Friday, 30 May 2014

10 years on

Ambleside, 30th May 2004:



Ambleside, 30th May 2014:




Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Difficult, but good

Writing. Parenting. Change.

I’ve wanted to sit and write all week, but somehow when the opportunity arrives it’s so difficult to do. Where do I start? It’s been so long, there’s too much to catch up on, so I’m just going to leap off into the "now". Thank you to everyone who’s encouraged me to start writing again, and to those who have inspired me during these months of blog-silence.

We’ve just changed our routines. I've been back at work for a year, following a career break while the boys were little. For Westboy, the time at the childminder’s after school was the final straw. Both boys were beyond tired by the time I picked them up at 5.30pm. We headed home through tears and tantrums, to a frenzied scramble getting tea ready. I wanted to meet their need to reconnect, but whatever I tried was sabotaged by the inevitable meltdowns of tired, hungry children. Half of my week was characterised by the intensity of juggling work and family, and half of it was spent getting organised, giving my boys the attention they needed, and recovering.

After several months of thinking and talking about it, I switched to doing the same hours, but over 4 days, so that I could pick Westboy up from school and Westbaby* from preschool or the childminder’s. The boys (especially Westboy) were really excited about this change. It looked like it was the answer to the working mum conundrum. Despite my apprehension, I was looking forward to spending more time with my boys and having a more balanced family-life.


We started the new term with high hopes. They quickly evaporated. It was awful. I wondered what I’d done and if I could switch straight back to working full days. The children I picked up from school were whiny and demanding. Everything I did was wrong: if we went home, they wanted to go out. If I took them to the park, it was the wrong park. They wanted a snack, but not THAT snack. A trip to a café for a treat sparked-off demands to go to a café every day, and (my personal favourite) a request to go to a cafe in Morocco to eat bread like Jesus ate with his disciples....(?!)

There were some good moments, but overall it was a daily how-long-is-it-until-bedtime squabbling mess that left us all unravelled.

After a bit of grumbling about how hard it was and visits to 5 different parks in a week, I realised something.

The problem (as ever) was with my expectations.

I realised that if something is not immediately satisfying and enjoyable, it still might be important and worth doing. And it doesn’t just matter what I do, but how I do it. Whether I am there gladly or reluctantly, fully present and ready to listen or still preoccupied with work, intentionally preparing or hoping I can wing-it. Those transition times between school and home need careful handling.

So, I’m sticking with it. I’m finding ways to work more efficiently within a shorter day, planning our time after school, being intentional in engaging with them rather than tuning-out, budgeting to take the boys to cafes (but probably just in the UK), and seeing this time as an investment that I've chosen to make. 

I’m learning to celebrate the “difficult but good”. 

The decisions that are difficult, but feel like the right thing to do. 

The beauty in this messy, imperfect, everyday.



*He is no longer a baby, but for blog-consistency I’m going to keep calling him that until I think of an alternative.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls

I need to write this post because I will almost certainly forget the recipe. Hopefully, when Tom says he'd like cinnamon rolls for Christmas-day-breakfast next year, my internet searching will lead me back here.




Tana Ramsay's Family Kitchen contains a recipe for Danish Pastry Pizzas (a.k.a. "pizza snails", in our house). It's a bread dough, spread with pizza toppings, rolled up like a swiss roll, and sliced into spirals. These are baked, and make individual rolls, which are perfect for packed lunches, picnics, and snacks.

I wondered if using cinnamon sugar instead of pizza toppings might work. It isn't an enriched bread dough, but the results are still really good, especially when eaten fresh and warm :-)




Tana's dough recipe:
300g strong white flour
1 tsp fast-acting yeast
1/2 tsp caster sugar (or a bit more, for cinnamon rolls)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil (sunflower's probably better than olive oil for sweet recipes)
200ml tepid water

for pizza rolls:
4 tbsp passata
100g ham
1tsp oregano
125g grated mozzarella
salt & pepper

for cinnamon rolls:
30g melted butter
half a cup soft brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
(you could add dried fruit & glacé cherries. or chocolate)


  • I use an electric food mixer to make the dough, so just add all the ingredients and switch it on. 
  • Once mixed and kneaded, leave the dough to rise for 40 minutes, by which time it will have almost doubled in size.
  • Punch the dough down and roll it into a rectangle the size of a large chopping board (40x25cm). (dried fruit, glacé cherries & chocolate can be kneaded into the dough at this stage)
  • Spread the filling ingredients evenly over the dough (passata, then ham, herbs, mozzarella and seasoning, or melted butter then cinnamon sugar mixture and any extras), and roll it up like a swiss roll, starting at one of the long edges. 
  • Cut it into 12 pieces, and put them onto a lined baking tray spiral-side up.  I like the cinnamon rolls to stick together as they cook, so put them close together in a buttered lasagne dish. Pizzas work better spaced out, so that they are still individual portions when they expand. 
  • Cover the rolls with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise while you preheat the oven to 180C (...or while you go out to a toddler group. or overnight in the fridge on Christmas Eve). 
  • Brush the tops with milk, and bake for 20-25 minutes. 










I went a bit overboard with making these, so ended up with stale leftovers, -which made a fantastic bread and butter pudding.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Lanterns


I made these candle holders by wrapping old crochet doilies around jam jars and popping a tea light inside. I'm sure there were raised eyebrows when I requested these doilies from a musty bag of old textiles, but I love how the light shines through the lacy patterns. 

I've seen patterned tights chopped-up and stretched over jam jars to create a similar effect. I think it'd be especially lovely with some cosy cable-knit cream tights, but am reluctant to buy tights just to decorate jam jars!

All this lantern-making started as a dark-Friday-afternoon craft with my boys. We stuck tissue paper and sequins onto jam jars. I sprayed the jars with repositionable spraymount, which made this a much less messy craft project than if I'd let them loose with pva glue or glue-sticks (...nothing wrong with a bit of mess, but sometimes projects that take longer to do than to clean-up are what's needed).







Monday, 22 October 2012

Penguin


We borrowed and renewed the library-copy of this book so many times that I decided it was time to buy our own. Recently, it's developed extra meaning for me, as we've started along this journey of speech therapy with Westboy.



The ingredients of the book are pretty much perfect: a boy called Ben, a penguin, a lion, a page-turning story line, sweet and quirky illustrations, humour, and a happy ending. 






Ben is given a penguin as a present. "Hello, Penguin!" he says. When Penguin doesn't respond, Ben tries all the tactics he can think of to try to engage him in conversation, from tickling him to firing him into outer space strapped to a rocket. Unfortunately, despite Ben's creativity and persistence, Penguin still doesn't say a word. 




Just as Ben loses his cool and gets frustrated with Penguin, a lion appears on the scene. The story takes an unexpected twist, and culminates with Penguin saving Ben, and breaking his silence.




While Westboy says plenty of words, it's often very difficult to understand what he's saying. I can relate to Ben, drawing on every strategy he can think of to help Penguin communicate, trying to get his Penguin to "SAY SOMETHING!", ...and throwing the occasional frustrated tantrum over it all. 

Progress with speech therapy so far has been painfully slow, and I've found it difficult watching him struggle so much with something, while feeling pretty powerless to help.

In the past couple of weeks, he's been referred to an Early Years Language Centre at Mab Lane school, and after half-term he'll start going there every morning. He'll get intensive speech therapy and specialist help with developing communication skills. He's met his teacher a couple of times and she's fantastic. She understands what he's saying, -which is utterly amazing and a new experience for him. I'm hopeful that he'll make great progress with help from her and the rest of the team. The main challenges for me are getting used to the idea of him leaving his wonderful nursery, and sending him on a minibus to school!

(I'm feeling much more optimistic than when I wrote this. The Community Paediatrician's written report is much more tentative about the diagnosis of learning disability than he'd been during the appointment. Blood tests have also shown that the lead pipes in our house don't appear to have caused problems, which is a great relief).

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Week in Pictures



Westboy had an audiology appointment last week, and his hearing hasn't deteriorated in the past couple of months, which is great. His concentration when he's doing hearing tests is totally amazing for his age, and he's adapted to wearing his hearing aid so well. 


Nana looked after Westboy & Westbaby while I went to a Signalong class. She did a great job, and I enjoyed learning some new things and remembering signs I used to know. I'm starting to incorporate some signs into our day, and hoping that it'll help Westboy to communicate when we can't understand his speech. He's been referred for intensive speech therapy and to an Educational Psychologist (after doing badly in a verbal reasoning assessment the speech therapist administered). It's amazing finding out what resources are available if children need them, but each referral stings, as it reminds me that most children don't need all these appointments, assessments and interventions. 



This was a breakthrough...!!! I've been (unsuccessfully) encouraging Westboy to draw people and faces for a while. I walked into the kitchen one day last week, and found him with his trousers round his ankles, felt-pen smiley faces drawn on his knees (he'd even done them upside down so that they're the right way up to everyone else). After pointing out that rolling up his trousers might be a better way to show off his knees(!), I took some photos (...& suggested trying paper next time).


I re-covered our kitchen chairs, swapping very grubby cream fabric for a cheerful cherry red. It was a satisfying & cheap way of making the room look different. Hurray!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ten on Tuesday: wheelbarrow-races and cheesy-cakes


1. Thank you so much for the support following my last post. I feel very cared for and really appreciate everyone's kind messages. I know I was treading a fine line between authenticity and over-sharing (I wonder if there should be a similar 'rule' to 'do not text when drunk' about not blogging when emotionally raw?!). I'm still finding things tough, but am out of the crisis, ...and bits of my house that are usually a mess have been organised into Orla-Kiely-covered boxes, so it's not all bad ;-)


  

2. Today is my gorgeous husband's birthday, so we've had a lovely relaxed long-weekend, with trips to the park (with the boys) and brunch at Moose Coffee (without them). 






3. I made a "cheesy birthday cake" (according to Westboy). (New York Cheesecake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, -which is an unpredictable nightmare of a recipe book as every set of instructions seems to be missing a vital piece of information, but thankfully this was a success).




4. The boys & I have had some wonderful times with Nana and Grandad over the past couple of weeks. Particular highlights have been wheelbarrow rides round their garden and puddle jumping in a nearby country park.







5. I loved making this stencilled wrapping paper. Wondering what to stencil next...




6. On Westboy's first day back at preschool, he sang all the way through the streets, riding on the buggy board. One verse, (to the tune of "The wheels on the bus go round and round") was: "I'm going to do a standing up wee... all day long". There are some times when I'm glad that his speech is difficult to understand ;-)

7. Speech therapy is TOUGH. It's horrible watching him find something so difficult (especially something that most people don't have to think twice about), and not being able to intervene.

8. I painted the lids of my most useful cake tins (a TJHughes bargain, with 'Jamie Oliver' on the lid) with blackboard paint. Now I can label them with what's inside. Or not, if I want to keep the cake for myself...




9. ...and yes, it really was chocolate & beetroot brownies in there, and they were delicious. (From the River Cottage Everyday recipe book).




10. Some Foy Vance, to finish: 




Linking up with the other Ten-on-Tuesday ladies: SarahJoLucyHannahEsther & Laura.