Grouting and chai tea

Refurbishing your home on a budget

So we’re cracking on with our plans to freshen up our house.  It’s basically had nothing done to it except for basic maintenance for quite a few years as it’s been rented out, so it’s looking a bit tired.  We started by going round the house with a notepad and pen and listed down every single thing that we think needs doing – new bathrooms, new carpets, new kitchen, flooring… Then we went back over the list to see what we can afford to do now, what will have to be put on hold until budget allows us to start work and how we could freshen up bits and pieces until they can be replaced.

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Bedroom lamp

Happy February!

I’m SO glad that January’s over.  It’s always such a long, miserable month, and with added cold weather and post-Christmas cashflow it can make you feel really low.

Happily today it’s February! My first trip of the year (on the gorgeous Disney Dream) starts next week so I’ll be getting some sun, and we’re carrying on with a few bits of house refurbishing. It’s amazing how much difference little things make.

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Rosie serving bowl, Anthropologie

Wishlist: kitchen luxe

Happy Monday! Hope yours is going well.  I spent most of the weekend dreaming and drawing and planning (oh and making yummy barbecue pulled chicken too). We’ve been working and saving really hard for our upcoming kitchen refurb and it’s lovely to think that this is the year that we’ll actually be able to start making our dreams become a reality.  I spend so much time in the kitchen, it’s one of the places that I’m really looking forward to starting work on.  We want to knock the wall down between the kitchen and the dining room to recreate a larger, more sociable space – something that really hit home to me during our New Year’s Eve party, when I was stuck at the sink clearing plates between courses, listening to everyone having fun in the next room.

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Habitat sofa

My home wishlist

I can’t believe we’re finally going to refurbish our house!  I’m so excited and seem to be spending hours (okay, more hours than usual) on Pinterest and various home websites, planning and plotting and dreaming about how our home could look.

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Lyra and Chas bed

House news – and teenage bedrooms

So things on the house front have moved on AGAIN.  After the third house purchase fell through, I’ve got to be honest, we were pretty despondent.  I’ve never heard of it happening before, but the last one got right to survey and then the survey came in 20k under budget.  Anyone else had any experience of that?

Anyhoo, it’s all change again, because we think we’ve found the perfect house – the one we’re already in!  We’ve got some lovely plans to do the place up – with a spacious kitchen diner instead of our poky kitchen and separate dining room  (more of this later, but my Pinterest page is burgeoning) and new floors and even bathrooms when funds permit.

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The beautiful garden at our dream house

My week in food: doughnuts, chocolate pudding and dhal

Happy Sunday!  I hope you’re having a lovely chill-out day wherever you are.  I’ve had a such a lovely week this week, with some AMAZING career news (that sadly I can’t tell you about yet – I know, I hate it when people do that too), and a visit from Sam, home from university for a couple of days (he’s loving it, by the way – London/uni life really seems to suit him). I also had an incredible time at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons – more of this later on in the week.  We’ve also put an offer in on the HOUSE OF OUR DREAMS, but I’m really trying not to get too excited as it’s very early days and we’re still waiting on a mortgage too (but check out the garden – above – how pretty is that?).

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Flapjack and builders' tea

The house update. And flapjacks.

So since our original offer on the House of Bodily Fluids back in July, we really haven’t heard very much.  We didn’t really chase it as I guess we’re not in a massive hurry, but all of a sudden it kind of dawned on us that we hadn’t had any paperwork, and started to chase a bit harder.  Our solicitors, worryingly, had heard nothing at all from their solicitors.  I drove past the house and they hadn’t even STARTED clearing it, and you can imagine what a job that’s going to be.  Then we started to hear rumour that the probate wasn’t going smoothly and there were issues with the man’s business that had to be sorted before the house could be sold… Ugh.

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Habitat 'Radius' oak bed and 'Mauzy' bedding

Champagne lifestyle, lemonade budget…

So with news that the House of Bodily Fluids could soon be ours (I guess we shouldn’t totally get our hopes up until we’ve actually exchanged contracts), we’ve started doing that nesting thing where you go out window shopping for things you’ll never really be able to afford but you’d buy if you had unlimited funds (known as ‘champagne lifestyle, lemonade budget’ in our house).

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The H of BF

The House of Bodily Fluids

So I wrote a while back about our house dilemma: stay here or move to pastures new.  We’ve been looking around for a while, and a house in the same village we currently live caught our eye.  And kept catching our eye.  It was in an area that we quite like, a nice size… but there it was, every time we did an internet search – that same house.  It didn’t sell. And in a buoyant market that seemed a little odd. Read more

Wren Kitchens cream gloss with Mali wenge gloss

New kitchen? Don’t mind if I do.

We’ve got loads going on here at English Towers at the moment.  There’s possibly a move on the cards (New, New English Towers?), or possibly the chance to refurbish the current English Towers.  Whichever way, I’ve absolutely set my heart on a new kitchen.  My Pinterest board for kitchens is getting bigger and bigger, and there are bits of magazines everywhere.

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An autumn update and lemon drizzle cake

Lemon drizzle cake - ENGLISH MUM

So after three weeks of back to back holidays, I have a huge amount to write, but I’m taking my time, settling back home, attacking the Giant Washing Mountain of Buckinghamshire, and doing a bit of nesting.

I love our house and, although I’ve loved every minute of gallivanting about on the med, it’s just been wonderful to come back to English Towers, find my slippers (although one was populated by a spider of epic proportions that prompted much hopping about and squealing), dig out my jimjams and kick back with a cuppa and a magazine.  I’m having a bit of a magazine crisis at the moment.  I’ve gone off my old favourite so I’ve been buying a few different ones to try them out. This one is really good.  One of my Instagram friends described it as a ‘lovely cosy warm jumper’

The Simple Things

But most of all it’s been lovely to get back in the kitchen and baking again.  On Sunday, we had a Moroccan chicken pilaf (an easy, one-pot wonder) and then lemon drizzle cake (which seemed somewhat apt as we sat at the table and watched the drizzle in the garden):

Lemon Drizzle Cake

170g butter
170g golden caster sugar
170g self raising flour
3 large free range eggs (duck eggs are fab for baking if you can find them)
2 large unwaxed lemons
2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

So it starts off just as a normal ‘pound cake’ really.  Weigh everything out first, then cream the butter and the sugar until it’s really pale (preferably with an electric whisk – this should be really light).

Break the eggs into a bowl and add the juice and finely grated rind of one of the lemons, then it’s easy to just dribble it into the butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

If, when adding the eggs, the mixture starts to curdle, just add a tablespoon of the flour – this will bring it back together.  Now stir in the flour until it’s just combined.

Pour into a buttered loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 – 40 minutes.  Check to see if it’s done by popping a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean.  If not, put it back in for 5 minutes.

Bring it out of the oven.  Put the zest and juice of the second lemon into a bowl and whisk in your sifted icing sugar, then carefully take the cake out of the tin and spoon the lemony liquid all over the top of the cake.  Serve at once with lots of cream or ice cream.  Or leave to cool and scoff with a cup of tea. Either way, it’s divine.

Lemons for lemon drizzle

Ten reasons why my life is on a loop: get well cheese and crossed lines

It dawned on me today, while I was ironing a t-shirt, and dwelling upon the fact that I swear I’ve ironed the same t-shirt (black with a blue Cylon on it if you’re interested) three times already this week, that I live my life on a bit of a loop.

Week in, week out, the same things happen to me.  For example:

1.  I spend a ridiculous proportion of my time in the car.  

I do the school run a gazillion times (okay, ten, but then there are extras because the Mad Professor never really seems to be at school that much and does things like going in at 8.30 then being finished by 11am, but mysteriously still needing lunch money), and the twice weekly trip to kickboxing, then pick up an hour later, for the Dude.  Which reminds me, I need a new CD.  Maroon 5’s new one is very good but I know all the lyrics now.  If you’d like me to sing them to you, just give me a ring, kay?

2. We laugh at the same old jokes.  

Our in jokes are recycled hundreds of times.  The fact that we call Blockbusters ‘Blockbastards’ for instance, and our Volvo is called the ‘HAHA VULVA‘ after the lady with Tourettes in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.  Rent it at Blockbastards, quick).

3.  I get this look.  A lot.

This is the look that says ‘bloody biscuits?  You know I hate biscuits’ and warrants the same response from me every day: ‘the vet says they’re good for your teeth, so eat up and stop giving me the face’.  I then sleep fitfully and with one eye open in case she comes in the night to take her revenge.

4. I act like a bit of a tit

This week, on being asked to rinse and spit at the dentist, I spat all over the floor (in my defence, the anaesthetic had kicked in and I couldn’t feel half my mouth).  To add insult to injury, I then dissolved into helpless giggles for ten minutes while he stood patiently, holding his drill (not a euphemism) waiting for me to recover.

Oh, and not forgetting the old ‘get to the top of the stairs then forget what you came up for’ routine. Several times a week.

5. I laugh like a loon

Happily, one of my favourite Groundhog Day moments is a good cackle.  There’s not much in this life to make you feel better than a good belly laugh.  This week there have been lots of belly laughs, from noticing that my Dad’s tractor has ‘SeaBiscuit’ sign-written on the side (for some reason, this completely floored me), or a coffee with a friend where we cackled, snorted, shared hair-raising personal secrets and basically behaved like ten year olds for a couple of hours.

6. I watch crap TV to keep myself awake

Ahhh, waiting up for partying teens to return: surely one of motherhood’s shittest jobs (and one they sneakily forget to mention at ante natal classes).  I spend vast amounts of time waiting for people to come home from parties, trying to keep myself awake by watching early Kardashians episodes, texting them things like ‘don’t drink too much.  You puke, you die’ and random movies like Hostel 2 (don’t bother – there’s gullible girls, evil  murderers, a few bits of DIY machinery and, well, a bit more blood.  You’re welcome.)

7. Something REALLY weird happens

This week it was getting a crossed line while trying to ring a travel company and being dropped into the middle of a conversation between an old lady and her doctor.  Even more mortifyingly I thought she was actually telling ME about her terrible Psoriasis and had answered her several times before I realised she couldn’t hear me.  Just call me Dr English.

8. My boys make me go WOW!

This week it was this amazing pic from Sam’s Biology field trip of two of his mates Mick and Brendan skimming stones on Broadhaven beach. Just beautiful:

9. I buy weird presents for people

This week it was ‘get well cheese’ for my Disreputable Dad, who is very poorly.  And partial to a bit of Suffolk Blue.  What?  Cheese cures all ills.

10. I’m happy

Really, really stupidly happy.  I have fun, don’t take myself too seriously (see number 4.) and have the best family in the world.  Now what the hell did I come up the stairs for?

In which our hero is poo at long-distance parenting and someone misses an exam.

So when I was telling you about my recent Florida trip, I promised to tell you a bit more about the missed exam/screeching business.

Before I left, we all sat down and synchronised diaries.  No stone was left unturned.  And no teenager was scheduled to be left alone in the house for enough time to a) have a party or b) burn it down.

Picture the scene, then:

We’re all in the bloggerbus, tootling happily across Florida on our way to Cape Canaveral.  My phone rings.  It’s the school.  This is not good.  I’m in Florida, the boys’ Dad is training in Hampshire (after dropping them off at school early) and my Mum is in Venice.  With a startlingly accurate sense of ‘oh shit’, I answer the phone:

‘Oh hello’, says Perky Voiced Lady, ‘it’s the school sixth form manager here’

Me: ‘Oh hello, how can I help?’

PVL: ‘Well, your son was supposed to be in a Biology exam this afternoon…’

Me: ‘WHAT?! What do you mean SUPPOSED TO?…’

PVL: ‘Ahaha well yes, that’s the problem.  He hasn’t turned up, and the exam started ten minutes ago’.

Cue panic. MAJOR PANIC.

A quick mental tally of the facts brings up the following hastily-arranged pre-Florida plan: the Prof has a Biology exam Monday afternoon.  He doesn’t need to go to school with the Death Wish Dude in the morning, so one of his BFFs who has just learned to drive is picking him up and taking him to the exam.

So what went wrong?

After promising to investigate, and leaving PVL to find out how long after an exam has started the candidate can still enter, I grab my phone and ring the boy.  No answer. I ring again.

There’s a weird mumbled snuffling.  And then, wailed, ‘Muuuuuuuuuuum… I missed my exam!’

This is bad.  All sorts of hideous things rush round my head.  Is he drunk?  At 1pm?  Has he been drugged?  Been attending an all-night party?

I settle for the first thing that comes into my head: ‘WHERE THE *HELL* ARE YOU?’

Prof, still wailing: ‘I don’t knnoooooooow!’

Ah, well that explains it then.  I’ve woken him up.  The Prof is one of those weird, deep sleepers who talks rubbish for approximately ten minutes after you’ve woken him up.  As a small child, he did lots of walking into cupboards and weeing in the laundry basket.  I’m talking serious post-sleep discombobulation here, people.

The best thing, I find, in a crisis, is to shout.  A lot.  My shoutiness kicks in and I yell at him, while my fellow passengers stare and me and stifle small giggles: ‘GET DRESSED! GET OUTSIDE! YOU’VE GOT TO GET TO SCHOOL!’

I ring my brother, who is too far away to help.  He rings my Disreputable Dad, who is nearer, and pretty good in a crisis, and mobilises him on a mercy mission to get to our house, pick the boy up and get him to school. STAT.

I ring the school back.  They inform me that you can enter an exam within the first half an hour.  He has about twelve minutes.

Cue Benny Hill music.

The boy rings back.  He’s in the car with his friend. They’re racing to the school.  And he’s really reeeeally sorry.

For the rest of the entire trip, I am teased mercilessly about my blogger bus shoutiness.  This includes everyone yelling ‘WHERE ARE YOU?!’ if I fall behind while we’re walking along, and me replying ‘I don’t knooooow’ in my best Mad Prof voice.

Sooo it turns out, he got to the exam.  he reckons he did okay, and, miraculously, even managed to finish.  His mates had banged on the door and rung his phone (he had 20 missed calls) until they were going to miss the exam themselves, and had headed into school.  Thank goodness they had the sense to tell one of the teachers.

Oh, and in all the excitement, nobody remembered to cancel my Dad, who spent twenty fruitless minutes banging on the door and shouting through the letterbox before giving up and going home.  Sorry Dad.

Note to self: next time?  Make better plans.



The great bathroom purge of 2012

And so it came to pass that I dropped a contact lens in the bathroom.  Ick.  Said contact lens was instantly too fluffy to use (pink fluff – it’s our towels) and had to be thrown away.  Ew, I thought.  I’d better wash the floor.

And so it also came to pass that I learned one of life’s truer lessons: if the water in the mop bucket smells vaguely of ponds, it’s too long since you last washed the bathroom floor.

And this led me to thinking: if this is the state of MY bathroom, then… *cue ‘Twilight Zone’ music* … what on EARTH was the boys’ bathroom like?

Now don’t get me wrong, The Prof is quite handy with a sponge and a bottle of Cif.  He’s a tidy chap (possibly the tidiest in our house) and generally I avoid their bathroom unless I’m changing towels or replenishing toiletries (one of those self-preservation things you learn early on with parenting teenage boys) or the toothpaste build-up on the sink needs to be chipped off.  Generally, I rush in occasionally, hurl a bit of bleach around, then run for my life.

This time, though, I crawled in.  Literally.

Oh.  Dear God.

Now I apologise if you’re eating or whatever, but here, dearest reader, is a life lesson for mothers everywhere: never, NEVER check your childrens’ bathrooms on all fours.

Armed, then, with fresh bucket of water (the pond water went on the tomatoes), bleach, mop, spray, sponges and cloths (my Twitter followers suggested scuba mask and snorkel, but they’re in the loft) and a seriously large helping of housewifely guilt, I scrubbed that sucker until it shone.  Nobody tells you about the sheer amount of ick that teenage boys produce.  And hair. God how I HATE hair.  It makes me want to barf if one of my own sticks to my face, so swimming around in the discarded hair of my offspring was something I never want to repeat.  I may never eat again (ha, don’t be silly).

Seriously: there should be some sort of users’ manual for these things.  I need a chocolate brownie.  Stat.

You can keep perfect. I’m happy with good enough.

So big changes are afoot at English Towers.  English Dad has been offered the job of his dreams.  A job that he’s wanted for years.  A job that he’s worked his butt off to qualify for.  The perfect job, in fact?  Well, no, because the job is based a long way away.  This ‘perfect’ job will take him away from his family for long periods of time, and will be challenging and dangerous.  Perfect?  No.  Good enough?  Hell yes.

This seems to be a bit of a theme recently, this not-quite-perfection in everything…

Take last weekend – a press trip to Disneyland for me and the Death Wish Dude.  We loved it.  I’m happy that my travel writing is being taken seriously and I’m lucky enough to be invited to these amazing events.  But a problem with an aircraft meant that English Dad ended up being stranded in Ireland, which left the Mad Professor on his own for the weekend.  Our scatter-brained, clever, forgetful teenager, alone.  Yes, he’s nearly 17, but a teenager? On his own for the whole weekend?  Not great.

But do you know what?  He survived.  His Dad and I rang him often.  His Grandad took him out for dinner, he spent one night with friends.  And he was fine.  He didn’t burn the house down, or have a massive party.  He looked after himself and our home and he was trustworthy.  Not a perfect situation, but hey, a good enough result I reckon.

And as the invitations continue to come in, I’ll continue to thank my lucky stars that I’m doing something I love, and that I’ve got my family – my so not perfect but definitely good enough family – to help me out with the odd bit of teenager watching.

I’ve got a keyring attached to my car keys.  It’s a little chrome heart with the words ‘I love you’ written on it.  I saw it in a little shop when I was with the boys.  I mentioned to them that I’d love it if their Dad was romantic enough to buy me stuff like that (he’s just not the romantic type).  Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened a box from him on my birthday to find that heart gleaming up at me.  My boys had told their Dad about the heart and he’d gone and got it.  Not maybe the spontaneous romantic gesture, but a wonderful team effort from all my lovely boys.  I smile every time I look at it.

So you see – sometimes it just doesn’t matter if things are perfect.  Just like the fact that I’ll never get the perfect photo of them in their school uniforms, because frankly they’re far too silly to ever pose properly for a photo, all that matters that it’s them.  And they’re mine, and they’re fab.  They’re good enough.  And good enough’s what counts.  Don’t you agree?

Time to buy a house? Or time to run away screaming…?

So back here in the UK, we’re squatting, somewhat ridiculously, in my Mum’s house.  All our stuff’s in storage (even the beloved KitchenAid), even then it’s a bit of a squeeze and the Ninja Cat of Death is living an uncomfortable truce with Ellie the labrador and fending off amorous advances from Harry the ‘ginger t*sser’ (I know it’s mean, but it’s his name – he accepts it, and so should you).

We spent a while looking for rental houses, but it’s hard going – they seem to be gone almost as soon as they’re advertised – well, the ones that don’t smell of wee and have kitchens out of the 1940s are, anyway…

A friend of mine was recently looking for a rental house round here, was registered with all the local estate agents and heard of a house to rent.  When she asked the agent why she hadn’t been told about the property despite being registered, she was told ‘oh it was gone by 8.30am’…  WHAT?!

Now admittedly it’s commuterville – 30 minutes straight into Euston on the train – but queues for viewings?  Seriously?  And don’t get me started with the prices: £1500 a month for a very small semi-detached house (admittedly, they probably watch us shamble in, me with sticky out Russell Brand hair, the teens with their mahoosive feet and jeans around their arses and English Dad looking seriously pissed off with the whole process – and quickly add on an extra few quid) and they’re always 2 double bedrooms and one single – you try asking two teenaged boys which one wants the single room…  One of these days I’m going to suggest a fight to the death (joking).

So we decided we’d buy a house.  English Towers Part Deux, if you will.  I know, I know… the FTSE is down 12.5%…  oh wait, it’s up again… But it’s a very, very small house, with one reception room (I know it’s facile, but all I could think about was where the hell would the Christmas tree go?) on a new estate that was offering good financial incentives for people like us (for ‘people like us’, read poor people).  We very nearly bought it too: mortgage offer in place… contracts ready to sign… and then the extras happened.

Heard about ‘the extras‘?  Everyone that buys a new house will be nodding their head wisely at this point.  Turns out that the extras are charges for practically everything that’s not cemented in.

‘You want carpets in your new house?’

‘Would be nice…’

‘No problem sir, that’ll be three grand.  A kitchen you say?  One with built-in appliances and a double oven?  A snip at £3250…’

‘Got teenagers?’

‘Yes, two’

‘Okay, well there’s a small teenager surcharge of £1000 per child…’

And so it goes on.  I might have made the last one up, but our very modest extras – tiled bathrooms, pretty normal kitchen… came to £8,000.  And I think we would have stomached it – killed ourselves but stomached it – until the husband read one of the extras was to install Sky:  £800.  I think it tipped him over the edge and we had a really, really good think about what we were doing.  Could we afford all these extras and the deposit?  Probably not.  Should we stick the money on our credit cards?  Probably not.

But the final nail in the new house’s coffin came from my brother, the Cocktail King, Sensible Uncle Ian.  He made up our minds in two seconds and with one sentence:

Sensible: ‘Do you love it?’

Me: ‘No.’

Sensible: ‘Then don’t buy it.  Why would you make one of the biggest purchases of your life and not completely love it?  No amount of builders’ incentives should persuade you to buy a house you don’t love’.

So we’re back on the rental market.

*Le sigh*

Aaaanyway, we’ve found a house.  Not exactly where we’d like to live but, unbelievably, very close to the house we nearly bought.  I’m looking forward to rescuing my Kitchen Aid from storage! It’s got room for us all, and a decent kitchen.  And I think I’ve even seen a spot where the Christmas tree can go..

What about you? Rent or buy?

Hugs, dinner, Waitrose, oh and prawn and courgette pasta with fresh peas

So we’re home, then.

The last few days have been a bit of a whirl, what with the drunken madness that was the Cybermummy Conference this weekend, but we’ve got everything into the storage locker (the last few things were just hurled in, to be honest) and my long-suffering mum is looking after us until we move in to our new pad.  The Ninja Cat of Death was very good on the way over – apart from constant growling and moaning in the back of the car, there was no ‘poo of shame‘ like last time.  She was less than impressed to meet my Mum’s cat and dog, but we kept her in for a few days, and now she’s happily roaming the upstairs, coming in and out of the windows like she owns the place, and giving my mum’s poor labrador Ellie a swift backhander if she steps out of line.

So far, from my wishlist, I’ve done the following:

1. Hugged my Dad (and had a nice glass of wine and a chat with him too – AND seen the swish new orange tractor)

2. Hugged Ellie.  She still smells and is still hairy.  But I love her.

3. Been out to dinner with the hubster (we had really great food… and two bottles of wine *cough* – more of this later)

4. Been for cocktails with my lovely friends (what is it with me and ‘the claw’?  Can I not pose for a photo without it?):

5.  Been to Waitrose.  Happy, happy days.  I walked round like a grinning lunatic and came back with all sorts of loveliness.  I’m going to have to rein myself in though or otherwise I’ll be bankrupt by the end of July.  Still, they had some gorgeous prawns and FRESH PEAS!!  I spent a very enjoyable afternoon sitting in the sunshine in my mum’s garden shelling peas and sipping cold white wine.  Bliss.  Oh, and here’s what I made for tea:

Prawn and courgette pasta with fresh peas

Serves 4 generously

Good quality dried pasta (I generally reckon on 100g dried pasta per person)

1 pack large raw prawns

2-3 courgettes

As many peas as you can be bothered to shell

Splosh double cream

So first get your pasta on.  Use the biggest saucepan you have and make the water ‘as salty as the sea’ (not sure where I read that, but I always repeat it to myself when cooking it – I’m a bit sad like that).  Linguine works really well here, but I didn’t have any, so ‘tubes’ it is (I’m sure there’s a technical term for ‘tubes’, but you know what I mean).

When the pasta’s well on the way, slice the courgettes and fry in a heavy-based frying pan with a little garlic-infused rapeseed oil.  When they’re just starting to turn golden, pop in the prawns (you need to be careful not to overcook prawns or they get that horrible crunchy texture).

When the prawns go in, pop the fresh peas in with the pasta (they’ll only take a minute or two).

Now add a generous splosh of cream (double is better as it’s less prone to splitting, but you could use creme fraiche too.  Generously grind over lots of pepper too.

When the pasta and peas are just cooked, drain and add to the frying pan.  Toss everything together and serve immediately, with a good grating of Parmesan.  Noms.

This is also lovely with crab (a pot of fresh stuff or a tin of white crab meat) and some fresh, chopped chilli.

Going home: things I’m looking forward to.

The packing isn’t going well.  I keep having mad panics and throwing things out that I shall probably need, like all the ice cream cartons I keep to put stock in, and about 75 glass jars waiting to be filled with jams and marmalades.  And I can’t get the order right – yesterday I packed all the glasses, so we’re now drinking juice out of mugs, which is ‘common as muck’ as my Grandma Maudie would say.  I also packed all my underwear, but then I realised that two weeks of rummaging in a suitcase for a pair of knickers would drive me barmy, and totally cancels out the satisfaction of having one more drawer emptied.  So back they went.

De brevren are the polar opposite when it comes to packing.  Little Chas has his entire room packed into boxes and ready, was counting down the days in his homework diary (which must have pleased his teachers no end) and spends hours glued to Facebook chatting to his mates.  The Prof, admittedly somewhat distracted with his exams, wants nothing to do with packing, so I’ve mostly left him alone to study (occasionally emerging to create vast sandwiches from the contents of the fridge and head back upstairs balancing teetering towers of said sandwich, crisps, packets of biscuits and glasses of milk) and spend hours talking to his mates on the Xbox (see the common theme here?).  I did nab him for half an hour to try and explain to me what all the wires were near the Xbox.  This did not go well.  Apparently he ‘needs it all’ and nothing must be packed.  Awkward.

Every day, I’m thinking of things I will do – the things I haven’t been able to do for a long time – things I’m planning and things I’m looking forward to.  Here’s my top ten:

1. Walking to the shop on a Sunday morning, buying an armful of papers and lolling around reading, with endless cups of tea.

2. Shopping in Waitrose with my Mum.  Oh I know, snobby and all that.  But I bloody love Waitrose.  And I love shopping with my Mum.  It takes us ages because we pick things up, have a chat about them, then put them down again – planning dinners and discussing ingredients.  I love it.

3. Hugging my Dad.  He always pretends that he hates to be hugged, so when the boys and I give him a massive cuddle he stands all stoney like a soldier, but for some reason that makes us all want to hug him more.  Look, he’s doing it here:

Oh and happy Fathers’ Day for this weekend, Dad.  This counts instead of a present right?  Right?

4. Going out to dinner.  I miss restaurants.  And wine.  I miss mulling over menus and dithering over starters surrounded by the people I love.

5. Cocktails!  I shall go for cocktails with my favourite girlfriends and talk waffle until we’re blue in the face.  Cannot wait.

6. Chatting with my nieces and nephews.  I have two nieces.  I adore them both – they are sassy, cool, funny and – as a mother of boys – they are the girly lights of my life.  I miss them so much.  My lovely nephew Jackson is a mean cook already and often tries my recipes for me. I can’t wait to catch up.  On Hubby’s side, he also has a brand new grand-niece that we haven’t even met yet.

7. Going on a family day out to Whipsnade Zoo.  When my cousin Moon‘s baby, Matej, is christened in June, our family will be together for the first time in a long time – my cousin Deb is coming over from Canada, and Moon and his lovely wife Miska are travelling from Slovakia.  We’re planning a mahoosive day out, with picnic, at Whipsnade – I’ve probably spent hundreds of days out there, and it was a big part of our childhood, and that of my boys.

8. Talking of the christening, I’m going to make cupcake towers for Matej – blue and cream, with little sugar stars and cars… big mountains of them.  Then I’m going to drink too much champagne, laugh with my wonderful brothers, giggle with my nieces and be all proud of my big strapping sons, home again in the midst of all their family.

9. Giving Ellie a cuddle.  Ellie is my Mum’s old labrador, once black and glossy, now grey and a little stiff in the legs, but still gorgeous.  It feels like she’s a million years old, although she probably isn’t.  Still, she loves a cuddle (demonstrated here by Charlie) and rushes to meet us, bowling us over with our suitcases and bringing us her ‘baby’, a stinky old stuffed cat.

Ellie’s ‘best friend’, Harry, is an equally old ginger cat who loves Ellie with a passion – even though she often sits on him by accident -and drools excessively.  He’d love to be cuddled more often, but frankly the drooling thing is a bit unpalatable.  When we first see him, we forget the drooling and give him a cuddle – then when the drool starts, we put him down again.  The worst bit is when he shakes his head and everyone gets a dribbly shower.  Poor Harry.

10. Enjoying being a family again.  Living apart from one another is hard.  English Dad has a demanding job and isn’t a big texter or emailer.  Things are often lost in translation and honestly, I’m not sure that we would have survived this long-distance family life for much longer.  The boys can’t wait to be back with their Dad.  Recently he texted me: ‘can’t wait to have you all here then I can annoy you all in person’.  Me neither.

In which our hero wonders exactly where home is

I am sad, dearest reader.  Confused and sad.  This is unlike me.  I am usually happy.  In fact, I’m usually so happy and perky that I verge on the irritating. I suspect some people close to me have to rein in their slap reflex when I’m in full happy.

But everything seems bad at the moment.  There is a dark cloud hovering over English Towers that just won’t shift.

The Death Wish Child is unhappy. This is not like him. He’s perky too (I wonder where he gets it from?) – a ray of sunshine who brightens any room.  Our very own Mr Blue Sky.  But he misses his mates in England and, try as he might, just hasn’t really settled here.  He’s a livewire – he’s sporty and outdoorsy – but they only have one PE lesson a week.  Plus, he misses the skatepark.  He’s hard wired to hurl himself around in a dangerous fashion (the clue’s in the name).  He doesn’t feel quite right unless he’s a bit bruised.  He is constantly glued to Facebook, talking to his English mates and making himself even more homesick.

Our recent trip back home made him – well, all of us, a little sadder than before.

‘Maybe he just needs to be active?’, said P, the lovely hubby of Poppy’s Mum.  ‘Get him down the GAA, that’ll sort him out’.  But they shout at you a lot at the GAA, it’s just not his bag – he’s a laid back dude.  And at the latest game, one of the lads said to him ‘I don’t pass to English people’.  Another sneered ‘you don’t belong here’.  Thanks fellas.  Another nail in the coffin.

English Dad is mostly in England.  There’s no work in Ireland and he rarely gets back to see us.  This is hard.  I’m not cut out to be a single mum.  I need family: hugs and banter, long, drawn-out mealtimes, clinking glasses and laughter.  Solitary evenings with a glass of wine in front of CSI just don’t do it for me.  As hard as I try.

I love this house.  This is our dream house.  I love the garden… the interior that we spent happy hours choosing: my gorgeous kitchen, the fabulous fireplace… my dream oven… the chickens rootling in the garden… everything perfect.

But is it just a house?  Did I make a mistake bringing my family back here because I missed it?  I was worried about them growing up attending a big Comprehensive school – maybe mixing with the wrong sort of people…  Should I have given them more credit?  We thought it would be fine… was I wrong?

The Mad Professor wants to go home too.  The lure of the Sixth Form is strong – he can do ‘all that nerdy shit’ that he loves: Maths with Mechanics… Physics… Over here, you do the same subjects for Leaving Cert as you do at Junior Cert – everything.  It’s not for him.  He’s got his future mapped out.  England’s the place to be.

And me?  I miss my family.  I love my brothers.  I want to be with my parents.  The recent trip to the Albert Hall was classic Disreputable Dad.  The Mad Professor was limping in a ridiculously flamboyant fashion after twisting his ankle at his cousin’s (miraculously, it was completely healed the next day).  Trying to bag a taxi in London when you’ve got a teenager limping like Jake the Peg isn’t easy.  I got cross. The DD got cross with me. There was swearing.  But there was silliness too. And flag waving.  Food and wine and laughter.  I miss all of it. (Yes, even the swearing).

My mum comes to visit. But it’s not the same as popping in and saying hi, sharing tea, swapping recipes, going shopping…

‘Sometimes you have to try something, after trying something else (!) to find out it doesn’t suit everyone’, said my friend Foxy sagely.  She noticed that I wasn’t as ‘ebullient’ (great word, by the way, Fox) as usual, during our recent trip.  And she’s right.

‘Home is where the heart is’ is a confusing phrase.  English Towers will always be our home – happy memories abound here: family Christmases, visits from friends, sunny wanders down the boat road…

But when everyone spends every day missing people they love… wanting different things?  Is it time to call it a day?

In which our hero is a painting legend, with short bouts of hysteria

So as you know, dearest reader, I’m generally of a calm and vey vey placid demeanour and not at all prone to bouts of hysteria *cough*.

Okay, so I might be a bit of a rabid hysteric, but generally I have good reason. That good reason of late was the general state of our house when we moved back in. I won’t go into detail, but I’ll just say the tenants loved it a great deal less than we do. It became clear, due to the inky scribbles, nail varnish splodges and big, yawning holes – that most of the walls were going to have to be filled and painted.

I am SO not a painter. Unless we’re talking nail varnish, in which case I can apply base coat, two layers plus a top coat without once smudging or even touching a cuticle. I can even do French manicure. Walls, though. I don’t do walls.

Happily, The Hubster’s a whizz with the roller. He’d filled, sanded, edged and painted the walls of every downstairs room, plus The Mad Professor’s room upstairs, in the first week. He swears a bit, but generally if you just let him get on with it, he’s really efficient.

But then, dammit, he had to go and earn a living and it became clear that The Death Wish Child’s room would have to be down to me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that wailing pitifully: ‘but I can’t do it’… to a stony faced 12 year old whose brother’s room has already been painted is going to get you nowhere. Shit.

What’s worse, when looking at the paint colour brochure from Woodies (think B&Q but in lime green) he chose ‘three walls of ‘Dawn Chorus’ with an accent wall of Chocoholic’. Shitting shit.

The first problem was finding suitable attire.  Frankly, all my clothes are a bit crap, so finding extra-crap clothes that I didn’t mind getting paint on was a bit of a trial. Second was getting the lid off the bloody paint (I broke the Death Wish Child’s front door key but don’t tell him – he’ll never notice). Third was my natural proclivity towards dropping things. It’s okay when it’s a cup or a plate – de brevren are used to loud crashes followed by bouts of shouty swearing – but dropping a painty brush lends its own special problems. I went through a whole pack of Flash wipes just on his carpet.

But apart from one fall off the bar stool I was using as a ladder (I can still do the splits – who knew?), nearly hurling Ninja Cat of Death out the window after she firstly kept attacking the dust sheet (which was a really crap plastic one that stuck to my feet as I walked around) and secondly proceeded to stroll daintily through the paint tray and then across the curtains I’d laid carefully on the bed (Flash wipes again) and some pathetic, solitary sobbing after I blobbed a big dollop of ‘chocoholic’ onto the freshly painted ceiling whilst edging, I think I did pretty well:

In fact, I liked the ‘chocoholic’ so much, I decided to do the chimney breast as well.  It’s the colour of melted Green and Black’s – what’s not to like?  But that’s it now.  I’m never painting anything ever again, mkay?

From henceforth, you can call me English Mum: Painting Legend.


I never made a secret of the fact that I didn’t want to leave Ireland.  In fact, when I wrote this, I was probably the lowest I’d ever been.

So we’ve made a decision.  Probably the biggest decision we’ll ever make.  And we’re going home.  Back to Ireland. Back to lovely English Towers.  Back to the Boat Road.  Back to fields of cows, home made bramble jelly and finding sheep on your front lawn in the morning.

Back to find out how D-next-door and his fiancée (also D-next-door – that’s going to be confusing) are doing (the brevren can’t wait to see little C and gorgeous Lou).  They’ve got a dog called Riley – can’t wait to meet him too).  Back to see if Mrs Lovely’s got the kettle on (she has), and chat with Poppy’s Mum.  Back to see Olly for a drink at the Pundertakers.

Back to school buses and places shutting for lunch and driving miles to the supermarket, and no Waitrose. Do I care? Not one bit.

I can’t wait.  The boys are looking forward to seeing their friends – sad to leave the new ones they’ve made, but we made the decision as a family, and we feel it’s the right one.

I was saying goodbye to my lovely friend Foxy this morning.  I said that I wished we’d never left – that it messed the kids about and in my heart, I knew that it was the wrong decision.  ‘Well maybe it was worth it, just for you to realise exactly where you belong’, she said.  And she’s right.

It’s where the heart is.  Where you’re happiest.


Frosty (and skiddy)

It was beautiful here this weekend.  Minus 4.5 degrees and the frost was so… er…frosty it was almost like everything was covered in white fur.  Driving to pick #2 up from a friend’s in Mullingar, though, I lost the back end of the jeep in spectacular fashion and ended up in a ditch.  Nothing dented except my pride, luckily.

Conclusion: frost is lovely if you’re indoors.

 Frosty fennel  Frosty 1


Frosty 2