Thinking of You and the Art of Communication

Were you forced, as a child, to write thank you letters to relatives? Did you have to tell them which book you had bought with the National Book Token they had kindly sent you for Christmas? Yes? It sucked right? Don’t get me wrong, I loved my book tokens, I’d buy my brother’s from him because he hated reading and I loved the luxury of owning a book rather than borrowing it from the library.

But I hated writing those letters, they felt arbitrary and, weirdly impersonal. I guess it’s because we were forced to spend an evening writing two lines with great care to Aunt Flo lying about the book you had bought (had in fact not got around to buying) to somehow reassure her that she hadn’t spent her money on a voucher for an ungrateful little shit.

Let us skip forward a couple of decades and my own children are grandchildren, children of family friends, nieces and nephews and they’re receiving thoughtful gifts and the standard (and often preferred) Amazon or I-Tunes vouchers. And for a few years, I sat them down and sternly instructed them on how to write a thank you letter. And as a Godparent, aunt and family friend, I would receive thank you letters from various children whose parents had done exactly the same. And then when my children finally rebelled and I fully remembered the irritation of that time set aside to write thank yous, I stopped my maternal demands under the parenting rule #2, subsection #6 which states: Pick your fights.

…. and yet…. I have just spent months designing and producing a truly lovely pack imaginatively entitled ‘How to Write a Letter’.  It doesn’t, for a second, advocate the duty eschewing of “thank you letter” writing. But I ain’t no hypocrite – it doesn’t promote it either. What it does do, however, is encourage the great, time honoured tradition of actually putting pen to paper, how to layout a letter like a pro and includes suggestions of what letters can be written.

As with everything I write for 2littleboys, I keep the tone of writing to…. well…. this. I refuse to talk down to children. If you can imagine a middle-aged woman doing a silly face and basically saying stuff to give the impression that she’s the idiot in the conversation, then you get the general idea. Children tend to like that.

Letter writing is a dying art form and I really think we’re going to regret letting it go. That email you received from your tech savvy gran just aint gonna cut it when they’re gone. Those pen-pals we used to have when we were younger? Get your kids to take that up. Have them write to someone experiencing a different culture, a different climate, different circumstances and get a rapport going and then wait for their responses to come with weird stamps on the envelope.  It’s a joy. What’s the hurry? They don’t need to email each other because they’re getting a flavour of each other’s lives, not a blow by blow account that needs immediate response.

My father used to write (well, type, because the dude had the writing of a GP without actually being a GP) to my children when they were very young – it was utter nonsense, utter nonsense! But it had his voice (loud) and his sense of humour (bizarre) indelibly printed into every word. And that’s the point – indelible. We all look back at those letters every now and again and my children howl with laughter and I am grateful that they’re old enough to be holding those letters in their hands because I don’t want to ruin the pages with my tears.

I have letters from my great aunt – pedestrian stuff that she wrote from her homeland of Wales. But I’d wait and wait for the sample of her handwriting on an envelope to come through that letterbox with news of my beloved great uncle and various other family members that she liked to gossip about.

And then there’s my husband. We met at 15 (everyone say ahhhh!) and we wrote to each other twice a week until we were old enough to financially and legally move in together. And then the letters and the replies went into the same box. That’ll be an embarrassing couple of hours for our children when they come to clear out the loft.

And I still have a letter written to me 22 years when I was going through a really tough time. My friend wrote to me telling me that I’d get through it, that I was young and indestructible, that I was admired and loved and that she’d treat me to a cup of tea and a biscuit whenever I was ready. And I see that letter in my mind’s eye and I’m still glad that she took the time to write. Texts and emails and comments on Facebook all gratefully received, but ultimately erasable.

In fact, now I’m thinking about it, why on Earth did I not write a letter-writing pack for grown-ups?

Next week, it’s “Thinking of You” week. So think of someone you want to reach out to and write them a letter. In fact, buy the ‘write a letter’ pack from here and beg your child for a piece of the cute letterhead.

If your child is one of those ‘go away, get your own’ variety, then may I suggest you pop over to Julie Bell  – she produces the most stunning correspondence cards and letterheads. Then invest in an ink pen from Plooms and you’ll be good to go.

It’s at this point, I need to acknowledge that my niece, at the age of 21 and her parents continue to write thank you notes. And long may they continue with their missives that are just the right side of grateful, witty, personal and informative.

Now grab your child and spend 20 precious, quiet and companionable minutes writing a letter to someone.

Do it.

Seriously.

Just do it.

P.S. A mate of mine is spending a year reaching out with cards through the mail and I’ve been lucky enough to receive a card from him this year. Do check out his vlog about it all.

 

 

 

 

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Free Ticket Giveaway!

We’re going to be busy again this November. Making hay whilst the sun shines and all that.

Although, thinking about it, it’s going to be November so the sun aint gonna be shining.  So maybe a better saying would be: “let’s spend a load of money and book up those Christmas show stands because everyone’s looking for Christmas gifts and we sell excellent Christmas gifts so we need to put our gifts in front of those people so that they spend their hard earned money on the fruits of our hard earned year round labours.”

But that isn’t quite as snappy.  So we’ve booked up our November to ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’ and hopefully make enough money to keep producing the gifts that we’re proud to create.

It really is that simple.

Now, because we spend so much money on these stands, the organisers give us some complimentary tickets and we would like to offer them to you!  We’re not going to run a competition because we find that it ends up on some ‘money saving’ site that has a url to directly click through and even an answer that you may need; and then we have 1000s of requests from professional competition enterers. (One time, a bright spark had put the wrong answer up so we had to discount around 90% of the entrants).  It’s not that we’re judging competition enterers (see what I did there).  I can remember buying “Take a Break” in the late 1980’s and armed with just a few postcards and a book of stamps, I would very happily use my free stuff – particular favourites included the sun-cream and the bright blue mesh shower pouf to exfoliate my legs in the shower (do you remember those? awful things).  It’s just that we’re not Ambre Solaire and we don’t need tens of thousands of email addresses for people who simply aren’t going to see us on a supermarket shelf.

So, please only respond to us if you genuinely want a pair of tickets to one of the shows.  You are under no obligation to buy anything, to visit our stand or even to like us or follow us on our feeds (although that would be very nice).  We would just like to know that we’ll be sending out codes to claim tickets to people who will make use of them.

So, if you’d like the chance to win a set of 2 tickets to either the Spirit of Christmas at Olympia or to Country Living Christmas in Islington, then please EMAIL ME and tell me which show you would like to attend.  That’s it.  I won’t save your email address or bother you or do anything.

I’ll simply pick 15 people at random on September 30, which should give you lots of time to plan your trip.

We also have ONE precious set of tickets to the Wealden Midwinter Fair to give away so if you’d prefer to not come into London, do put Wealden as your preferred choice.

That’s all.

Further show information can be found by clicking on the images below:

MW17 email signature.jpg

1 Set of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

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10 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

 

London MPU

5 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs (Saturday not included)

 

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The joys of the approaching “back to school” day.

As the first day back at school approaches, are you like me and thinking ‘Thank God, a bit of peace” or are you lying to yourself? Or have you just spent 2 months in your house in Tuscany?

When I say that I’m relieved about the first day back at school, I’m not talking about that first ever bittersweet day of school. You know, the one when their blazer is too big and they look way way too young to be let outside, into the world to fend for themselves, to endure the horrors of playground politics. Because that very first day is the one that is indelibly inked into your DNA for evermore.

I can remember spending a year skipping merrily about, telling anyone who would listen how much I was looking forward to my house being empty from 8.30am until 3pm every day for the first time in what felt like forever. My husband took them and I sobbed uncontrollably for an hour. I’m never quite as pragmatic as I like to think.

But for quite a few years now, the long summer holidays have produced an awful cacophony of emotions and feelings within me. Because I have felt that maternal mix of guilt at being a terrible mother whilst simultaneously experiencing the certainty that I’m being a terrible businesswoman. I would go so far as to say that when I used to want to scream at them every time they innocently asked ‘what’s for lunch?’ I’d even feel the guilt of being a terrible human being. Ok, I’m kinda lying here – I did used to scream at them when they asked about lunch, so much so, they stopped asking for a while and then started to make their own.

So, if you have a child or children ranging from the age of 5 to, let’s say 14, you’ll be doing that whole trying to find shirts in the only Marks & Spencer/Asda/Tesco that doesn’t seem to know your child’s size even exists.

You’ll be working out if you should bother sewing/ironing/sticking those labels in or even whether you should bother marking the clothes with a Sharpie. Because, quite frankly, if they’re stupid enough to lose their pants at the swimming baths, they’ll more than likely find someone else stupid enough to not notice that you’re walking around in theirs.

You’ll be queuing, yes, queuing at a shoe shop with a ticket system exactly like the deli counter at a supermarket. You’ll be waiting to see how much your child’s feet have grown in the week that you feel it’s been since you were last there clutching onto a ticket with an unfeasibly long number.   You’ll then have a mini heart attack and weep a little when they ring up the total on the till – or perhaps that’s just me with three children exactly the same size who needed shoes and trainers bought for them every 2 weeks because their feet grew so quickly (or is that just my imagination).

And, if like me, you’re a bit of a neat freak and you like the smell of a new pencil case, you’ll be questioning your children on what they need for their next year. Is it time for compasses? (does everyone know someone who tried to tattoo themselves at school with a compass? No? Just me then).

And so it goes that you’re buying protractors, erasers, pencil sharpeners that you know will be lost within three hours on the first day, and you’re grabbing some colouring pencils, and HB pencils and possibly a Lamy if you’re feeling flush or they got a WHSmith voucher for their birthday. And of course, you have to get them a new pencil case because the unidentifiable ‘matter’ that is crumbed into the deep recesses of last year’s case is actually starting to smell and you can’t possibly infect the new items with the dirt. At least not for the first week.

And as the day approaches, you’ll start feeling a little guilty that you’re excited about getting some semblance of a life back, that you’re really wanting to look forward to hearing the word ‘mum’ again without it sounding like nails down a chalkboard. Because however much you love your children and even like spending time with them, there’s nothing quite like that moment of closing the front door and being able to just get on with your own stuff.

Unless, of course, you’ve just spent nearly two months in your house in Tuscany with your family, living the ‘simple life’ with bronzed healthy children who haven’t spent more than an hour on their computer for the want of getting back in that pool with their cousins. In which case, console yourself with the vitamin D that has been absorbed to last you through the winter.

Although I can’t help but think you’ve been a bit laissez faire with your preparations. Have you ever tried getting a pair of grey Teflon trousers on the day before term starts? No? I have – it’s not pretty.

Oh, and if you’d like to buy some excellent and very special ring binders, refill pads, pencils and notebooks for the new term, pop over to the site and grab some. We’d love to inspire your little ones with some plans…

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My versatile coconut curry (and it’s REALLY easy)

I’m not really known for my cooking.  As in,  I’ve spent most of my adult life as a ‘won’t cook’ as opposed to a ‘can’t cook’.  I’m a firm believer that if you can read, you can cook – you don’t need much more than that to bang out a perfectly edible meal.  We’re not born with an innate ability to produce stunning dishes from our kitchen; I’m guessing it’s practise, but what do I know? When I can be arsed to cook,  I tend to bung a load of stuff together and watch with either horror or satisfaction when it all doesn’t work or it all comes together.

I’ve been getting back into it this year.  And I’m enjoying the cathartic side of chopping, stirring and feeding.  I’m also finally starting to use the freezer properly. It’s no longer just an expensive to run transition stage between my fridge and the bin.  But then, I don’t think I’m the only one to fill their freezer because of this thought:  “Uggh, the meat and fish in the fridge are about to go out of date but I can’t face throwing it all away, let’s put it all in the freezer to defrost and eat another day but I know I’m never actually going to get around to doing”.

I’ve revisited a recipe that I used to use many years ago when the children were younger and I’d forgotten how easy it was.  I thought I’d share.  It’s not exact science (which is probably why I like it so much!).  It’s also really really versatile.  To keep it simple to read, I’ll just write the recipe here and then add notes at the bottom for exactly why it’s so versatile.

This feeds 5 of us with spare.

2 large shallots or 1 large onion (finely chopped)

2 cloves of garlic

1 Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry paste

1 teaspoon palm sugar

A splash of soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 or 2 cans coconut milk (you can get lower fat version)

vegetables chopped up into pieces that usually take about 8 minutes to cook (I use anything/everything I haven’t got around to using in the week… green beans, an aubergine that’s a bit squidgy, broccoli, red peppers…)

3 or 4 salmon fillets

200 ml of basmati rice

fish coconut curry

How to cook:

Fry the onions on a low/medium heat until they’re soft but not brown.  Add garlic and stir for a minute or two.  Turn the heat up a bit, then add the paste, giving it a good stir around – I like chasing it around the bottom of the pan as it melts.  Add the palm sugar, then the fish sauce and soy sauce.  Give it a good stir, then add the coconut milk followed by the veggies – if there are so many vegetables that over half of them aren’t under the milk, add another can of milk.  Bring the pot up to the boil.

Put the Basmati rice onto a medium/hot heat*.

Cover the curry, turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes (just check the vegetables to see if they’re cooking nicely).

When they’re nearly cooked, line the salmon fillets, skin side up in the pan and push them into the sauce so that they’re covered.  Cook for about 5 minutes. I usually peel the skin off whilst they’re floating on the top of the milk (fussy like that). Peek at the inside of one of the fillets to check the salmon is cooked through.

Then serve it up with the rice.

*Basmati rice is really really easy to do.  Grab a measuring jug and fill it with the rice to 200 ml.  Packets say to rinse it at this point – I never do!  Pop the rice into a small saucepan then measure out 400ml of water and pop that in the saucepan.  Don’t do anything else to it until you think all of the water is gone, then give it a stir to check.  When the water has gone, the rice should be cooked.

 

So…. versatility tips.

You can swap out the salmon for diced chicken (1-2 inch squares) – just pop them in so that they’re covered by the coconut milk and cook for about 15 minutes.  Take one one of the bigger cubes out and cut inside to check it’s white.

Salmon fillets only take an hour or so to defrost, so if you remember to take them out at breakfast, you can cook for lunch at the weekend. (Obviously same goes if you take them out at lunchtime…. you can have for supper).

You don’t need the fish sauce, palm sugar or soy sauce.  But as they all keep for ages, nice to have in the cupboard.

You don’t even need the salmon – which I think would make this a fully vegan option (if you leave out the fish sauce too).  It also makes it a very cheap option – teach your kids for future meals they have to pay for ;).

You can add some lime juice; it’s really nice and weirdly makes it more summery.

You can use any red curry paste.  I don’t have shares in blue dragon, but the little handy pots are about 80p and can be kept in the cupboard.  It’s also not a ‘catch at the back of the throat’ curry paste.  So younger teens can eat this curry without having to run to the fridge for a glass of milk.

Blue Dragon red curry paste

Enjoy.

My coconut curry

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Children at Weddings #1

I was recently asked by Your London Wedding magazine to respond as an ‘expert’ to a genuine question from a reader about entertaining children at her wedding.

My first thought was ‘wow! those letters are actually real’.  My second thought was ‘wow! they think I’m an expert!”  And then I thought about it, and I thought, well, actually, I know a thing or two about children and I know a thing or two about weddings and I’ve written quite a lot about mixing those two entities and I’m knowledgable enough to know it can be quite tricky (I know, it isn’t rocket science, but still…).  So I said ‘yeah, I’ll respond as an expert’.  And this is how it went…

Q I’m the last of my friends to tie the knot and all my mates have kids. I don’t want to exclude them, but equally it would be nice to keep them busy during the wedding breakfast! What are your suggestions for kid-friendly activities that would work at the table?

 

A I Entirely understand the issues surrounding children at weddings. I took my Irish triplets as toddlers to a wedding. I had prepared them each a bag (a very ‘quiet’ freezer bag) and popped in some hula hoops, raisins, nuts etc and they all sat there in the registry office sucking on the hula hoops and thinking it was such a treat!
Children at a wedding can make for a truly perfect day – the photo opportunities alone make it worth having them around!  Conversely, sugar filled youngsters screaming around the place can make everyone feel uptight.  So, firstly, having some form of outdoor space for them to safely run around to work off some energy is a must.  Perhaps a quiet word to the parents to let them know the space is there as a hint might be useful. By the time the wedding breakfast commences, they should hopefully be a little more ready for sedate activities.  There are numerous sites that offer free printable word searches, puzzles and colouring in activities. You can simply roll some up with a little pack of pencils and finish off with a bow. 
Having had three babies in a year, I have spent the past 15 years designing products to keep children happy when they need to stay still. It can be a hard task, but with a little imagination and time, anything can work, because, let’s face it, if you give a 5 year old an empty brown paper bag, some pencils and a few pointers on what they could do with their ‘gift’, they’ll keep quiet (well more than the brown paper bag will!).

Here is a perfectly good example of a downloadable and printable wedding activity book that I found simply by searching on Google. Free Printable Activity Book

 

Our MotherShip site produces quite a few wedding activity books and tins of activities.  Some of which we can personalise.  So if you’re looking for something a little bit special.  Do pop over to the site to see them.

Here are just a few examples:

Wedding Activity Book for the Table

Activity Tins for Little Guests at a wedding

 

If you have any special requirements or would just like a bit of friendly advice, do get in contact.  Simply use the contact us button on the site.

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My birthday and Emojis

Happy Monday!

It’s my birthday week and I suspect much cake will be eaten. I will be charming the pants off every buyer who stops by our stand at the London Stationery Show and I will probably be complaining about my back aching. I’ll be complaining a lot. But then it’s my birthday week, so it’s allowed.

And on my actual birthday, I’d like to think that a few birthday cards will pop through the letterbox and land on my doormat. I will, hopefully, receive quite a few texts from friends including the ubiquitous ‘Happy Focking Birthday’ from one particular individual who shall remain nameless.

And then, Facebook will tell a bunch of real-life friends that it is, indeed, the day to celebrate my birth. They will post on my wall with good wishes. Whether it’s a ‘Happy Birthday honey’ or a ‘Hope you have a lovely day’, I think it’s nice to know that people I haven’t seen for a few years have spent 30 seconds of their day thinking how much I’ve aged on my profile picture and writing me a birthday wish. An emoji heart at the end of one of those written actual words of well wishes will also be acceptable. Just to emote a feeling of warmth and sincere love for yours truly. Any other emojis, are, if I’m honest, banned. A bottle of champagne would be ridiculous (I don’t drink), a party hat – I’m not 6, and don’t get me started on a tick or a 100 – I’m not even sure what they mean.

So you’ve probably gathered at this point, I don’t like emojis. I don’t like them for quite a few reasons.

Firstly, I think they’re infantile. They’re the keyboard equivalent of a 2 year old with a crayon firmly held by a chubby hand drawing something that looks bloody awful and telling you “it’s mummy” or a “beautiful flower”.

Emojis are lazy and their overuse MUST be affecting the literacy and eloquence of us as a society.  Why would you need to know the word ‘perturbed’ or discombulated‘ when you can just select a confused emoji and have done with it.  If you don’t know the words exist, then you’re not making the most of a language that is rich with nuance and culture, that is in need of preservation.

Now at this point, I should come clean. Because 12 years ago, I saw the popularity of the original emojis – the smiley on a Nokia – using the colon symbol and an open bracket for a smile.  I ran with those first emojis, producing a range of postcards using existing grammatical symbols to create a range of 4 simple emotions.

I can remember showing it to someone who was working here for some holiday money – his response went something like this:

“That’s just great. You have the worst of both worlds. A hideous expression of modern pop culture combined with a ‘text’ that takes at least 24 hours to be received by the intended recipient. Good job.” Now imagine that being said in the monosyllabic tones of a 19 year old history student with a serious and untreatable case of sarcasm and you’ve kinda got the vibe.

“Perfect” I responded and sent to print.

And they did very well for us, those postcards. We were ahead of the curve by about a year so they made it into quite a few boutiques that do nonchalant cool with twists of irony so brilliantly.

And we also produced some matching ‘txt speak’ versions including LOL (which I think my lovely in-laws still think means Lots of Love). And I use text speak and the standard wink, smile and unhappy faces when I’m not really thinking about what I’m writing or when I think a more detailed response is unnecessary.  My own phone can not read emojis any more complicated than a few of the basics.  Consequently,  I often find myself looking at a text from a friend that is made up entirely of black squares.  I’m hoping that it’s a barrage of emoji abuse, but I can’t help but think it’s possibly an offer of a free meal – I just wouldn’t know.  But, all bad choice of ‘phone aside, I still can’t help but think that the world has gone mad with it, hasn’t it?

Orwell called it. I know that the comparison has been made by many many, far more eloquent people than I, his explanation of ‘Newspeak’ in 1984 sums it all up for me – Orwell explains that Newspeak “…. is a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning”

… and dumbing down our ways of communicating with others is really very scary. I’m perturbed. And I don’t think there’s an emoji for that.

So, on my birthday, if you simply post an emoji cake on my wall, I will judge you.

Thx for reading 😉

txt-3

 

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Being Ahead of our Time!

I’m just going through some of our product images and found this one – I wrote the copy, the lovely Lenalisa designed it and it was published in 2006.  2006! 

For those who would like a gorgeous notebook/sketchbook to capture their moments, just click on the image to be taken to the MotherShip site.  I still use mine and I do love looking back.  Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

“Moments, we all have them.  The first time you hear “I love you”, your baby’s first steps, an amazing gig, a profound comment, a silly joke that made your stomach hurt, a truly awesome view.

Write them here, keep them for inspiration, for fun, for life.”

Actually, I think that’s rather nice.  #keepingmemories

moments-01