CALLING ALL KINDLY GREEN-FINGERED PEOPLE!!

I’ve just read an article on ‘How To Be Optimistic – Even At Rock Bottom’ …. so here goes nothing…..!

This is the current state of Penny Field School (NWSILC) playground/garden.

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It’s sad, dated and let’s face it  dilapidated.

Yes there are some basic apparatus

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None of which is particularly suitable or fit for purpose for our children …

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or functional!

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There’s a small bridge/walk way across the centre of the playground, although for the large amount of wheelchair users in school this isn’t much to get enthusiastic over really is it?  These children need a reason to get outdoors and put smiles on their faces.

Blimey, even the pot plants and planters in the entrance way and alcoves are looking sad!

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There is no outdoor shelter, although I’m proud to say that funding has been raised (through a personal collection at my Mum’s funeral, together with a limited amount of school funding) to provide for this and we hope to install a  simple awning/shelter of bright canvas outside somewhere appropriate.

The fact of the matter is … THIS garden is the daily outdoor space for approximately 60 children, all with special needs (many profound and medically complex), most with mobility issues and/or complications.  For these children, being at school is a huge part of their lives.  Inside this safe haven they are stimulated and cared for, by a dedicated team of wonderful staff.  They are educated (at their level and to their means) in a protected and stable environment – whilst their hard-working, and often overwrought, parents and carers can take the time to recharge their batteries, as this is often their only opportunity.  We so desperately want for them to enjoy their outdoor space too.

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In Yorkshire we don’t have the best of weather, as a rule, so come rain or shine we want a purposeful, enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing area where our children can play, get fresh air and exercise (where possible) and just generally enjoy being in the ‘great outdoors.’ 

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It really is SUCH a fabulous space and, as these photographs prove, it is just crying out for some professional input and major TLC!  I believe it has the potential of being an AMAZING outdoor space for our special children.  I only wish I had the money, the time and the know-how to make the changes it needs.  Myself and the other parents/carers/friends want nothing more than to turn it around and to put a smile on the faces of these children.

Fortunately, we have a small but strong group of willing parents/carers/friends who are determined to try do just that – it is our intention to help turn this outdoor space around … However, with  limited resource, little funding, and sparse supplies, and if we’re being perfectly honest with very little clue as to where we’re heading, – it might all be a bit fruitless.

We’ve earmarked Thursday, 20th August, to spend the day at the school, whatever the weather.  We will be armed with our positivity, our gardening gloves and wellies, bits and bats from our own gardens, tools we can scrape together and  a very welcome supply of home-made refreshments to keep us going and we certainly aim to make an impression.  The thing is most of us will have our children in tow (it being the school summer holidays) but as this is our only opportunity (outside of the school academic year) we have to jump on it.

We really don’t know where to start, I’m not sure we’ve much of a clue as to where we’re headed – but with the goodwill and determination of a handful of wilful souls we will endeavour to succeed.

If you or your business, can offer any help, by means of ideas, landscaping advice, tools, donations, refreshments, plants, manpower or donations of anything else you think could make even the smallest difference then we really would love to hear from you.

Please help us to make our special children smile.

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THANKS IN ADVANCE for reading this plea …  and for any help you’re able to offer.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on our efforts.

S-Jx

       

Totally ROCK(ley)ED It!

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Winning anything (from the silliest game with the kids to a major lottery win … that obviously I’m still waiting for) gives the senses a euphoric buzz … so when you win something that you really want/really need it makes that contented little buzz all the more apparent.

I’m always entering competitions … just on the off chance.  It sort of comes with the territory of frequently being on my laptop, writing pieces for different companies, reading lots, and shopping for my brood.  Whenever I see something on a packet, on a site, or wherever, if I’ve got time and if the prize appeals then I’ll ‘have a go,’ I especially like those that ask for a tie-breaker so I can use my wordsmith and poetry skills.  I used to think it was a waste of my time … until I had a win, some umpteen years ago, of a giant white teddy bear, and figured that actually somebody has to win the prize – so why couldn’t the winner be me.

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It’s such a lovely feeling to even imagine that you might be in with a chance, however slim that chance may be.  This said, opportunities sometimes arise that sound fabulous – but don’t come off, or ultimately end up costing a great deal of money, or, worse still, are a total sham.  So, I had to keep my wits about me and kept my excitement under wraps until I had confirmation back that this win was legitimate.

This time, I’m very glad to say, I was lucky in all senses of the word.  Not only did I get an email saying that I’d won a wonderful holiday for my family, but it was something different, something that REALLY appealed to our family (anything to do with water is always a major bonus for my Channel-swimming hubby), something that I never thought would be possible with Archie.

It wasn’t until I’d had a second confirmation that the reality of the win truly sank in.  On a day when Pete was up to his eyeballs with work, I finally broke the news to him that, potentially, if we did some serious jiggery pokery, we could possibly have a holiday this year.  It would be our first family holiday in 6 years (what with one medical emergency or another) and we started in earnest to look into whether it was logistically possible.  We  especially had to consider the fragility of Archie’s health right now (he’s got another massive operation looming) and the sheer amount of equipment and consumables we’d have to take with us to ensure his continuity of care.  Still, we’ve never been ones to give in easily and whatever we came up against we managed to overcome with grins on our faces.

The tour operator ‘Rockley’ www.rockley.org  confirmed the prize of a week’s full board and lodgings (a la glamping style), including meals (not cooked by me or bought in by Pete – whoop whoop), and, in addition, we would also be put on fully-instructed courses to teach us how to sail,  possibly to gain a sailing qualification and maybe learn other water sports too.  I can’t begin to tell you how excited we all were at the thought of this.  To be honest – they had me hook, line and sinker at being looked after and not having to cook for a week – and if that meant that I had to spend my week sat on a beach soaking up the sun with Archie by my side and a good book whilst the others played in the water – then so be it.  However, an extensive telephone conversation or ten later, with Keiron at Rockley HQ, and I discovered that they couldn’t be more accommodating.  Keiron assured me that not only could the whole family enjoy the sailing part of the holiday – but that they’d endeavour to help us get Archie on the water and ensure that he too could participate with everyone else.  He explained that they were an inclusive water sports resort, with a young team of supportive and qualified staff, and that they had assisted people with specialist needs previously – though possibly not as extensive as Archie’s.  Keiron was sounding very positive and was certain the Rockley staff would be up to the challenge.  He confirmed that the instructors would be happy to ensure that Archie could do just as much as he was able and that there would be people there to help us to help him.  We didn’t need much convincing, and, provided we got the go ahead from his medical team and the insurance company, then we were determined to make this happen…. and we did!

The couple of weeks leading up to departure were chaotic.  It was all going to happen so very quickly.  Such a quick turnaround meant not only did we have to get approvals and insurances, but we had to ensure we had the relevant medical supplies, feeding equipment and specialist clothing needed for Archie and the imps.  Massive thanks to Fran and the team at www.nipperskipper.co.uk who provided some fundamental kit as part of the competition prize which was £100 of vouchers for their online store.  I chose to purchase all-weather sporting jackets for all three children and sailing gloves for Jem and Scarlett (that I’d been advised by Keiron would be a good call), as well as a handful of other nice to haves and a new hat for Archie.

I can’t lie, packing everything we wanted to take in neatly and tightly and trying to keep essentials to a minimum wasn’t easy.  My little ‘fashionista’ had her work cut out with limited baggage allowance – but I had to stick to my guns and only put a few extra dresses in my case – to abate any arguments! Getting all our cases and additional paraphernalia in the car was like a super intense game of Tetris – but we did it, with just a little bit of room to spare for the kids!

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to a rainy Yorkshire was a breeze and as the journey got under way and the minutes passed the kids got more and more excited.  Scarlett’s constant ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ started about 30 minutes into the journey – and it took Pete’s every last effort not to get frustrated  with her- especially knowing how many hours driving we had ahead of us!

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We stopped briefly in Dover for Pete to show the kids the English Channel from the cliffs and where he’d stayed prior to his swim, and where his congratulatory plaque is displayed at the Varne Ridge Campsite, bringing back a whole host of memories for him.

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We took travel sickness tablets prior to the ferry (it was hit and miss on the way down – but seemed to work in the main), refuelled the car, and Pete intended to get a couple of hours kip- but his attempts were futile.  If it wasn’t seagulls cawing in the distance, it was music playing nearby, or Archie snorting, or the kids rustling about, chattering and jibbering.  So he gave in and we chanced it and, fortunately for us, with a little persuasion, managed an earlier crossing.  No one slept on the ferry – and Scarlett was so glad of her super snuggly new  purple jacket as this part of the journey was a little choppy and it was cool on board ship.

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The drive through France was lengthy and laborious, but our excitement heightened, together with the temperature, as we neared our Southern destination.  Azur was SUCH a long way from home – and after over 16 hours in a car (not to mention the 2 hours on the ferry) we were all just a bit hot and irritable.  IMG_7606

When we arrived on site at just after 7.00 pm (French time) the temperature had cooled to a more modest 35 degrees.  The cool beer and wine that Minnie offered us as we toppled out of the car could not have been more gratefully accepted.  That, together with a wonderful meal prepared at the hands of Hayley the Head Chef and her team, and we were already in heaven and ready to explore before hitting the hay.

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After an evening of introductions, more beer and wine, making friends and discussing the possibilities of water activities for the week with the lovely Leanne (our nominated Rockley Instructor for Archie, Pete and I) and Josh (the hip young Rockley Instructor who had offered to take the imps off our hands for the week, grouping them together with the rest of the children for their instruction – who were we to complain), we were all in!

The kids were asleep as soon as their heads touched their pillows

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and so were we, determined to wake up rested and refreshed and ready for a day on the water.

IMG_7628The kids awoke keen and eager

and got their kit on, Scarlett with a little trepidation at going off on her own (with Jem – but that wasn’t necessarily comforting for her) – but with a little convincing by us and the Rockley crew she was up for it nonetheless. 

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The kids took to the water like ducks … they were soon laughing and splashing and showing a real confidence in water that we honestly hadn’t really seen before – which was hugely reassuring.

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With Leanne’s guidance we got Archie on a boat and, as we’d guessed, he LOVED it! Leanne was very honest in admitting to us that she really hadn’t known what to expect, regarding Archie’s needs – but was so happy to have us and Archie aboard.  She was thrilled that Archie enjoyed it as much as he did and that she was able to manage our instruction with relative ease and with Archie enjoying being in the various boats with us.

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 The next few days passed in a blur of sailing instruction, fun and frolics, technique training, splashing about, visiting the pool, raging heat waves, delicious meals, making friends,  sunburn (despite regular applications of factor 50+ my fair skin was having non of it), extra curricular activities, evenings of entertainment (although the clown was rather scary), visiting the Fete at Souston, making lots of new friends and the odd electric storm….

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The holiday wasn’t without the odd hiccup – this was ‘us’ after all …  Scarlett face planted the tarmac goofing around with Jem and she also took a boom to the face early on in her sailing training.  Thankfully Instructor Josh was really good with her and she continued undeterred.  Phew!

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Then there was Jem who fell off his bike and stood on a Spiky.

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A Spiky is a nasty plant ‘spiky’ by name and nature, which is in the sea/on the shore and basically hurts like hell when you stand on one – as it embeds its spikes in your flesh.  Fortunately Jem got his out with relative ease (and a little first aid from the staff)- as just the day before Instructor Paddy had had a nasty deep one that he’d had to cut out of his foot.  Fortunately, it didn’t stop him dancing about in his tutu and acting the clown though.  Although he might argue that this is why his championship boules wasn’t quite up to scratch?

Speaking of boules and tutus – the entertainment slots that the staff organised each evening were great.  The team of young Rockley staff were keen to ensure continued fun for everyone – especially the children.  We had egg drops that the kids loved taking part in, especially Jem and his new pal Josh when their team won!

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Not to mention the boules (which our team won), the pub quiz (we were pipped at the post) and the somewhat competitive and heated table tennis tournaments.  

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I thrashed both Pete and Jem, early doors – which was obviously beginner’s luck, but lost out to the true pro Cassie (Rockley’s Marketing Manager – who was there with her lovely family).  I took my thrashing by Cassie slightly better than Connor did mind.  He took it super seriously – and when he lost his ‘Champion’ title to Cassie his youthful good looks were hampered momentarily by his frown… he wasn’t best pleased!  Fortunately the kids playing football were kinder to him, and another glass of wine or two seemed to soften the blow!

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I’m gutted I didn’t manage to get a picture of Paddy in his full boules ensemble (complete with pink tutu), I must’ve been far too busy concentrating on my winning game … but we did capture Scarlett in his sparkly topper!

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The food every day was fabulous, we couldn’t fault it.  Hayley and her team did a sterling job of satisfying everyone, despite the numbers, especially as we were all so active and had built up such an appetite for each meal.

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Each meal was hearty and there were always choices, as well as any allergies and intolerances being catered for.  On the ‘French’ evening we were introduced us to some traditional French fayre – which was a bit of an eye-opener for the children.  We regularly eat mussels at home and I’d tried and enjoyed snails before, but as for frogs legs – I’m thinking that’s an acquired taste and probably won’t be revisited any time soon!!  Ha and Hayley didn’t suffer any hungry little monkeys pinching bread whilst she was cooking either, and was only too quick in spraying them with water if they interrupted her culinary process.  We ate plentifully and, healthily and due to the deliciousness on offer I’ve piled on the pounds.. phhhht.  This said, I would gladly have brought Hayley home with us – if only she’d have agreed to leave the wonderful Azur behind for Yorkshire – funnily enough she didn’t take the bait!

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ALL the staff were really fabulous and full of life, they really couldn’t have been nicer.  A team of friendly, fun, bronzed lovelies, that if I’d have been 20 years younger I’d have readily joined their gang.  They were well-trained, knowledgeable and professional, whilst being heaps of fun and up for pretty much anything.  Such a great way to gain work and life experience over the summer months, I only wish I’d had such an opportunity when I was younger.  In fact if only I was 20 years younger!

We all had just THE best time – but none moreso than Archie who smiled from start to finish, loved the music, the attention, being on the water (especially at speed) and collected a fan base, including a bevvie of blonde beauties as the week progressed in the form of Leanne, Rosie and Sam, amongst others!

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Jem would probably say his favourite part was the water sports – of which he showed a true flare, or maybe the use of the Rockley bikes which he used so much when he was on land!  He also made some great friendships, especially that with Josh – as the pair became inseparable pals for the few days that they buddied up, until Josh departed a couple of days before us.  The pair have been texting ever since.

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Scarlett would probably say her finest moments are of friendships made with Daisy and Rebecca, the skills that she learnt on the water and the fears she overcame (including her bravery in overcoming injuries) and her infatuation with Leanne!  Oh, and not forgetting the water lizard that she found in the pool much to everyone’s delight!

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For Pete he really enjoyed learning to sail, spending lots and lots of time in the water, as well as on it, good food, good company, beer and cards (we learnt a great new ‘competitive’ game with Cassie and Rich) and possibly his new holiday hat!?*

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For me, it was just SO good to take my foot off the gas a little.  To delight in spending time with my family and to soak up some sun (a little too much if truth be told!) and to be looked after so very well … I loved honing old sailing skills from my youth and learning new ones on the water (zipping along in the sunshine with Leanne on the dart was definitely a high point for me).  I thoroughly enjoyed a patch of France I hadn’t visited before and making lots of new friends.  Oh and a little mention for Hayley’s soup!  (I must get the recipe for that one).

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Such a super, SUPER holiday, enjoyed by all of us  … a massive

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to everyone involved and who helped to make this happen.  We’re truly very grateful and won’t forget you!

The journey back was just as long and a great deal sicklier.  Thank goodness I found these ‘queezibics’ on the ferry – albeit a little too late!!

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My only regret is that we didn’t prolong our stay at Azu Rivage to at least 2 weeks, that I got sunburnt and am now peeling (ugh) … oh and that Yorkshire isn’t nearly as warm – although if the weather continues then water sports may easily be incorporated into the daily routine!

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Cassie, please keep in touch with us, send me all the marketing detail and I’ll see if I can’t canvas for staff for you from around these parts – though I honestly can’t ever see that you’d be short of volunteers!  Jem’s keen to see if you use any of his photo’s for marketing purposes … though I did tell him that those of his acrobatics on the table might not feature.

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Oh, and we’re hoping you take up our ‘postcard’ idea for future holidaymakers – if you need any pics or a strap line – just yell up!

So there it is …. our summer sailing adventure in a nutshell (or at least as concise as I could make it) … and there’s heaps I’ve missed out … the Fete in Souston, the sand pit antics and the new card game – the name of which I simply can’t disclose on here!  I only hope I’ve done the Rockley crew the justice they deserve… because they totally ROCKED IT!

Au revoir (2)  xx

 

READY TO BARE

My life has pretty much imploded this year; losing my lovely Mum, my father-in-law and our much loved family dog … Archie having continued problems with his health and all the normal guff too.  We’d promised ourselves a holiday this summer and then other things were beginning to take precedence and Archie’s impending operation meant this was looking less likely.  That glass of vino of an evening was being poured earlier and refilled more frequently, I was in fear of getting rickets from lack of exposure to sunshine and my tether had been reached and then some …. That was until I chanced upon a bit of fantastic luck in the form of a competition with Nipper Skipper (www.nipperskipper.co.uk) and the outdoor watersports company Rockley (www.rockley.org).  All of a sudden I was on a winning streak and with luck and magic on my side and some major organising trickery performed –  it seemed  we were about to embark on our first family holiday in over 6 years!

Before preparing to bare all (or even a little bit in my more reserved case) and skip overseas to fairer climes there were more than a few things I needed to organise.  These are the things I can highly recommend which set me well on the way ….

 MINT NAILS

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My lovely girlfriend Ann Marie treat myself and our other girlfriend Steff to gellish manicures after we helped her to organise her English wedding to her Italian beau in just a matter of weeks at the beginning of the year.  It was a pleasure, and I for one really didn’t do much, but the gesture was so very much appreciated.  We took it as a perfect excuse to go and have our ‘holiday nails’ done.  Ann Marie opted for an elegant French manicure for her up and coming Italian nuptials, Steff went for a vibrant neon pink to compliment her Malaysian tan and I opted for a hot sparkly ginger to offset my auburn locks and the inevitable sunburn!  Seems I also matched nicely with the decor in Patisserie Valerie … where we refreshed ourselves with peppermint teas after our nails were pimped. IMG_7521 (2)

IMG_7522 (2)         The girls at Mint worked their magic on our nails whilst we gossiped.  I’d highly recommend treating yourself and there’s always a deal or two on offer.  The gellish manicure is notorious for lasting at least a week or two (mine are still going strong over two weeks) and there’s a massive array of colours to choose from.

In fact if you want to have a Mint manicure you can get yourself a nice little 10% discount if you mention @sjonlegs…  🙂

PAMPERING

Tranquility Day Spa

I decided to try a new Horsforth beautician who’d come highly recommended to me at Tranquility Day Spa,  I’d had a couple of disappointments at the hands of other local beauticians in the past and so desperately needed to tame and define my brows and lashes for my hols.  Knowing I had a week of sun and watersports ahead – I figured the safety of going bare(faced) with a little definition was a far safer option.

Now I’m not one for much make up or drama, but  Maura did an excellent job of not only giving me a stylish shape and darkening my lashes and brows, but putting me at ease, treating me with kid gloves and pampering me with a wonderful hand and arm massage whilst the dye was taking hold.  Whilst I learnt that my sensitive skin didn’t appreciate the brow wax (something to avoid in future visits)  I can’t fault Maura or the Dermalogica products she used to soothe me.  I’ll just chalk it down to experience and next time remember to pluck or thread instead.  I’m already planning a return with my girlfriends in tow … I’m thinking a deep massage to ease the stresses of the summer hols and I’m sure those hot stones have got my name on them!  Thanks so much Maura for fitting me in last minute and for looking after me so well.  I can’t wait to come and see you for another pamper soon.

PILLOW TALK

 I knew we’d have a lot of driving (almost 24 hours from start to finish) to reach our holiday destination, as the logistics of flying with all Archie’s equipment would mean several extra cases (the mere thought of which brought me out in hives).  So, to make the car journey all the more bearable, I treat the kids and myself to some fab  and funky cushions from the home collection at Asda.IMG_8374

I particularly love mine of my heroine the stunning and talented Blondie (Debbie Harry).

 Dog cushionEpic cushion

Scarlett just loved her cute puppy and Jem thought his was … well… EPIC.   Pete has ‘almost’ forgiven me for not buying him one!?*

NIPPER SKIPPER

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Part of my holiday competition prize was a voucher towards some clothing from the children’s Nipper Skipper range.  After much deliberation (their clothing is all so functional and wonderfully wearble) I chose to buy all-weather jackets for the children.  They look fabulous and they’re very taken with their new togs – they’re a perfect combination of snuggly, breathability and showerproof!  Lucky, lucky kids … Pete and I just wished they’d done them in adult sizes too.. Phhht!

Other than a squillion and one clothing changes per child, oodles of sun lotion, bottles of water, bags of apples and a wallet full of Euro’s, not forgetting the Stugeron (so no nasty surprises were in store) we were pretty much ready for the off!

Wake Up & Smell The Coffee …

IMG_8376In the wake of Horsforth Walk of Art and it’s resounding success I’ve been a spent force these past couple of weeks.  After having knit and made 142 bunnies, made squillions of cupcakes, organised two wonderfully inclusive art projects, written numerous editorials for local press, having knit metres of bunting not to mention a day of face-painting in the park and other such niceties – exhaustion has truly set in.  The remainder of the homemade cakes were sold off by my little cub and his friend, and on collecting up the various receptacles I am pleased to announce that just over £100 was raised for Friends of Penny Field – which makes me very proud and that alone, not to mention new friendships made and being a part of such a venture and the bigger ‘very artistic’ picture, makes me very happy.

Weaning myself off ‘creativity’ gently – I made 32 knitted bookworm bookmarks for the lovely class that I’ve been sat with each week, assisting them with reading and literature.  I hope I’ve made even a fraction of an impression in their lives – because just spending a few hours a week with these little people, makes such a huge impression on mine.  I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel for teachers to pass on their charges at the end of each year.  I am, however, getting a handle on the wonderful sense of achievement and satisfaction knowing that I’ve played even the smallest part in the chain of events leading to these little people developing and progressing with their understanding of literature and if I’ve encouraged them to read then all the better.

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I’ve organised the birthday’s of both my boys, a feat in themselves as they are both now in double-figures; with presents being bought and wrapped, cakes baked and titivated and celebrations organised aplenty …  so incredibly time-guzzling – but so very much fun.  Oh … and don’t get me started on the incessant nagging to write their Thank You’s!

We’ve had a few rather sporting days out, in rain and shine.

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Much to the pleasure of my ‘father – Jem has recently started playing cricket for Hall Park – and I’m sure with lots of training and practise he’ll prove to be quite able in this sport too.

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 I’m just thrilled that fresh air and exercise still figure so highly in his life … in the days when all things electronic could so easily make it pale into insignificance.

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My little girl is growing up super fast – enjoying a special night out with her girlfriends, reading and enjoying books far beyond her age group and progressing from a Rainbow to a Brownie.  IMG_6852 (2)

I fear my little girl isn’t actually so ‘little’ any more.  I get glimpses of her and her peers and see them as teenagers – which is both exciting and worrying in equal measure!

As well as recharging my batteries and healing a little (not least because I have also broken my foot!), I’ve also re-booted my social life.  Nothing too wild, you understand, but a few well chosen nights out with good friends have been very good for my soul.  It’s a cliché, I know, but ‘true friends’ really are worth their weight in gold.

Then of course summer begins and the weight of my three charges really ramps up … all the more impounded by the strength of Pete’s snoring and sleepless nights!  Never has a holiday been more needed! …. Watch this space ….