Tuesday, 15 March 2016

March Madness

The girl behind the counter looked warily at her lone customer. Sunday morning, not long after opening, too early for one of those customers, surely. Apparently not. He had been shuffling around the shop for a good ten minutes now, seemingly dazzled by the bright cards, the glitter, the pinks and blues. And he was talking to himself, muttering under his breath, quietly chanting some deranged mantra. So she kept him in the corner of her eye, just to be on the safe side, and strained to hear what he was saying, half-intrigued, half-terrified by what she might hear. Then - yes - she caught it:

"...Mother's Day card, E to K; Mother's Day card, W to K; Mother's Day card, me to Mumsy Marsh; birthday card, E to K; birthday card, W to K; birthday card, me to K..."

You see, dear reader, that man was me - not a weirdo at all! (Please feel free to take a moment to make your own joke(s) up before continuing.)

It's been quite a busy week in our house, with both Mother's Day and K's birthday falling within a few days of each other. Like a lot of things from this time last year, I have no clear memory of what happened for K's first Mother's Day or her last birthday, so I felt like a complete rookie when it came to sorting things out. It all panned out fine, thanks to some forward planning, and cards and presents had all been bought with at least a fortnight to spare. I knew reading all those books on being organised would come in useful one day.

And for those of you thinking that I made my life hard by getting cards from each of E&W, rather than joint cards: if you'll forgive me a - hopefully rare - moment of right-on-trendiness, they're individuals, not a unit - we don't refer to them as 'The Twins', or 'The Children'. I sometimes feel a bit bad about lumping them together as E&W, but convince myself that it's a neat shorthand that still recognises they're their own little people. [Disengage right-on-trendy mode].

Mother's Day started off with cards and a small present...
...before we headed off mid-morning to the coffee shop in our new local Waitrose (I know, we're so rock n'roll!). It's a very pleasant place to go - not too busy, clean, comfy sofas and a bit of space for toddling around without invading others' personal space. While sat there doing a bit of people watching while K was being entertained by E&W's antics, I noticed a steady trickle of dads and their little people - hardly any mums in sight. Of course, mums are supposed to have a break on Mother's Day - what a bad husband I am! But then K pointed out that she doesn't get to spend that much time with them (or me, really) during the week, so this was a chance for her to have some relaxed family time. I'd not thought of it like that - but then she's always been the clever one in the family. And we scored +1 on the good parenting/husbanding scale when I overheard a lady at the next table pointing out to her daughter that K and I swapped places halfway through our drinks to allow the other to have some undisturbed sipping time.
Then in the afternoon we went out for one of our now-customary toddles around the block, and gave the toddle bikes our friends Stacy, Adam, Ellie and Freddie passed on to us (thank you!) a run out...
K took the day off work for her birthday, and we went to our local pub, The Fishes in North Hinksey, for lunch. E&W were little angels - they often are when we go out, possibly because there are lots of new things to look at - so we had a nice time and some good food (and a little wine.) Oh, and then K and I had bacon and egg toasted sandwiches for dinner, after E&W had gone to sleep. See previous comment about being rock 'n roll.

I like to think that although there were no grand gestures, no whisking-aways for romantic evenings, not even breakfast in bed (maybe next year, when E&W can be sent downstairs to cook a fry-up on their own - I joke!), we all had a nice time. I remember my A-Level English Lit teacher banning us from describing anything as 'nice', because it's a safe, soft, maybe even bland word, but there is a lot to be said for just doing simple, nice things. They're what families should do.

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Friday, 26 February 2016

Why I Changed My Mind About Cars Parked on Pavements

This post was inspired by a piece about badly parked cars by Dave the Dadventurer (excellent blog!) on episode 2 of the (again, excellent) Meet the Parents podcast. It's a little bit of a change from the regular, photo-packed E&W updates - I hope you like it nonetheless. 

Cars parked on pavements used to really annoy me.

We live in a pretty, quiet Oxford suburb. The roads aren’t particularly narrow. Most houses have drives or off-road parking spaces. Yet we still come across cars partially - sometimes fully - on the pavement. Most of the time we can squeeze our way through, even with a side-by-side double buggy, but every now and again we have to nip into the road to get around. Thankfully we've never been in any real danger from doing this, but it always made my teeth grind.

And it would make me angry! How dare they park on the pavement!? I’m a pedestrian! I have a right to walk along here without having to breathe in and carefully pick my way past! Park on your driveway! I’d do that terribly English thing of huffing and puffing, chuntering and grumbling under my breath as I strode off down the road.

More than that, I found it caused an odd physical affliction: my elbows would start to stick out further than usual. I’d quite often clatter a wing mirror - not to the point of ever breaking one, I feel I should add, but enough to sharply fold it back in out of the way and give me a flashback to my days lead-blocking for running backs. I’d often say “BOOM!” to myself. I kid you not.

And then I'd get home from a walk and regale K with tales of the righteous vengeance I’d wreaked on these badly parked cars, like I was a Z-List superhero - Pavement Chap, the Pushchair Pushing Paladin, Protector of Pedestrian Privileges.

I even once sliced “NICE PARKING” with a fierce finger into the virgin snow on a car windscreen. Given my handwriting is appalling when I’m at a desk with a nice pen and a sheet of clean paper, I can’t imagine what the owner of the car thought I’d actually written by the time they saw it. Assuming the snow hadn’t melted by then.

Then I got to thinking about what I was really doing. I was getting angry about something that - in the grand scheme of things - is pretty small beer. A badly parked car never actually spoiled a walk, but my reaction to one would often spoil five minutes of that walk. This wasn't so much of an issue when E&W were smaller, when they were quite happy to just watch the world go by, wrapped up in their coats and blankets, not really aware of what was going on with the pusher behind them. But now they're far more aware, can pick up on moods, see when others are upset. I don't like them to see me in a mood, if I can avoid it. And I don't want them thinking it's clever to (frankly) be a bit of a petty thug. Nor having to see me pick up my teeth from the pavement when I clatter the 'wrong' car (I may be 6'5" and very good at a Paddington Bear Hard Stare - also very good for stopping people sitting next to you on a train or bus - but I'm actually a complete wimp).

Then my good (soft?) nature kicked in, the bit of me that likes to think that most people are - at heart - decent. Let’s assume for a moment that no-one goes out of their way to park on a pavement just to make life difficult for pedestrians. (Unless they’re a sociopath. Hmmm. Yikes. No, let’s go with my initial assumption.) So that means they’re being inconsiderate, yes, but not malicious. On the couple of minor run-ins I’ve had with people - me picking my way carefully past whilst giving the driver that Paddington Bare Hard Stare - I’ve been met with apparently sincere apologies - “Sorry, I didn’t think!” And I really think that’s the root cause of most of the bad parking - not maliciousness, not even particularly selfishness, but rather thoughtlessness. "I need to park here, so I'll park." So being intentionally nasty in return seems unnecessary.

And then I imagined being a driver who comes out to find his wing mirror whacked out of kilter. Would I think “Ah, I’ve blocked the pavement and as a result of my thoughtlessness my wing mirror has been clattered. That will teach me! I'll be sure not to do so again!”? No, I’d probably think “Some little [expletive deleted] has hit my [expletive deleted] car. [Expletive deleted].” Everyone gets angry, and that's no good to anyone.

So from now on if I come across a car that’s blocking the pavement, I’m going to very calmly tuck the wing mirror in to reduce the amount of pavement being blocked, and go on my merry way. That way the next person to come along will hopefully find it a little bit easier to get past. That makes me feel strangely good.

I have considered leaving notes under windscreen wipers explaining what I’ve done. I’ve even thought about getting some business cards printed up through one of those “100 cards for peanuts” offers I’m always seeing on the internet (again, I kid you not). And I’ve mulled over the wording - it would read something like:
Dear Driver,
I’ve tucked in your wing-mirror to make it easier for pedestrians to get past your car without damaging either (a) your car or (b) themselves. There is no need to thank me, but if this simple act of kindness has touched you, please pass on the goodwill by sparing a thought for pedestrians the next time you think about parking on the pavement.
Thank you!
But leaving notes seems a step too far, a little too close to Victor Meldrew and his Post-It Note War with his neighbour. Perhaps I’ll just stick to tucking in the mirror with that message in mind, and surfing the wave of virtuous bliss that follows it.

Right, now go and check out the Dadventurer and the Meet the Parents podcast

And, as usual, please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Out and About

Routines are great. Many's the time since becoming an SAHD that having a routine has helped me hold on to my sanity, especially on those days following sleep-scarce nights when my brain is working even more slowly than usual.

Wake up. Breakfast. Play. Get dressed. Play. Pushchair walk. Play. Lunch. Play. Nap. Snack. Play. Toddle outside (weather permitting). Dinner. Bath. Bottle. Into PJs. Story. Kiss. Sleep (cross fingers).

Organised bliss. And it seems to work. For the most part, E&W are very happy little campers - we're really lucky that we seem to have two very nice-natured little people. And of course I enjoy spending time with them at home, playing around, watching them pick up new skills. Getting out for a walk is a particular highlight of the day, a chance for me to get some fresh air, some much-needed exercise and to see a bit of green countryside (which is good for my soul), and E&W like watching the world go by, playing spot the !!CAT!! and getting fussed over by passersby.
And of course now they've entered toddlerhood, they really enjoy getting out of the house under their own steam and having an explore of the front path.

K and I having been talking recently about how we think that life has perhaps got a little...well, boring...for E&W. We've noticed they get irritable more easily when cooped up in the house. It's harder to distract them with the things they used to love - cuddly toys, being chased, wrestling, books, Duplo. They're growing up and they're wanting to explore the world more. Who can blame them?

It's not as if there aren't lots of exciting places to go and things to see in and around Oxford. And I don't just mean museums and galleries (E&W are maybe a little young for them, but when they get older whole other worlds will open up for them). There are playgroups, soft play, parks, petting farms, all sorts within easy reaching distance. But we don't tend to do much outside the routine above.

I readily take a lot of the blame for this. I’m a little bit nervous of taking E&W somewhere new during the week, when it’s just me with them - the logistics of getting them somewhere, getting them out when we get there, keeping them entertained and safe when they’re having an explore, it all feels a bit daunting.

But the main problem is me. I'm a homebody. Not very sociable. Not very adventurous (it's somewhat ironic that my third-favourite type of book - behind sword-and-sorcery fantasy and ghost stories - is real-life adventure, all mountain climbing and canoeing the Nile and walking round the world. Vicarious adventure from the comfort of my armchair). I know what I like, and I like what I know. I'm not particularly comfortable in new places or with new people, although I like to think I warm up quite quickly once the ice has been broken. So given the choice, I'd always naturally pick something we've done dozens of times before, something we know works, rather than trying something new. But I know that's not really a good way to live your life, and I certainly don’t want E&W to grow up to be like that like that, so I know it’s important they get out and about, properly explore and experience the world, try all sorts of things, meet other people. What I want, what I'm comfortable with, has to get shoved aside for their good.

So we’ve decided to make much more of an effort trying new things.

First on our list is swimming. We bought little swimming trunks (nice looking swim-nappy wraps) for E&W, K and I dug out our swimming costumes, and early on Friday morning we all headed off to Leys Leisure Centre. I was really impressed at how swish it is - a far cry from the municipal leisure centre in the town where I grew up, which was always a bit shabby round the edges and smelt of chlorine, weak hot chocolate and beef crisps. Ahh, memories. The swimming pool area (at the Leys) was really nice - a 'fun pool' with fountains and water jets, a teaching pool, and a grown-up pool. As it was our first time, we stuck to the fun pool. E didn't really enjoy it that much. We think she was a bit scared by the noise of the water and the general hubbub, and had a minor meltdown; she did calm down a bit after a while and enjoyed lying on K in the shallow water - hopefully she'll be happier once she's got used to things. W seemed quite at home pretty quickly though, and was soon strutting around like Daniel Craig in those little blue trunks in Casino Royale. All in all, a successful, enjoyable trip, and one we're going to try again this week (fingers crossed E feels a bit more at home this time!). It's given us some real motivation for getting out and doing more varied things as a family, which is no bad thing at all. Perhaps we won't be scootering across the Sahara any time soon, but I think we'll definitely be broadening our day-out horizons a little.

And if you're wondering why there are no photos of our first family excursion to the pool, well...it's a swimming pool. My phone would have got wet. And there was the risk of getting a shot of me with my mild Dad Bod - and bright pink swimming shorts - and no-one really needs to see that! To make up for it, here are some more photos of E&W:

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. And you can find me on Twitter and Instagram: @andymarsh58. Thank you!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Six Months In, Am I Still Enjoying Being A Stay-At-Home-Dad?

E&W have been with us now for (yikes!) nearly 18 months, and I've been SAHDing for six months. That neither feel that long suggests life has either been like being swept along in a raging river, or it's been a lot of fun.

“Are you still enjoying being at home with the children?” is the question I get asked most often. And it's almost always worded like that, not “How's it going?” It's like people are offering me a safety net, almost inviting me to wail “No, no I'm not, it's awful and I'm rubbish at it and whathaveIdonewithmylife?”. Which is kind of them, but unnecessary.

And I'm sure my standard answer, a typically-reserved-English-gent "Yes, it's good!", might not be entirely convincing, especially to those friends and family who had concerns about how I'd cope with becoming an SAHD/house husband (I know you're out there, and I don't mind at all that you were worried). "What's he hiding, what's he not saying?" they might wonder.

Here's what I'm not saying:

I love being a stay-at-home-dad.
It's given me a sense of purpose, a sense of my place in the world, that I've never had before. I get up every morning knowing I'm going to get to spend most of the day with our gorgeous little people, helping them explore the world. I'm extremely lucky to have been given the chance to take such a big part in E&W's early lives, and I will be forever grateful to K for giving me that chance. I know she finds it very hard to be back at work and not with them more - who wouldn't? I like to think that leaving them with me, rather than a childminder or at a nursery, makes it a little bit easier to say goodbye to them in the mornings.

Do I love every moment of it? Of course not. When food is being thrown about with apparent malevolent glee (especially when it's onto a freshly steam-mopped floor), or W is wrestling with me trying to put his trousers back on after a nappy change (and cackling at my plaintive cries of "You need to have trousers on - what if the vicar comes to tea?"), or E is incessantly squeaking with frustration at my inability to work out which toy she wants delivering to her from the far side of the room (okay, it's actually quite cute, like an angry Jawa trying - and failing - to use The Force to impel something into her splayed fingers. And of course the thing she wants is always the last thing I pick up), there is a little voice in the back of my head sneering "You didn't get this from spreadsheets and databases, did you?".

No, I didn't. From some colleagues, yes - but never from spreadsheets and databases (I'm joking. Honest).

But no matter how much I enjoyed work, how much satisfaction I got from doing a job well, it doesn't come close to how I feel at the end of a day now. Tired out, yes, but with a little warm glow deep down inside me, because I know that I've done something really special today.
I can completely understand why SAHDing isn't for everyone though. I think my brain is wired just about right for me to be a good fit for SAHDing. Thanks to all the self-help motivational books I've read over the years - a guilty pleasure - I'm quite good at seeing the bigger picture: for example, chores aren't chores, but a means to creating a pleasant, comfortable, happy home (and...relax!). I get an almost irrational sense of satisfaction from mundane little tasks like sweeping the floor or folding laundry. And I didn't feel I was giving up on - or putting on hold - a career (a good job, one in which I took immense pride, but not something that defined me). I feel that right now, this is what I'm meant to be doing.
And I've also learned a lot about myself in the last year-and-a-half. It's true that having children changes you - it unlocks things in you that you might not have known were there. I've got a little series of posts in mind for exploring this further - there's a dangling carrot for you!

I guess the take-home message from this post is this: don't worry about me; don't worry about us. Life is good - no, better than good. Life is really rather fabulous.
Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

One Step Beyond

We can now officially call ourselves the parents of toddlers!

Eliza is now properly toddling about the place, and has all but given up on crawling. She very cutely waves her arms about in front of her as she goes, like she’s doing a little bodypopping dance. William is very solid when standing still, can go quite a way when holding a hand, and can manage a few steps without support (and looks very pleased with himself when he does), but still prefers his super-fast crawl and his penguin-waddle knee-shuffle for getting himself about.
We’ve bought them their first shoes - cue the obligatory big shoe/little shoe photo:
This means we can go for wanders outside - we all made it down to the end of our road yesterday afternoon, probably about 100 metres, and they were very excited to see a big red bus. Eliza only needed a hand-hold to guide her (and - I like to think - so that she knew we were there); William had great fun examining the latches on neighbours’ gates and cruising along their front walls. How long before we're merrily splashing through muddy puddles on countryside walks, I wonder.
And it's not just toddling that they can do now!

They’re getting really good at feeding ourselves without too much mess (E&W I mean - I still regularly spill stuff down my shirt). They love their porridge in the morning, shovelling it in like Gregg Wallace with a chocolate dessert. And for the first time ever the other day, we had a finger-food lunch where every morsel went into their little (or not so) bellies - nothing rejected, nothing splattered on the floor/walls/cat/me. And they merrily guzzle water from their Doidy cups - they do those little "Ah!" noises like us adults do when we have our first sip of tea in the morning.
STOP PRESS: I think typing the previous paragraph has tempted fate - for dinner tonight, Eliza chose to eat her cheesy scrambled egg only if it was presented on a small square of toast. She picked the egg off the top of the toast with her fingers...and come the end of the meal the toast went uneaten. Hopefully it was just a momentary fussiness!

While they’re not yet properly talking, they do now chatter away in twinese pretty much non-stop, and have their own distinct ‘words’ - ‘ca’ is ‘look’; ‘!CA!’ (the only way I can represent it in writing) is ‘cat’; ‘gu’ is ‘dog’; ‘ba’ is ‘sheep’, 'kak-ka' is duck, and so on. They’re also really good at understanding us - they’ll fetch a particular book or toy if suggested; William will give Eliza her Fudge (her beloved cuddly rabbit) if you ask him to; and Eliza will go hunting for her brother’s errant socks.

They’re also playing with toys properly now, too. Stacking cups get stacked; cars get zoomed around the floor; little people are wibbled about like little people living their little lives. It’s lovely seeing the two of them playing together.
And William still really loves his books, and now manages to hold them the right way up!
It's been fascinating watching them develop these skills. Quite often one of them will do something new, perfectly - and then not do it again for days, sometimes weeks. And when they do it again, it's almost as if they're saying "Oh, this old thing - yes, I can do that, I just choose not to".

At the weekend, one of our neighbours said "They're just like little people now", which is quite a bittersweet thing. While I love all these new discoveries, and look forward to what's still to come, there’s a quite a big part of me that hopes they don’t get too grown up, too independent, too soon. I’m sure every parent feels that way - both excited to see them grow and learn, yet a little sad that they’re no longer the tiny little things that used to fall asleep on my chest in the wee small hours of the morning, or simply doze off mid-wriggle on the rug. Heaven knows what I'll be like when it's time for them to leave home!

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Friday, 15 January 2016

New Year's Resolutions 2016

I like New Year's Resolutions. Not that I'm very good at sticking to them, mind you. Every year I set myself three resolutions, simply because I find it's a prompt to take a little look at my life and think about three changes I'd like to make that might just make me (and perhaps the world) a little bit better. So without further ado, here are my three for this year:

(If you're here just for the E&W photos, and not for my waffle, rest assured there are a few choice piccies dotted throughout this post.)

Resolution #1 - Spend more time offline
With my head hung in shame, I have to confess that there have been times when E&W have been merrily playing on the living room rug, and I've been off to one side flicking through new tweets and checking to see if anything exciting is happening in the Facebook world. And then there are the times when I could have been talking to Kate, or to friends and family, and instead I've been lost in an online world. That's just bad of me, plain and simple.

When we were down in Cornwall at Christmas I made a conscious decision not to ask for the wi-fi password. I knew that without it there'd be no way I could fire up Facebook or Twitter. It was incredibly liberating. I played with E&W; talked with Kate and Grandpa John and Granny Viv; helped out around the house a bit (cough); sat quietly with a cuppa and a biscuit and a good book; did some writing; did some thinking (not too much, it was supposed to be a holiday); just spent some time being. It was lovely.
Most of all, I surprised myself by not missing all the distractions and delights the internet brings to our fingertips one little bit.

So I've decided to limit my online time. To start with, I'm going to try and avoid accessing the internet - unless it's for something like checking the weather forecast (knowing if it's safe to put the washing out is very important to us SAHDs) - while E&W are up and about, and when in company. No email. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram. And I will try to avoid it completely on Sundays, too (what's known - apparently - as 'taking a Tech Sabbath'.)

#2 - Be a better friend
I've never been a particularly sociable person. In the time before E&W (aka BEW), Kate would often go out with her friends and I'd very happily stay at home with a DVD or a book, happy in and perfectly content with my own company.

But I do have a fantastic bunch of friends, as does Kate. I've highlighted some of the lovely things they've done in recent posts, which should give you an idea of how lucky we are with our extended family - to me, they're all Honorary Uncles and Aunts for E&W.
Since becoming an SAHD, I've realised how important friends are. There have often been days when I've not had any sort of adult communication - either real-word or virtual - between Kate leaving in the morning and her coming home in the evening, nigh on ten hours. That's probably not healthy. So I've recently been making more of an effort to get in touch with friends - a text message here, an email there (I'm not really the 'phone someone out of the blue just for a chat' type.) Hardly groundbreaking, but a step towards maintaining friendships and simply letting people know you care about them. I'm going to make sure I do more of this in the coming year.

#3 - Say Hello to a stranger every day
E&W and I - and Kate when she can - go out for a walk at around the same time every day, usually early or mid-afternoon (nap dependent). We tend to run into a lot of the same people each day - other parents, dog walkers, joggers, people out in their gardens. Over the months, we've got on "Hello" terms with a lot of them. It certainly brightens up a walk, seeing a familiar, friendly face and sharing a smile.
E&W are great icebreakers. It's not unusual for strangers to smile at them, and in turn me (and Kate), and often we experience all out, unreserved billing-and-cooing. And that's not just from the nice little old ladies - from big tattooed shaven-headed builders to raucous schoolchildren to smartly dressed distinguished business types, all sorts have cracked big smiles and made a fuss of them. Barriers come down, and the next time you see that person you nod and smile and say Hello. I know that puts a bit of a spring in my step, and I hope it does for the other person too.

So, I'm going to try and expand that network of Helloers, spread the friendliness, and say Hello to at least one new person each time we go out for a walk.

There we are then, my three resolutions for 2016. What do you think? Have you set any similar ones - we could be Resolution Buddies! Any ideas on how I can better achieve them? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

Friday, 8 January 2016

Christmas and New Year 2015/16

We all had a great Christmas and New Year. We had a nice break - being guests at someone else's house means you're not constantly thinking "Should I be doing some housework rather than eating this biscuit and drinking this tea and reading this book?". And I chose not to ask for the wi-fi password, and spent a week away from the internet, fully embracing the real world and the fantastic people in it. Something I should do more of.

Grandpa John and Granny Viv live in one of those little villages where everyone says a hearty "Hullo" to you as you pass them, even if you're a complete stranger to them...which is really rather a nice thing to do. Something I should do more of. Christmas Eve morning, we strapped on the carrier backpacks (top tip: wide double buggies in narrow lanes frequented by tractors are not a good idea) and set out to the village playground. A battered van pulled into a lay-by to let us pass: we thanked the ruddy-faced, beefy driver, who cheerfully barked something incomprehensible in his lovely Cornish accent, then bellowed a heartfelt "Merry Christmas!" and sped off down the lane. Made me grin from ear to ear. As did this, a sprout-and-cranberry wreath on a cottage wall:
That's gone in my Christmas ideas notebook (yes, I know I said in my last post I was going to live in the moment and not think about next year, but...well...good ideas are good ideas, whenever you come across them!)

Christmas dinner was - as food always is when Granny Viv's the cook - a delicious feast. A very tasty nut roast and a luscious trifle. E&W didn't seem particularly sure of their party hats to begin with, but once they had food on their plates they were more than happy:
Boxing Day, we wrapped up warm and headed off to Cotehele, a local National Trust property, for some fresh air and much-needed exercise. E&W love being in their backpacks, although Eliza was in one of her 'I'm not impressed' moods (I will leave you readers to decide what moods you think Grandpa John and Granny Viv were in):

E&W got some lovely presents from Grandpa and Granny - a tea set, a wooden tool box set, some clothes, some little wooden toys. In fact, they've been very lucky and got a lot of presents for Christmas from friends and family - I won't list them all out here, but a huge thank you to everyone who was kind enough to think of them. Kate and I don't have large families, but we're rich in friends (to rip off It's A Wonderful Life. Again) and it's touching to see how much people dote on E&W.

Back home in Oxford, we packed in visits from and to family and friends, including Emma, who made a Gingerbread Family for us (including cat...I mean CAT!!):

I'm a self-confessed anti-social beggar, but I really enjoyed this part of the festivities. It's something I should do more of.

And there you have it - our Christmas in (quite a big) nutshell. 

My next post, which I hope to post by the end of next week at the latest, will be me announcing to the world my three Resolutions for 2016. If you're wondering what they might be, then Clue #1: I've covered them all in this post. Clue #2: if you thought I was repeating myself, then you're very warm.

And fear not, I've not forgotten the promised traditional Christmas jumper and socks photos (I know that's all you've read all this way for!):

Thanks for reading!

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!