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Weekly snapshot: 28 January

Storm brewing outside. We’ve let the kids know that it’s going to be noisy, but they are safe inside. I think they believe us (mostly).

I feel a bit the same, writing. Some days, it seems a gale goes on before I can sit down and write, and I’m only really writing once a week.

But once I start to write, I feel safe.

I like the blogs where I feel safe when I arrive. I know what to expect, to a certain extent. I like to be surprised at times, too.

I mostly feel safe through the choice of the writer’s words, their topics, their take on life. They’ve shown up and done their work; I get to sit and enjoy it.

This way round, doing my own writing, I’m reminded of that choice to put things down, for others as well as for oneself. To be real. To be me.

Here’s another week. It’s me, it’s real, and I feel safe thinking it over, hands above the keys.

===

Over the weekend, Dan and I both get ill at the same time.

Head colds, not the worst things in the world, but it means we’re vying for spare hankies, and hot drinks, and trying to give each other a break while really just wanting to be in bed asleep.

Still. It is a good excuse to stay put, let the weekend unfold. On the Saturday night, there is a concerted Put the Kids to Bed, as we just can’t hold it together much longer.

But the reward is in the takeaway curry, which no doubt helps our colds too. Certainly our spirits.

By the end of the weekend, we’re doing better. We do a bit of perspective-setting: could have been worse. Easier over the weekend than on school pickups. No one was actually being sick, etc.

It helps that there’s been a birthday, and there’s marzipan in the house. (Actually, marzipan just helps. Full stop.)

===

Time for a craft order – or rather, the happy aftermath when the box arrives and you can look over everything. With luck, this will keep us going for a good while ahead.

The kids love their craft stuff. There is general oohing and aahing over thin pens and thick pens. New decopens, probably our favourite item, that can colour on pretty much anything: wood, china, glass and so on.

I get a pack of different colours of wool as part of the order, and try to do something about the noble art of darning. Having found a good post about it recently, I decide to have a go.

It helps that I rediscover a pair of wool slippers this week, ones that were worn and worn and then developed holes. I was sad, didn’t know what to do about it exactly, hung onto them in hope.

So now I get to benefit from putting them back into active use – but no one is exactly checking out the quality of my workmanship on them. Unless I put my feet up conspicuously.

I am wearing my slippers as I type. Fairly soon, I’ll try washing them, and see if the wool felts as promised, to fill up the holes a bit more.

===

I’m finding that sewing is helping in the evenings. Some of it is family mending-type stuff. Some of it is more of an experiment (like the darning).

But there is something about having something to do with my hands as part of winding down at the end of the day.

Colouring is taking a bit of a back seat, for now. It’s still something to do with my hands, true, but not as active, or something like that.

In the meantime, we are on to a new box set of a favoured TV series – one that doesn’t need me to keep my eyes on the screen all the time. Sewing is fitting in with it just fine.

===

Mini and I read The Paper Dolls this week. I am informed that we have had it out of the library before, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t.

In brief: mum makes girl a set of paper dolls. They get names, they have adventures, indoors and out.

There is a moment of high drama, which I won’t spoil, but by the end, the girl has become a mum herself, and is making a set of paper dolls for her daughter. Cue new adventures.

There’s that natural pause at the end, and you think: well, we’d better make some paper dolls, then.

With a bit of thinking, and a couple of goes, we created a couple of sets of paper dolls. One (round head shapes plus trousers) was criticised early on; the next set incorporated skirts and longer sections for hair.

The trousers set were given girl names, but soon became boys when it came to playing. The skirt set also got girl names (think Betsy, Getsy, Gretsy…etc), and soon the two sets were playing together.

Well, for at least a few minutes.

Mini was taken enough by the idea to want to make some more, later in the week. I demonstrated the arms bit so that they would stay linked up; Mini came up with much of the rest.

(And learned, fairly quickly, that drawing lines for high heels means that you can’t cut them out. Cut alternate footwear solutions.)

Whether or not Mini will go ahead and make sets of paper dolls, far into the future, I don’t know. But I do like planting a seed, and seeing what happens.

===

I am trying to do Paid Writing too – aka copywriting. I get some done this week, but it seems to take longer to get my brain in gear.

Once I’m underway, it’s all right, but it seems to take a surprising amount of procrastinatory cleaning to begin.

The house is benefitting from it, though.

Fiction writing still seems a long way off, for now. But I am in that January phase where I want to do new things. Even if it’s tiny things, like fixing a sock or a woollen slipper.

Maybe the words are more like migrating birds. Usually, they flock in around September, jostling, ready for some time indoors as the weather turns colder.

I’m not really sure where they are this year. But I keep turning up, once a week, to see if some of their friends are available. Maybe they’ll come and join them soon.

I hope so.

===

Rain upon rain. Cold winds too. It’s January, and I do understand why people find it so hard.

(It helps to have a January birthday, so there’s something to look forward to after Christmas. Even if your expectations for your birthday can include snow, torrential rain, or just greyness.)

We do what we can. One foot in front of the other. Keep the warm gloves ready for school pick up.

Mini continues in drawing mode. Junior has been set a Minecraft challenge by Dan, and both are delighted with the results.

I stick with some more baking for another week, generally enjoying the results. A little bit of a rhythm is building up.

And there’s generally about enough time left, at the end of it all, to restore the kitchen to relative normality. (Aka normal levels of food debris. You know the deal.)

It’s not all creativity. There is also the overdoing it that brings on colds; the ongoing issue of the sheer impossibility of eating breakfast and getting dressed, Mummy!

But alongside it, there seem to be fewer friendship issues for the kids at school. More of a sense of continuity.

The long autumn term is over and done; the pattern has been set, and actually a bit of routine is doing us all good.

====

I too am settling into coming here, once a week, putting down some words.

They are no great shakes, really. They are bits and bobs; the ongoing run of life with kids.

But writing about them allows me to pause. To feel the safety of it, for me, in the routine. Hopefully for the kids too.

Tonight, I can still hear my thoughts against the noise of the wind. And that will do for now.

 

Weekly snapshot: 21 January

Enjoying silence tonight. (So far, anyway. Mini’s got a cold.)
I love those points when the house shuts down for the night, and there is a chance for some brain space.

What to say of the last week?

—-

Peter Rabbit reigns supreme just now. Kind relatives bought Mini the whole set of Beatrix Potter books for Christmas, and we are working our way through them at bedtime.

It’s interesting to try books that I knew nothing of before. Ginger and Pickles run a rather strange shop, and go out of business fairly quickly.

We also have The Pie and the Patty Pan. Were I writing crime fiction, or something detective-y, this might be known as The Case of the Double Oven.

Suffice it to say, I am with the dog character on this: I would prefer not to eat mice pie, either.

Mrs Tittlemouse comes across as very OCD these days, but there are the wonderful characters of Babbity Bumble (the bee whose family has taken up lodging without asking), and the toad who sneezes when offered a plate of thistledown.

Reading more Beatrix Potter means we can also get out the audio CDs. Patricia Routledge and Michael Hordern are the readers, and you couldn’t want for more comforting voices.

Mini is very keen on The Tale of the Two Bad Mice. Maybe it’s the temptation to bash up the fake dinner, discovering that it was only plaster. Somewhat more overt violence for a children’s book.

For my part, I rather like the way that reading more in the series lets you meet certain characters again: the dolls of Bad Mice fame crop up again, visiting the shop which Ginger and Pickles own.

I have also introduced Mini to the Peter Rabbit series on CBeebies. This is generally going down well so far. Mini is less keen on the hectic guitar music for the series, and I have to agree – it’s a bit heavy, for such lovely pictures.

Whether or not we make it through the whole series remains to be seen. If so, I might finally finish Little Pig Robinson (started many years ago) for myself.

===

We have an early birthday celebration at my parents, which also allows for further Eating Up of Christmas food items. Two birds and all that.

To be honest, any offer of being fed that includes a) smoked salmon and b) me not cooking is generally to be seized. Swiftly.

Probably the main present of the day was the amazing views of snowy fields, as we drove out to the Borders. In one area, water had run off fields that slope above the road, forming brilliant icicles on the hedges.

Having driven through all this, the kids were fairly underwhelmed to see almost no snow on the ground outside my parents’ house.

Thankfully, Granny Ro was prepared to put boots on and go hunting for more snow with Mini. At least enough was found for a small snowball fight.

In fact, there was even some on the ground back at home, the following morning. The sledge, which gets more outings on grass on the back garden than anything else, did just fine on snow too, at a nearby park.

(It also worked well for dragging some snow back home after. I’m not sure if there was scientific enquiry, or just a thought to practise throwing snowballs at the fence. Probably more of the latter.)

The previously-mentioned joint project of building a hotel in Minecraft has gone a bit quiet. I’m not quite sure whether they’ve finished, or agreed to go back to individual game time.

In the meantime, Junior has decided to do a bit more work in Scratch, a visual programming tool which allows you to build little animations, and I’m sure much more.

Stop-motion is hanging in there as something to do when there’s ten whole minutes spare before heading off for school. And at other times too, if Daddy’s available for a bit more team effort.

I continue my own roles in this area: a) let them get on with it b) smile appreciatively when required c) leave Dan to figure out the rest when they get stuck.

Dan meanwhile has the opportunity to age by at least a decade. I’m trying out those patches for elbows, for when jumpers have holes in them.

So far, rather suspicious – and the stuff the patches are made out of smells a bit too. We’ll see how we get on. We can always remove the patches and go back to holes in elbows – it’s worked for us so far.

However, I am making some tentative attempts at darning – or at least, fixing a hole in one of Mini’s school jumpers with some embroidery thread.

It’s not quite the same colour. It’s not wool either. But knowing Mini’s abilities to expand holes in clothes, it’s a case of getting in quick now.

Buoyed by the success of last week’s apple cake, I did a bit more Solitary Baking this week. There were some gluten-free muffins, which I’d tried doing before and like.

I also had a go at making some granola, having found a new recipe with fewer nuts, but with the additions of ginger and cinnamon. So far, so rapidly disappearing.
I think that’s a good sign.

I think the kids are fairly happy at the prospect of me continuing this on a weekly basis, if they get cake for after school snacks. So am I really, if I get to eat some too. And there’s fruit or veg in too, so that has to count for something.

In the same session, I had a go at a kind of chicken pot pie. Chicken good, pastry bit not so much.

There was a reason why the recipe showed separate pie tins, and I’ve discovered it. There is actually such a thing as too much pastry after all.

Junior and I are doing a bit of language learning, to tie in with a series of books we’re reading. I’ve found that the textbook I used for it in the past is now online.

It seems that even this kind of practice is cool if you can drag and drop words into the right columns, and do other more interactive stuff.

And if you get them all right, on one exercise, you get a flock of butterflies covering your screen. Which, apparently, is an incentive as far as Junior’s concerned.

The real test is whether Junior can learn enough to teach a school friend, so they can both speak to each other without others knowing what they’re saying.

Nothing like spy requirements to put you under pressure to come up with the goods.

Meanwhile, day by cold (and by turns rainy) day, the light creeps back.

I know, from previous years, that by the end of the month, it’ll be light at five in the evening. It was almost properly light at eight this morning.

I walk round the park before pick up, and admire the allotments. The leeks stand proud like bundled ribbons. The other remaining veg appears to wear hairnets.

But despite the cold, the wet, the relative lack of promise on the ground, the birds are already singing more.

And on days when my hands are freezing, even despite warmer gloves, that’s a good thing.

 

Moments: September 2014

September comes round, and for once this year, it’s not about starting up writing again.

But it might be about not getting stuck when I don’t post for a while.

I like September. It’s often one of the best picture months on the calendar (have you noticed? Go and look at your own wall calendar and come back to me about it).

I like the sunshine without as much heat. I like the brambles (as referenced before, and once again, and so on).

I like the sense of purpose and routine – usually around going back to school – without the being completely worn out bit. That’ll come by the end of the autumn term, I know it.

One of my grannies had her birthday at the start of September. It was another reason to like it. And you should know that C. S. Lewis was a big fan of autumn – as I discovered when I read a biography of him some time back.

Here’s where we’re at this time round.

===

Sunshine. Day after day of it. Sure, the temperature goes up and down, you get the coat/jumper/length of sleeve bits wrong at different points.

Part of me is uneasy at the relative lack of rain (it is Scotland, after all). And part of me is very happy to send Junior and Mini back out to the trampoline after tea. Again. And again.

We experience that early September burst of summer. Year after year, back in my office days, I would set out around Scotland at this stage in the month, and enjoy sunshine all over the country. I smile at the prospect of it coming round again.

Sometimes, the sun and the light combine in magical ways. At the mid September long weekend, it’s nice enough to go down to the sea and paddle.

Mini has already dispensed with Crocs, trousers and sleeves pushed up as far as they will go. The swell of the Forth is coming in, and I watch a certain amount of wave jumping and sand scrabbling.

We retreat when a jellyfish is washed in (just in case), but in those few minutes, I breathe easier. And we take a little seaweed home to remember it by.

===

There is a trip to feed the ducks on the river by my parents. Suddenly, there is a benefit to the ongoing refusal to eat crusts.

The obligatory basket is brought out to put the crumbs in – and I learn that my mother used it as a little girl when she did the same thing. The binding around the handle is coming loose in one place, but other than that, it is the perfect size for a child’s hand to carry.

There are three adults to one child. The afternoon stretches before us. There is no rush. Plus there might well be pizza for tea.

===

We play and play and play at the park. At least, Mini does. I watch the process of increasing confidence; learning tricks from other children; coming back to the same elements day after day.

Small climbing wall. Scrambling net. Rope bridge (with added potential to swing it sideways, once you’ve built up the courage).

We discuss the possibility of making a list of all the new jumping and swinging skills. Maybe there’ll be enough for some kind of a reward. Mini thinks so. (I do too, to be honest).

We see a succession of junk model robots come home, courtesy of Junior Reader. In true inventor style, they have numbers for the new upgrades: Frank 1, Frank 2, and so on.

As I write, Frank 3 has come home today. He makes rude noises if you press his eyes. I am encouraged to do so.

===

I come to the end of reading Pippi Longstocking to Junior Reader. I am initially sad, then I remind myself that there are two more books still to have fun with.

I am not sure whether it sits in the category of books that are funnier to read to yourself than to read out loud. (The Hyman Kaplan books are also in that group, but those are a way off for Junior Reader.)

In the meantime, I discover a new Church Mice book, second hand. Junior Reader appreciates the dry humour, the word play, and all the little injokes in the drawings.

Mini discovers Meg, Mog and Owl. I have another opportunity to revisit my own childhood, reading and reading them over again.

We talk about which one we like the best – I still think Meg on the Moon is the greatest, with their tea of egg and chips floating around in zero gravity. (Sadly, I can’t show you the individual picture – but you can see the cartoon version online.)

===

There is one golden Saturday morning when Junior and Mini get up, eat breakfast and keep playing. No real squabbles. Dan and I look at each other, get our teas or coffees, and stay in bed as long as possible.

There is a discovery – and rediscovery – of Duplo. Larger and larger blasters are made. Longer and longer trains are put together, along with their various passengers. A clown figure pushes another clown figure in a Duplo pram.

There is a sighting of Yorkshire rhubarb in the supermarket. It’s not the early sprouting stuff, true, but it is also on offer. Rhubarb and brambles. I feel the need for a crumble, and maybe some custard to go with it.

===

There are plenty of other days and hours and minutes that are less moment-y. There are forgotten lunchboxes that come home smelling. There are abandoned socks and argued over food remains, pushed to the side of the plate.

There are attempts to use up food that don’t quite work out. Refusals to do X. Arguments over who gets to open the front door first in the morning.

Still, the light reminds me that we still live in the afterglow of summer. It is autumn, true, but of the pleasantest kind.

I choose to write about the brambles, and the light, and the swell of the sea on an afternoon that seems without end.

A life through leftovers

Something happens along the way with kids.

You’re already accustomed to putting them first in so many areas: when you sleep, when you wake, when you use the bathroom independently (if you’re lucky) comes back to them.

And that’s OK. So too is planning a certain amount of things based on them: what they enjoy, their attention span, and how high their wellies are for certain active pursuits.

Lately, I seem to have added another level of awareness (or maybe it’s subservience, I’ve still to decide).

The one when you don’t necessarily make your own lunch: you just eat the various leftovers, after they’ve decided what they will or won’t eat that particular day.

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I already have a commitment to leftovers (you may remember), so that’s one thing. I like seeing what supermarkets have on offer, and coming up with meals around that (you may also remember).

In defence, I think it sits as equal parts hating to waste food – and equal parts gluttony.

It’s easier when it’s fruit or veg on special: that’s pretty much a no-brainer. Other items…well, it may depend. On how much I want to keep items out of supermarket bins. (Particularly if they include marzipan.)

Weekends do see us eating leftovers reasonably often. Whatever Dan didn’t use up at the office during the week, whatever is still in the bottom of the fridge.

I think of these as ‘eatie-uppies’: everyone ends up with something different, but it means that there’s not waste. (Although I am struggling to find new uses for leftover mango chutney after a takeaway, I must confess.)

===

Today’s leftovers, for your delectation (and mine too):

– a small box of leftover chicken and rice. (Junior Reader is eating more – but I am still trying to gauge the quantities right.)

– a quarter of a tuna sandwich from yesterday. (Someone else couldn’t quite manage the whole thing.)

– a Babybel cheese. Because in my current run of food research, they may say they eat them – and they certainly like playing with the outside waxy bit – but they don’t really eat them. So this was the last one.

– a slice of raisin bread. Last one in the packet, also a supermarket discount item. And someone’s tummy dictates no more dried fruit for a little while.

– Along the way, and possibly yesterday, I believe that a certain quantity of cold baked beans may have been consumed. Probably because they needed to be used up. (Also because I have a certain fondness for cold baked beans.)

– I failed on finding a use for a small amount of uncooked cauliflower (food waste bin), but succeeded in adding a spare carrot and a certain amount of yellow pepper into a rice salad. (That one was pretty good.)

===

Despite all of the above activity, the fridge has a small amount of a ground rice pudding in a pot. And some leftover icing from a baking project, where the lead baker really wanted the icing – then decided they didn’t actually like the taste.

There is also apple puree and pumpkin puree which have been taking up space in the bottom of the freezer – and might just make it into a smoothie over the weekend.

I really don’t know what to do with the icing though. Other than dunk biscuits into it. Which I really shouldn’t be writing about at this time of night.

Making: new uses for treasured T-shirts

We were on holiday, and Junior Reader noticed a problem. Come another summer or two, and a beloved T-shirt would cease to fit.

Now we’re OK on this in a few different ways:

– Junior Reader doesn’t grow terribly fast (so far), so the T-shirt still has some life in it yet

– we’re pretty good about passing on clothes when they don’t fit any more, given that many of them are ‘new to us’ via helpful friends and family, or second-hand shops.

However. There comes a point when certain clothes reach treasured status.

And really, this one is a good one – nice red background (always a good start as far as Junior Reader is concerned), big applique design on the front that’s holding pretty well despite lots of use. (It’s a T Rex, in case you wanted to know.)

So Junior Reader came to me with a suggestion. Why not turn the T-shirt into a cushion cover? (Because, you know, we definitely need more cushions with dinosaurs on.)

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Lots of people have clothes they don’t want to part with. Sometimes this is OK – fashion comes round again, etc. You may find out it looks great a few years from now. (If you have wardrobe space to wait this long.)

Sometimes, you only wear the clothes a few times a year, but it’s worth hanging on to them. (Quality wool coats; much of my ‘hot weather clothing’ collection.)

Sometimes, it’s time to think differently about the item. It’s part of the reason quilts and rag rugs work well. You get to hang on to some material that has sentimental attraction, but in a new form where it has a bit more use.

And why not add a T-shirt cushion to that category?

===

Junior Reader has clearly seen me fiddling with fabric enough to put the suggestion – and I like it. It is a nice T-shirt, plus it gives me a new project idea.

Junior Reader is now adding further complexity to the notion. ‘It needs a zip.’ Well, love, I can’t fit zips (as yet), but Granny R can. So maybe we’ll ask her, or…maybe I’ll bottle it, and we’ll use press studs instead, ‘cos I know I can sew those on OK.

A T-shirt is not so far off a cushion shape in the first place. And if I run out of pillow filler, I could go as far as buying a cushion pad for this one – which would then mean I might need to do a bit more conventional measuring to make sure the cover fits.

But beyond the cushion itself, there’ll be more leftover material. Fuel for the rag rug, I suspect.

Still, while the T-shirt still fits, this is more of a project to muse on for the future. We’ll keep you posted.