Our Christmas Plans

It’s true. It’s 18th December and I haven’t written a single Christmassy post this year. Compare that to last year, when I couldn’t get enough. Ahh well. It’s not that I’m not feeling the festive spirit, I am, just in a different way and with so much else going on, it’s felt disingenuous to write light hearted pieces when I don’t really feel light of heart.

But preschool term is now over. The paperwork for his EHCP is being processed and we wont find out until the beginning of January as to whether he gets one. Schools are closed and I can’t visit any more. So I’ve decided to try and put all that down for the holidays. Worrying and even thinking about it wont change anything. It’s time to lay those weights down for a few weeks and just enjoy my family.

So what are our Christmas plans? Well, actually it’s the one thing that’s kept me going these past few months, I am so excited about it. Last year we stayed home and went out for Christmas dinner (as we’ve done several times before). It wasn’t exactly a disaster, but the wait for the food was interminably long. Oscar coped (just), but it took everything we had in us to get him through and I realised, even then, that I would need more control over the situation this year. We don’t have the space to host Christmas at home, so it was clear we would need to go somewhere else. But asking family or friends to host and then asking them to do everything your child needs to make it through the season, well it was a big ask. Too big an ask in my eyes. So back in the summer we decided to hire somewhere, make a holiday of it. And if we were going to do that, then why not do it where all our family are.

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Which is how we came to find an apartment in the Royal William Yard in Plymouth, Devon. It’s a relatively newly refurbished Victorian military barracks and we’ve hired a three bedroom apartment for the entire Christmas week. I’m so excited. It not only gives me a place to cook and serve Christmas dinner to my family (something I’ve not done properly in five years!), it also means my mum can stay with us on Christmas Eve and see Oscar opening his presents (something she’s never done), we can see all our family and friends over the course of a week (instead of trying to whiz round and see everyone in a couple of days which we usually do when we visit) and be included in traditional family shindigs. But the best thing about it is I can give Oscar the time and space to decompress, as and when he needs it. Staying with other people can be a wonderful experience, but it puts an awful lot of pressure on everyone. And this way if my son just wants to watch Thomas in his pyjamas and not go out, or we need to leave somewhere he’s been over stimulated, we can.

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Royal William Yard

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I’m not saying it’s the perfect solution to what can be a stressful time for everyone. I’ve been mentally planning what I might need to take with me to be able to cook a full Christmas dinner in a strange, and not necessarily well equipped, kitchen (this is after all a holiday let) for weeks. But I think it’s a damn near close as I can get it. And anyway, my sister in law text me the other day to tell that that although they’re away on Christmas day, she’s giving a key to Ben’s mum and should I need any utensils or such from her well equipped kitchen, then to just take them. I could have kissed her. Had she not been 300 miles away!

But that’s exactly what I’m hoping this Christmas will be all about. Family. Oscar is a part of a family he barely knows and I want that to change. I want him to spend time playing with his cousins, who when he does see he adores. I want him to spend time getting to know his Aunties and Uncles (Uncle Paul, I hope you know we have a child as active as you ever were!). I want him to feel the love his grandparents have for him. Everyone has been so supportive of him and everything about him that makes him Oscar. To them he’s just one of the clan.

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Oscar’s ‘Christmas Book’, a book of pictures to help him identify where we’re going and who we’ll be seeing beforehand.

So we’re off on 23rd. And I can’t wait. I’ve made a book of laminated pictures of the flat and all our family for Oscar to look at. The food shopping has been done online. The presents have all been bought and wrapped. We’ve got the artificial tree to take with us. The flat has wifi. What more could we need? As with everything we’re expecting the best and preparing for the worst. Oh, and Ben and I are taking full advantage of having my mum with us on Christmas Eve and leaving her to babysit while we go for dinner at The River Cottage.

River Cottage Canteen Plymouth - our Christmas Eve plans!

River Cottage Canteen Plymouth – our Christmas Eve plans!

Weeeeell, it’s not all about the family 😉

 

 

A Cornish Mum

My Wedding Story

Recently, my husband Ben and I celebrated being together as a couple for the grand total of sevenTEEN years. Yup 17! For a couple who are both only 36, that tells you just how much of our lives we’ve spent together. I’ve written about how we met before, here in fact. But I’ve never written about our wedding. And in recognition that we just celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary and I thought it was about time I did.

Ben and I got engaged in 2007. There was no ring, there was no beautifully planned set up. There was no anticipation, there wasn’t even a man on a knee. There was Ben. And there was me. Both in our pyjamas, stood in the doorway of the lounge in our flat in Surbiton. And it couldn’t have felt more perfect.

We both knew we wanted to get married close to our families and back in our home county, but I’ll tell you now planning a wedding long distance isn’t easy. Thank god for email, but we still had to make several trips down to Devon from our home in London to visit suppliers and venues. We pretty much knew our priorities for the day were good food (mine) and a good bar (Ben’s) and the venue we chose ticked all our boxes and more.

The Great Barn, was the most stunning wedding venue I had ever seen (and to be fair, nothing’s ever topped it ?) We went to look at it with my sister and when the three of us walked up the steps and into the barn our jaw’s all dropped. WOW was the only word any of us could manage.

The Great Barn, Higher Ashton, Devon

The Great Barn, Higher Ashton, Devon

First view of the inside of the barn. Yup, I still think WOW every time I see it.

First view of the inside of the barn. Yup, I still think WOW every time I see it.

We hired our own outside caterers. We knew from the start we wanted an elegant but relaxed affair and so we were looking for someone to do us a tip top BBQ or similar. We went with The Dartmoor Kitchen, headed up by (the now nationally recognised) Tom of Toms Pies and his amazing team, when we realised they could do us a locally sourced hog roast with all the sides. And boy did they do us proud! And to fulfil Ben’s request we decided to budget for stocking the bar ourselves, meaning people could just relax and enjoy. We even found a local brewery to deliver and tap us a barrel of ale just for Ben (well not quite, but he was determined to have a crack at finishing it!)

Thats a whole pig, locally sourced and organic. Yes this was a happy pig. Oh and bloody gorgeous

Thats a whole pig, locally sourced and organic. Yes this was a happy pig. Oh and it was bloody gorgeous!

A whole barrel of local ale, just for Ben ?

A whole barrel of local ale, just for Ben ?

Add to this a dress I’m still in love with (look out for a post about this on www.todreamofdresses.com soon!), some handsome suits, a bridesmaid dress fiasco that turned out better than I ever imagined, flowers from the florist all my friends used, two pairs of wedding shoes, a dodgy DJ, God knows how many metres of greenyblue ribbon (don’t get Ben started on how many different shades of greenyblue he had to look at that year!), a mountain of cupcakes from Cakeadoodledo and a last minute 90 Swarovski Crystal handbag and we my friends had a wedding to be proud of.

We got married in June 2008. It’d been a pretty crappy summer so far and it rained heavily the day before. I was so convinced it would rain on the day that I even bought white golf umbrellas just in case. As the day dawned I woke in my bed at the cottage next to the barn, sat for a minute looking at my dress hanging on the wardrobe and steeled myself to look out the window. I opened the curtains to blinding sunshine. And bawled my eyes out. Wayne and Colleen Rooney got married the month before us, spending a reported 5 million but even they couldn’t buy the weather, getting married in torrential downpours in Italy. The one thing none of us could control, regardless of the budget or the planning or the spreadsheets and it went right for us. Ha! Take that Mr and Mrs R!

My view when I woke up on my wedding day. Swiftly followed by tears at the sunshine!

My view when I woke up on my wedding day. Swiftly followed by tears at the sunshine!

My bridesmaids, my sister Laura and Ben’s step sister Leanne, had stayed in the cottage with me the night before. We were up til the wee small hours making paper cones to hold the petal confetti as I recall! One of my favourite memories of my wedding morning was sitting with them, in the cottage garden, drinking champagne and eating croissant in the sun. We were so relaxed we suddenly realised how late it was getting and in good girly fashion screamed and ran in the house to get ready.

I wanted that morning to be as peaceful as possible. I didn’t want to see anyone which is why I asked no one other than the few people I needed come to the cottage. Thankfully most people respected this although one or two didn’t and rather than flying into a rage I remember sort of curling up in a chair and staring at the floor. I may or may not have started rocking. My sister came over and asked if I’d like her to ‘sort it out’ and thus started my sister’s day of being the most awesome head bridesmaid I could ever have asked for.

My hairdresser (also my sister in law Nicky) arrived with her colleague to do my hair and make up. Then my friend Helen arrived with her 8 month old daughter Chloe, who was to be my baby bridesmaid. I’d seen someone else have a baby as a bridesmaid earlier in the year and just loved the idea. Chloe wore a beautiful white cotton broderie anglaise dress from Gap with a ribbon sash (greenyblue of course 😉 ) Helen was the first to see me as as I came down the stairs in my dress. And then promptly asked an already emotional bride in full make up if she would be her daughter’s god mother! How I kept from blubbing I’ll never know, but I may have called her a cow for pushing me to the edge – yeah sorry about that Hels!

Once we were ready and the house started to quiet, we moved into the cottage garden for photos, all the time laughing like drains. I have so many pictures of me just roaring with laughter before the wedding. I think it was part nerves but I was never going to make the shy demure bride really was I? I love these pictures and made sure they were included in the album our amazing photographers, Andrew and Agnieszka Younger did for us.

A candid shot from the garden.

A candid shot from the garden.

When the time came, and after the photographer made sure the coast was clear, we giggled all the way over to the barn. The wind suddenly picked up and blew my full length veil and my bridesmaids hair about. We went to the side entrance of the barn, rather than the main door as this gave me a straight, long walk down the aisle. I had already decided my bridesmaids would walk out in front of me, US style and we stood behind a partition giggling and waiting. The music I chose was the instrumental Album version of True Love’s First Kiss by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell. From the film Shrek. Yeah yeah laugh all you want but I found no other piece that had the drama the barn deserved. I loved this piece and had spent months listening to it while walking to get the feel of the music but more importantly to desensitise myself to it. When I first chose it I couldn’t hear it without crying and I didn’t want my make up to run!

The music started and I listened. I sent each bridesmaid out on the beat I had planned. This wasn’t a walk down the aisle, it was a choreographed masterpiece. As my sister’s turn came, as the last bridesmaid to go, she turned, kissed me and told me she loved me. It took me aback and I’ll never forget it. Then she was gone and I was alone. I waited. Listening for the music to change to a quieter, softer tone. And when it did, I emerged, alone, but not in the least bit scared. The lighting had been set up the previous day to hit me perfectly as I walked and the effect was dramatic and beautiful. I remember checking I was holding my bouquet nice and low, I remember smiling more than I ever have, I remember looking straight ahead and seeing nothing but Ben in the golden light. I remember thinking “I’m doing it, I’m doing it” then thinking how I was never going to get to do this again, so to slow down. And I did. I realised how fast I’d been walking and slowed right down. To savour this moment.1910442_17086676663_3660_n

And suddenly the months of planning melted away. Nothing mattered any more. Who the hell cared what colour the dresses were? Not me. All that mattered was here. And now. We started the ceremony with the poem “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by W.B. Yates read by Ben’s maternal grandmother Betty. A beautiful, brief statement of intent, it speaks of a vulnerability and a love that would do anything. Well it does to me anyway.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

We wrote our own vows and spoke them to one another. Clearly and sincerely. Ben promised to always make me coffee on the weekends and I promised to make him sausage sandwiches when he was blue. But most of all we promised to love each other no matter what. We kissed to a round of applause ??

We finished the ceremony with our friend Dom reading a story. This one in fact

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We signed the register to The Ramones, “Baby I Love You”, completed the formalities and walked out to Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)”. We walked to the back of the barn and were given champagne by the wonderful barn owner, John. And just stood there giggling. It was done. 18 months of planning and the most important thing was just being together.

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When the barn had emptied we walked back through the space and out of the large main doors, to be met with a shower of confetti. It was fabulous. My friend’s mum even tipped her cone down my cleavage and I didn’t mind. I just don’t ever remember feeling so at peace, so sure that nothing else in the world mattered, as I did in those few moments.

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Our wonderful confetti moment

Our reception was the elegant relaxed affair we hoped for. Every guest, at some point or another, has told us just how much they enjoyed the bubbles and nibbles in the garden, while we had our photos taken. The sun was out, the champagne was flowing and we made the most of the beautiful surroundings. Once we rejoined the party, we gathered everyone under the walnut tree, as we had decided to do the speeches before the meal and outside. We totally made the right choice. In line with tradition Ben and his best man made a speech and then so did I. There was no way I wasn’t speaking at my own wedding! I thanked people, we gave gifts and then I talked about Ben and made everyone cry. As a good wedding speech should 😉 !

A great orator!

A wonderful orator!

Then Ben gave me a gift. No one has ever seen anyone get as excited about a kitchen gadget before or probably since!

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But it was a Kitchen Aid people!!!!!

When the tears were dried and the speeches all spoken, we returned to the barn, transformed into an elegant dining room, with round tables, escort cards, tall sprigs of cherry blossom (artificial, but hey what do you expect, it was June not April) and tables named after CSI Characters (Grissom being reserved from the wedding party. Obviously). We ate hog roast (except my sister who had a chicken roasted just for her!), roasted potatoes, several different salads and a beautiful vegetable tart, all accompanied by my own chutney. I may have to do a post about, what we affectionately call in our house, “Brides Chutney”, but it was based on Nigella’s Spiced Apple Chutney from How to be a Domestic Goddess. And the drinking relaxing began in earnest.

Our beautiful table setting, biscuit favours by Ben's Mum and Grandma!

Our beautiful table setting, biscuit favours by Ben’s Mum and Grandma!

Sitting down to dinner

Sitting down to dinner

A tower of chocolate cupcakes? Yes please!

A tower of chocolate cupcakes? Yes please!

Taking to the dance floor for our first dance to the beautiful  "Come Away With Me" by Norah Jones

Taking to the dance floor for our first dance to the beautiful “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones

Party Time

Party Time!

We waited such a long time to get married for several reasons. a) We felt we were too young to get married for the longest time, b) we didn’t really have a need to or c) if you believe my husbands speech he wasn’t sure he liked me! But really the reason was we didn’t want to compromise on the day. We knew the kind of wedding we wanted waaaay before we got engaged and knew we didn’t want anything else. We waited until we were in a position to give ourselves and our nearest and dearest the day we had in our heads. And by jingo we did. Would I do anything differently if we got married now. Absolutely. I’d run off to Vegas or something similar. I definitely wouldn’t spend 18 months stressing over every single tiny detail. Who has time for that? But then I’m not the girl I was in 2008. Would she do anything differently? Probably hire a different DJ and have her hair redone half way through the day. Because the stressing and planning and obsessing meant it was pretty damn perfect.

Thank you Ben for such a wonderful day. But mostly thank you for a wonderful life.

Mr & Mrs S 2008

Mr & Mrs S 2008

Mr & Mrs S 2015

Mr & Mrs S 2015

 

 

Diary of an Imperfect Mum
Mama-andmore

A reason to celebrate

Last weekend we had one of those perfect experiences. You know, when you think, OK well this is happening, it could be OK, but it also could go horribly wrong and then it’s better than you ever hoped? One of those.

Ben’s maternal grandparents celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary last week (that’s 60 years people!) and wanted to mark the occasion by bringing their relatively small, but rather geographically scattered family together. It was a really lovely idea and something we haven’t done in ages! The family were all booked in to a small boutique country hotel near Kingsbridge, Devon and invitations sent. However, this really wasn’t the kind of establishment that leant itself to toddlers, so it was agreed both Oscar and his cousins Lucas (3) and Anya (16 months) would stay elsewhere. My sister in law easily found an extended family member to sit for her in their home in Plymouth. However all our family are also in Devon, not Surrey where we live. Finding someone who Oscar felt comfortable with and who had the space was not going to be easy.

This in itself could have derailed our weekend from the off. Oscar doesn’t often stay the night with other people, mostly because our family all live hundreds of miles away. And the last person he successfully stayed with was joining us at the hotel. He doesn’t really know his extended family well enough, or they don’t have the space. So it was with some trepidation we asked our good friend Michelle whether she would have him. As he’d recently spent a few days with Michelle and her 4 year old daughter Holly when they visited a couple of weeks ago, we figured she would be fresh enough in his mind to be familiar. Add that to the fact that I just knew that Michelle would be bloody marvellous with him, I felt really confident leaving him with her. Her daughter Holly was so excited Oscar was coming for a ‘sleepover’ it was all Michelle could do to convince her not to sleep on the floor next to his bed!

So on Saturday we headed off to Plymouth, with the boy in the back thoroughly enamoured of the iPad in its new holder attached the to the headrest. We’d downloaded a few films and some Thomas the Tank Engine and by golly it was the most peaceful four hour journey we’ve ever had. He’s not a bad traveller all told, but this is my little ball of energy we’re talking about and four hours is a lot to ask of him. Despite setting off at 8.30am, nowhere near his nap time, he did brilliantly and even snoozed for the last hour of the journey waking up 10 minutes from our destination. When we arrived he was happy and calm and easily distracted enough by the gazillions of new toys not to bother about us leaving. We ran to the car like escaping convicts!

Buckland Tout Saints Hotel, Goveton

Buckland Tout Saints Hotel, Goveton

The beautiful misty view from our room

The beautiful misty view from our room

The hotel we stayed in was the Buckland Tout Saints and we arrived with plenty of time to join the family in the bar. I was unwinding with a Pinot by 3pm and it felt fantastic. Everyone was in fine sprits (literally) and the fun began in earnest. It was just so nice to get to chat. I’ve known Ben’s sister longer than I’ve known Ben, but as Ben and I have been together 17 years this year, it always feels like catching up with old friends when the family get together. We talked about the children and our lives and this and that. My brother in law was most impressed by their bathroom, which was on a mezzanine floor in their room. I think we were all taken to see it at some point or another!

Sent to to my sister in law when we went to get ready for dinner

I sent this to to my sister in law when we went to get ready for dinner

Getting ready in peace was amazing. We put some tunes on the iPad and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of putting my make up on without feeling like a fugitive hiding from someone (also known as the boy!) I got to wear my gorgeous new dress and as promised here is the evidence. It was so beautiful and comfortable and felt both smart and fun. It wowed the family just as I hoped it would. Nice one Pepperberry!

Charlotte dress by Pepperberry Size 16 Super Curvy

Charlotte dress by Pepperberry Size 16 Super Curvy

Super smiley - 3 glasses of wine in. Or was it 4 ;)

Super smiley – 3 glasses of wine in. Or was it 4 😉

Dinner was just how a big family meal should be. Full of chat, laughs, debate and fun. Who knew Aunty Gillian’s inability to get her arm out of shot would cause such hilarity? But then that’s what it’s all about. Laughing at the silly memories that mean nothing to anyone else.

Fun and laughter

Family

I just love the joy on Ben's grandma's face in this one.

I just love the joy on Ben’s grandma’s face in this one.

Me and the hubster

Me and the hubster

Rachel and Ross photobombed by 'Uncle' Andy!

Rachel and Ross photobombed by ‘Uncle’ Andy!

After dinner we proceeded to take over the bar (again) and partied until the small hours. Not sure how, but I seemed to drink myself sober. I even took my make up off when I went to bed and woke with no hangover at all! Bonus!

We picked up Oscar the next day, to hear that apart from not wanting to brush his teeth, he’d been fine with Michelle and actually put himself into bed and had fallen asleep immediately. What a star! He had taken every toy in the house out though, which I did feel a bit bad for, so we ensured Michelle was rightly compensated with wine, chocolates and flowers. We can’t explain how much knowning he was OK allowed us to have the best night. So once again THANK YOU MICHELLE!

From Michelle’s we took Oscar over to his Great Grandparents house. Again it’s not somewhere he’s been in a very long time and we were concerned how he’d cope being in a strange environment with a group of adults he doesn’t known all that well. We shouldn’t have worried. He was absolutely fine, heading straight for the toys in the conservatory and playing with his Great Granddad (and his namesake. Oscar’s middle name is Frederick). And when Lucas arrived with his sister Anya, well that was that. Oscar’s not always the most receptive to other children, but for his cousin Lucas he makes an exception. Despite only seeing Lucas handful of times in his life and certainly not for the last nine months, they have some kind of connection I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand. Every time they see each other they are like the best of friends and this time was no different. Within half an hour they were chasing each other round the house, laughing like drains and even holding hands, something I never see Oscar do with his chums! I don’t know, maybe they look at each other and see something familiar (or familial!) in each other. Either way it was beautiful to see and we cant wait until Lucas is old enough to come and stay with us!

Despite the time between visits they're always the best of friends

Despite the time between visits they’re always the best of friends

Holding hands partner in crime

Holding hands – partners in crime

Follow me, I know the way to the trouble!

Follow me, I know the way to the trouble!

We tried desperately hard to get a picture with all the children in one shot, but you know kids. They are wont to move. A lot! This was the best I did!

What? All three of them are technically in shot. It was the best I could do!

What? All three of them are technically in shot. It was the best I could do!

And I particularly like this one of my niece Anya. She’s going to be tall like her Grandma I think!

Anya, 16 months old. Going to be tall like the rest of the clan!

Anya, 16 months old. Going to be tall like the rest of the clan!

We finished the lunch off with a celebratory cake, made by Ben’s mum. As soon as Oscar saw it he sat up to the table and started singing what I believe was his attempt at Happy Birthday! Bless!

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Cake!

Cutting the cake once again 60 years on

Cutting the cake again, 60 years on

We left, sad to be going, but so pleased that we’d been privileged enough to celebrate such an amazing milestone with such an awesome couple. A couple who raised two children, supported two grandchildren and care for three Great Grandchildren. A couple who have so many interests and hobbies and friends and ‘joie de vivre’. A couple whose attitude inspire the whole family, every day.

So here’s to a great weekend, to a great family and to a great 60 years.

Here’s to Fred and Peggy

... to Fred and Peggy!

… to Fred and Peggy!