A tiny, tidy kitchen for five: how we maximise space in a 70 square foot kitchen

A tiny, tidy kitchen for five: how we maximise space in a 70 square foot kitchen

Our kitchen is a little rabbit hole, or perhaps more appropriately, the entrance to a rabbit hole, tucked away below ground in the basement. It is hidden at the bottom of a flight of pokey stairs, indirectly lit by a skylight; at 70 square feet, there is neither room for a table nor for chairs. When there's more than two grown-ups down there at a time, we dance inelegantly around cupboard doors. It's cosy.  Add three little ones into the mix, and our dance is more of a bump as small people weave between our legs. Our slim fridge with its barely-there freezer compartment squeezes into an alcove - perfect for the food shop of a young couple, perhaps. Not quite what you'd expect for a growing family of five with very hungry children.

I have dreams of a large, light filled kitchen full of windows, perhaps overlooking a garden or a sun room. There'd be a big table and a bench where the kids could do homework or paint or drink milk after school. In these dreams though, it's not more storage space I'm hankering after (the idea of more space, more storage and more things makes me itch); it's mostly just the light I dream of, and the room for us all to move and flow comfortably enough in the same space at the same time. Oh, but I've seen these kitchens! I tell myself we'll have one, one day.

Meanwhile, I don't hate my kitchen either (for what would be the point in that?). She is petite, but she is neat and she is all we have. On the best of days, we high-five and we tell each other we don't need a bigger place at all. This is how we make it work and how perhaps you can too, if you face the same challenges of small dimensions too.

Embracing Autumn, a new term and new beginnings

Embracing Autumn, a new term and new beginnings

I thought my eyes would be misty from sadness, writing this post. I wanted to write something about September, about the fading of one beautiful summer, about the chill in the air, about two of my three little boys growing up too fast, starting their own journeys into school that I might not always be a part of.

But I am not sad. The air is not chilly, not yet, but just simply softer. There are snatches of sunlight slanting first thing in the morning, then again in the afternoon. I notice it filtering through the as yet ungilded leaves on to the flat pavements and it reminds me that we are lingering, still, between seasons but also ready for time to move along. Cardigans and jumpers have been carefully washed, buttons sewn back onto heavy coats, wellies cleaned of caked-on mud, probably leftover from last year. We don't need them yet though. We are waiting.

Why I Write: My Writer's Manifesto

Why I Write: My Writer's Manifesto

Last week, I had the wonderful pleasure of being interviewed by Kayte at Simple and Season for her podcast, Grow with Soul. Kayte wanted to talk to me all about my writing - my love for it, and my story into it -  and my particular episode comes out on Friday (you can listen here or subscribe here). It's not often that you get to talk at length about something you love to someone that's genuinely interested, so I'm so grateful and excited to appear on it (and please accept my excuses for any extra waffling in advance).

Since Kayte and I spoke, the excitement of launching The Quiet Words this week has started to feel real. I believe in this course so much. I have created something that has a big part of me inside it because I feel that sharing stories is what makes us human. It carries the words that I wished someone might have gently whispered to me, every time I struggled with feeling like I wasn't good enough to write, when objectively I was. The Quiet Words comes from a place of heartfelt trust.

My story of how I became a writer - how it's all I'd ever wanted to do, how I tried to find my writing path, lost it for a while and came back to it - is all here. But when Kayte asked me why writing means so much to me, I couldn't simply put it into just a few short words. I don't remember exactly what I might have said, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't a short, succinct answer (and you know me by now - brevity isn't my strong point). So why does writing matter to me? Well, because, because, because...


Finding my still

Finding my still

Sometimes, I don't always take my own advice. Sometimes, I am not grounded or rested or calm. Sometimes, I snap at the kids. Sometimes, we all get upset. Sometimes, I get swept up in late nights stuck in front of my computer screen, trying to finish a blog post or put the finishing touches to my course and when this happens, I wear myself out. My eyes throb from the tiredness of it all, from all the conflicting emotions going around as I try to figure out a million things, from how to be a better mother to how to figure out what I'm doing with my career to what to make for dinner tomorrow. Sometimes, when I'm pushed right to the edge of my energy levels, I crave more space than I can find in our little home, space I feel I need to breathe, and then, when it all gets to this point, when I feel like the walls are closing in, that's when I can't sleep. 

And that's where, I'm sorry to have to admit it, I've been lately: staring into the blankness in the middle of the night, the street lights seeping in through the shutters. I generally try to be intentional in the way in which I balance the stuff that makes up my daily life, especially when it comes to my kids, but when I get to this point and I can't sleep - which is hardly ever, incidentally, but when it does happen, it is still quite distressing - then it's the big, loud, screeching wake up call I need to slow it right the way back down. It's when I need to remember to breathe. It's when I need to find what I call my still.

Finding my still is sort of like my mind taking a nap, my soul curling up under the covers. It's the way I retreat into myself. It's the way I find calm and balance. It helps me in everything I do, all the roles I hold from wife, mother and creative, writer, too.

How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

There's a magical moment that comes every day, around 7pm, when all my children are in bed and I step down the hallway, alone for the first time since morning, and tread lightly down the stairs so as not to stir any little boys that are not yet in a deep sleep. I pass into our lounge and there I sit in silence, waiting to make sure they are asleep, listening for shuffles and mumbles and those little sighs. While I wait, evening shadows pass like clouds over the wall and the sky shifts across the skylight, the light softer and gentler now. 

The last thing I want to do in this magical moment is be on my hands and knees, picking up building blocks and tidying toys away. And so in a roundabout way, I don't, because I've taken steps to keep that at bay.

After years of neglecting my own well-being for the sake of bylines and deadlines, I have come to value clarity and calmness and being kinder to myself. This is what I want our home to feel like - calm, uncluttered, loving and warm - and I try to infuse these feelings into our home because as a family, an immediate sense of calm grounds us and helps us be kinder to each other too.


Simple holidays and tips for finding somewhere lovely to stay

Simple holidays and tips for finding somewhere lovely to stay

When I was little, holidays with my parents were full on, jam-packed and whirlwind. We did all the touristy stuff, where ever we were, walking across big cities, spending hours inside museums and stopping outside every monument for photographs. While I'm so grateful to them for all we saw and did, I wouldn't describe the holidays I remember as restful. We'd be woken up first thing, dressed and ready to fill our plates at breakfast buffets that started with the sun, and then we'd be out the door, all day on our feet. Not for us holiday lie-ins. Not for us lazy beach vacations of doing nothing.

The places we stayed in, hotels and apartments, were simply sidebars, incidental practicalities. Just beds for the night. There was no need for them to be pretty - though they had to be clean and tidy - because we would hardly be there at all. Besides, holidays were (still are) expensive as a family of five. I know that now too.

These were the eighties and the nineties. The days when a travel agent would point at tiny pictures of hotels in brochures for customers to choose from. You hardly had the option of selecting your preferred holiday accommodation based on its interior style. I get why my parents prioritised holidays as being about places to visit and see and take in the noise and culture of a place and not about the accommodation. I guess that's just what most people did, and still do, even though it's so much easier to find so many different kinds of places to stay in now.

Later, as a young 20-something journalist, I used to get invited on press trips. Sometimes, I was put up in suites bigger than my first flat, suites that took up entire floors of whichever luxury hotel I had been sent to. I had never, ever stayed in hotels like this before, where people offered me whatever I wanted to eat, where I had a sauna in the middle of my room or a huge four poster bed or a direct lift straight down to the swimming pool. I'd arrive and text photos to my mother followed by exclamation marks. I couldn't believe my luck. Although now I look back with cynicism at the wasteful way in which this world used to work, at the time I felt dizzy, a little like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada. But once the gloss had worn off, I realised how I really didn't like staying in these big, showy places at all. I'm not really a hotel or resort-kind-of-girl. I find them claustrophobic, unreal, stark and not at all cosy or restful. 

Rediscovering the pleasure of reading fiction and some favourite summer reads

Rediscovering the pleasure of reading fiction and some favourite summer reads

A girl with her head always in a book. That was who I was, growing up. I've written before about my childhood spent reading, the books I shared with my father, my reading companion. I've written about how reading is what made me want to be a writer - longing to make other people feel the way I felt when I was touched by a heartfelt, beautiful, devastating story.

And so I am slightly aghast to admit that it's been over a year since I've read any fiction. I have never not read fiction, certainly not for this long. So this is something I feel terrible about. I feel like apologising to all the books I failed to read.

Perhaps surprisingly, my lack of fiction reading has nothing to do with having children or being busy. I've always read around the children, making time in the evening and also early in the morning during those sleepy dawn feeds, the  daybreak diffusing through our bedroom shutters casting the first shadows upon my bedspread. A baby nestled into me, warm and drowsy in my arms; a book in my hands.

Embracing summer

Embracing summer

I had planned on writing a post about how to prepare for a long hot summer with little children. I had thought it might be helpful - tips on finding routines that work and ideas on how to keep little minds and hands busy to beat the boredom. I wanted to share with you ways to stay calm when you might feel challenged in this long, hot summer with children home.

But it's Sunday night and as I'm writing this, the back door is still open. The dark sky is streaked with threads of purple, like the stains of crushed plums on your lips or berry juice running down your wrist. The air is warm and quiet and honestly, summer doesn't feel anything like an itch right now. It doesn't feel like a chore to confront, like endless time to fill to keep little people amused and active. Actually, at this very minute, it's sort of feeling like the most perfect place to be and I want to capture it all like a snow globe, only one full of sunlight falling through the leaves on to scorched earth instead of snowflakes. I can't make preparing for summer, for this mood, for this stillness, into something practical at all. There is much amiss with the world. It is not perfect. But this mood I'm in? I want it to last. I want it to stay all summer. Ever after.

At the risk of sounding terribly in love... well, hands-down, I guess I am. I'm in love with these summer days and my little family as our little world comes turns together on its axis every day. Cringe, by all means if you must. But I honestly can't turn this into a post about how to prepare for summer as if it's an ordeal, when really, you just need to step right into it. Let it wash over you. Fill yourself up.

We've not even done all that much. We've had day trips to our favourite National Trust places on weekends (Cliveden and Osterley Park are top of our list at the moment for their beauty, wildness and freedom and pockets of joy in nature), but mostly we're just easing into it each day. Early morning walks to the park before it gets too busy and too hot. Friday afternoon swims in the cool of the gym. Lunches on the deck in the shade or simply indoors. Dinosaur treasure hunts in the garden. Dot painting at the dining table. Simple, little things. 

I don't mean to make it sound easy. But I'm learning to go with the flow. Last year, I didn't - I did camps and clubs for the boys because that's what everyone else did and I thought we should too. But really, I know now that all they want is home and I'm grateful I can be here with them while working on Our Story Time. And I am not afraid to make choices that don't sound like we're trying to keep up with everyone else. My boys are just fine. They seek out their own little adventures.