Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday 31 May

Blog Every Day in May - A whole month

Well, that's it, a whole month of blogging done. I did miss two or three days and I changed the subject on a couple of occasions, but on the whole I blogged almost daily - and I really, really enjoyed it. Some subjects were really hard but they definitely stretched me and gave me something to write about that I normally wouldn't have talked about on here. I have also enjoyed discovering new blogs, seeing what other people came up with for particular subjects and finding that sometimes it was completely different from me!

The one thing I'm going to take away from this month is that I'm definitely going to keep up blogging and hopefully about a more diverse range of subjects than I have done in the past. Big thanks to Elizabeth at Rosalilium for coming up with all the different topics!

Thursday 30 May

Blog Every Day in May - Who inspires you?

Another blog post started on the day and not finished. I had a day off yesterday but with 14yo off to see a friend for most of the day, 11yo has a bit more trouble keeping himself amused and likes a little bit of input from me. So we got started on this 

1000 pieces, we'd only just laid them all out in this photo, by the end of the day we'd got about 40 pieces done. Wish us luck...! Anyway, in between entertaining him, getting some sewing and crochet done, cooking, a walk with parttime dog and watching SpringWatch I just didn't get round to finishing this post on time.

Who inspires you? At first I thought this was quite difficult. I don't aspire to be anyone else and I don't think I aspire to have someone else's life. Of course there is always something that you'd like to change about your own life - I wish I had a bit more money so I could do some maintenance to the house, I wish I had more time with the children, that sort of thing. But on the whole I'm pretty happy with who I am and what I've got.

I talked to the children about it and then 14yo said 'how about a photographer', and that got me thinking. I have enjoyed photography as a hobby ever since B. bought me my DSLR a couple of years ago. I am not technical or patient enough to ever take a prize-winning photograph, but I can see my photos have improved over the last few years and I do enjoy getting to grips with all the different camera functions, let alone learning more about composition. I have done a few classes and regularly read photography books. About a month ago I borrowed a book from the library called England observed by John Gay. I had never heard of John Gay before but a first glance inside the book made me want to find out more. Originally German, John Gay came to Britain with his unofficial foster family in the thirties of the last century. After the war he became a British citizen and a successful freelance photographer. He mostly shot in black and white, as he felt that the chemical colours of photographs didn't resemble real-life colours closely enough but oddly enough you don't think about the colours or 'lack of' at all. His photographs seem, at first glance, to be very ordinary, often they are very ordinary subjects, but they tell a story and that is where his talent lies. Very few photos seem posed, his strength was in taking a photo which was an observed scene, almost like he was just passing by and happened upon a scene which he then photographed. Apparently though he would often return to a location time and time again until he got the shot exactly as he wanted it. What is so clever is that these photos seem so easy to take, yet I know how difficult it can be to get it just right. I would love to be able to take photos like that - I've definitely found someone here to aspire to.

Child and Dog, picture at English Heritage

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday 29 May

Blog Every Day in May - Morning ritual

I don't think my morning routine is very different from many other families with growing up children. The alarm goes off just before 6.30am, it gets snoozed a couple of times, and then it's up to get 11yo ready for his school bus. Now that the children are at different schools, they have different start times too and 14yo is usually not up till I get back from the bus stop. Her bus stop is further down the village and she needs to be taken there by car, a trip I share with my neighbour whose son goes to the same school. Once they're dropped off at their bus stop and I'm back home, the kettle goes on for my first coffee of the day and the work day starts in earnest...

During weekends my morning ritual is very different - I'm very much a morning person, often awake before 7, but B. sleeps much longer. I like nothing better than to get a cup of tea and read for a couple of hours while he's still asleep. If the book is very good I sometimes will him to sleep a little longer! We usually have a proper English breakfast, as he is a star at a cooked breakfast, which sets us up for the rest of the day - him getting on with a building project, me off on the bike. 

Mornings - definitely my favourite time of the day!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday 28 May

A rare occurrence, two posts in one day!

I've been a Pinterest fan for quite a while. My crochet board specially has lots of ideas on it, but the food and knitting ones have several things I want to try out too. Only, there is the problem - I want to try them out but I always forget about them once I've pinned them.

Last month I found out about Pinaddicts. Yes, my name is Cybele and I'm addicted to Pinterest and all that. I liked the sound of the Pinaddicts Challenge though - every month you choose something from your boards (or you pin something during that month), make it, blog about it and then upload your photo to enter into a competition. Now the competition is an added bonus - for me it was more about browsing my boards to find something I wanted to make and then actually make it.

For this month I chose two dishes from my Food board: Jamie Oliver's Baked White Fish with Olives and a Simple Tomato Sauce from his Food Revolution, and The Caked Crusader's Rhubarb Bakewell Tart (making the most of a very prolific rhubarb season).

The fish was gorgeous, we had it with new potatoes and I dug around in B's veg drawer to rescue some almost past their best vegetables so we had some roasted courgettes and yellow peppers too.

The rhubarb bakewell was equally nice, although I did struggle a little with the pastry - it needs to be baked blind and the Caked Crusader suggests leaving the pastry overhanging the edges. I found that mine was baked so well, the overhanging parts snapped off as I took the case from the oven but broke off in the wrong part, so the pastry didn't actually reach the top of the dish. Also, the frangipane didn't quite cover the rhubarb filling which then bubbled up - but let's just say I went for the rustic look and wasn't trying to win the Great British Bake-Off!

Will definitely make both dishes again - enjoyed making and eating them.

Tuesday 28 May

Blog Every Day in May - Bad advice

After a lovely sunny Bank Holiday, the weather has turned appropriately grey for returning back to work while the kids have their half-term holiday. Much as I enjoy having them home, it is always a struggle to get everything done and you feel nothing gets done as well as it should do. Fortunately it's only two days as I have a day off this week as well.

Bad advice... it's not really bad advice as such but some words which were meant to be useful but weren't at all at the time. As I've mentioned on this blog before, my son was a hefty 11lbs at birth. The labour itself went well, his birth was a little hairy and he entered the world looking rather purple, but he was fine and soon recovered. I'll never know if it was because he was a big baby or whether I was more confident, but we took to breastfeeding much more easily than I'd done with my first born. He had a good feed pretty soon after he was born and all seemed to be plain sailing. As with most new mums, I was feeling a little fragile on day three and four, when the first excitement of having a newborn again was beginning to wane, everything was aching, lack of sleep was taking its toll and baby decided to feed All.The.Time. We chose that day to have one of our first visitors, who actually was a lovely person, but when I told her how much he was feeding, she said 'yes, that's boys for you, always hungry, always feeding, you'd better get used to it'. I had to choke back the tears - yes I was feeling a bit emotional, but I was used to my easy-going little girl, had no idea what it was like to have a boy, and he was feeding a lot and he was a big boy... Of course you ask visitors if they want to hold your precious bundle of joy but when she left, all I could do was sob 'my baby smells of her perfume'. I can laugh about it now but it seemed like the end of the world at the time.

Enter my lovely midwife, who'd guided me through both my pregnancies and delivered first born (she was on leave during second born's birth or she'd have delivered him too). She took one look at me, one look at the baby, asked if he was feeding all the time and I burst into tears as I nodded. 'Perfectly normal, he's stimulating your milk supply, he'll settle down in a couple of days'. Which was, of course, exactly what he did.

I still bump into my midwife from time to time, although she is now retired, and one day I'll get round to telling her this story.

My 11lbs baby who's growing up into a lean mean muscle machine

Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday 27 May

Blog Every Day in May - Secret talent

We will ignore the lack of a post yesterday... weekends are harder, I'd rather spend time outside/with kids/with B. than be on the computer, specially as I'm on the computer a lot for work anyway.

A secret talent... I think I'm a pretty open personality with no real secrets. The only thing I can think of, and I'm not sure that is a talent or really a secret, is that I'm reasonably organised. I like lists before I go on holidays and we rarely forget anything when we go away. In fact, I take far too much... I like being prepared for every eventuality! I always have to laugh at myself when we go on the overnight ferry, as I carry 5 or 6 bags on board, whereas most people have just the one, two bags at the most. So, I take this organisation to extremes, but B. quite enjoys it as he doesn't have to think of anything when we go away - just turn up on time. Now that 'on time' is a whole different story...!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday 25 May

Blog Every Day in May - Favourite albums

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to list 5 favourite albums. I'm not a huge music listener. Don't get me wrong, I like music, but I'm an avid Radio 4 fan and most of the time there is something on that I enjoy listening to. Also, I can't work with music on, it distracts me and stops me from concentrating. As my job involves a lot of concentration, having music on doesn't help. I used to be the same when I was still at school, couldn't do homework with music on. My parents never had to say 'how can you work with that music on?' because most of the time I did my homework in silence!

I listened to music as a teenager - a snippet of Wham or Kate Bush or Terence Trent D'Arby and I'm back at secondary school. B. is ten years older than me and our teenage music is totally different.

I still listened to music when J. and I were married. He was/is a big Queen fan and I'm almost word perfect on most of their songs. They did make some fabulous albums and it's taken me years but I can appreciate now how talented a guitarist Bryan May is. I still remember hearing the news that Freddie Mercury had died - fairly unexpectedly, although when you look at photos just before his death, you see how thin he is and must be ill. I think their last album, Innuendo, was one of their best and very poignant when you listen to it knowing how ill Freddie is by then.

I found it hard to listen to music we'd shared after J. left. I even found it hard to watch television on my own, as it made me feel very lonely. That feeling lasted for years, and I think it was then that I got into radio. It was B. who got me into Radio 4 properly by constantly telling me about things he'd heard. I started listening to it on my drive to work and before long, we enjoyed talking about things we'd both heard. It's still something we enjoy, one of us will start 'there was this play on the radio the other with this woman who had a dog...' and the other will chip in with 'o I heard that, wasn't that really good?' 

The odd time that there is something on the radio that I don't enjoy (I really can't bear Count Arthur Strong, find the poetry programme hard going and reach for the off button at Gardeners Question Time) I might switch to a CD. No iPod or MP3 player for me, just give me a good old-fashioned CD to slot into the tray and just play. 

My current favourite CD is Let them Talk by Hugh Laurie. My dad is a big jazz fan and used to take me to concerts when I was growing up. It was mostly modern jazz which I didn't really get, but I love blues. This one never fails to cheer me up (yes I realise that's ironic...)

Another one in the car collection (because I only ever listen to music in the car) is a Regina Spektor album - I can't even remember what it's called and can't find a title online that makes me think 'that's the one!' She's very unusual, I think I heard her perform on Woman's Hour once and got her album after that. Would love to see her live.

When I'm feeling a little tired on a long drive, I dig out my guilty pleasure... wait for it... Tom Jones. Dare I admit that? I love singing along to his classics, and it wakes me up!

But probably my favourite album ever, one that I don't think I'll ever get bored of, is Blue by Joni Mitchell. I hadn't heard of her till I met B, but he bought me a few albums for our first Christmas together and I was blown away. I quite like my music fairly simple - a guitar and just singing suits me fine - and that's where she excelled. Her lyrics are like poetry, she puts in so much heartache, she sings beautifully (or rather, sang - I don't like her modern albums, her voice has changed through years of smoking) and she makes it sound so easy. A very talented lady.

So there you have it, quite a mix I think! Then again, if I lost my CD's in a fire or flood or other natural disaster, I'd be sad but as long as I could still listen to Radio 4, I'd be okay...

Friday 24 May

Blog Every Day in May - What's in your fridge?

Yes, shhhh, cheating again. Hormones were making me feel a bit down in the dumps yesterday so didn't feel like posting. So you get a double post today.

I can't imagine the inside of my fridge would be interesting to anyone but myself but here you go! Top shelf has yoghurts, you can only see my WW yoghurts but hiding behind them are the Activia yoghurts that 11you loves.
On the shelf below is cheese and some chicken for later this week. I don't normally have much meat at home, maybe sometimes some ham or pastrami for lunch. We are trying a new experiment though where the children will cook on Sunday nights, and 14y chose enchiladas for tomorrow. (I thought enchiladas had beans in them but apparently not.)
The single cream is for tonight's dessert - Rhubarb Bakewell tart. At the weekend, specially on Saturdays, I'll usually make quite an effort over our supper, and that includes not watching the diet!

On the shelf below are all the spreads, a spare bottle of milk, some spinach that didn't fit in the veg drawer, and behind that all the jars of condiments that live in your fridge for years.

The veg drawer has mostly cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, some salad and half a courgette in it (14yo bought a very large courgette of which I only needed half, and I haven't had a meal yet that I can use the other half in).

And this is the door. Garlic and butter and tomato paste on the top shelf, more condiments on the middle shelf, and the fruit juices (we each have our own flavour!) and the milk on the bottom shelf. I do love my milk bottles - about a year ago I looked into having milk delivered to support the local milkman. Yes it is a bit more expensive but we don't drink that much milk, specially because the children spend half their time with J. I can order online and change an order until 9pm if we have too much/too little milk. It gets delivered at 3am, even in the snow (have never missed a delivery yet!), and it's so lovely to get a bottle of milk from your doorstep.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thursday 23 May

Blog Every Day in May - The best compliment

Repeating a compliment someone has paid to me doesn't come easily. I do it sometimes, but it always feels a little like showing off, boasting, not modest enough. And I've been thinking all day about what compliment made me most proud and couldn't think of one that really stood out. Of course there was the time 14yo wrapped the cowl I'd knitted for her, around her neck and said it was exactly as she had imagined. The time B. said a cake I'd made was a prize-winner. A compliment I got paid about my teaching style earlier this week that is still making me glow with pride, because I enjoy teaching so much.

But just now, as I opened up the computer to write this post, it suddenly came to me which compliment made me incredibly proud. It was a few years ago and it was when I took part in the ladies tractor road run for the first time with the tractor B. had bought on eBay in America.

I had practised with it for hours. The other tractor we own is much more like a car to drive, but this one has a hand clutch and I found it so hard to get my head around it. I understood what to do, but it didn't come naturally. We'd been out together, I'd been out on my own on a few short runs. But I was nervous of driving it 20 miles on my own.

The whole route is marshalled though, and when I was turning left at a junction, one of the marshalls put up his thumb to me. After the run he came up to me and said 'well done you, you must have driven it before?' so I told him no, it really was my first proper run and he said I had driven it very well. He knew what sort of tractor it was and he knew what it was like to drive it. 
The whole day is an emotional rollercoaster - really good fun but very poignant too. But that compliment was the highlight of my day, and two years down the line, I'm still proud of it.

Wednesday 22 May

Blog Every Day in May - Letter to 13 year old you

Yes, yes, I started this post yesterday and promptly forgot to finish it. Also because I'm trying to set the right example to the children and not spend too much time on the internet after they come home. A day late it is then!

When I was 13, I had just started at a large grammar school in a large town, coming from a very small and safe village school. Although I loved my education, which suited me down to the ground, on a personal level I had a difficult 6 years. I really didn't fit in with the people at the school, they didn't like me - well, the least said about that time, the better really. But I never said anything to anyone about it, thought it was something that was just part of life, that I had to grin and bear. Looking back at it now, I should have told my parents (who didn't find out until I was well into my twenties) or a teacher, and really, I should have gone to another school.

So, what I would say to my 13 year old self is, don't be afraid to speak up.

My overriding priority for my children has always been that they're happy at school. I think, I hope, they are.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday 21 May

Blog Every Day in May - Dream job

I have thought about this all day and you know what? I honestly don't know what my dream job would be. It would involve knitting, crochet and sewing, but I have tried to craft for money in the past and really, really don't enjoy that. That put an end to my dream job of making a living out of my craft! I teach the occasional crochet class and very much enjoy that, but if I could do it for a living...? I'm not sure. 

A few years ago, when my mum was so very ill, I toyed very seriously with a career change and retraining as a nurse. I just found it too hard, too scary to take the actual step of entering into training - it would mean a very serious income cut and I'm not sure I could afford that. But it's something I would have liked to have done. I know exactly what sort of nurse as well - on a post-operative ward or maybe the geriatrics ward. I think I would have been good at it. 

As it is, I'm pretty happy with the job I have. I enjoy the mental stimulation and I enjoy working with my colleagues. Can't ask for much else really can I?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday 20 May

Blog Every Day in May - News flash

Being an avid BBC Radio 4 listener, I'm usually fairly up to date with the news. I do most of my commuting during news programmes and during the day I like to have the BBC news website open - not just for the news, but also for interesting little bits of information.

Besides the British news I try to keep up to date with Dutch news as well and regularly read the website My 'newsflash' for today is from there and actually concerns a very tragic, sad story. A couple of weeks ago a man was found dead in a wood near to where my dad lives. He'd committed suicide. Almost immediately a large search was underway for his two young sons aged 9 and 7, who he had picked up from their mother that morning but hadn't been seen since. Of course you immediately think the worst, but you still hope for a miracle. When I checked last night after not having been on the computer all weekend nor having heard the radio, I read that that afternoon two bodies had been found close to where the father himself had been found. Although the bodies haven't been formally identified yet, the authorities are fairly certain it is the two boys as some items that they'd been searching for, were found near the bodies. 

It is such a heart-breaking story. Of course it is easy to feel anger towards the father for causing such unimaginable pain, grief and suffering, but in some way I feel dreadfully sorry for him as well - something must have gone very wrong in his life for him to contemplate such an action, let alone carry it out. It is a news story that is hard to forget.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday 19 May

Blog Every Day in May - Best friends

Another fail on the blog ever day challenge! But, it was the weekend and apart from briefly checking my messages on Saturday morning I didn't go on my computer at all. I have to be VERY bored to check my messages on my phone, so that doesn't happen very often, and sometimes I love a few days without internet. 

But, I'd looked forward to writing about best friends, which is in fact yesterday's subject, so I'm using a bit of artistic licence and will skip today's subject in favour of yesterday's!

I met my very first best friend when I was 4 or 5. We were at nursery school together and we wanted to play together at each other's house. Her dad dropped her off at my house and said 'o, that will be just the once and then they'll be bored with each other'. Famous last words - we were as thick as thieves all through primary school. She shortened my name to Ciep which was then taken over by my family, and as her second name is Susanna, hers was shortened to Suus and we became Ciep and Suus. 

We went to different secondary schools so inevitably we spent less time together, but still saw quite a bit of each other. My first holiday without parents was camping with her in the north of Holland, visiting one of her penpals and almost getting thrown off the campsite for laughing so much (basically being a nuisance....! :-) My first holiday abroad without my parents was Paris with her and then visiting one of my penpals south of Paris. 

We both spent time abroad after finishing secondary education and then around the time of my marriage, we sort of lost touch. I vaguely knew what she was up to as her partner was best friends with the husband of one of my friends, but we weren't really in touch. Until one day she sent me the birth announcement of her son. I was so surprised because she'd always claimed she wasn't maternal and wasn't interested in having children. I rang her to congratulate her and it was just as old times. Since then we've stayed in touch. In the days before email, we used to write long letters to each other, and she started that tradition up again. I'm very good at keeping in touch through email, but there is nothing better than receiving a hand-written letter in the post, and when I see her handwriting on an envelope on the doormat, I get all excited. We may not be in touch all that often, but I've known her for such a long time and I know that if ever I need her, she's there for me - in fact, she was there for me about a year ago, with many wise words, for which I was very grateful.

My second best friend is someone who I met at university. One day I went to a lecture and found out as soon as it started I was in the wrong place - I think it was a geography lecture. Because of where I was sitting, I couldn't escape unnoticed until the break, by which time it was too late to go to the lecture I was supposed to attend, so I ended up going back home. She was on that same train, I can't remember what got us chatting but we did. I found out she lived in the next town along and would travel on the same train to lectures. It wasn't long before we were very firm friends and although we were doing different degrees, we ended up doing many of the same modules. After we graduated, she went on to do a post-grad in teaching and I moved to Britain, which could have been the end of the friendship. But it wasn't. We stayed in touch, she was my witness at my wedding, she came over from time to time and I used to go and stay with her occasionally. I have vivid memories of the two of us both with small children going to a playground and thinking 'who'd have thought when we were students that 5 years later this would be us'. She then moved to Sweden with her husband and two daughters but again we stayed in touch, and then they moved to Thailand. And then she went a little quiet. We were in touch but it wasn't like the old days. Until a few years later she emailed me to say her husband had had a job offer back in Holland and she didn't dare tell many people in case it was 'tempting fate', but she was quite excited about it. I emailed back saying, I have a feeling you're not all that happy in Thailand. Fifteen minutes later I received the longest email I'd had from her since they moved to Thailand, with everything that was wrong. I almost cried when I read it - I just wished I'd been nearer to her to be of more support. Her husband did get the job and they moved back to Holland about two years ago, and now we chat almost on a daily basis - through email and WhatsApp, and last summer we even got to meet up again for a meal. And when we do meet or speak, we just pick up as though there haven't been several months or sometimes even years since we last saw each other. When she rang me for my 40th birthday, I answered the phone, she said Hello? and I knew straightaway it was her, despite not physically having spoken to her for several years. I think that's amazing.

Friendships. Over the years I have learnt that sometimes you have friends who fit that particular situation. I had two or three very good friends when I was an aupair and I couldn't imagine losing touch. But we did when we all went back home again. I had friends at university who I enjoyed spending time with, but lost touch with as soon as we graduated. I used to think that was sad, but now I think that's just the way life is. Some people will stay with you throughout your life, others don't. And you know what? I'm actually grateful for each and every one of them.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday 17 May

Blog Every Day in May

Today's subject is your journey to work. As my journey isn't all that exciting - 45 to 60 minutes of battling traffic - I wasn't sure what to write about, until I read another blog post earlier today. It almost made me cry, and Fran wrote about it so much better than I ever could. Go and read it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday 16 May

Blog Every Day in May - Pampering

Very, very easy: to have a day where someone else does everything that I normally have to do, and instead I can spend the day knitting, sewing, walking and cooking. O the luxury....

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wednesday 15 May

Blog Every Day in May - Life's a Lesson

O this is a tough one! 

I think it probably has to be my marriage break-down. I was 19 when I first met J. and I knew quite soon that he was 'the one'. He felt the same way and we got married 6 years later. I considered him my best friend and I honestly thought that it would be for life, that we would grow old together.
For many reasons growing old together wasn't to be, and we split up in 2004. I don't remember ever crying the way I did on the evening he left. But, we had had a very difficult year and in a way it was a relief as well, and from there I could start to build up a new life. It took several years to settle down, for both of us, but the most important thing I learnt was that my world didn't fall apart and that I was strong enough to carry on. Of course I wish things had gone differently and that the children were growing up in a 'normal' family, but they seem happy and settled and well-adjusted, and I can honestly say I am happy again. 
I met B. about a year after my marriage ended. It is hard to imagine my life without him and again, I'd like to grow old with him. But I've also learnt that relationships do sometimes end, and if that should happen to B. and me, I know it'll be a very tough time but I'm strong enough to deal with it.

Gosh, very serious post indeed! Maybe a more light-hearted one tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday 14 May

 Blog Every Day in May - Food

Yes, I failed! I should have posted yesterday but I Was.So.Tired.
We had spent the weekend in Holland for a family party (and I had scheduled the weekend's posts), but I didn't want to take the children out of school so we travelled on the overnight ferry on Friday night, slept in a hotel on Saturday night and returned to the UK on the overnight ferry on Sunday night. Add a late-ish night on Saturday after a broken night on Friday due to 11yo not having fully recovered from tummy bug that both children came down with on Thursday, and by yesterday I was wiped out. I dragged myself through the day, 11yo fell asleep in the car on the way to 14yo's ballet lesson, he was in bed by 8, I was in bed just after 9, slept through till just after 6 - and I'm still not fully recovered. So, there was no way I had the wherewithall yesterday to come up with a post about going green. I think I'll return to the subject in the future sometime as it is an interesting one - the Dutch being more clued up about recycling than the UK, although we're rapidly catching up.

Right, on to today's subject, which is food.

Fried eggs for breakfast for hungry teenage boys

I love cooking. When I was growing up, my mum used to love cooking. Quite often it would be meat, potatoes and a vegetable, but she is a very good cook who loved French cuisine and enjoyed experimenting. I'm sure I didn't always appreciate it, I remember well the first time she cooked bolognese sauce and me hating the celery in it, and having to finish a bowl of rice pudding which I couldn't stomach (mum, if you're reading this, it really hasn't scarred me for life - I love rice pudding now!). She often did cookery courses and I felt very grown up when I was about 13 and allowed to do an evening baking class with her. 

Strawberry pavlova, one of my favourite desserts

I am sure it is my mum who inspired my love of cooking. In my teens I started cooking meals from time to time. I did a lot of baking in my aupair years - four growing boys always appreciated cake and biscuits! Then when I returned to the Netherlands for my degree, I lived at home with just mum who was working fulltime, so I did quite a bit of cooking because I spent more time at home. Cooking and food took a bit of a back seat in the early years of my marriage, as J. has a problem with lots of food. I did cook but cooking just for yourself isn't as much as fun as sharing it with someone, and I haven't got many food memories of that time. I did very much enjoy weaning the children and felt very proud of never giving them a jar of baby food, but cooking all their meals myself. We always ate with the children, not having separate meals, and 11yo in particular was eating mashed-up family meals from a very early age.


And then I met B. who loves food possibly even more than I do. Our first date was in a pub where he ate his own food and promptly polished off my plate which I couldn't finish because of nerves. Our second date was outside at a riverside pub where he pinched all the salad onions off my plate. After a few more dates I asked him to cook for me. He made a gigantic paella for the whole family and I knew I had met someone with whom I could share my love of food. I was a vegetarian when I met him, but out of principle rather than not liking meat, and it didn't take long for my willpower to crumble when he started cooking fantastic English breakfasts at the weekend. My range of ingredients had already expanded since joining WeightWatchers, but he introduced me to many dishes I had sometimes not even heard of. He started taking me out to restaurants which was something I'd not done for years. But most of all, in him I suddenly had someone I could cook for and who really enjoyed what I made for him. Although he is a very good cook himself, he doesn't often allow himself time to make a meal, so one of the things I enjoy during the weekend is pottering about in the kitchen for hours cooking us lavish dishes.

Homemade quince jelly

What it has taught me, is that food and eating is something very sociable. I spend quite a few evenings on my own, and more often than not I don't bother cooking something elaborate. I nearly always make a nice lunch but my evening meal often is just a sandwich and a cupasoup, or leftovers from a meal earlier in the week. But when there are two of you or at a family gathering, food becomes something that binds you together.
This weekend was proof of that too. We travelled to Holland for a family party - my aunt and uncle had turned 65 and 70 last year and wanted to celebrate with a family meal on Saturday and a brunch and exhibition of their paintings on Sunday. As a present, I had collected several locally produced food items, such as coffee, tea, flour, cider, even sausages and bacon. My other aunt turned up with a tray full of little glass jar which she'd filled with the more unusual herbs and spices used in Yotam Ottolenghi's books (yes, a love of cooking runs in the family!). On Saturday night we had a lovely meal with three sisters, their partners, children, grandchildren and various partners. On Sunday we ate a fantastic brunch with family and friends. My uncle's speech touched on enjoying good food and enjoying it with others. The weekend was lovely, and the food was definitely a contributory factor.

Homegrown tomatoes (no, not my own)

Some of my happiest memories and even not so happy memories are linked to food. I vividly remember the first meal I had in Britain with my aupair family, outside in their garden in the sunshine. The bread the mum of the family used to make. The wine we used to drink (in fact, this weekend I drank a wine which took me straight back to those times). The memorable meals I have with B., the fish pie I cooked for him one of the first times he came to my house, followed by banoffee pie and feeling so full I had tummy-ache. The meals at the Japanese restaurant in the little town near to his house, now sadly closed. And even the meals in the cafe at the hospital where mum spent so much time a few years ago, I still remember those.

 B. enjoying the sauce from the mussels

There is no doubt my life would be very much emptier without this love for food.

 A romantic gesture from B. on a lemon cake

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday 12 May

Blog Every Day in May - Collection

Today's post is as easy as yesterday's post was hard...

I am a knitter, therefore I collect:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday 11 May

Blog Every Day in May - Book Love

This is such a tough one! I go through phases of reading a lot and not reading at all. When I don't read books, I read magazines. I always have something to read with me in bed, and specially in winter, when my old house never seems to warm up to a comfortable temperature, nothing much beats crawling into a warm bed with a hot water bottle and a good book.

I also read a real mixture of things. I know exactly what I like and don't like - no sci-fi, crime or autobiographies for me (the last one being a relatively recent discovery - not sure why but I cannot get into autobiographies, and believe me, I've tried!). On the whole I seem to prefer female authors, although again I don't know why that is. I like the odd chick-lit, but they have to be well-written. No glaring errors in chronology for me - it immediately stops me enjoying the book. Gosh, I'm fussy aren't I!

One book that really stood out for me recently was Tess of D'Urbervilles. At university I did a very new, experimental degree - within the faculty of Arts you could choose your own modules, thereby in effect making up your own degree. Of course there were a few rules, for example, we all started with a modern foreign language and we all had to take a philosophy module, but there was a lot of freedom. After two years, you had to choose a specialisation which again lasted two years and ensured you graduated with a degree that made you employable. As by then I had lived in Britain for 2 years, I chose English as my foreign language and took mostly language modules (speaking, reading, writing). I had very little interest in literature critique so I also took several linguistics modules and a few in modern literature. During my second year, a translation specialisation was started and because my English was quite fluent by then, I thought it'd be interesting to try that one. I enjoyed it more than I expected and twenty years down the line I'm still working as a translator.

So, in effect I graduated with an English degree without literature. It wasn't until fairly recently that I started to appreciate 'older' literature, and one that very much grabbed me was Tess. B. doesn't read much but often tells me about Far from the Madding Crowd, which he read for his O levels. I could never find it in the library but found Tess so read that one instead. Afterwards we watched two of the films that have been made. It's a book that is so beautifully written and yet so sad. One that feels very real and stays with you for a long, long time. And to me that is the sign of a good book.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday 10 May

Blog Every Day in May - Travel Dreams

It is so easy to come up with all sorts of grand plans for today's blog post. A trip around the world. Canada. The east coast of the States. I would love to go to Australia and see where my friend Vanessa emigrated to a few years ago. Of course a long trip to Holland.

But in reality, if someone gave me say 2000 pounds for whatever holiday I'd choose, I'd go to Lyme Regis. I fell in love with this little seaside town about 20 years ago when J. and I went camping there shortly after we'd met. We returned a few times as a family - even the fact that we spent our last holiday together in Lyme Regis didn't put me off!

Just before my marriage came to an end and with me going through a difficult time, my dad wanted to take the children and me away for a few days. I suggested Lyme Regis and we went down for a week. He fell in love with the place as much as I did and we have been every year since - usually the half term week in February.

Over the years the holidays have changed in character. We used to have a different cottage every year but have found one that suits us very well and now book it for the following year as soon as we hand in the keys. At first the children were very young - I have a photo of 11yo as a small toddler in a pushchair, completely covered in chocolate ice-cream. We would spend hours on the beach, maybe a day trip to the wildlife park at Cricket St. Thomas or a trip on the Seaton trams. Over the years we have got into walking, exploring the miles of public footpaths on the Dorset coast. Both dad and I have developed our love of photography in Lyme Regis - you can often find all four of us standing in the same spot taking the same photo - and surprisingly all with a different result!

I am not sure what it is that draws me to Lyme Regis time and time again. There is definitely the attraction of the sea - I love being near water. But it's more than that - the ever changing light, the endless views, the many independent shops and cafes, the friendly people living there, I just never get bored of it. In fact, I dream of one day living there...

PS I switched off word verification on the advice of someone I'm doing a swap with, as it puts people off leaving a comment. I'm afraid I switched it back on again, as I was inundated with spam...  Hope you don't mind!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday 9 May

Blog Every Day in May - Social Media

My favourite social media website is Facebook by far. Although I'm active on a few other social media sites, such as Twitter and Pinterest, it is Facebook I would miss the most.

I joined back in 2008 (I had no idea - had to go and check that!) and I can't remember how soon I became active. Pretty soon I would have thought, as I enjoyed reading other people's statuses and wanted to add my own. Over the years it has become almost like a diary. I post something most days, although if nothing exciting happens I stay quiet - I prefer to post about things that you would talk to people in real life about. It's a mixture of what I've been up to, things the children have done or said, and photographs. I'd like to think it reflects me as the person I am.

I have a fairly small group of friends compared to some users, and they are a mixture of real-life friends, work colleagues, people from my past and people I have got to know online. In some cases I have got to know someone better through Facebook and have become closer friends. I don't believe it's not possible to make friends online.

Both Facebook and Twitter are for me a line to the outside world on days I work from home. Much as I enjoy working from home, it can also be a lonely place with nobody to talk to or have a joke with. Having Facebook open is like having a chat with your colleague at the desk next to you and makes the day seem less long.

Facebook isn't perfect. It has happened more than once that I had all my settings just as I liked them, only for Facebook to change something and me to spend weeks getting it back to how I like it. I think it can be a dangerous place, and is definitely not a place for young children. I try to keep politics and religious views out of my timeline as it is far too easy to respond in a hurtful, insulting way. But if used sensibly, I think it can be an enjoyable part of your digital life.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wednesday 8 May

Blog Every Day in May - Your first job

My very first job was as a 12 or 13 year old delivering bills for the practice that my father worked in - my father is a GP, now retired. The bills would normally be posted out, but if my brother and I delivered them on our bike, we'd get the money the practice would spend on stamps. Dad would bring home 5 or 6 boxes of bills which were sorted alphabetically, my brother and I would spend an afternoon sorting them according to roads, we'd divide who'd go where and off we'd go, on our bikes. Dad would take us in the car to the more remote patients, and a couple of weeks later we'd get a nice bit of pocket money. I was so proud of that money.

Throughout my teens I had a number of jobs - I remember stacking shelves in a supermarket and dropping a jar of babyfood (blergh), doing a fair bit of babysitting, and then when I finished my A-levels and had a long summer ahead of me, I got myself a cleaning job in an office. I actually quite enjoyed that and when I returned to Holland from my two years as an aupair, I rang the agency again and worked for them throughout my time at university. It was only a couple of hours a day, it was well paid, the team was nice and as the offices were at the local agricultural university (yes, it really is a university, where they do some ground-breaking research), I'd often come home with bunches of flowers or bags of vegetables.

My first real proper job is the one I am still doing now. I knew at the end of my degree that I'd be returning to the UK and then J. got a teaching job in Bury St. Edmunds. I had done a work placement with a large translation agency in Croydon and had gotten a very good reference from them, so once I knew whereabouts we'd be living, I just got the Yellow Pages and sent off several letters to translation agencies in Cambridge. I received a few replies, one of them asking me to ring them once I arrived in the UK. I made the call on a Friday morning, I got a phone call back on Friday afternoon and I started work on the following Tuesday. That's now almost 18 years ago and I'm still happily working there as a translator!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday 7 May

 Blog Every Day in May - Pets

 Our circus cat

There have been very few periods in my life when there were no pets. When I was born, my parents had a 6 month old red setter, called Yakir (or Toffel as he came to be known). He was the sweetest, most laid-back dog I remember. He had to be put down when I was 12 because he had epilepsy and was having daily fits. It was the first time I saw my dad cry. Toffel was definitely my first dog love - if I see a red setter (or any setter) now, I'm instantly taken back to memories of him. 

Not my pet and it took a bit of persuasion for me to have him on my lap!

We also always had cats when I was growing up. So many that when mum and I talk about them, we sometimes don't quite remember which cat was which. Vosje, the grey and white cat who died of old age in our kitchen. Pluis, the grey fluffy cat which one day just appeared on our doorstep as a tiny kitten. Pien, the cat we got from the cats rescue place where we returned two days later to get Poeka, the one we couldn't find it in our hearts to leave behind. Oscar, the cat who walked into our lives and was brutally killed by farmers in our village six months later. 

Our two cats in their favourite spot

As I mentioned earlier this month, when I first left home I lived as an aupair with a family in Surrey for a year. They had a smallholding with sheep, pigs, chickens, dogs and cats. I was in heaven, specially when during the first week one of the chickens disappeared and returned a few days later with a string of fluffy yellow chicks behind her. In fact, one of their dogs was a red setter, Scampi, and she had the unnerving habit of sleeping with her eyes open. As their house was the last house at the end of a rural road with miles of fields around, I used to walk the dogs a fair bit during the day when the boys were at school. Happy memories. 

Dog loves posing too

I spent another year in Britain as an aupair, this time with another family who had two Siamese cats. I wasn't having a very good time - we just didn't click the way I had done the first year - and I suspect that due to my unhappiness my eczema, which I've suffered from since babyhood, flared up very badly in response to the cats. I returned to Holland to do my degree and had several allergy tests done, even though I already knew I was allergic to pets. The flare-up lasted for years, becoming so bad that I would spend hours scratching, showering was painful and I wouldn't wear short-sleeved tshirts in summer. After my degree I returned to Britain but my eczema put me off having pets. Also, J. suffers badly from hayfever, which is a related allergy, and the chance of our children having some form of allergy was about 80%. As I knew what it was like to have eczema and didn't want my children to have to go through that, we took the decision not to have pets in their early years. 14yo developed hayfever when she was about 4 years old and gets it worse than J., having missed days off school when the sneezing and itching just get too much; 11yo has rather dry skin but no itchiness or infections. I'm very relieved that neither of them have any more than that.

Marley trying to catch up

But, I did miss having a pet. My eczema disappeared miraculously after 11yo was born (in fact, it got worse throughout both pregnancies and with 11yo I knew I was pregnant before doing the test as my skin became so bad all of a sudden), but soon after that J. left and looking after two children on my own was hard enough work without having pets as well. We did have a few goldfish but it's not the same as a cat or a dog.

The black panther of Norfolk

Then I met B. who had the biggest black and white tomcat I had ever seen, called Bodog. I was a bit worried my eczema would return, but that wasn't a good enough reason to stop seeing him ;-) Bodog couldn't ask for a better place to live - a farm with lots of fields, meadow, hedgerows, cat food and an Aga. He was the best ever rabbit catcher and loved sitting on the edge if you were having a bath. Shortly after he died of old age, we spotted a few very small kittens in one of the barns. There were always mostly feral cats around and of course they're notoriously difficult to catch and have spayed, so often there would be kittens about. A few weeks later B's daughter managed to catch them and smuggle them into the house (they were living with B's dad at the time who was refusing to let the cats inside). And that was how we ended up with two cats, Token and Snickers. One of the other kittens disappeared and another one went to B's dad's cleaner just around the corner. The mother cat then had another litter and after that B's dad managed to catch them and have her spayed. The mother cat and the half-brother of our two now live with him, and they are all so similar that we all have trouble telling them apart from time to time. Like Bodog, they're living the life of Reilly in the acres of fields with wildlife to watch and catch and a warm Aga to come home to. A cat's life couldn't be much better.

B's dad's cat Tinks, who desperately wants a cuddle but is always a little shy still

And then of course there is 'parttime dog'. Marley is a cross between a golden retriever and a collie and belongs to my elderly neighbour who is too frail to walk him. I finally got to know her after Marley escaped into my garden one day and I went to return him. I asked if we could take him for a walk occasionally as he was obviously overweight and we used to go for short walks after supper anyway. In summer he gets walked several times a week, in winter it's a bit less so, but he is always happy to see us, even if the walks get longer all the time and I need to start taking into consideration that he's no spring chicken anymore (14 in July). A walk wouldn't feel right now without Marley with me, and as I don't feel I could give a dog of my own the full time and attention it needs, it's the perfect solution.

So there you have it, my life with animals. Maybe, just maybe, one day, I'll have my own cat or my own dog. I hope so!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monday 6 May

Blog Every Day in May - Bank Holiday

 11yo made his own lunch (French bread, bacon, gherkin)

Last few rows of stitching on my dress for this weekend

 Homemade cinnamon and date buns

First supper outside in the garden

Hope you all enjoyed your Bank Holiday!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday 5 May

Blog Every Day in May - Fit and Healthy

Wrapped up warm to brave the wintry weather

About 10 years ago, I was overweight and very unfit. I had given birth to an 11lbs baby and was struggling to lose the baby weight. My marriage was on the rocks, I was feeling unattractive and I was on tablets to sort out a depression.
Then one day I realised I needed to start taking some form of exercise. Although the children were small at the time and I probably spent more time running after them than I do now, my job as a translator involves many hours of sitting down. The problem was, I didn't like sports. I never had done. I was a late walker (22 months apparently), it took me ages to learn to ride a bike (yes even with my Dutch genes...), and at school I was always that person who was last to be picked for a team. I cannot catch a ball to save my life, if I kick a ball it doesn't go in the direction I aimed it in, and at secondary school I was in a class with predominantly very sports-mad people. Their hearts must have sunk every time they had to pick a team and there was only one person left and that person was me. So once I left school I did no form of exercise whatsoever. I just couldn't imagine why anybody would enjoy doing something that made you tired. But as I said, I was overweight and unfit, and I realised it was an unhealthy combination. The only thing I'd always enjoyed was swimming, so one day I decided to go to the pool and swim 50 lengths. I lasted 11 lengths before leaving the water terribly out of breath, but I had enjoyed it. So much so I started going more often and getting better at it. Then one day my neighbour mentioned she was attending WeightWatchers meetings. I asked if I could come along. That was in August, and in November I had lost 2.5 stone and reached my goal weight. I was still swimming several times a week and feeling much, much better. That winter I didn't have a single cold. My marriage came to an end a few months later and not surprisingly my world came crashing down around me, but because I continued to eat well and kept exercising, I didn't need to go back on the antidepressants.

Great Whelnetham Church, seen on one of my walks

Over the years, I have mostly managed to keep off the weight. There are times when it creeps up a bit, but I generally manage to get it off again too. I don't want to go back to the way I was, as it made me so unhappy. That winter when I didn't have a single cold, despite the children regularly bringing home bugs from school, I realised that you can improve your resistance with a healthy lifestyle. I've never really given up on exercising since. I continued swimming for a number of years until the gym membership became a bit too expensive - I only used the gym for the pool as it was so much cleaner than the council pool and I liked the flexibility of the extended opening hours. I then used a Mel B fitness DVD for a while which was such hard work but was very effective. I lost it a few years ago and I'm still sad about that. I would use exercise plans from the WeightWatchers magazines, and then I discovered a series of fitness DVDs that I really liked (10 minute solutions), so I now own several of those and use them when I don't get the chance to get outside.
I also eat well most of the time. I still attend regular WeightWatchers meetings and most days I get my 5 portions of fruit and veg, often even exceeding that (I counted them up the other day - 10 different types!). I eat a much larger variety of food and have tried ingredients I wouldn't have touched a few years ago.

This is me a couple of years ago - I don't look much different, just a bit greyer :-)

My two favourite ways of keeping fit are cycling and walking. I took up cycling about 6 years ago when B. found an abandoned mountain bike in a ditch on his farm. When it was unclaimed for a few weeks, he did it up for me and I started exploring the area around his village. I remember coming back feeling so proud that I'd done 6 miles. By now I have covered several thousand miles, quite possibly 10,000 miles, and I don't think much of doing 25 to 35 mile bike rides. I don't go fast, it's not about speed, it's about exploring, finding little hidden villages, seeing the seasons develop, feeling the wind in your hair, the sun on your face - sometimes the rain!
And a few years ago I finally got to know my elderly neighbour who hasn't been able to walk her dog since she broke her hip. I offered to take her dog out for her and that's when I discovered a love of walking. It would feel pointless now going for a long walk without a dog, but because of work I don't think I could give a dog the attention it needs and deserves. This is a perfect solution - neighbour is happy, dog is happy, we're happy. I enjoy cycling and walking anyway, and as an added bonus it keeps me fit.

I still enjoy cake!

So there you have it. What still surprises me, after 10 years of a fairly healthy lifestyle, is how much energy you get from regularly moving. Today I took the 'parttime' dog for a 7 mile walk. My legs were tired and I was hungry when I came home, but after a sandwich and a drink, I got up and cleaned the car - which was long overdue. I know I'll sleep well tonight...

Saturday 4 May

Blog Every Day in May - 5 favourite blogs

O this is a tough one! To date I have 141 blogs in Feedly. Some of them I go to as soon as I see a new post, others stay unread for a little while. Occasionally things get out of hand and I'll mark the whole lot as read and start again. I do love blog reading though and I've definitely made friends through it - more often than not friends I've never met but whom I'd get on with in real life too, I'm sure.

1. Cloudberry Knit - I've been reading Beate's blog for a number of years now. Like me, Beate goes through phases of posting a lot and then having quieter periods. She's a teacher but a keen knitter/crafter/gardener and currently lives in Norway. I think if we were to meet, we wouldn't stop chatting.

2. Andamento - I found Anne's blog through a comment on a blog we both read. I love her posts about her bike rides, although hers are a lot hillier than mine! Anne also knits and crochets.

3. Our Ash Grove - Melanie lives with her husband and 4 children in a commune in America. They try to be as self-sufficient as they can be and homeschool their children. It's not something I can imagine doing myself, but her writing makes you stop and think about the small things in life. I've read her blog for a number of years and it's a pleasure and privilege to see her children grow up. Oddly enough her weather frequently mirrors our weather in the UK...

4. The Caked Crusader - If you're looking for a nice cake recipe, look no further than the Caked Crusader. She posts a new recipe most weeks, and every one I've tried has been a hit. 

5. Brooklyn Tweed - Quite possibly my most favourite designer. Beautiful patterns, stunning photography.

Just a selection really!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday 3 May

Blog Every Day in May - A day in my life

I'm struggling with today's subject! I actually quite enjoy reading about other people's days, ordinary days though they may be, and mine sounds decidedly boring. But, maybe other people will find it interesting, so I'll persevere.

Today's a work from home day. This means getting the children up and ready for school, a frenetic couple of hours the same as in households up and down the country. Go and find your socks and shoes, have you packed your lunchbox, why is your cereal bowl still in the front room. After 14yo has left for her school bus, peace and quiet return to the house, my little cafetiere is filled with coffee and steaming hot water, and I settle down to my day of work. 

I have worked from home for more than 14 years now. I started when I was still pregnant with 14yo and the daily commute, a car journey which should take 45 minutes but is regularly disrupted, became a bit much. After she was born and I returned from my  maternity leave, I continued the combination of working from home and from the office and have done so ever since, changing the number of hours and days as the children have got older. I think I have the best of both worlds. Some people think working from home is ideal, and in some ways it is. You avoid travel times and frustrations, you get to hang the laundry on the line, you can make a nice sandwich for lunch and you can have Radio 4 on in the background all day. But the downside is the loneliness. There is no substitute for the support and camaraderie of good colleagues.

I normally work till the children come home from school. Often we then go out - library, ballet lessons, after school clubs. Once a week we do our supermarket shop, which oddly enough we all enjoy. We share a coffee and something nice in the Costa in the supermarket, and then 11yo and I stay behind to do some knitting and the weekly crossword while 14yo goes off with my shopping list and a trolley to do the shopping... yes I know I'm very lucky! 
When we come back home, our routine isn't much different from anybody else. I cook us something to eat, we have a meal together, we clear up. This now includes doing the washing up, since the dishwasher broke a few months ago. Although we all sigh and exclaim how much we hate the washing up, it's actually a nice time to chat about our day. After that it's time to chase 11yo to do everything he has to do before he goes to bed. Once he's gone upstairs, I try to get in a bit of fitness. I much prefer being out on the bike or going for a walk, but failing that, I have several fitness DVDs which are quite effective. It's also a bit of quality time for 14yo, when we either watch something together on television or if it's cold, we go upstairs with hot water bottles, hot chocolate and a book or magazine. If we watch television, I normally have my knitting or crochet to hand - it's hard to just sit still and watch!

Today is a bit different though - the children will be picked up by J. shortly after coming home from school and B. and I are off to a concert. I'm very much looking forward to it but won't be able to relax until we're actually on our way, as B. is notorious for his lack of punctuality. I may have told him that we need to be there earlier than the actual start time, in the vague hope of making it on time...

I left my camera at B's house last weekend, so have not been able to take any photos this week. Hoping to get a few more photo posts in when I get my camera back tonight!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thursday 2 May

Blog Every Day in May - Spring

For me Spring is being able to spend more time outdoors.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wednesday 1 May

It's so easy to get stuck in a rut when writing a blog. Much as I enjoy my bike rides and like writing about them, it might not always be that interesting for everybody else.
I've never tried to blog every day for a month, figuring that blog writing should be something spontaneous. Some of my favourite blogs don't have a post every day, every week or sometimes even every month. But I found out about Blogging Every Day in May on Twitter and thought it'd be fun to give it a go. Not promising I'll last the month, but being given a subject to write about might inject some new enthusiasm!

Today is five lines about yourself. Only five?! :-)

1. As regular readers of this blog know, I am originally from Holland. After finishing my secondary school exams aged 18, I came to Britain as an aupair. I spent a year looking after 4 boys on a farm in Surrey and had what was probably the happiest time of my life. After another, less happy year with a family nearer to London, I returned to Holland for my degree but then moved back to Britain permanently in 1995. I've now almost lived longer in the UK than I have in Holland, but I feel as though I have two home countries.

2. I have spoken Dutch to my two children (14yo girl and 11yo boy) since they were born. There was never any doubt in my mind that I wouldn't speak Dutch to them, it just felt like the natural thing to do. 14yo used to speak Dutch back to me, until her brother was born (who she's always spoken English to). They now both answer me in English, but they understand pretty much everything I say to them. 14yo reads fluently in Dutch too and I'm hoping she'll take a Dutch GCSE and maybe even spend time in Holland when she goes to university.

3. I am still working for the same company I joined after leaving university (a translation agency). My boss recently said that once you have been with this company for 7 years, you don't leave anymore. In September it is 18 years for me. At the moment I have 4 Dutch colleagues, who have all made their home in the UK. Of course we speak Dutch together, and as most of them are younger than me, they help keep my Dutch up to date.

4. I cannot stand Dutch tea. The first time I made a cup of tea for the cleaner of the family I lived with in Surrey, she took one look and told me that next time I made her tea, she didn't want to be able to see the bottom of the mug. I've never forgotten that, and over the years I have come to prefer my tea ever stronger. The Dutch don't do strong tea - a quick wave with a tea bag in some boiling water and that's it - no milk, just, well, hot water with a vaguely brown colour! Yuck... So, now I bring my own tea bags to Holland.

5. My favourite part of any trip to Holland is a day spent at the Hoge Veluwe. It was started back in the twenties by a rich, German art-collecting couple. Now it is hard to describe what it is - in essence, a nature reserve with a museum, but it's much more than that. All the art, specially in the gardens, seems to be in harmony with its surroundings and can be touched, felt and even climbed over, thus making it very accessible. The park is criss-crossed by cycle paths and in three or four locations there are bicycle parks where you can pick up a 'white bike' for free to cycle around on. When you get to where you want to be, you leave your bike in another bike park for someone else to use. They are very basic bikes, with the famous pedal backwards brakes and no bell, but they just go with the whole ethos of the park. There is also a visitor center, an underground museum specially for children, a museum shop full of interesting art books, and several cafes/restaurants - nothing flashy or modern, but again, just right for its surroundings. I have been going to the Hoge Veluwe with the children since they were very young and they still enjoy going there.
If you ever spend some time in Holland, a visit is highly recommended!

Until tomorrow!