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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.

 

Weekly snapshot: 14 Jan

I’d like to find the right words to describe the sky today. Cold, bright, slightly ruffled clouds.

The kind of winter day that lifts you up; the kind that also has you doing the morning footwear calculation for the kids. Shoes or boots?

Boots (wellies) won out, which was just as well: there were some puddles with ice on. Would have been a shame not to examine them close up i.e. wade through the puddles.

There’s snow on the hills today. Closer to the coast, you don’t really see the chill of the day, though you can feel it on your neck; in your hands.

(Replacing leather gloves in the sales? Turns out that was a very good plan.)

===

A while back, I learned about the notion of kaizen: little tiny changes, day by day, that add up to significant change.

Evidently kaizen means ‘good change’, and is a big thing in management circles in Japan.

I may have done New Year’s Resolutions in the past, but these days, it’s too easy for them to become an addition to the ‘to do’ list.

And with two kids in school, bringing home new bits of paper, sporting new holes in school uniform etc, there’s no lack of things to put on the ‘to do’ list.

So back to kaizen. I don’t feel the need to go into a full continuous improvement mindset any more; I’m not doing corporate stuff any more.

But a tiny bit of change, here and there, bit by bit – yes, it does add up. And you can then pat yourself on the back a bit, and see how it’s gradually coming together.

That’s the idea, anyway.

===

Maybe it’s kaizen. Maybe it’s rediscovering my mojo in a couple of areas. Earlier in the week, I ended up doing some baking.

Not world-changing, true. Thing is, I used to do quite a lot of baking. I liked it. It was something I felt reasonably good at.

Then we moved Junior onto a gluten- and dairy-free diet, and the baking mojo packed up and left.

It shouldn’t have to, I know. But baking was something about ease; about the feel of putting ingredients together without too much thinking.

Wheat-flour cooking was (not surprisingly) where I learned to bake, as a child, watching my mum make yet another batch of rockbuns.

(Yet another only really refers to the speed at which said rockbuns were consumed. We were all for as many batches of rockbuns as we could get. Still are, really.)

As an adult, continuing to bake, you draw on some of that ease, that breeziness of feeling ‘I know how this works’.

Baking free-from shouldn’t have to be that different – it’s just it’s not based on the same ease there used to be.

Anyway. Big breakthrough. I tried an apple cake, one I used to make a fair amount, having had some baking apples passed on to us.

I decided to make it as the recipe stated, just with gluten-free flour and baking powder, and dairy-free marg.

TOTAL success. It is maybe a little softer than the original, but in all other aspects, it feels like the original. So much so that I had to put some of it in the freezer to stop us eating it all on the spot.

Anyway. A small change. One that felt like: I can do this again. Even dusted off some cookbooks. Let’s see if I can add a further reworked cake to the list.

===

A new year, a few new TV series. The Young Montalbano series returns. We shout ‘Dottore!’ and make the appropriate supplicating hand gestures.

Today there’s sun, yes, but it’s been a pretty wet grey start to the year. Opportunities to look at sun and sea in Sicily, even if just on the telly? Si, por favore.

===

Junior and Mini have decided to collaborate and build a hotel together in Minecraft. I am not quite sure of the genesis of this project, but they both seem very keen on it.

In the spirit of encouraging talking to each other, rather than shouting at each other (not all the time, but…), we’ve upped their gametime slot, so they can talk and build.

So far, there is cake in every room, a certain number of ladders to climb, and a few more surprises.

Overheard today:

J: What shall we use this time? Shall we try quartz? Look, this is polished quartz.

M: OK. Is that sheep fluff?

It is fair to say that Mini’s interest in Minecraft is so far mostly around the animals (and occasionally blowing them up), so appreciation of building materials is newer.

Rest assured I shall appraise you of the inner workings of the hotel, once complete.

===

On a different kaizen-type note, I’m doing some sewing. It’s kind of addictive, in a positive, peaceful-repetition sort of way.

This is a very housekeeping sort of sewing. I’ve been able to take up hems on school trousers before, sew on nametapes, and other bits and pieces.

Now I’ve worked out how to add some material onto the bottom of kids’ pyjama bottoms to make them longer (and hopefully, reduce the need to buy new ones).

Flushed with success, I’ve also sussed a couple of things about waistbands. For one, I unpicked the waistband on another pair of pyjama bottoms, made the elastic shorter, and sewed it back up again.

I’m guessing this should work on regular kids’ leggings too.

A couple of other pairs of leggings, passed on, had lost all their elastic and wouldn’t stay up. These ones had a proper trousers-style waistband that I didn’t think I could safely take apart.

So I made a new bit of waistband out of a strip of material, sewed it over the existing waistband, then added new elastic. That seemed to work, so I did the same on the other pair.

So far so good. Mini is enjoying picking the contrasting material from my stash;
I am enjoying figuring out how to make something work. Everyone’s happy.

===

We are in a brave new world of using timers.

Junior has suddenly discovered the ability to get dressed much faster (and without me shouting through the door). With the option of trying to ‘beat the clock’, suddenly getting dressed is much more interesting.

This is transforming my mornings on school days, and Junior is also finding that, with a bit of time left over, there’s a chance to do something fun before heading out the door.

Meanwhile, the world of stop-motion films continues. Dan sets up a plain background, and he, Junior and Mini try making some little films for themselves.

So far, my role appears to be to make approving noises. And to provide snacks once it’s all done.

I can do that.

===

We have had a happy few days of seeing friends this month.

Some of these friendships go back well over a decade. It’s wonderful to find that we still have things to say to each other. Conversations form; we remember bits of each others’ shorthand.

Encouraged, I get the diary out today, and set up one or two more meetups.

Kaizen for introverts: leave the house and meet people. Good people.

Even one at a time will do just fine.

 

Moments: October 2014

Having reminded myself not to worry about how often I write, I now feel ready for a bit of a Moments round-up.

Another month is whizzing by, and I feel the need to pin a few pieces of it down.

Fresh moments seem as plentiful as leaves on the tree. You think they’ll stay just fine, but turn around and they’re caught up in the wind, crunched under car tyres and the like.

It’s not that the quality of the experience goes – it’s just that I lose sight of them with the next set of leaves in front of me.

Time for a spot of autumnal nature table.

===

We try a park-based playdate with a nursery friend. I smile at the two little things sitting there, essentially swapping the contents of their lunchboxes around, doing their very best sharing while also tearing through the calories.

It’s hard work, going to nursery.

We do a long overdue library trip. My back is sore. Mini is determined to use a toy buggy to take a friend along. I manage to find a working compromise, and the faithful friend rides on the top of some of the lighter books.

New foods join the table. Mini joins Junior in demanding porridge for supper. To add to the autumnal feel, there is even a sudden interest in mince and potatoes. I can only hope we might make it as far as stews when it really gets cold.

===

Sickness decides to stalk us, and hasn’t let up yet.

We try to keep cheerful in different ways. A new sticker book to raise the invalid’s spirits. A made-up outing to the supermarket to occupy the one that’s well.

The bug is a strange one – enough to knock any of us for six, yet a few hours later, you’re able to be bouncing about, waiting for an outing. (At least, Junior and Mini are.)

We make our way off on holiday in the midst of it all. There are two bathrooms; extra sets of sheets. This is all very helpful when you need to clean up after the next bout of nausea.

I find my own way to rise above it all, doing the supermarket run several times over to find a place that sells chicken pieces so I can make chicken soup for the invalids.

The sun on the sea is dazzling. The fields are full of birds chasing after the plough. There are a few moments of peace, even in the midst of the task at hand, and I breathe them in.

===

One of the cupboards at the cottage has a model Tracy Island. Junior is overcome with excitement, being the owner of a Thunderbirds box set.

Mini has other thoughts about what the swimming pool cover is actually for, but starts flying the models around just the same.

We make it to the beach a few times. The sand is particularly yellowy; more granular. Soon the bathtubs have a layer of sediment when we come back and wash off feet again.

I improve my skills of reversing over gravel in tight spaces. No one is allowed to sit in the car while I get it in and out of the drive. I try to avoid looking in the direction of the cottage; I am being vetted, just the same.

Meals keep changing depending on who is ill. We get through stacks and stacks of toast. Something safe for those delicate tummies. Somehow we still seem to bring back half the food I packed.

===

There are other moments to add, I’m sure of it. If I close my eyes for a while, I may be able to bring the leaves back again, before they become just another covering for the ground.

It is October, and my boots crunch over the leaves, as I walk another round of nursery and school and everyday.

 

The summer in numbers

There’s a whole load of counting going on here now.

Counting the number of sweets in a packet; grapes in a box. How many sleeps til this, and how many seconds til that.

It seems only fair to respond with some numbers of my own. With the beginning of term just upon us, here is the summer in numbers.

===

One: outing on which we spontaneously bought ice cream cones. (But there have been plenty of ice lollies at other times.)

Two: different softplays visited. (Thank goodness for sunshine, and not needing to go there much.)

Three: sets of good (kid) friends seen – the ones where it’s always a treat to catch up, especially when we don’t live near each other.

Four: pots of playdough open at any one time. But No More Than That!

Five: the minimum number of minutes left when it’s time to leave the park. (Don’t even think of making it any fewer.)

Six: children on a bench. How many could we get to look at the camera at one time? (Maybe four.)

Seven: ways to come down the slide at the park. I’m sure it must be that many. I know I’ve been told to watch all of them.

Eight: the number of episodes on a Shaun the Sheep DVD. (Good to know. Shaun can cheer up anyone, even if their tea has arrived a bit late that night.)

Nine: sleeps until…well, anything really. Because counting sleeps is very important.

Ten: different outdoor places visited. Parks, beaches, botanical gardens. Several of them have been visited umpteen times, even in the rain. (Because there has been rain. But it certainly hasn’t stopped play.)

===

I count a few other things myself. The number of new foods tried. The number of days of new beginnings.

The number of freckles on a nose. The number of stories needed at bedtime before it’s time for sleep.

The number of times you can read the same book – and find different things to comment on.

The number of new soft toys acquired over the summer – and the limitless love that lies behind the people who gave them.