look around you


do you ever look around you – at your friends and family – and realise that you’re the sum of all these parts?

along with the last book you read and the film you want to see.

yes, we dance to the music in our ears and laugh at those moments as they pass us by

but it’s not the draw of the ocean nor the roar of the gale which blow us off our feet…

and it’s not the ghosts in the dark nor the worries in our mind which guide us…

but it’s the very relationships we embrace,

the love that we feel

and those who surround us every day

who build our lives + fill our days in such beautiful ways.


happy new year, all.

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shiny conkers in this world

It’s that conker time of year and a good moment to confess: I have a bit of an odd relationship with conkers. You see, they don’t really make sense to me. Quite exquisite with their signature shiny richly-coloured protective coat, and yet lying there, in all their glory, on the ground… it’s so inevitable and only a matter of time before they’re ruined, squashed, pecked at, dirty and certainly never as shiny as when they first drop.

Last night I heard Dick Moore speak. I’ve watched his TedTalk on youtube of course, but it was the first time I’d been a member of his live audience. For those of you who don’t know, Dick was an English teacher, rugby coach, headmaster and housemaster. So that’s a whole career spent looking after, caring for and teaching children.

6 years ago, Barney, his third of four sons, took his own life.

Moore explained to us just how angry he had felt with himself, how he immediately took a mental health first aid course and joined the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, where he is now their lead trainer.

So, out of this hideous tragedy, he has re-emerged with a powerful purpose: to talk to young people, their parents and their teachers about mental health. To teach all of us about the important of resilience ( because this really is something we can learn and it will stand us in better stead than algebra).  It’s those warning signs, a deeper understanding and a guide as to how we can try our best to steer our emotions that might be missing from most of our children’s education.

I hung on his every word. Not only is his advice invaluable, it’s genuine, heartfelt and delivered with the type of humour of that favourite teacher. Personally, I’m particularly interested in how best to parent children in this what is an increasingly pressurised world. Spoon feeding them, over-protecting them and moving those obstacles slightly to the left isn’t going to help them at all. But it’s hard when they’re shiny, new, exposed… a bit like those conkers lying on the ground…

Take a moment to hear Dick’s words. Forward them to your head teacher. Invite him and his experience (which he so rightly states he’s now turned into a positive) into your world.  Because this ‘fundamental change in attitude’ he talks about needs to happen right now.

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the children of Beit Issie Shapiro

We’re all proud of our kids, at some point or other. It’s not a big deal, really. In fact, it would be really odd if we weren’t ever proud of them. Some achieve great things, some less great but feel equally momentous. Either way, they are our kids and we find ourselves constantly marvelling at the way in which they navigate their way through life.

However, this blog post is not one of those: I’m so proud of my daughter and how she decided she wanted to get involved with those less fortunate. Certainly Not. What is this world if we don’t weigh in and support worthy causes – as well as help the blind man cross the road, dish up food for the hungry etc?

This blog post is about them; those children she and I met at Beit Issie Shapiro, while recently travelling around Israel. Adorable, endearing, courageous children who are fighting every day to take that one little step forward. To walk, to talk, to eat, to perhaps even express their thoughts; all those actions we take for granted are indeed a fight for them.

We toured the campus and marvelled at the excellent care and pioneering work the charity is carrying out. From the early intervention centre (from the age of 6 months) to aged 12 at the special education school, these children are given the best possible attention with the most advanced therapies possible.

Sophie + Linoi

Sophie spent time with Linoi that morning. Linoi is 12 years old and first arrived at the centre aged 6 unable to walk or talk. She was thrilled that Sophie was visiting and, after a few hugs and high 5s, they sat down together to enjoy a music class. It wasn’t long before Linoi was persuaded to dance and it was clear that the whole room of children with disabilities were having a ball. The professional team of caregivers and therapists (in most cases one-on-one) also appeared to be having the time of their lives, it seemed. Pure joy buzzed around the room and filled the centre. I caught Sophie’s eye and we read each other’s minds. What we had braced ourselves for: a tough morning of sorrow and pity – was utterly misjudged. The team at Beit Issie Shapiro and their dignified children were in fact showing us how they feel about changing attitudes in our respective communities and how we should view and regard anyone with any disability. Put simply, this organisation is breaking down those barriers to full social integration – hence the reason we were sitting there with them enjoying their fun.

And I’d like to think we can do more than simply observe. My girl has decided to train for a swimathon so that she can raise enough funds for the charity to purchase a new iPad and its accessories and to cover the cost of its therapeutic and recreational use by one child for one year (including work hours of therapists with the child).

The detour to Beit Issie Shapiro had always been the plan. But what you can’t plan is how you will feel afterwards. How much it has an effect on you and how much it makes you STOP and think and raise your hand to help. And that’s what makes me proud of her.

Please do support Sophie in her mission.

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while the family’s away, the dog will play…

We were no longer a family of 4 and I had to stop ignoring the fact that our 5th (slightly furrier) addition didn’t own a passport. Nor was he going to fully appreciate the Israeli adventure I had planned as our summer holiday.

Of course I knew that kennels existed. It’s just that he was so young and I thought that it would be ideal to leave him in his own environment where he felt happy and secure.

And if I’m honest (because we do adore our overseas jaunts), I often feel a little odd about leaving the house empty. There’s absolutely nothing to steal but you’d never know that from the outside.

So, combine both my these 3rd world ‘problems’ and enter a friend who knew of a site I didn’t. TrustedHousesitters.com does exactly what it says on the tin. AND A LOT MORE.

You see, a pet owner (who loves to travel) needs a pet lover (who also likes to travel) to come and stay over.

It sounds so simple when you say it aloud.

Angela (and John) meeting Ziggy while we finished our packing

Did I mention that the sitter, that person who has promised to love and care for your animal, stays for free in your home? You don’t pay them for their pet love and they don’t pay for your dreamy home/pet.  DREAM TEAM.

As it turns out, the pet loving community is enormous. In fact, there are half a million trusted house sitters and owners in 150 countries looking for a pet like yours or mine.

My first thought was… this can’t be right. I can’t honestly just open up my home to a complete stranger who says they like dogs. But once combing through the site, I started to feel The Trust. Members build their profiles through references, recommendations and police background checks and then when I started to emailing and skyping Angela – we were all sold.

a message from Angela while we were away…

And so now we’ve been away for more than 2 weeks and I’ve what’s app’d Angela more than my mum. She has kept us all entertained and updated with our little cocker spaniel and his various antics. He seems so SO happy. And while we’ve missed him, we’ve been incredibly relaxed knowing what a 5 star experience he is having at home, where his heart is.

I thought it would be best to ask Angela – our housesitter – how it felt in her shoes (in our house):

What is the best thing about living in someone else’s house?

Seeing how happy the pets are and giving pet owners completely peace of mind is the joy.  This is the real reason I pet and housesit. Also exploring the area and living like a local … while creating a connection with the pet’s family without being intrusive or too personal, it’s just like being home from home.

And what’s the worst?

Packing and unpacking

do you prefer dog or cat (or any other animal) sitting?

Each one is different and unique, I love them all. Cats are less demanding of your time, but dogs get you up and out ..  although I would have to decline scaly creatures.

Is there an ideal animal to sit? 

Is there an ideal human to live with? It’s very personal, cat or dog person, horse or goat, couch potato or action woman, knowing yourself is the most important “ideal”

which location have you always wanted to house sit in and never had the opportunity?

Costa Rica … the wildlife is an animal lovers heaven .. apparently

how would you describe Ziggy’s company?

Like having a curious, mischievous and very lovable two year old, who gives you that feeling of euphoria when bedtime comes round.

What will you miss about dog sitting him?

Everything .. I’m besotted

how many animals is too many?

Really depends on many factors – with a dog’s age, behaviour, needs and activity levels although one can be as demanding as three. Knowing the animals complete needs and your limitations as a caregiver are what is most important. I have looked after 3 dogs, 4 cats and two horses on my own but they were all very manageable, no dog walking, horses lived out no stable duties, and the cats were indoor outdoor, no litter trays …

where’s next for you?

Wantage in Oxfordshire – a large country property with a German Shepherd, a lab and a cat.

how/do you stay in touch with your house/pet owners?

While on the sit, in anyway they wish: email, what’s app, Skype. Once completed mostly email, some you stay connected with more than others, I’ve made some lifelong friends through TrustedHousesitters.

tell us a pet sitting story, pls.

I was pet and housesitting in New York for 6 weeks staying in a wonderful apartment on 93rd and Fifth Ave, opp Central Park looking after Alfie, a labradoodle, Mitzi a mini Dachshund and Sabrina a Norwegian Forest Cat. The apartment used to belong to a member of the Kennedy family. One day I was leaving the building having called a cab via the concierge, a new doorman helped me in the cab and said “Have a nice day Mrs Kennedy.”

I smiled sweetly and said “Thank you, young man”.

and now tell us a secret about Ziggy/Ziggy-sitting?!  

He opened the kitchen door in the early hours on Thurs morning (perhaps I didn’t shut it properly) came up the stairs into my bedroom. Obviously the noise woke me up, he was sitting by the bed with one of my shoes in his mouth. I took him back downstairs and it wasn’t until the morning that I found his trail of “FUN”. He’d decided to do some paper work and document shredding for me. My open computer bag…  also the flowers at the side of the bed were delicately strewn across the room…

This was him last night. Bathed and clean for our return…

Membership of TrustedHousesitters costs £89 per annum (less than the cost of several nights in kennels) and comes with free 24-hour online and telephone support. Every month the site helps thousands of pet owners choose like-minded, experienced and trustworthy sitters who will pet sit for FREE while they are away.


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