Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A few of my favourite things...

What you don't see in these photos of a beautiful sunny day on Brighton beach is all the children running around after our school class trip to the Sealife Centre.

On Open House weekend I was volunteering at Shirley Windwill. It's not a working mill any longer, but it's stunning and as you can see makes an impression against the Croydon skyline.

Eating breakfast is a rarity for me so I took a photo of it the other morning. It was delicious - what's rare is beautiful.

We have a weekend family ritual of having a special breakfast. Lately Blue Bear has been preparing tasty treats for us all.

Although he also enjoyed the pancakes I made at the weekend too.

Yoga before school is a wonderful thing - especially when the boys actually ask if they can do it.

The other day I spotted this lost Elmo on a wall in Lewes - I hope he found his way home to his loved ones.

Finally I am back in my happy place - a radio studio. So pleased to have joined the team at Radio Lewes

Monday, 11 September 2017

Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical

I've heard of Rosemary Clooney - who hasn't, she's George's auntie - but didn't know anything about her life until last week. The show Tenderly has finally come to the UK thanks to producer Joe Hodges working tirelessly for 2 years to bring it over. The show is intimate and features live musicians and cabaret style seating which adds to the atmosphere of the venue. There are only two actors - Katie Ray plays Rosemary and her voice is stunning. She plays the role with fragility and sassiness tinged with a deep seated need to be loved. Fed Zanni is breathtaking as the other 19 characters in the story and his ability to switch from playing Rosemary's mother to her psychiatrist is seemingly effortless. His singing is also extraordinary and the physicality required to make all the character changes would challenge anyone, but he takes it all in his stride.

The story travels from the inside of the treatment room in a facility where she has been committed to the stages on which she performed as a teen with her sister and later the big venues she shared with the likes of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. We witness her trauma at being an eye witness to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and the highs and lows of her life on the road performing. I had no idea how much heartache she suffered in her life and this show captures the sadness, the drug taking, the attempts by Sinatra to make her stop pill popping and the failed marriages and relationship dramas she experienced. I had always wondered how George Clooney and Miguel Ferrer could be cousins and this musical explained it to me. Tenderly features hit songs you will know and some original numbers that fit in beautifully with the production. 

After the show I spoke to Janet Yates Vogt who is one of the writers of the show and she explained that the Clooney estate approved the story and have been very supportive of the production. I really hope this show gets picked up for a tour or a west end run as it deserves to be seen. The songs are beautiful and the acting is flawless. By the time we see Rosemary's eventual reinvention as a jazz performer it is a relief after she has been through so much. No, George wasn't there on the night we went, but I guess being a father to new twins and being a Hollywood movie star keeps him pretty busy. You might get lucky if you go on another night. 

Tenderly: the Rosemary Clooney Musical is on until 23rd September at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio. Do go and see it if you can. You won't regret it. 

You can buy tickets here

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

From boys to... not quite men, but working on it.

When I think about my parenting I'm not proud of myself - I think only of the times I have shouted at my kids, the arguments we've had, the seemingly never ending stream of, "don't do that," "no !" "stop it !" and "leave your brother alone." Then I catch sight of one of my boys. I saw Blue Bear putting on his shoes and thought, "when did he learn to do that ?" I forgot all the times I sat with him and put his shoes on or showed him how to put them on. This evening I went to see how Brown Bear was getting on with his homework and he asked me how to do the maths puzzles so I told him to look for the pattern and he said, "Ok, I've got it now." I came back a few minutes later and he was racing through them. He did indeed have it.

I've been cooking with the boys recently - Blue Bear and I made pastries and I said "let's brush them with milk," and he said, "I'll do it Mummy." I watched as he carefully and precisely brushed milk over them and could not believe this was my baby boy. Brown Bear is really keen to apply for junior bake off so I agreed to help him practise. He has spent a lot of time designing a showstopper cake, so I thought I'd get him started with a family favourite. We baked some banana bread and he followed the recipe from my notebook, measured the ingredients with me using digital scales, mixed the batter using an electric hand whisk and timed the cooking. He was very happy with the cake, but insisted that next time he bakes will do it all himself. I think he will too !

In the last few days the Guardian ran a piece by a man explaining how he feels that his work as a stay at home parent is undervalued compared with paid work outside the home. This was greeted with a national chorus of "well duh !" from women (and men). Way to go there Guardian, some epic mansplaining and complete disregard for what women have been saying for, oh I dunno, decades ? I feel devalued as a person because my worth in financial terms is non-existent. I can show you my children, my home, my writing, but I can't show you any pay for those 'jobs' and I don't have any references. The joint decision we made that I would take care of our children and Hubbie would work did not include an agreement to become invisible and irrelevant. So, yes, women's work is devalued and let's be honest parenting is still seen as 'women's work.'

On the toughest days I tell Hubbie that he should stay at home and I can go to work again. He can be the one who acts as referee, cook, butler, party planner, tutor, playmate and occasional furniture. I can be the one who gets to talk to adults, read my ipad on the train, make small talk with people in shops, take a phone call without being interrupted by a small child needing something urgently (a wooden train, a drink of water, the answer to why is the cat white ?). My friend Yasmin told me today she has the same conversation with her husband and then she said something that I've heard so many times before, but today I really felt it. "What we're doing is so important. This matters."

This morning we all went on the school run. The boys on their scooters, Hubbie on his bike and me on foot. It was Blue Bear's first day and Brown Bear was so proud to take his little brother to school. We took the obligatory photo before we left - not in front of the door though, I don't do that cliche - then made our way up the hill. As the boys scootered off into the woods Hubbie said to me, "Well done. You did it, you got them here." The boys parked their scooters next to each other outside the school office and Brown Bear held his brother's hand to walk him to the nursery gate. I swelled with pride - then took a deep sigh of relief.

Tonight as I put Brown Bear to bed he asked me to sit on his bed so he could read me a story called "I love my mummy because..." and looked at me after each page, "...she gives me hugs... she is beautiful... she holds my hand, etc." We hugged each other and I said, "I loved that story baby, thank you."

No, I don't get paid. There's no Christmas party, or secret Santa. My reward is seeing my boys grow up. To watch them become the amazing young men I know they will be. I can live with that.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Fostering resentment makes this adopter furious

Fostering was under the media spotlight this last week following a salacious news item in the Times newspaper. The 'story' (for fiction is the kindest way to describe it) was factually incorrect, designed to create discord and more than anything it was inflammatory and racist. The row centres on a 'Christian child' being placed with 'Muslim foster carers.' The biggest cause of consternation being that the female carer wore a head covering and apparently the family spoke Arabic at home. I listened to a radio interview with the Mayor of the Tower Hamlets - the council involved in the story - and then with the journalist who reported the story. Neither gave a particularly good account of themselves or inspired confidence in the system of fostering and adoption or of news gathering.

I know both Tower Hamlets Council and the fostering and adoption system in this country pretty well. Hubbie worked at Tower Hamlets during our first adoption process and when we asked to be considered as potential adopters for a child in foster care with them. Initially they told us we weren't the correct racial match with him (even though they didn't know Baby R's exact ethnicity) then overnight they changed their matching policy to prevent us from adopting him because Hubbie worked for the local authority with which he was placed. It was really cynical and when I spoke to other couples of mixed race they reported similar treatment by local authorities seeking a 'perfect match' for the children waiting for permanent families.

Now, first up the concept of a perfect match is ridiculous, but more than anything the maths just doesn't work. The number of children waiting who have unspecified ethnicity or possibly muslim parentage is disproportionate to the number of muslim families waiting to adopt them. There are, however, muslim foster carers who take any and all children who need temporary placement for whatever reason. You see fostering and adoption are entirely different things and this was not discussed in the news item about this case. A child can be placed with any available and suitable carer and their ethnicity or religion is a lesser consideration than the safety and security of the child.

Blue Bear was removed from his birth family late at night and taken to his foster carers' home. He was their first foster child and they loved him like their own. They are a Muslim family and the women wear the hijab. The children they are currently fostering are of south east asian descent and have been with them for over a year. The family make food that the children like, they speak to them in English and the girls are very attached to their foster family. When we meet up it is clear to us that they are in the best place until a permanent solution can be found for them.

The Times news story does no one any favours. It will not encourage Muslim families to apply to adopt so as they will feel they are under additional scrutiny and their motives will be questioned. The children who have been placed in local authority care will wait even longer as approved foster carers who are capable of providing a home for them will have to prove they are not 'indoctrinating' the children in their care. I've talked - often and at length - about why placing children based on religion or ethnicity is flawed at best. This is just a new and ridiculous spin on an age old problem of society finding ways to demonise people who care for children in care. The children who are already below the radar and have often experienced loss, trauma and separation before they are placed with people trained and trusted to help them.

The question of payment came up on the radio interview. Yes foster carers do get paid. I know quite a few of them now and believe me they are not paid nearly enough for the work they do and the care the provide. These are the people who have to try and explain when birth parents don't show up for long planned meetings with their children. They are the ones who might have their homes trashed, their belongings stolen and even be physically harmed by the children in their care. They are there to pick up the pieces - sometimes literally - when things don't work out for the children and they are there to advocate for them. All the while they continue to keep the children safe and produce detailed reports for the local authority. They undergo training, aseessment and ongoing checks all the while they are looking after vulnerable children. When it is time to move the children on the foster carers are not consulted or involved in decision making. I know from personal experience that they know the children far better than a social worker who visits once a fortnight (if that).

If you detect that I sound angry then you're damn right. I am furious. This kind of irresponsible reporting and doctoring of photos to prove a non existent point does nothing to help children in foster care. It does even less to address the chronic shortage of foster carers in this country. The Muslim carers who looked after my boy before he came to us are the most precious link we have to his past. They took him in at the most traumatic time of his life and they stayed up and held him close when he screamed at night. They taught him how to play with toys and to make eye contact and to trust people. They helped this little boy to become the happy and loving child we met and adopted. The appearance of the mother and the food they ate or the language they spoke are completely irrelevant. It is because they fostered him that we are able to call Blue Bear our son.

Shame on anyone who believes that the religion of a foster carer has any bearing on their capacity to care for a vulnerable child.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Little Tiger book review: Monster daycare and Owls that won't go to sleep.

We love books in our family and have bookcases in every room in the house - yes every room. I take the boys to the library and they choose many books each time and so we keep adding to the ones we have - albeit temporarily.  Then there are the books I get sent to review. The best part of writing this blog is being introduced to fantastic new products or brands. Little Tiger is one of these and when I was asked if I wanted to receive books to review I jumped at the chance. After all Blue Bear loves picture books and these are just lovely.

Stomp School is a book about 'daycare for the raucous kids of the world's most famous city- stomping monsters.'

It's a wondefully interactive story book with pages that fold out to make tall towers and irregular shaped pages that add interest and engagement with the story in a fresh and clever way.

Like all kids his age Blue Bear is obsessed with monsters so the story is just up his street and with the added bonus of a familiar setting and the unpredictability of the monsters it's great fun.

Blue Bear is a big fan of owls so when this next one arrived in the post he was absolutely delighted. 10, 9, 8... Owls up late is a beautiful book.

As well as featuring some lovely illustrations of the owls there are cut outs that enage the young reader. In the process of counting the owls different ones appear through strategically cut out pages and captivated Blue Bear from the very first page.

This story is a great countdown to bedtime and has a cast of many woodland animals including foxes and mice and a grey cat. It is simple for a young child to follow and uses the characters to reinforce the skill of counting at the end.

I love this book and as it's in hardback format I hope it will last a long time. Blue Bear has read it every night since we received it and has become a firm favourite.

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Little Tiger sent us these beautiful books to review 

Friday, 25 August 2017

Jumping on a giant bed makes for #appykids

Jumping on the bed was never allowed when I was a kid and the same applies in my home now I'm a parent. So you can imagine when Virgin TV invited us to jump on a giant bed to celebrate the launch of their new kids app me and Blue Bear hot footed it over to Kings Cross for the ultimate in forbidden fun. I'll be honest when I let the kids watch TV or play games I feel guilty, like it's something I shouldn't do. However, during the school holidays the only way I can cope with them being around so much is by keeping a stock of programmes and films for the boys on the Virgin TV box. That way I can pop on something for them to watch - together or separately - while I make a meal or tidy up or occasionally I might even sit and watch with them. That's fine as far as it goes, but we're not at home all the time and during journeys by car or train it's more challenging to keep them occupied.

Brown Bear uses a tablet to play games on and Blue Bear watches films on DVD when we're on the move. The Virgin TV Kids app is an ad-free environment where children aged 3-7 can watch a range of cartoons and TV shows as well as playing games or accessing bookes in one place wherever they are. Once downloaded shows are available to watch offline for 30 days so you can upload them before going on holiday or for long journeys. This would have been really great on our long drives to and from Cornwall. They already love shows like Peppa Pig and Scooby Doo and Brown Bear is a big fan of games now so there is plenty for him to do too. 

Children can set up their own personalised profiles with an avatar and nickname and the app stores the last three programmes watched so that they can access their favourite shows every time they use it. In order to keep safe while online you can set up parental controls so that they don't wander onto sites you don't approve. When they are in the car this is invaluable as I can't always check what they are doing. With the app I would have the peace of mind to let them explore and use the app freely knowing they can't access unsuitable content. 

The Virgin Kids TV app is available to download from Google Play and the Apple App Store and if you are already a Virgin TV customer on the Fun or Full House bundles you can download and use the app for free. 

Oh and by the way, jumping on a giant bed is every bit as fun as you imagine it's going to be. We loved it ! 

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Virgin TV invited us to try out the giant bed at King's Cross Square and paid expenses. 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Lily O'Brien's new Desserts Collection (shh, don't tell the boys).

Considering the name of this blog you would be surprised how few offers I get to review chocolate. In fact almost none. So when I was asked if I'd like to try the new Lily O'Brien's Dessert Collection I pretty much leapt to the keys to say "Yes please !" I first tried Lily O'Brien's in Dublin when Hubbie and I went for a long weekend. We went to a posh cafe for coffee (tea in my case) and some luxury chocolates. I savoured mine and even left half of each for him to try. He polished his chocolates off and looked very sheepish when I offered him mine to try. I still mention it occasionally - no that's not fair. It's not occasionally, I mention it often. 

With Mother-in-law and my Mum having birthdays close together we often get the similar presents - they like the same things anyway. Fancy chocolates are a popular choice of gift from the boys and we sometimes buy Lily O'Brien's chocolates from Waitrose. The new range - launched this month - is inspired by popular and much loved dessert recipes including Banoffee Pie, Hazelnut Torte, Key Lime Pie and Creme Brulee. I loved the passion fruit posset, raspberry infusion and key lime - I'm pretty sure they count towards your five a day too. Ok maybe not so much. I'm not a hazelnut fan so Hubbie can have those, but as petit fours these would work really well. Each one is a big flavour hit in a scrumptious mouthful and if I'm being honest far too nice to share. I'm not sure they'd make it as far as being a gift as I'd end up eating them. 

I loved Lily O'Brien's chocolates before and this collection just makes me love them even more. I've already hidden these from my lot so I can enjoy them all by myself. It's not like Hubbie would have shared them wtih me anyway is it ? See I told you I mention it all the time. 

Disclosure: the lovely folks at Lily O'Brien's sent me these scrumptious luxury chocolates to review.