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Thursday, 3 January 2013

A lovely day at the park

Today Jellybean went back to preschool for his first day back after the Christmas break. 

I thought it would be nice, when I went to pick him up, to take Midget Gem and Duke along so we could all go for a run around the park and a quick play in the playground after school to burn off some energy and build up a nice big appetite for dinner. 

As I was pushing Jellybean on a swing, with Midget Gem climbing on something or other behind me, another Mum came into the park with her two daughters, and as one ran off to join Midget Gem climbing on something or other behind me she lifted the other into the swing beside us. 

As she started swinging I did my usual pondering about whether it's weird to introduce myself to a stranger in the playground, and what one ought to say to break the ice. 

Jellybean decided to break the ice for me. 

"Mummy, when you push me forwards it tickles under my willy, and it grows bigger bigger biggest!"

Thanks, Jellybean. 

Resolutions?

The obvious candidates for listing here are always in my mind, not just for new year, the eat less, booze less, move more, go outside more kinds of resolutions. I make those most weekends, and somehow remain a little overweight and slightly hungover of a Sunday. (And Saturday. And Monday. And occasionally Thursday. Or just days with a y in.)

So I won't bore you with those. I'll only break them, like we all do, and quietly berate myself and pretend there's all the time in the world to get thin and magically earn myself a six pack.

Instead what I have decided to attempt is being a better person. Bear (bare?) with me. 

I am irritable. I am short tempered. I am tired, grouchy, weary, I snap, I bark, I snarl. I am, generally, not that much fun to be around. Not CONSTANTLY, but way too often compared to the times that I'm, you know, nice. 

I try to make up for it by cleaning the floors, reading stories, baking nice things, but I still lose my rag more than a normal human should, and it isn't fair. 

So my resolution is to pause. I will stop myself, take a deep breath, possibly six or seven. I will close my eyes for a second and hold in whatever I was about to say, and I will take those few seconds to think "is this worth it".

Is it worth saying something snappy, and hurting someone's feelings, just to vent my own irritation? Is it worth falling out or argueing over something petty? Is it worth that moment of temper, for the longer moments of not being friends immediately after? 

Nope.
Not worth it. 

If something is bothering me, snapping about it isn't a good way to get a better result - and this is something I try to teach the children: tantrums do not get us nice things. I need to remember that too! 

Instead I try to teach them to stay calm, not shout, use whole sentences and ask nicely. How can I expect them to do that if I don't set them the right example, though? 

So rather than shouting about mess all over the kitchen floor I should take my moment, then ask someone to help me by cleaning up their mess, or to please go somewhere else so that I can do it. 

I shouldn't snarl, or bark, or shout. I should TAKE A MOMENT, and stay calm, that way things get done more quickly, everyone does those things together, and we all have a better day.

That is my resolution. Just be a nicer person. Learn from the lessons I try to teach the boys. Be calmer. 

Let's see how well I do!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Grantham gingers

I was going to attach a picture to this post of LOADS of delicious biscuits - but I looked away briefly and this is the sole survivor of the batch - which is good going, because this recipe makes 60 biscuits! 

When I was little my Mama (who I blogged about on Monday) used to make these biscuits - and I called them ginger Granthams, which always made her laugh. One year for my birthday all I wanted was my own batch of these, and she gave me a huge ice cream tub stuffed with my very own Grantham gingers, which I didn't even have to share. I did though. I'm nice like that. 


Ingredients:

450g caster sugar
225g butter
1 egg, beaten
450g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
approx 1" ginger root, grated finely

Method:

Cream the sugar with the butter until it looks light and fluffy. Beat in the egg with a spoonful of flour (this will stop the egg curdling the butter) then slowly sift in the flour, bicarb, baking powder and ground ginger. 

Fold it all together then fold in the grated ginger root (this is optional, really, but I LIKE ginger, so I add it in for extra oomph and sticky ginger bits when it's baked).

Make the dough into small balls (teaspoon sized balls, spoon some out and roll it nicely round) and drop onto a non-stick baking tray. I strongly recommend those magic brown re-usable greaseproof baking sheets for this. 

Bake at 150c in batches (I can fit 20 at a time on a tray so it took three batches) for around 20 minutes until they're light brown. 

Let them cool completely before you eat them. They should be hollow with a nice, sticky, slightly gooey middle. Extra good dunked in tea or coffee. The outside is very crispy, and overall these might just be the greatest biscuit of all time. Apart from possibly Grasmere gingerbread. Which I'll blog about later this week! 

Westmorland pepper cake

This Christmas I missed home a lot - home being the Lake District - and I decided to ease the feeling by baking myself some home flavoured treats. 

The first was Westmorland pepper cake (which I had actually never eaten whilst still in Cumbria, but shh) which is an odd idea but tastes absolutely delicious - particularly when you've overdosed on chocolate and want something a little less SWEET, but still cakey. 

I got the recipe from a post card we bought in Kendal years ago, which has a lovely photo of Troutbeck on it. 

Ingredients:

350g self-raising flour
175g caster sugar
175g treacle
85g butter
85g currants
85g raisins
25g candied peel
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
150ml milk
1 egg



Mix the dry ingredients then rub in the butter. 
Add the fruit and peel and mix, then add the treacke, milk, butter and beaten egg. 

Pour into a lined and greased 7" round tin (I didn't have one but I dud have one of those doughnut shaped tins so I used that) and bake at 170c for 1 1/4 hours.

Rather than eating it warm right out of the oven, which is what I want to do with most cakes, this tastes better a few days old - so let it cool completely, slice it up and whack it in a cake tin.

It's a brilliant one to have around when you've got people dropping in every day, like we all do at this time of year, because it keeps for ages and is really rather delicious. 




Crochet flower garland

I can't pretend that I'm great at crochet, or that I'm skilled enough to write tutorials, or anything like that - but I can do these flowers, and I really enjoyed doing this, so I thought I'd blog about how I did it in case you wanted to do it too. 

I picked the crochet hook from my roll that's the prettiest colour - which is green -  and it turns out that it's a 4mm hook, which is a good size (she says, as if she has a clue)
I then picked out two colours of wool - black and grey - which I can't remember the brand of or anything like that. I bought it four years ago to knit a scarf for my husband which I am yet to start, let alone finish. It's cottony, not nylony. You can pretty much use any wool you want in any colour you want to do this project. 

I suspect I will be leaving out all kinds of technical stitch names here, but this is my first time writing up a crochet tutorial so be gentle.

To begin with chain six stitches, then slip stitch the last to the first to make a little ring. 

Into the centre of this ring you need to do 12 double crochet stitches - not into the stitches, into the centre of the ring itself, so that you make a nice sturdy little centre for your flower. 
Next you need to chain three, miss a stitch and slip stitch your chain into the next. Repeat this five more times and you'll have six little loops around your centre circle. 

Into the centre of the first loop you need to do six trebles (the most fun stitch to do in crochet)

I can't really explain how to do this better than the tutorials on YouTube and this lovely lady does a straightforward video.

Then you slip stitch back into the first stitch that you slipped into to make your loop, and begin again in the next loop with your trebles. 

Do this for each petal and you'll have a pretty little six petal flower. Fasten off tightly and snip your excess wool away and make a nice little stack of these flowers in your chosen colours. 

Then take a long length of wool and stitch the flowers along the length (I knotted it through a single stitch between two of the petals on each one) and hang it wherever you like to make your house look pretty. 

Guess How Much I Love You competition

In December I was sent a copy of the new "Guess How Much I Love You" DVD to enjoy (and enjoy it I did) and alongside this review I also get to offer two of you lucky people a chance to get a copy for yourself. 

The Rafflecopter entry form is below (which I hope works properly, as it's my first time using it!) and TWO, not just one, but TWO of you can get your mitts on a copy of the DVD which is really rather super. 


I'm a massive "Guess how much I love you" fan - as well as the original book we have the seasons editions (as you see in the picture above) a few soft toys, a pushchair book that clips on - which has seen better days - and I just adore the illustrations and sweet stories, so read them with the boys often. 

We aren't massive TV watchers in our house - we don't have a signal here, so the only TV we watch is through netflix or iplayer or suchlike, or DVD - this means that we're much more selective about what we watch and, because it's such a faff, we don't watch a huge amount. It also means I'm quite fussy about what I'll let the children watch. 

This DVD is now high on my list of choices - it's utterly charming. The animation is the same charming watercolour style as the books, the voices are sweet (which is important) and the stories are - I'll say it, though it might sound corny - enchanting. 

I was worried that this series of cartoons would be taking the line a little far - and that it might be selling out, but actually it's just lovely, and another nice way of all sitting to enjoy the characters together, and the relationship between little nut brown hare and big nut brown hare. 

It has the added bonus of making Jellybean come over all soppy and tell me all the ways he loves me, and plant kisses on my face over and over! Win win! 

If you want to see some of these lovely cartoons yourself enter the competition on the form below and leave comments begging me and telling me how gorgeous I am. (It won't help, since it's randomly selected by the rafflecopter thingumy, but I like begging and compliments.) 




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 31 December 2012

Remembering

It has been a wonderful Christmas - perhaps my favourite as an adult, with a family of my own. For the first time Jellybean understood about the story of Christmas, about giving and receiving presents, about leaving a mince pie out for Santa, and was very excited, and Midget Gem copied all the hyperactivity and excitement of his big brother. 
This was our first Christmas in our own family home, all four of us together, opening stockings and presents together in front of a roaring fire beside our own tree. 

It reminded me of Christmas growing up, of my own family, and of the good and happy, as well as sometimes difficult and sad, times we had together. 

I write this as the clock ticks towards new year's eve, which would have been my paternal Grandmother's birthday. I'm not sure how old she would have been - I have never been very good at ages - but I know that I last saw her when I was carrying Jellybean in my big fat belly, and she lay in a bed in a hospice, the first and only time she met my husband. 

I know that she would have loved my sons - she had four boys of her own - and she would have adored their adventures, misadventures and cheeky little smiles. She would have been utterly in love with them, enjoyed preparing for their visits as she did ours when we were small, and would have given them as many magical and wonderful memories as she gave me. 

Mama - Grandmama - as we called her was a glorious grandmother. She was beautiful, tall, elegant, well spoken (having had elocution in her youth, which entirely removed her Nottingham accent, which her brothers kept, very broadly, which always amused me) and the kindest, most decent, gentle, loving woman on earth. 

She had a childlike, innocent nature teamed with a surprisingly cheeky sense of humour, and she would pretend she couldn't hear when her four sons were together and got a little rowdy and the air began to hum with roaring laughter, tinted with a hint of blue. 

I have memories of hundreds of days floating around her lovingly tendered garden, wearing a vintage dress of hers from the 70s with bright blue floral print, eating mint leaves and collecting posies, before heading back to her kitchen to help her bake and prepare trifles. I can hear her singing along to Songs of Praise and quietly teaching us the importance of love and forgiveness and generosity. 

I never, not once, heard her raise her voice in 25 years, nor saw her lose her temper, her cool or her serenity. The effect of her temperament was to sooth those of everyone around her, and though we all felt anger and bitterness at her long battle with cancer she never seemed to feel the same. 

Losing her was a huge blow, and I talk to my children a lot about her, and hope that some of her gentility rubbed off on me, so that I can teach my children the important lessons she taught me about love and kindness, as well as the motherly, maternal skills she filled our childhood with. 

For the last birthday I celebrated before I lost her she gave me a book - 'To a very special granddaughter' - one that you can find in many card and gift shops. There was a page marked, which remains so, which showed that she hadn't bought the book on a whim as an extra, trite gift, but had read some passages and wanted to say something to me, and which she felt this page in the book could do. 

"Here she comes, luminous with pride, on her feet
and moving. She stops, lurches, collapses neatly.
Beams. Reorganises. Up again. Come on, now - 
you can do it! And she does - standing, rocking
slightly, clutching at your knees. 
I really think that deserves a jelly bean. And a kiss."

There are many sentiments and poems, pieces of gentle prose, in the book and I know that she would, and did, apply each to our lives. This one, though, she picked out, marked and wanted me to read. I know that she was proud of who I was, of my husband, our baby, our new lives together, and that she would be proud now, and would love my children as much as she loved my brother and I, and our cousins. I had been having a hard few years leading up to meeting my husband, and though we never discussed these difficulties in depth I know that she was watching, caring and supporting me, and that she was pleased I had come through them and found happiness - as she had always known I would.

I miss you, Mama, I hope that you're smiling down on us. I wish you were here to celebrate your birthday with us all. I will toast you tomorrow with a glass of chilled elderflower cordial and some chocolate and orange trifle. I love you.