Category Archives: Musings

My bank holiday manifesto

Bowl of roses

It’s been a week of two halves.

On the one hand, we’ve had the hottest weather of the year so far. We’ve unpacked our favourite summer clothes, lit our barbecues and enjoyed the happy-making feeling of warm sunshine.

But, in the background there’s been a lot of sadness too. On a personal level, I lost my much-loved grandma  – and on a collective level we’ve all been left reeling from the horrible events in Manchester. This week has had a slightly unreal quality and the Whitsun bank holiday (plus half-term) have crept up on me. Writing about fashion and days out feels trivial. It’s hard, and it’s easy to lose your desire to write.

But I woke this morning with a determination to grab the long weekend with both hands. My manifesto for the weekend is the antithesis of all the other manifestos around at the moment . It’s simple, happy and positive:

Sit on the grass with my children and chat about life, the universe and anything in between

Drink fizzy wine in my garden and watch the sun go down

Pack up at least one picnic, and aim to eat every meal outdoors

Light the barbecue at least once

Water my plants and pick my beautiful roses

Learn to use my new coffee machine

Hold hands, cuddle and make eye-contact with the people who matter most

That’s my manifesto. What’s yours?

Let’s start every week like it’s a new notebook

Start every week like it's a new notebook

My dislike for Mondays is nothing new. As soon as the credits start rolling on whatever Sunday night drama I’m watching, the gloom descends – it’s as regular as clockwork.

But I’m trying to be different. This morning when I woke up a little phrase popped into my head:

Let’s start every week like it’s a new notebook. 

A fresh new notebook is a beautiful metaphor for life. Open the front cover, write your name on the flyleaf and start afresh.

Last week’s notebook is looking a little dog-eared. Don’t throw it away just yet – you might need to refer back to it  – but don’t let it be your focus.  Leave it at home, you don’t need to keep carrying it around with you. Whatever happened last week can stay in last week.

Monday doesn’t have to be scary, it can be optimistic. Turn over those crisp new pages of your notebook and get going. 

Start every week like it's a new notebook

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The first half-term

Peter and Jane

So, you’ve survived the first half-term. Your children are (hopefully) settled into school. You’re probably feeling tired, a bit battered but also elated to have the first holiday in sight. Maybe your child has just started in reception, or maybe you’re a seasoned pro. Whatever. The feelings are very similar.

Over the last seven weeks or so you’ll have…

Done over thirty school runs. That’s thirty mornings of cajoling your children into their shoes.  Then the challenge of actually getting through the front door with book bags, rucksacks and little furry key rings all present and correct. Walking to school down the same roads, seeing the same people but always talking about something new. Anything from what they’re up to that day to something that’s worrying them. Or maybe just a conversation about landing a probe on Mars or whether Darth Vader is really bad, or just misunderstood.

You’ll have experienced the delights of British autumn weather. Freezing in the morning, yet the playground’s a boiling cauldron by 3.15. Cue mummy lugging home everyone’s coats like a packhorse while crossly sweating into her new winter coat. You’ve probably been soaked to the skin at least once, and one of your children will certainly have jumped in a puddle and completely soaked their socks. I’m hoping you’re not the kind of person that packs spares either.

img_0527

Your child may have received their first reading book and you may have been introduced to the weird and wonderful world of Biff, Chip and Kipper. Or maybe your child hasn’t got a reading book yet. That’s ok – it’s pretty unusual to get one in the first half term of reception. You may have learnt that it’s best not to rush or be impatient when it comes to reading. Or maybe you haven’t, in which case you may be worrying about it. Don’t.

Learning to read

You’ll have washed a lot of school uniform. And possibly forgotten to wash some too. Some weeks, three sets of everything just isn’t enough and there’s a fair bit of last-minute sponging going on. Black marker pen, gravy, mud and weird unidentified stains – you’ll have got to know them all well.

You’ll have made over thirty lunches. And emptied them out again at the end of day (or the next morning, possibly, which is bad if you put a yoghurt in). Perhaps you’ve wondered what to put in them. The classic combo of sandwich, fruit, muffin and a fruit yo-yo never let me down. Or maybe you’ll have done hot lunches, in which case you don’t really have much of a clue how much they’ve eaten and just hope a vegetable has been consumed at some point along the line. You then probably end up cooking another hot meal in the evening just to make sure they have eaten a vegetable.

Yo yo bear lunch box

You’ll have learnt about your lack of control. Not that you want to control your children, but it’s hard letting go. If your child has started in reception, then you’ve had to learn how to step back and accept that your child can make their own decisions and choices while they’re at school. You may have freaked out about this a bit and shed a few tears. Even when your child isn’t in reception the same thing happens every September. During the holidays they’re with you and you’re in tune with everything they do. Once they’re back at school things are a bit of guessing game at times.

The first half term is all a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. You’re child may have struggled to settle into school and perhaps you have too. So, well done. Make of the most of the half term by doing as little as possible and recharging everyone’s batteries!

I fully admit that this post us heavily based on my own experiences! What have you learnt during the first half term? I’d love to know. 

I was kindly gifted some yo-yo bears and a lovely lunchbox by BEAR to help us enjoy our first few weeks back at school. 

A country bike ride and a bit of thinking time

Pashley sonnet on a country bike ride

I don’t normally write about politics on this blog, but even I can’t avoid it today. I woke up on Friday morning feeling shocked with the result of the EU referendum. I wasn’t a fervent supporter of either side. My strongest feelings during the whole conflicting, bewildering campaign, was that I didn’t feel in any way qualified to make a decision of such magnitude. Voting Remain was the only option for me.

I thought it’d be close, but I hope it’d be in the other direction. Ever since the result I’ve felt shocked and confused. There’s only so much time you can spend reading about it before your head feels like it’s ready to implode.

A country bike ride was the perfect antidote. James and I rode from Ely to Coveney along a quiet country road. The flat, fenland landscape is ideal for cycling and you’re surrounded on all sides by cow parsley and fields of lush green crops. Ely Cathedral rises like a beacon in the distance.

Pashley sonnet on a country bike ride

My new Pashley bike was a dream to ride – so smooth and comfortable. I love the way I can sit upright while I’m riding it.  This is a must for me with a bad back and I’ve struggled on other bikes where you can’t maintain an upright position. We cycled nine miles, but I didn’t feel any discomfort the next day – which is a first for me and must owe a lot to the lovely saddle.

Pashley sonnet on a country bike ride

Whizzing down quiet country lanes was a great time to think and talk. Not just about the big issues, but also about things closer to home. I’ve spent a lot of time lately feeling like I’m not achieving as much as I should be – trying to run a home, a business and a blog and not really succeeding at any of them. But a pep talk in the sunshine with the breeze in my hair has given me a little boost.

And as for the current state of this country? I think it’s going to take a bit more than a pep talk to sort that mess out.

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What I’d really like for Mother’s Day…

Spring posy

A cup of tea in bed with the sun streaming through the window. I love a cuddle in bed with my boys, but ideally this Mother’s Day they’d be off amusing themselves – close enough for me to hear them happily pottering around in their room, while I sip my tea in relative peace.

A homemade card. Drawn and glued together by their own sweet, sticky little hands. I’ve had some lovely ones over the years and can’t wait to see this year’s creations.

For time to slow down a little. My children are now aged seven and five and I’m acutely aware that we’re in the golden age of childhood. This time of innocence won’t last forever and I’m trying to make the most of every minute. It would be very nice if time could slow down ever so slightly.

To make life less complicated for my children. Just recently I’m despairing of society’s desire to over-complicate childhood. Homework, tests, expectations, technology… I’d like to free them from that and let them concentrate on doing what childhood should be about – fresh air and no deadlines, mainly.

Time out together in the fresh air. No Lego, no screens, just a simple walk somewhere pretty. Ideally it wouldn’t rain, and no one would fall in a bog. But even if the worst happened, there’d always be some tea and cake to cheer us up at end.

Oh, and if anyone wants to buy me a Lush bath bomb or a bunch of flowers that would be very nice too! 

Tulips

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Twitter, I don’t understand you

Coffee

I have been on Twitter for seven years. Yet, I still don’t get it.

It seems to defy categorisation. Is it a place where you can enjoy a little bit of chat and fun during your morning coffee break? For some people it’s where you promote yourself or your brand. For others, it’s that harmless place to talk about what they had for lunch. Then there’s the dark side – where people band together as an ugly, faceless, group of vigilantes to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Where do I fit in?

Unlike other forms of social media, I’ve never been able to successfully dip in and out of it. I pop by in the morning and say some random, chirpy thing about my day. Mostly, It falls slowly like a heavy stone to the bottom of a very large pond, noticed by no one.

I mainly use it to share my blog posts and to support other bloggers by retweeting theirs. Occasionally, I say hi to someone. But it saps time that I should be spending doing something else, and it just doesn’t feel rewarding enough to justify that. I suppose I’m a part-time Twitter user, and I get the impression that that’s not possible.

Now, Instagram, I totally get you. I share pictures I love, and my life is enriched by looking at inspiring images from other users. I comment and like things – successfully dipping in and out throughout the day. I feel like I get something out of it, and I don’t actually mind it sapping up quite a bit of my time.

Twitter, on the other hand, feels like a cold, impersonal environment – rather like a giant school playground where no one wants to speak to you. Is it possible for Twitter to feel warm and welcoming, or is that just not the point? Increasingly, it doesn’t feel relevant to me.

Does anyone else feel like this, or is it just me?

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My resolutions for 2016

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year to you all! 

Here’s what I’d like to achieve over the next year – I’m writing it here in a bid to remember it all, and maybe inspire some of you too.

1. To practise Mindfulness as much as possible and weave it seamlessly into my everyday life. I’m often anxious and easily distracted and I really believe that using these techniques will be beneficial to me. By the end of the year I’d like it to be second nature, and not something I have to remember to do. I’ve signed up to Headspace and I’m reading this interesting (and funny) book.

2. Fake it until I make it. I’ve read this so many times before, but this year I really want to try harder at it. Smile more, do more, feel confident – if I do these things over and over again, they will eventually become true. I’d like to trick my mind into being more positive, which is not its natural default setting.

3. As well as de-cluttering my mind, I’d like to de-clutter my house. We’ve spoken about this before, but this year I want to take it to a whole new level. It’s more than de-cluttering really – we want to totally re-think the way we use our house. Time moves on and our needs are different – when we arrived here we had a toddler and in baby. Our needs are so different now, and it’s time for some change. Nothing drastic or structural, but a lot of sifting, sorting, decorating and swapping furniture around. First on the list: the kitchen!

4. Get fitter in a way that works for me. I’m far too creaky and achy for someone my age, and I’d like to get a lot fitter this year. I’m finally embracing running, and I’d like to continue my journey with it this year. It fits in well with school runs and feels very efficient. It also doesn’t seem to hurt my dodgy back. I’d also like to go swimming once a week – something I’m not keen on, but I’m determined to get better at.

5. Travel more. Now the boys are older and more flexible I’d like to travel more with them at the weekends. We live in quite a dull area of countryside, but we are perfectly placed for easy access to so many fabulous places – whether by car or train. You can get to just about anywhere from our railway station and I’d like to be more adventurous. As well as embracing the countryside, I’d also like to visit more cities – Bath is top of my list as I’ve always wanted to go there.

6. Start new ventures. As well as writing this blog, I’d like to seek out some other new opportunities. I’m still very much at the thinking stage but I’ll keep you posted!

7. Drink more water. This is on everyone’s list isn’t it? But I must do it by any means. Tea counts I’m sure.

8. Get up earlier. I’m terrible at getting myself out of bed in the mornings. Which is ok at the weekend, but bad news during the week. Currently I feel like most mornings get off to the wrong start because I’m running late and chronically disorganised. I could do with getting up at least an hour earlier to get a head start on the day. To help me do this, I’m banishing my phone to the kitchen at nights and have bought two new alarm clocks. As I said in resolution 2, I’m hoping that if I make myself do something enough times it will become natural after a while!

9. Eat nicer things for lunch. Eating healthily at lunchtime is a lot easier in the summer. In Winter I tend to regress back to nursery food: marmite toast, peanut butter sandwiches, boiled eggs…it’s all very beige. I want to vary things and eat more fruit and vegetables at lunchtime – it’s a whole culinary window that I’m missing out on. The boys eat lovely hot lunches at school, so it makes sense for me to eat something more exciting at lunchtime. Then we can all have marmite toast together at teatime!

It’s a modest list, but also pretty challenging in places. Really it boils down to doing more, being less afraid and drinking more water. 

Are you making any resolutions this year? If so, then good luck! 

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Creating a kindness branch

Kindness branch

My boys are old enough now to understand how exciting Christmas can be, but the message sometimes becomes a little muddled. It’s easy for them to think it’s all about receiving.

Like many families across the country we started opening our advent calendars yesterday. It’s a nice tradition, but this year I want to add something a little different. Something that we’ll be able to see growing as the advent calendars empty. That’s why we’ve made a kindness branch.

As they get older I really want to them to think more about others, and what Christmas means (aside from getting presents). We don’t emphasise the religious side of Christmas, but I do want to them to start celebrating something else: kindness. Or more specifically: kindness, generosity and gratitude.

I’ve been trying to think of ways to teach the boys more about kindness and generosity. I don’t want to bully them into behaving thoughtfully with threats or bribery (or that slightly creepy Elf on the Shelf).

This is what we’re going to do:

Every evening after dinner, we’re going to take a few moments to think about what we’ve done that day to help others, or how we’ve been kind – or perhaps simply to think of something we’re thankful for. We’re then going to tie a ribbon onto our kindness branch, which is hanging in the kitchen. If they’d rather not do it one day, then that’s ok – it’s not supposed to be about cajoling them into doing something.

Kindness branch

As the weeks go on, it will get prettier and prettier – unlike the advent calendars, which will get tattier, emptier and more forlorn.

Kindness branch

I tied together a few pieces of drift wood, but you could bring in some twigs from the garden.  You could also just tie your ribbons onto a long hanging thread, or on your bannisters.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you have any clever ways to teach your children a kinder and more generous way to approach Christmas?

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Decluttering our lives

Project Declutter

I can’t have a calm mind if everything around me is messy and cluttered. The two are intrinsically linked – the messier it gets, the more grumpy and stifled I feel. Which, in turn, makes me less inclined to deal with the mounting piles of random crap.

Every so often we look around our house and realise that clutter is making us miserable. With small children around, a lot of debris is created. When you add to this to piles of papers, books and magazines, the result is just a mess. We’re not hoarders by any means, but we do like things. The problem is that the things tend to get piled up, rarely looked at, and gradually sucked into the ever-growing detritus.

William Morris wisely said: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” October was officially Moan About Your House month in our household. In a bid to appreciate our surroundings more, we’ve decided to follow his advice. Here are five things we’ve been doing so far…

1. Emptying drawers and cupboards 

Hands up how many of us moved into our homes and jammed everything in a cupboard at speed? You always think you’ll back at a later date and sort things out, but life usually gets in the way. We’re slowly working our way round the house, emptying and re-organising our many  dumping grounds. You have to be quite brutal – if something has been shut away in a drawer for a few years, then surely it can’t be that important? In our house, the few important items have been sharing space with marbles, broken badges and old receipts for too long. We’re filling a lot of bin bags.

2. Rethinking the furniture 

Tastes change and we’ve been hanging on to a lot of furniture that we don’t really like any more. In some rooms, we definitely have too much of it, and in others it’s not earning its keep by being useful. It’s going to feel sad, but it’s time to part with some familiar old friends that aren’t working for us anymore.

3. Giving things away to charity

Last weekend we donated about thirty books to the charity shop and our shelves look so much better for it. We like to have books around, but it’s good to have a purge every now and again. That book you bought ten years ago, never read, but thought would make you feel clever? It has to go, along with the old textbooks which are already hopelessly out of date. The same goes for clothes – if you haven’t worn it in a year then, the chances of you wearing it again are pretty slim. Pass it on to someone else to enjoy. Sell them on eBay or take them to the charity shop.

4. Devote a few hours to sorting through your magazines and papers

I love magazines and tend to hoard them in piles. I now like to keep a few favourite ones, like Country Living. With all the others, I tear out recipes and ideas, then pass them on to a friend, or recycle them. To cut down on the piles of paper cluttering up the house, I now have several magazine files in our kitchen where we keep things like school letters. In theory, I’m supposed to empty these every month and do some proper filing. In theory.

5. Have less out on display 

I’m craving simpler, cleaner lines. To achieve this, I need to be more brutal and re-assess objects I’ve perviously considered beautiful. I’m going to start with the things that have the most dust on them!

Decluttering our lives is an on-going project. We’re determined to try and appreciate our house more. This is only the start! 

What are your favourite tips for beating the clutter? 

 

Am I becoming a housewife?

housewife

You made the decision to become a stay at home mother – a SAHM. You were brave, lucky and maybe it drove you a little crazy – but you chose this path, and you made it work.

On the day your four-year-old child walks into school for the first time your heart is bursting with feelings – pride, joy, perhaps relief – but also fear, confusion and sadness. Those special, intense years of full-time mothering have come to an end. What are you supposed to do now?

There’s no rule book any more

Sixty years ago, your path would have been mapped out. You’d have your children, stay a housewife – and that was (usually) that. These days women have the freedom to do whatever they want – but it’s seldom that simple, is it?

I’ve found that there’s a general expectation that once your children start school, your status will change. Suddenly, staying at home seems less admirable, and more self-indulgent. Now that I’m in this position, I feel like I’ve entered a social no-man’s land.

Things don’t change overnight

You don’t stop being a mother just because you’re not with your children. A mother who works wouldn’t say she was a part-time mother, would she? Every mother is full-time mother, but some do more outside the home than others.

After those intense years at home, it would be crazy to say that things are going to change overnight just because your children have started school.

You’ve spent years with children attached to your hip. You may have become defined by them to the extent that you don’t know who you are any more. If you’re lucky enough not to have to find paid work straight away, it can give you space in which to re-define yourself. You’ve barely had a minute to yourself for the last few years, so you’ve definitely earned it.

I decided to talk to some other women who have experienced this transition.

“My youngest son started school full time last year, and I wanted to be a constant,” says my friend Jo – a mother of two. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t have yearnings to do my own thing, make my own money – but I’m very lucky that I don’t have to. I decided to spend the first term having coffee with friends, reading books and trying to remember who the hell I was.”

And that time can be an unbelievably positive opportunity to tackle the inevitable to-do lists that go with motherhood.

“This is your opportunity to lighten that load,” says Katie – who’s been using her child-free time to feel more on top of things. “You cannot underestimate the benefit to your mood, mental health and mothering from ticking those things off and feeling successful and competent again.”

Allowing yourself a period of peace and rediscovery is ok.

But what do you do with yourself all day?

Having a tidy house makes me happy. Do I want to spend my whole day achieving that? No.

At the moment, I feel that in exchange for me doing the majority of the childcare and the housework, it’s ok to spend parts of my day doing things that make me happy. Writing this blog, crafting, meeting friends. As long as I can keep the house running smoothly, I don’t feel too guilty.

I know deep down, though, that I can’t play the homemaker forever. I was brought up by a working mother, and all around me are examples of fabulous women who are achieving more. And I’d like to do more – earn money, have stuff to talk about, spend time with new people.

So what are your options?

Going out to work is the obvious choice. It’s not simple though, especially for those who have chosen – until now – to stay at home with their children.

My mother-in-law Ruth explains how those complications quickly became obvious when she was in this position 30 years ago:

“Just as a woman begins to feel as if the world might start to open up, it dawns on her that very few jobs fit well with the school day, school holidays, and children being ill. Unless she starts using a child-minder, these three factors make full-time work pretty well impossible.”

If your children have only ever known you as a SAHM, rushing out to get a job feels a bit like pulling the rug out from under their feet. My children are occupied by school between 9am and 3.15pm, but the time that they’re with me is still pretty intense. For my eldest, there’s the ever-increasing homework. My youngest son’s expectations are more simple – warmth and familiarity at a time when everything else is changing for him. Stepping away from their needs is difficult.

Working part-time

Otherwise known as the Holy Grail.

Finding a job that can fit in with school hours is a perfect choice for many mothers. It might not be the role you want to do forever, but it’s a great way to ease back into work and rediscover yourself.

Most mothers I know juggle a part-time job with looking after their children. Sometimes this is a long-standing career like nursing, and sometimes it’s a job in a shop or an office. Unless you work in a school, the holidays are always going to be tricky. But people manage. It takes some rock solid planning, and sometimes a childminder or family support, but it is possible.

It’s certainly a lot easier if your employer is flexible. “I’m lucky that I work for a company where I can vary my day-to-day hours,” says Rebecca, a mother of two with a demanding job. “They go to breakfast club at school every day, and when I work full days they go to after school club. Working flexibly means I can pick the kids up three days a week.

“The culture of the company that you work for – and the attitude of your manager – is very important if you’re a working parent. Parenthood is full of guilt, and you don’t want the added stress of raised eyebrows when you have to dash home because your child has been sick all over the carpet at school.”

Meanwhile, Katie’s story is a good example of how life becomes a bit less complex if you can find paid work that you can do from home.

“I love running my own sewing business,” she says. “I make curtains, cushions and blinds. I can work from home and fit my hours in around the children, so it’s certainly the best option for them time-wise.”

Whatever you do, there’ll be an occasional spanner in the works – a poorly child or clashing schedules – but that’s life, isn’t it?

You can’t put off something you want to do just because it might be tricky sometimes.

Pursuing a new career

Having children young gave me a chance to postpone career decisions. I always thought that by the time I was in my thirties I’d know what I wanted to do when I grew up. Predictably, I still don’t know what career path I’d like to take, but I’m incredibly lucky to be a position of choice.

Re-training to do something practical like teaching or nursing is clearly a great option. You could choose to start from scratch or if you already have a degree, add on some practical vocational training – like a PGCE or a law conversion course. But it has to be said that trotting off to do this is not as easy as it sounds: there are childcare costs to consider, not to mention the fees. And then there’s the confidence issues.

Back to Ruth. Her story is an interesting case study:

“For me, with A-levels, but no vocational qualifications, the possibilities basically came down to part-time cleaning, bar-work in the evenings when my husband could take charge, jobs in schools, and self-employment. By the time my son went to school, my confidence and self-esteem were pretty well zero, and I really didn’t know who, or what, I was, so it took me a long time to get going.

“To begin with, I did cleaning, gave casual violin and recorder lessons, and worked in a pub. I did musical games at children’s parties, and also tried working in the kitchens of a factory and a school.

“A lucky break eventually led to a job in a band. The deeply unsocial hours were difficult, but we managed, and I gained some confidence from travelling, and from playing on stage. By the time I was 37 I could see that my career as a musician wouldn’t last forever, so after a lot of thought I began training part time to become a counsellor. During my training, which lasted seven years, I did a lot of voluntary work as a counsellor and supervisor, and an MA in counselling finally enabled me to secure paid NHS work that fitted around the rest of my life.”

There are so many success stories about women who have returned to education after having children. It’s not going to be easy path though, and I know that if I go down this road I have to do some serious research.

Don’t define your value solely in terms of the money you (don’t) earn

Don’t be ashamed to stay at home if you can – as long as it brings you happiness. It doesn’t make you a failure. Looking after your home and your children’s needs are enough to keep anyone occupied, and you’re worth more to your family than any salary.

But are you using your children as an excuse to avoid challenges? In reality, children are very adaptable. I suspect it’s usually much harder for the grown ups.

And if you do want change, remind yourself that it’s ok to feel scared about stepping out of the cosy bubble of family life.

I need to follow my own advice here and start making sense of my future. For now, that’s going to mean carrying on with my blog – and finding some voluntary work. I’m going to see where that takes me in the short term and stop beating myself up about the long term.

What’s right for me might not be right for anyone else. We’re individuals. But for every one of us, the important thing is to be self-aware – to recognise that we have choices – and to make positive decisions that are driven not by the fear of the unknown, but by our hearts.

The Twinkle Diaries