It will save you 20 minutes of pain the following morning.
  • no matter how hard you try to empty the ironing/laundry basket before going away on holiday, your mother-in-law will find at least 2 loads worth of dirty clothes and painstakingly iron every single item. This is a good thing and should not make you feel inferior.
  • ironing knickers however, is just wrong (see above) AKA life is too short
  • and finally, this one really is stolen from Julochka: sometimes you don’t know what you think until you write it
  • and finally, finally (also inspired by Julochka): writing is cathartic and healing and wonderful and precious and should never be overlooked. It is also considerably cheaper than therapy

What would your list of life lessons look like?

 

Tattie holidays win

Many years ago, the perfect holiday involved sun, sea, cocktails and a stack of unread books.

Fast forward to today and my idea of the perfect holiday has somewhat changed, as I’m sure it has for most parents. But after 3 days away in the Highlands, I think we’ve finally stumbled upon the perfect mix of ingredients that guarantees a successful family holiday. One where everyone is happy, tantrums are kept to a minimum and we return home with our sanity intact.

Now, I have to admit, when we started planning a little holiday to coincide with the tattie holidays (October half term for all you non-Scottish readers), I had my heart set on a gorgeous apartment in Turkey. There was a pool, lots of lovely little restaurants and plenty of wildlife and culture to explore if we felt like it. I had visions of lunching al-fresco on gorgeous Turkish tapas, sipping a cold beer as the sun set and watching the boys entertain themselves in the pool all day long.

But flying to Turkey would have meant a 3.5 hour drive to Glasgow to catch the flight out and the same drive on the way home (after landing at 11pm). So we decided to look closer to home. Lake District? Hmm…6 hour drive. West Coast of Scotland?…possibly. Edinburgh? Definitely in the top 5. But in the end we plumped for Aviemore. A mere 1 hour drive from our home. We found a hotel with decent sized family rooms that actually had bunk beds in a separate adjoining room for the kids instead of the ubiquitous lumpy sofa bed. But the best bit? Our hotel deal included dinner as well as bed and breakfast. No cooking! Hurrah!

The hotel also had a swimming pool, decent sized adventure playground, a soft-play centre right next door and was a lovely 25 minute walk from the centre of Aviemore. It was perfect. It was also full of families just like us, so there was no tutting at mealtime meltdowns (which we thankfully avoided) and although I was beginning to find the Italian buffet a bit dull by the third night, it was ideal for the kids – as much spag bol, pizza, macaroni and ice-cream as they could eat.

We filled our days with fresh air. The mild autumn weather was perfect for the many walks along river and loch that we took and we even ventured to the top of Cairngorm mountain (by Funicular railway, not on foot I hasten to add). The views around ever corner were breathtaking. Loch Morlich and Loch An Eilan sparkled in the sunshine, both wearing spectacular autumnal jewelled necklaces of burnt orange and red, while the scent of the pines trees was intoxicating.

Our photos don’t do the scenery any justice sadly. So you’ll have to trust me that each and every loch and every sun dappled, tree lined country road refreshed my soul in ways I had forgotten was even possible. We spent time together, just the 4 of us. We laughed and talked and giggled and ate and giggled and drew silly pictures and made up silly songs and giggled some more.

No, you can keep your swanky Turkish apartment (for now). For us, all we need is fresh air, a decent sized swimming pool, unlimited food and a make your own ice-cream sundae bar for a successful family holiday.

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Feeling the seasons

IMG_1338It’s autumn. There’s absolutely no denying it. There’s a distinct chill in the air as we walk to school in the morning. The beautiful, majestic ferns we can glimpse through the trees are losing their dignity and fading fast. The leaves are slowly turning golden and the nights…yip, they are most definitely ‘drawing in’.

But it’s all good. I love autumn. The colours, the smells, the opportunity for big hearty stews, bracing walks along the beach and of course an abundance of blackberries to pick.

I think autumn is my favourite season. Sunny days, still warm enough to enjoy being outdoors but the nights cool enough to enough long hot baths and snuggling under blankets. Putting your pyjamas on at 8pm, knowing you don’t have to leave the house again until morning. Lighting candles and enjoying a glass of red wine when the children are safely in bed. There’s something special about autumn. In my mind, it’s the best of both worlds – excuses to enjoy the great outdoors and the opportunity to hibernate in the evening.

Certainly one advantage of our move back home has been a sudden heightened awareness of the seasons. In this corner of Scotland summer can feel like it visits for a brief 2 week window before buggering off somewhere warmer. So we’ve been dashing to the beach ever since June with rallying cries of “let’s make the most of the sunshine while it lasts! Tally ho! To the beach we go!”. True, I did have to buy wetsuits so the boys could brave the near-freezing temperatures of the North Sea, but hey, it’s character building and they weren’t complaining (until they did actually turn blue. Oops).

We’ve had a cracking summer really, with only a handful of days where it was too miserable to contemplate playing in the park or wandering through the woods.

But now autumn has arrived, our rallying cry has changed slightly to “Quick! Let’s pick those brambles before someone else does or they all rot on the bushes” or “Quick! Let’s make the most of the daylight. This time next week it’s going to be pitch black at this time of night!”.

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We’ve become more aware of the changing seasons, more appreciative of the time/weather/sunshine/daylight we have *right now* and mindful that those things will all change soon.

It’s meant we’ve become more spontaneous. The dinner dishes can wait, the setting sun won’t. The floors can wait another couple of hours to be washed, those brambles won’t be ripe forever.

It’s a bit like childhood really. It doesn’t last forever. At times, it can feel tempestuous and unpredictable. But then a new day dawns and all is shiny and bright and wonderful.

So essentially, what I’m trying to say is, Scottish weather and the seasons up here are just like a toddler. Prone to changing their mind, sometimes set in their ways, unwilling to wait or be delayed unless it’s on their terms, but in the end, a joy to experience if you have the appropriate footwear and clothing. Just a shame the weather can’t be negotiated with. Oh hang on..that’s right. Neither can toddlers.

Making an exhibition of myself

 

story of mum exhibition

As a writer, there’s few things I love more than a good story. As a parent, I love reading other people’s parenting stories and find them a great source of inspiration, humour, empathy and motivation. But it’s not just the tales of enduring hardship or overcoming obstacles that count. Everyday stories matter too, because as parents we navigate obstacles (usually discarded by disgruntled 3 year olds) and endure many things (often the battle of wills at mealtimes) on a daily basis. Even sharing that which seems mundane to us, can be inspiring to others.

For this reason, I jumped at the chance to get involved with the Story of Mum online exhibition. Pippa, the brains behind the project, explains why she thinks it’s important that mums are heard in this lovely blog post.

“…we’re putting mums into high profile galleries to show everyone (including ourselves) what an important job we do.”

We all need reminding sometimes that what we do as parents is important. That it’s worthwhile. A quick browse through the Story of Mum online exhibition gives plenty of food for thought, but my favourite section is the My Mum Story section. 3 minute videos that are deeply personal, touching and a joy to watch.

So, as my contribution to curating the Story of Mum exhibition here at Eggdipdip, I’d like to share one of the My Mum Story videos with you. My personal favourite is from Pippa herself. It’s so honest and mirrors what so many of us have also experienced. I must admit, it also brought a wee tear to my eye:

And for my contribution to the online exhibition, I give you this self portrait:

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A magpie and a mirror? What’s all that about?

I think of myself as a magpie sometimes because well, you can distract me with anything shiny. Be it diamonds, sequins, or a bright reflective surface, I’m all over it. I’m also rather partial to shiny happy people and surround myself with them as often as I can. Now the mirror part is a bit more deep. I’ve come to realise that not only do my children mirror the behaviours, mannerisms and attitudes that I demonstrate to them, but as they grow older, I mirror them.

I can wake up in a grump, tired and fed-up with the world and all it takes is the flash of a smile or an overheard giggle and I’m transformed. When my children are in a good mood, I’m in a good mood. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

I also see so much of myself in my children. Hardly a day goes by without a reminder that these small people have 50% of my DNA. They have the same love of outdoor spaces, the same enthusiasm for life and adventure (boy do I need reminding that I once too had the same enthusiasm!) and the same need to be sociable. My eldest’s love of books is mirrored by my own thirst for knowledge and sharing the first Harry Potter book with him each night, chapter by chapter, is quite possibly my favourite part of the day at the moment.

I hope both my boys grow up to be shiny happy people and surround themselves with people that shine with happiness. I think we’re all mirrors to some extent and it’s hard to be anything other than shiny when happiness is reflected back at you.

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DIY fail

I like to think I’m an independent woman. I like to think I’m a pretty good problem solver. Turns out though, when it comes to DIY, I am rubbish.

This infuriates me.

I don’t want to need a man to put up a shelf or hang a picture for me. I can wield my own drill thank you very much.

Except, it turns out I can’t. Drills and me and this new house are not a good mix.

With a couple of hours spare this afternoon I decided to tackle some of the jobs that have been hanging over us since we moved in. You know, hanging pictures on the wall, putting up coat hooks that sort of thing. Now, the smaller pictures were a doddle. Bang a picture hook into the wall, hang picture, done. But the larger pictures and mirrors we have were going to need something more substantial to take their weight. I should have known really, when our own drill refused to charge up. I should have admitted defeat and asked for help. But no. Not me. I dashed across to my parent’s house to borrow their drill.

Luckily, I decided to start with the coat hooks. We have a lovely shelf unit thingy that used to hang in our porch in the old house, but since we no longer have a porch, I decided to hang it in the cupboard under the stairs. All our coats would be neatly hidden away. Genius. It even has handy little baskets for hats and gloves. My life was going to be *so* organised with this finally up and in use. So I merrily marked where the holes would go with a pencil and powered up the drill…only to make an almighty mess of drilling a hole.

All I can say is, thank goodness for polyfiller and local DIY stores.

So what have I learnt from today? Well, I’m still an independent woman. I can still hang pictures. But I now know my limits. New build houses have terribly tricky walls to drill obviously *cough*. Oh, and I’m still a good problem solver (see above mention of polyfiller for proof).

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