Thursday’s Photo – Yin and Yang Cats

Yoda and Mai

This is a photo of our two cats, Yoda and Mai (May).  We got them at the beginning of this year from a friend of mine who had five and needed to rehome them all.  They are eight years old now.  Since coming to our house, Yoda’s name has mutated from Yoda to Yoda Cat, then further morphed into Yo! da Cat.  Mai is Mai Cat and they both answer to these names.  There is something very Yin and Yang about them which really appeals to me: they are male and female, short hair and long hair, black and white.  The two go together perfectly and one without the other would be unthinkable.


Filed under Photo posts

One Week – Summer 13 Books Read

This is the third and final day of the seasonal linky One Week.  For three days this week, Older Mum in a Muddle is posting a photograph and a few words that describes her experience of summer ’13.  Here is my contribution for today.

Books summer 13I somehow managed to read lots and lots over the summer.  I think I achieved this by reading at every opportunity – when I was cooking the dinner, when I first woke up before getting out of bed, while everyone else was watching the television, while waiting for the little man at his swimming lessons.  I am very happy when I have been able to read a lot.  The photo is of the books that I read this summer: And The Mountains Echoed (Khaled Hosseini), Five Days (Douglas Kennedy), Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson), The Buddha in the Attic (Julie Otsuka) and not pictured, because I have lent it to a friend, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? (Jeanette Winterson) and Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) which belonged to someone else.

Getting on for a book a week, which is what I used to do in my commuting days.  Very pleasing.


Filed under One Week

One Week – Summer 2013 Day 2

Orangery Kenwood House de-noised(Photo from English Heritage Website)

This is the second day of the seasonal linky One Week. Until Wednesday Older Mum in a Muddle will be posting a photograph and a few words that describes her experience of summer ’13.  Here is my contribution for today.

Over the summer, I have been thinking about where I would like to live.  We’re not moving, but there will come a time when living elsewhere will be possible.  My fantasy place to live is shown here – the Orangery at Kenwood House, Hampstead, London.  So much light and air and great views!  I would love it here.  My little orange tree that I have would flourish here too, and we’d have the whole park right on our doorstep.

Next summer I have plans to spend a month in either West Cork, southern Ireland, or somewhere in France or Canada, depending on how good my French gets before then.  I’d like to do that each year, visiting different countries.  When my son is older and doing his own thing, I would like to live in different countries for a year at a time.  I follow a blog by a lady from Ohio who went to live in Spain for a year and is still there, 10 years later.  That’s going to be my approach too, move “just for a year” and see what happens.


Filed under One Week, Uncategorized

One Week – Summer 2013

This is the first day of the seasonal linky One Week. Over the next three days (Monday till Wednesday) Older Mum in a Muddle will be posting a photograph and a few words that describes her experience of summer ’13.  Here is my contribution for today.

Polly Black and WhiteHere is a photograph of me.  This is big news for many reasons.  Up until now I have been reluctant to put a photograph of myself on the internet, but this summer I took an online Social Psychology course via Coursera with Wesleyan University in America, and one of the assignments required the putting together of a Social Psychology Network page.  I got brave and put up a photograph with it.  The sky didn’t fall in, so I put it up on Facebook and Twitter too.   The sky still didn’t fall in, so I post it here now, as the first day in the One Week seasonal linky coordinated by Older Mum in a Muddle.

The Social Psychology course is just the beginning.  At the start of the summer I took a one day writing course at City Lit in London, wrote loads, learned loads, and met a lovely lady called Rachel who is a wildlife photographer from Waterloo.  Until meeting her, I thought the only wildlife in Waterloo were urban foxes, so I learned more there too, including not to dislike London pigeons, they are apparently not as skanky as they first appear.

I also started an online course in writing for children.  Courses seem to be like buses, you wait forever for the right one, then three come along at once!  I have others in the pipeline: a “nuts and bolts of grammar and sentence construction” class, and a “constructing reasonable arguments” class.  The Creative Writing course and French language course are both ongoing, too; I’m aiming for half an hour of French every day, with the aim of being confident enough to spend a month in France or French-speaking Canada in the summer holidays next year.

So, this summer has been all about discovering things for and about myself.  I’m enjoying my courses; I discover that I retain the brain power to study for periods of time and the discipline to see the courses through to the end. I am enjoying reminding myself of how much I used to enjoy academic work.  The (as yet unidentified) Masters degree seems more within reach.  So, this is where I am now.


Filed under One Week

How to Live to 100

The summer holidays are finally here, school has broken up, and our days are much less structured.  During school time, I really dislike that rush in the morning and then having to keep my eye on the clock for picking up time later, so this chilled out and more relaxed time is very welcome and very lovely; quality time with my boy.

Regular readers will know that I’m very keen on my son having as healthy and nutritious a diet as possible.  I don’t mean to say that he never has sweets or cake, never has fizzy drinks.  It’s what we do regularly that matters and I believe that maybe these things should not be given every day.  We all need to take the easy option sometimes, and goodness knows we have our share of take-away food in particularly busy weeks, but it’s what we do the majority of the time that counts.

In the holidays it’s very easy to let things slip a little and life would be very boring with no treats or splurges.  We all let our hair down and make different food choices when we are on holiday, things we wouldn’t normally eat every day, and I don’t see why it should be any different for children.  So you might well find a box of Coco-Pops in the cupboard and cake in the tin, but we try to limit those things.  An example from breakfast time:  Coco-Pops go very well with porridge made with milk and they stir in beautifully to make lovely chocolatey swirls.  Brilliant with strawberries!  This way, my little one has a predominately healthy breakfast with a small handful of Coco-Pops, which of course he loves, because they are full of sugar and designed to be irresistible.

I’m not keen on the so-called Nanny State or the idea that we should be nagged into making the “right” choices.  Balance is the name of the game, in my opinion.  But I do think that education is important.  Our dentist tells a story from not long ago when he was at another practice, where he was required to fit a seven year old for dentures.  His parents had allowed him to have sugar every day, in the form of sweets, and more potently, fizzy drinks, and hadn’t been properly aware that this was going to rot his teeth faster than anything else.  A constant wash of sugar over the tongue promotes the desire for it even more, leading not just to weight issues, but dental problems too.

How to live to 100 ChildrenHow to live to 100 Middle Aged Adults







So I was interested to see these two infographics produced by BMI Healthcare entitled How to Live to 100.  They have been produced in response to a study conducted by them into how it is that unhealthy habits that begin in childhood can have a serious impact on longer term health.  Although it’s never too late to make changes such as giving up smoking, never to begin smoking in the first place would be preferable.

According to the BMI study, currently one third of children aged 10 and 11 suffer from obesity or weight related issues.  When I was that age, it was unusual to see an overweight child, now even very little ones are overweight; BMI Healthcare reports that 1 in 10 reception age children is obese.  Why this should be, why this change has occurred are questions currently puzzling greater minds than mine.

How does the current way of living impact on childhood nutrition?  Life is very different now and our lifestyles can impact in many different ways, on adults as well as younger ones.  None of us feels safe letting our children out to play on their own, as children used to do.  In years gone by, ice creams and desserts weren’t readily available in the supermarkets like they are now.  What used to be consumed occasionally can now be consumed every day.  As the graphic suggests walking or cycling to school is a good idea, but this isn’t practical for everyone.  Many parents work, they drop their children at school in the car and then drive to work.  Our house is too far from our school to walk there; it would take over an hour each way.  Another suggestion is to organise an activity for the weekend.  After a busy week, everyone needs some down time, including the adults.  Money and time availability due to shift work may also be considerations.  These are great suggestions, but the pace and structure of modern life often doesn’t make it easy.

If we agree that our children are the future, then the disadvantages of poor nutrition are going to affect the future of us all.  Besides health and dental issues, overweight children are physically less comfortable and may be socially less confident.  How will they blossom into smart, thinking adults of the future if they are hampered so early on in life?   If they are not eating the foods which will give them energy, how will they concentrate at school?  Life may be busy, but it’s still important to ensure our children, and everyone, are properly fed.

This post was written in collaboration with BMI Healthcare.


Filed under Food, Parenting

Today’s news

Today’s news is that my little man has been given a present of a lovely Parker pen by his granddad.  He is so proud of it that he wants to show the world.  So here it is:


Although a ghost writer was needed for the text, he is very proud to have pressed the button and published this himself. He would be over the moon to get some comments.  :-)



Filed under Uncategorized

Save the Children’s Food for Thought report into Childhood Nutrition


Like most mums, I come under a lot of pressure from my small son to buy more of the things he thinks he likes, that his friends are having, but that are, to me, just empty nutrition.  Almost all cereals aimed at young children have a high sugar content.  Jamie Oliver’s campaign in recent years uncovered the hidden story behind poor school dinners and how they affect how children feel during the school day.  Thankfully, my son’s school serves well cooked, nutritious food at midday but I feel that, if I gave in and allowed him to have some of these other things, he would get a huge sugar rush first thing, and then crash later in the morning, hungry and irritable, and this would affect his learning.  I feel quite strongly about this but I get a lot of pressure from elsewhere too, to let my son eat what he likes.  I get the impression that I am seen in some quarters as a killjoy or a spoilsport.  but I feel very strongly that good nutrition will help my son at school.  He’s a bright spark, I don’t want to waste that by giving him poor food choices, so we save the chocolately, high sugar stuff and other junky things for parties and the weekends.

So I was very interested to hear about Save the Children’s Food for Thought report into childhood nutrition.  Have a look at the banner at the top of this post – it makes for uncomfortable reading.  4/10 children in poorer countries are so badly nourished that they have difficulty reading.  A lack of nutrients in these children is stopping their bodies and brains from developing properly.  Of course, the issue of whether to feed a five year old chocolately cereal for breakfast is nothing compared to malnutrition on this scale, but the results are similar, to my mind.  Both sets of children have difficulty concentrating, both sets feel lethargic, both sets of bodies need good quality nutrition to be able to grow, develop and thrive.  Without it, we are wasting goodness knows how many lives and how much talent. The future of the world depends upon feeding our children.

As the Food for Thought report says:

“Missing out on a nutritious diet can severely damage a child’s ability to read and write simple sentences and answer basic maths questions correctly, our new report, Food for Thought, reveals. On average, these children are 20% less literate than their peers – regardless of the amount and quality of schooling the child receives” (Save the Children).

And poor nutrition perpetuates the cycle of poverty:

“These children could earn up to 20 per cent less in adulthood, while our findings suggest that hunger could cost the global economy £82 billion a year” (Save the Children).

Here is the Britmums article on this report, and the upcoming G8 meeting where this will be discussed.  There is also a link to the Enough Food for Everyone petition in the article:

Here is a direct link to the petition:

Here is a copy of the report, in PDF format, to download, if you would like to read further:



Filed under Parenting

Fajita Night in the Polly Household

I love fajitas, they are one of my favourite meals.  I particularly love cooking them at home because whenever we have them in a restaurant, sad to say, I am usually disappointed.   My husband and son eat meat but I don’t because I don’t like it.   I’m not a big fan of a very spicy meal, whereas my husband prefers a bit of heat in his Mexican food.  Unfortunately we often find that vegetarians aren’t particularly well catered for in the fajita department; it’s almost as if the chef thinks that if a fajita doesn’t contain meat, then it’s not worth making an effort.  Also, the level of spice is what the chef decides to put in, so it’s usually too spicy for me and not spicy enough for my husband.  We are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  We do, however, make some spectacular fajitas at home.

The good thing about cooking our own is that each of us can have exactly what we want without making it necessary to cook three different dinners.  We know what works for us and tend to cook the same recipe each time.  So we were delighted to receive in the post some delicious Discovery products and an invitation to take part in Discovery’s Cinco de Mayo challenge.  The idea is to create a delicious fajita meal with the products sent to us; and because they included things we might not normally have tried, it was guaranteed to shake things up a bit!

So, this is what we did:

Stir-fry a red onion for a couple of minutes, add 2 courgettes and cook for a further couple of minutes, then add 2 small peppers (yellow and orange for contrast), cook, followed by 8-10 mushrooms and 3 tomatoes, cooking them until soft. Sprinkle with Seasoning Mix, keeping a little back for the chicken.

Skillet some chicken strips in a hot pan, using the Seasoning Mix as a marinade.

Chop up some avocado and mix with the Garlic & Herb Soured Cream.  Normally we would use plain soured cream for our guacamole but we wanted to see how this would work out.

Everything went on the table, the flour tortillas were gently warmed in a crepe pan and the Tomato Salsa was decanted into a bowl next to the avocado / garlic and herb guacamole.

My son really liked the peppers and courgettes, and didn’t think the Seasoning Mix was too spicy for him.  My husband really liked the flexibility of adding his own skilleted chicken, marinated in a little of the Seasoning Mix to increase the heat a little, and then seared in the skillet.  I liked the way the new Garlic & Herb Soured Cream guacamole took away the heat and instead brought out the flavour of the fajita spices beautifully.  We usually use plain sour cream but this Soured Cream added another dimension to the meal.

Everyone had got involved in chopping, cooking and wrapping, so it was a real family enterprise.  My son liked the fact that he could put together his meal exactly how he wanted it.  This all stems from a visit to a local pub one day when he ordered a DIY dessert, consisting of chocolate ice cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, cream and flakes, the idea being that he put it together exactly how he wanted it.  And that was the beauty of this meal, we could all have exactly what we wanted, and the whole thing took less than 25 minutes.   I’d call that a success on any night of the week.

This is a sponsored post. We received tortillas, tomato salsa, seasoning mix, a jar of fajita season and sauce and a tub of squeezable Garlic & Herb Soured Cream from Discovery for the purposes of taking part in their Cinco de Mayo challenge and writing this review.


Filed under Sponsored posts

6th April – Social History

I’ve recently been reading Spitalfields Life by A Gentle Author.  The chap, for I believe the author to be a chap, has a blog by the same name, which is enchanting and engrossing.  Spitalfields is an area of London close to and east of the City of London, the financial district, the original London as settled by the Romans.  It has a very long and interesting history, as characterised by the people who now call the place home.  Spitalfields Life is a social history, recording people and places of the area in charming and gentle prose, and it’s got me hooked.

The characters in the book are portrayed very much as part of the area.  Even the ones who have no real family roots at least have community roots, in that they are a well established and well known part of the area.  And this got me thinking about my own history.  I often feel like I was adopted or orphaned, although I believe I am neither.  When I was growing up, our house was a house of secrets.  Goodness knows how my mum and dad got married, because all I can remember is their intense dislike of one another.  I was born only 18 months into their marriage, so by the time I became aware, they would have been married only 5 or 6 years.  I don’t even know how they met.  My dad was evacuated from London to Devon during the war, but I don’t know anything about that, no one would talk about anything while I was growing up.  My mum never seemed to be able to tell a straight story, one day it would be one thing, the next it would be something else, so I could never rely on her telling the truth.  And some things she said were so blatant a lie that even a child would not believe it.  So you see how I sometimes feel disconnected, disjointed and without history.  When I left home I lived all over the UK, never settling in one place for very long, so I don’t have those community roots either.

I have such a stong interest in social history.  Part of my degree was Oral History and my dissertation was on what the lives of women were like after the end of the war, when the men came home, wanting their jobs back, expecting the women to go back to the home, to their kitchens.  I love to know about how people live their lives, what their everyday existence is like.  I’m fascinated by history, not the type of Kings and Queens but the ordinary person and how they lived.  I have on order a couple of new social history books relating to London in the 18th and 19th centuries.  And it’s only struck me very recently, because sometimes these things have to be blindingly obvious for me to get them.  Maybe I am so interested in history and how people live and lived, because I have next to no sense of my own past.  I might as well be adopted.  Or an orphan.   Just a thought.  I might blog more about this another time.


Filed under Life in the Day, London

Easter Sunday 2013

Two visits to London in one weekend! How lucky am I?!

On Easter Sunday we went up to Greenwich, which is only about 30 minutes drive away and therefore within much easier reach than the West End.  Greenwich always seems colder to me than the rest of London.  Maybe that’s because it’s right there on the Thames, maybe its because I only ever seem to go there when it’s cold.  But London and indeed the UK is still in the grip of an extended winter and it was gently snowing, so we went to the Ansel Adams exhibition at the Royal Maritime Museum.

I first came across Ansel Adams when I was visiting Yosemite National Park in California about a decade ago.  Ansel was from San Francisco and took a great number of photographs of Yosemite, San Francisco, Monterey and Carmel; all places I have visited, so it was interesting for me to see these pictures.  Anyway, a decade ago, there was an Ansel Adams exhibition at Yosemite and I spent a lot of time there studying the photographs.  They were in black and white and very striking, capturing the beauty of Yosemite perfectly.  I’m in awe of his talent in finding an unusual angle or abstract composition, leading me to study the photo closely, instead of looking and moving on as I might with other exhibitions.

The photo which most grabbed my attention was one taken in 1932 of San Francisco Bay before the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933.  I’ve been in love with San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge since doing a project on the area when I was at primary school, about 35 years ago.  I’ve visited the very spot from which the photograph was taken, I know the view fairly well.  So to see a photograph of the area before the bridge was built was very arresting.

There was a small room set aside with video tape on a constant loop, showing an interview with Ansel Adams in the 1980s and a documentary of him made after his death.  It showed Ansel as a man with a great sense of humour, charismatic and interesting company.  He talked about bracketing, which as I understand it, is a technique where you take three photos in quick succession, one under-exposed, one correctly exposed and one over-exposed, so that you can pick the best one (remember these were the days before digital technology).  Ansel was of the opinion that if you employed this technique, you really didn’t know what you were doing, but he said it in such a self effacing way, and with such a twinkle in his eye, that no one could have been offended, and it raised a huge laugh within the auditorium.

I wish my house was big enough to hang at least a triptych of his work.  Stunning doesn’t even begin to cover it.


Filed under Life in the Day, London