Author Archives: marmaladepie

After school clubs – what’s your magic number?

After school clubs – what’s your magic number?

Our children spend at least six hours every day in school. We expect them to sit down in a classroom from an early age and learn. And once the school day finishes, the clubs begin.

Why do we do it?

To put it simply, it’s about getting their bums off seats. Sports activities allow our children to let off steam and learn new skills in a safe, structured environment. Social groups, like the Scout movement, encourage independence and ingenuity outside the home.

How much is too much?

Recently, I realised that after-school clubs were starting to dominate our lives. Like a lot families, we’d started off with just one activity per child each week. But this had started to creep up, until we only had Mondays and Fridays free each week. The balance felt wrong.

A quick straw poll amongst my friends told me that we all feel the same. Our older children are doing 2-3 activities per week, our youngest 1-2.

Is that too much? Maybe not if your children are doing their activities at the same time, in the same place. But what if they’re all in different places, at different times? That could mean 4 or 5 different seperate activities to get to each week. It’s a lot of rushing about, not to mention expensive.

Is that ok?

The answer is different for everyone.

For our family, three afternoons full of activities and clubs were too much. We were neglecting some of the other important things in life: meals eaten at the same table, time to read together and complete homework. Calm bedtimes. And most important of all: the chance to relax and just be.

After school clubs: what's your magic number?

How to do you find a balance?

First, prioritise your children’s activities.

Do they really love them all, or is there a sense of obligation? It’s good to teach your children commitment, but equally it’s also nice to allow them room to breathe. Is there one activity where everyone always drags their heels, but you feel you ought to do? Talk about it and reach a compromise.

For us, that was swimming. It’s an important life skill that they need, but they never want to go. We now go on a Sunday morning. I’ve always fought against clubs at weekends, but we’ve all agreed this won’t be forever. Once they’ve learned to swim confidently, they can choose to stop if they like. It eats into the weekend, but we all go together and combine it with a nice lunch in town. They’re learning, but we’re also getting to spend time together as a family – much better than rushed afternoons at the pool.

Remember that clubs get more serious as time goes on

Lots of activities require more commitment from your child as they get older. Football, martial arts and dance often start small, but become full-scale commitments over time. If your child has a passion for something, encourage them, but remember, that other things may have to fall by the wayside.

After school clubs – what’s your magic number?

Team up with other parents

If your children desperately wants to do something, but you can’t make it work with your schedule, team up with other parents. Share lifts, or take it turns to look after younger siblings. If you need to keep costs down, how about meeting up for more informal activities with friends? Football or a scavenger hunt in the park.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the neighbours

Try not to be influenced by what so-and-so’s child is doing. Some families relish being busy all the time, others don’t. Do what works for you as a family, and no one else. If this means teaching your children to swim yourself at weekends, or restricting sports to a casual kick about in the park, then so be it.

Remember that down-time is an important activity in its own right

Never forget that. We expect a lot from our children. It’s essential that they have some time to themselves too. Time to just drift and do exactly what they want (even if that’s nothing). We shouldn’t be micro-managing every aspect of our children’s lives. They have the rest of their lives to be weighed down by schedules and commitments. Give them opportunities, but also give them the precious gift of freedom!

 So, what’s your magic number? I’d love to hear how you make it work. 

 

How to be a hothouse flower: your guide to the tropical trend

Tropical trend by H&M

Image c/o H&M

The tropical trend is huge right now.  Look carefully and you’ll see it everywhere – on cushions, prints and even trousers!

Worried it’s all a bit naff? Think again. The time around the tropical trend is very grown up. It’s all leafy palms, rich greens, hot house flowers and luxurious gold accessories.

More of a wallflower than a hot house flower? Here’s my easy guide to all things tropical. 

The great thing about new trends is that you don’t have to completely immerse yourself in them (unless you want to). You might not want your living room to look like a rainforest, but how about giving it a subtle update with bright botanical prints? Choose a few inexpensive, key pieces and you can instantly update the feel of your home.

Let’s begin in the living room. Textiles, especially cushions, are a great place to start. H&M Home have a fabulous range of tropical cushion covers at the moment. I don’t think you need to look anywhere else! To keep things feeling relaxed, mix your bright cushions with neutral throws and simple jute rugs and baskets.

Tropical cushion covers

Clockwise, from top left: Tropical leaf, £8.99 / Banana print, £8.99 / Monkey, £8.99 / Green leaf, £3.99 – all by H&M

Once you’ve got a few cushions, add a touch of (affordable) luxury with gold accessories and even a cheeky parrot or two. One new piece on its own will look a bit lost. Choose a few objects to create a fresh story within your room.

Tropical accessories

Ceramic parrot jar, £29.99, Rockett St George / Wine rack, £45, Oliver Bonas / Pineapple candle in a jar, £4.99, H&M / Photo holders, £7.50, Oliver Bonas

The next step is houseplants – preferably several! Try creating a little jungle in one corner of the room using beautiful palms in pots and baskets. Or, if you want something faux, there’s a great selection of everlasting plants out there. But remember, something real will always make your room look and feel better. Real plants actually filter the air, and most don’t need too much care beyond the occasional water – promise! I never need much of an excuse to add another to my collection.

Faux plant, £7.99, New Look / Large gold planter, £17.99, H&M / Large silver planter, £17.99, H&M / Faux pineapple leaf plant, £5.99, New Look

The bedroom is also a wonderful place to embrace the tropical trend. Try bright bed linen, which is an inexpensive way to transport your room (temporarily) to the tropics. Again, keep things grounded with natural baskets and rugs.

Tropical Bedroom

Duvet cover, £19.99, H&M / Sea grass Basket, £19, Oliver Bonas / Candle holder, £12.99, H&M / Jute rug, £34.99, H&M

What do you think of the tropical trend? Love it loathe it? 

The pleated skirt of dreams revisited

Primark pleated skirt

A month ago I wrote a post about the pink pleated skirt of my dreams. It’s so good, I’ve since bought it in two more colours!

It’s probably breaking some kind of blogger etiquette to write about the same thing twice, but I can’t resist sharing this skirt with you again. Simply because it’s such so perfect and versatile. The kind of clever buy that I know will carry on being useful until autumn. And all for £8.

Pleated skirt + tee + denim jacket = my easy-peasy new uniform

Primark pleated skirt

Unusually for Primark, it’s a really good fit. Especially if you’re (like me) a pear shape. You’d think a pleated skirt would be unflattering, but I find it skims over my tummy and hips, and accentuates my waist. The fabric is also key to its appeal – soft jersey, which is practical and informal.

These skirts were back in stock in my local Primark last week and I snapped up a khaki green and a soft blue. I tried about a million other things on, but these skirts still came out tops. They’re a hidden gem that’s worth investing in – even if it means you have to go and rummage in your local store!

Primark pleated skirt

Have you got one of these skirts? How do you like to style it?

#OnePerfectThing in April

Spring Posy

Perfection often feels out of reach. But however imperfect you’re finding life, you can make an effort to find #OnePerfectThing. Something which makes you pause, smile and feel thankful.

#OnePerfectThing is a community I started on Instagram last May. I started it as a little project to remind myself to feel happy every day. And I’m so happy it’s inspiring others to look for the little happy moment in life too!

April was a month of blossom, mini eggs and flowers from the garden. The weather didn’t always behave, but we had some really gorgeous days and hardly any April showers. I love the way that the colour palette changes with every month. April was full of pinks, purples and blues – cherry blossom, tulips and forget-me-nots.

There’s been a lot of grumbling about Instagram lately. Mainly, about how it’s losing the authentic, friendly feeling it once had – that algorithms are crushing the natural camaraderie of the space. I agree with this in some ways, but it’s still possible for us to enjoy creating our own little communities within it. So let’s keep on sharing what we love.

Here are my favourites from April!

#OnePerfectThing in April

Top row, left to right: @analima236 / @thelinencloud  / @margotgoodlife

Middle row: @georgia_coote / @amy_liz / @sallytangle

Bottom row: @mrs.a.king / @whenlovelookslikelaughter / @lindyann38

 

A bunch of May

May Day posies

A bunch of May I have brought you

And at your door it stands.

What does the first of May make you think of? May poles, ribbons and pretty dresses, perhaps? Or maybe it’s the old wives tale about getting up at dawn to wash your face in the morning dew. There are lots of complicated, intertwining traditions, most of which are now long forgotten.

These days, most of us just hope for a day of good weather.

But we can still enjoy May Day in its very simplest form. The desire to celebrate spring and spread some joy never goes out of fashion.

Last year I wrote about May Day traditions, and this year I’m revisiting the subject.

One very sweet May Day tradition from the nineteenth century were the floral garlands made by children. These garlands were carried around the village by children, who would sing and dance at people’s doors.

In Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson remembers that:

on the last morning of April the children would come to school with bunches, baskets, arms and pinafores full of flowers – every blossom they could find in the fields and hedges or beg from parents or neighbours

These flowers were woven round a wooden, bell shaped structured, carried about on sticks.

May Day posies

I’m not about to resurrect this tradition (although it could be rather lovely if you live in village), but how about talking a little of its spirit and re-interpreting it for today? I love the idea of using flowers to spread a little joy around the neighbourhood.

So, this May Day I’m going to gather flowers and greenery from my garden and make posies. The children are going to help, and we’re going to deliver them to our neighbours. All you need are a few empty jam jars and some gathered blooms and blossom.

May Day posies

Tie on a label and leave one on someone’s doorstep to make them smile! 

If you’d like to share your photos on Instagram please use hashtag #abunchofmay – I’d love to see what you make! 

 

Three things I’m loving this week

Crab apple blossom

According to the weather man on my radio this morning the weather this week is going to feel more like January than late April. The news is pretty dreary too. Whatever. My internal barometer is still firmly set to spring.

So, let’s not talk weather or politics (for now), let’s embrace the sweetness and light. 

T-shirts that do the talking

I haven’t worn a slogan t-shirt since the 1990s. And until recently I wasn’t in a hurry to wear one again. But there’s no denying they’re having a bit of a thing at the moment. I snapped up this gorgeous grey t-shirt from Joanie Clothing, which is perfect for spring. It makes me think of coffee, pancakes and sunny weekend mornings.

Joanie clothing t shirt

Fresh new scent

While I was (child-free) at the airport the other week I bought a bottle of Earl Grey and Cucumber cologne from Jo Malone. It’s really fresh and summery – sweet, but not cloying. It’s quite light, so I’m enjoying squirting clouds of it over myself at every opportunity. I prefer the smaller size bottles as I can never commit to choosing a huge bottle.

Jo Malone Earl grey and cucumber cologne

The sweetness of apple blossom

The cherry blossom may be blowing off the trees, but the fun isn’t over yet. Now it’s the turn of all the apple blossom. It doesn’t just look splendid, it smells it too. Go sniff a branch, it’s the essence of spring.

Apple blossom

What are you loving this week?

Life lately: punting, a mini-break and chocolate

Spring flowers

Well, that’s the Easter holidays done and dusted! The children had two and bit weeks off school – which was just the right length of time for them to relax and spread their wings, without getting too fed up.

At the start of the holidays the weather was unusually warm and delightful. In Britain we’re trained from birth to make the most of every scrap of decent weather. As soon as the warm weather starts, everything shifts up into such a happy gear. People are smiling, the birds sing, barbecues are lit. I love it!

Ely is beautiful in the sunshine, but Cambridge is even better. We couldn’t resist heading over there for some punting in the sun.

Punting in Cambridge

Despite being Cambridgeshire born and bred, I’m still a newcomer to punting. Luckily, Mr Marmalade isn’t, so he was our punting chauffeur for the day. Blue skies, blossom, old buildings – heaven, as far as I’m concerned! You can hire a self-punt by the hour, or why not take a tour instead?

The River Cam

After we’d finished on the water, we headed straight into Fitzbillies on Bridge Street for some delicious coffee and lunch.

Fitzbililes, Cambridge

We then pottered about in the warm sunshine, admiring the blue sky and blossom – and wishing we had a spare million tucked away to buy a beautiful house in the city.

Cambridge cherry blossom

Later in the holiday we went away without the children for a couple of days on the Isle of Man. We don’t go away without them very often, so it was nice to just relax and be free from all our usual routines. Which mainly meant eating, drinking and going for a few walks.

Port Erin, Isle of Man

Our favourite walk was in Port Erin, hiking up to Bradda Head. At the start it was all wild garlic and bluebells.

Wild Garlic

By the time we reached the top we were floating in the clouds (let’s not talk about the rain).

Bradda Head

The Easter weekend rounded off the holidays with chocolate and roast dinners. The warm weather had disappeared by this point, but none of us wanted to stop being outside. So time was spent sowing seeds and visiting the plant nursery – all accompanied by coffee and chocolate eggs!

Easter eggs

And now the boys are back to school. Well, one is. The other is off on a school residential trip until tomorrow. I’m getting my work back on track and starting running and eating healthily again (the downside of eating too many Easter eggs).

Actually, I’m glad of the running, as it feels like a positive way to leap into the new term and all the new adventures it’ll bring.

Running through blossom

I hope you had a lovely Easter too. I’d love to hear about what you’ve been up to! 

 

A tale of cats and dogs

Tabby cat

In life, there are dog people and cat people. Some people like both, but usually, it’s one or the other. I always thought I’d be a dog lover for life. Turns out I was wrong.

I’ve always been a dog person. And for the first twenty-five years of my life they were always around. Loyal, affectionate, a bit smelly – but lovable, oh so lovable.

I always kept away from cats. Didn’t have one, didn’t want one. The claws, the fickleness, the jumping on everything – I just didn’t get it. Let’s just say we didn’t speak the same language.

I also thought I’d have dogs when I grew up. Well, I’m a grown-up now – with a husband, two kids and a mortgage – and guess what? It turns out it’s not as simple as that.

Dogs are a big lifestyle choice.

Deciding to get a dog is like deciding to have another baby. They need a lot of care, attention and walking – they also create a lot of upheaval. Chewing, little accidents, stealing, yapping. Mostly it’s happy chaos – of the amusing, character-building kind – but it’s still chaos. I already have two young boys who reduce my house to rubble daily. I felt like I had enough amusing spontaneity in my life already.

So, we didn’t get a dog. We got close a few times, but we always got cold feet. But you know what? Having no pets isn’t much fun.

Tabby cat

Last summer, I decided to try something different.

I decided to be a cat person. It all started when my husband (who has previous with cats) suggested we think about adopting one.

There seemed no harm in going along to meet some cats. We met two tabby sisters through the Cats Protection League. They appeared to like me and the children. I stroked their silky fur and they seemed to enjoy it. I felt a connection. They needed a home and we had one to offer. It felt right.

I was wary at first and a bit clueless. In a way that made it easier. I started again with no expectations. Cats are totally different to dogs, I had to forget everything I’d known about having a pet.

Tabby cat

So, what’s converted me?

They’re low key. If dogs are an annoying younger sibling following you around slavishly, then cats are the cool older kid you want to impress.

I’m not saying that owning a cat isn’t a commitment. It is. It’s just an awful lot easier. No one is expecting you to train them beyond the basics of cat flaps and litter trays. And no one’s really judging you either. Owning a dog is very public, and if your dog is anti-social you can feel like a social pariah. No one expects you to stand in the pouring rain at cat training classes.  The lack of expectations makes the whole feel less stressful, and more relaxed and pleasurable.

The trade-off is that you get a different kind of affection.

Dogs always know when you need love and affection, they’re very intuitive. Things are very different with cats. It’s not that they aren’t affectionate. What’s different is that it’s on their terms.

Some people say that a cat makes a home. They’re right. Part of their appeal lies not the physical affection, but the fact that they are always there in their own way. When they hear my key in the door, they come and say hello. They get stroked then they wander off (unless it’s tea time, in which case there’s a bit of polite mewing).

They are creatures of habit and I find enormous comfort in this. They’re nice, undemanding routines – cuddles, food and a bit of playing. It’s the opposite of the wearisome routines of owning a dog.

Tabby cat

But aren’t cats a bit boring and humourless?

I used to think so. But the truth is very different. Cats are every bit as amusing as dogs. The difference is that they amuse me in a gentle way, whereas dogs often just made me lose my temper.

I find their minor irritations quite amusing and charming. They get in the way when I take a photo or make a cake. But somehow, it’s sweet and endearing. They’re interested in what I’m doing and I like that. It’s the closest I get to the intuitive relationship I’ve shared with dogs.

Because their affection isn’t free-flowing, it can leave me feeling a little needy. But I think I prefer this to the slavish devotion of dogs, which can be overwhelming at times. Dogs are the needy ones, which can feel suffocating at times.

We have a very different relationship. I wouldn’t go so far as saying they own me, but it’s certainly very different. We’re on an equal footing. And you know what? It feels great.

Is there anything I don’t like?

I fully admit that I’m not a fan of rodents being brought into my house (dead or alive). But compared with the things my dogs used to do (fox poo, anyone?) these feel like things I can put up with.

Tabby cat

So, am I truly a cat person now?

I don’t own any cat tea towels yet, but I’m a convert.

Being a cat person isn’t quite like being a dog person. You don’t really own a cat. It’s more a way of life. I’ve picked up on their take-it-or-leave it attitude and I like it.

I get it now.

 

The Eames plastic chair: exploring a design classic with Lionshome

Eames chairs by Vitra

Image source: https://www.vitra.com/

The Eames plastic chair is a design classic. It’s been in production since 1950 and looks just as fresh and exciting now as it did back then. 

According to its designer, Charles Eames: “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose”.

He certainly achieved that with his classic plastic chair, which effortlessly combines practicality and style. The plastic seat is designed to mould itself to your shape, yet the elegant little legs keep it looking light and graceful.

Image source: https://www.vitra.com/

In recent years I’ve fallen in love with the mid-century look. It still feels fresh and exciting, yet it’s simple enough to sit well alongside designs from other periods. In my house I combine an original Ercol sideboard and a mid-century inspired sofa with bits of simple furniture from the nineteenth century and even IKEA. It’s a mix that works.

But I’m yet to own an Eames plastic chair. 

Like all design classics, the Eames chair, has inspired lots of imitations. Imitation is the best form of flattery – especially if it means that those of us with smaller budgets also get to enjoy a little bit of design history in our homes.

Where do you start to find one? With so many Eames-inspired plastic chairs out there it’s hard to know where to start looking. Which is where a site like Lionshome is incredibly helpful. Type ‘Eames chair’ into their search and they’ll instantly curate a collection for you to choose from. So much easier than trawling though lots of magazines and web searches.

When I typed in Eames plastic chairs, the first thing I found were the real things. The original design by Charles Eames, manufactured by Vitra, who’ve been making them since the fifties. They’re still being made to the same design. It’s been tweaked a little – the original fibre-glass reinforced polyester resin has been replaced with modern polypropylene – but it’s still essentially the same.

It can be yours, admittedly for quite a hefty price tag of between £300-400. For one chair.

Luckily, there are a lot of Eames-inspired alternatives out there for less than £100. The Lionshome site gathers them together so you can choose between the classic original and the cheaper versions, like this one (£57.50):

Eames-inspired chair

Or you could try one with metal legs (£57.50):

Eames inspired chair

Do you love Eames-inspired chairs? Would you choose the original (and probably best) or something more affordable?

This post was written in collaboration with Lionshome Home and Living. All words and ideas are my own. 

 

Decorating your home for Easter

Easter styling for your home

Easter is such a lovely time of year. I’m hopping with excitement like a little bunny.

Whatever your beliefs, we can all join in the celebration of new beginnings. Fill your house with the sights and scents of spring – anything from some flowering bulbs, or a pretty egg-tree. Then gather some friends and family and share delicious food and a bit of light-hearted fun. No one is ever too old to enjoy an egg hunt, are they?

Here are three easy ways to decorate your home this Easter

Bulbs in jar

Buy some potted bulbs. Take them out of their pots, divide and carefully wash the long roots to remove all the soil. This is great activity for little hands, who’ll find the long roots really fascinating.

bulb roots

Place in a jam jar or a vase with a little water. Don’t submerge the bulb, you just need a little bit of water for the roots. The bulbs have everything they need inside them and will continue to flower!

Easter styling for your home

Pretty posies in unusual pots

Make your spring flowers really shine by arranging them in interesting old china – like a pretty teacup or an old mug. An easy trick to achieve a really pretty, balanced arrangement is to create a grid with tape. I used washi tape as it’s more gentle on old china.

Easter styling for your home

It makes it much easier to create an even display that won’t fall over!

Easter styling for your home

An Egg tree

It’s an Easter classic that everyone should have a go at. Gather some twigs, ideally with green shoots or blossom on them. Casually arrange in a pot or vase and hang little decorations on the ‘branches’. Pussy willow also works brilliantly. Mine usually look a bit lopsided, but it wouldn’t be the same without one!

Easter styling for your home

Easter styling for your home

What are your favourite ways to decorate your home at Easter? I’d love to hear them in the comments!