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Weekly snapshot: 4 Feb (almost)

You’d think it wasn’t too hard to write a post a week.

Four weeks into my imposed writing routine, evening outing plus tiredness sets in on a Thursday night…no post.

Rather than berating myself, let’s just pretend it’s still 4 February, and go for it. OK?

The half-yearly visit to the dentist is upon us. Oh, the varied and wondrous set of shiny instruments in the dentist’s room that we are not meant to touch…

Oh, the lure of the pink mouthwash which two out of three of the visitors are not yet invited to use…

But the main purpose for visiting the dentist is to pick the coolest sticker possible after having your teeth checked.

I make a point of telling the dentist that he has the coolest stickers in town.
(The second coolest are given out at Gymnipper classes for pre-schoolers, on a weekly basis.)

These opinions are based purely on positive reaction levels from the kids. Sadly I don’t generally get offered stickers on these visits, so my own opinion of them doesn’t get to count.

By the way, it’s best not to get distracted by hungry kids, and leave the dentist’s premises without your handbag. Is it?

Luckily it was a very quick to prep tea once we got home.

This last week also brought the genuine delight of the double playdate. I should probably call it a triple playdate, since it works perfectly for mum, older child and younger child.

Mum gets two adults to chat to. Older child gets to do more stop motion film making with friend of same age.

Younger child gets to run around with the two kids of the same age, resulting in some very interesting spy/fairy cross-over dressing up.

You know it’s a good playdate when you’re onto your third round of hot drinks for the grownups, there’s been no real fights to break up, and the kids are generally still getting on with it.

And sometimes? When kids say ‘it’s a real mess upstairs’, they really mean ‘there’s some large items I can’t quite reach to put away, but other than that it’s not too bad’.

That kind of tidy up I can deal with. And Mini is still playing with the Duplo zoo set up that the visiting mum came up with.

Another visit to Granny and Grandpa. We do some detailed calculations based on snowy/blowy weather reports; lie low one day and venture out the next.

There are three choices of soup, to cater to different palates, and Mini discovers what Scrabble tiles look like.

But before that, there’s the day at home, a weekend staple. It’s a funny but happy mix: extended pyjama time, read alouds to the kids over lunchtime, usually a film at some point.

(We’ve just finished Paddington book 3, in case you need to know.)

For me, the day also seems to include the hauling of one load of school uniform and the beginning of another washing load, to try to get things ready for the next week.

But there might be other bits and pieces that don’t seem to get a look in until the weekend. Sorting out school clothes for Junior. Making the next set of birthday cards. Chipping away at Mini’s homework tasks.

As long as I can farm out at least some of the food production onto Dan, I don’t mind too much.

Mini gets a longer writing task for homework. Cue requirement to fit that in after school each day as well as usual homework for Junior.

Cue epic grumping on the first day, doodling and somewhat more compliance on the second day, and so on.

(These are Mini’s responses, not mine. But maybe I should try doodling and moderate compliance as a maternal gesture, sometime.)

Junior ends up with a day off school when the current cough going round gets to be a bit too much. Extra sleep? Check. Time for a film to aid recuperation? Check.

I even manage a coffee in town with Mum, and a spot of shopping together. New electronic scales (previous balance ones died). A step up for my Monday baking sessions.

There are bus diversions because of roadworks. So in turn, there are new routes home, hoping I’ve taken the right turns through neighbouring streets.

There is practicing for a forthcoming school assembly (more next time).

There are crocuses coming up in the park. And one day, even that first hint of spring-like light.

The birds don’t care. They’ve been singing away for weeks. Even with the recent run of wintry weather, they’re still at it.

So am I, in a way, typing away. Hoping that there will be a spring for the words I am still waiting for.

Maybe the tips are starting to show.

In the meantime, I’m joining the birds with some singing, with some help from Elizabeth Mitchell. This one’s been going through my head all week.

 

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.

 

Into the dark

Heads down to the shortest day. Nine more days, then the light levels will start to lift again.

I can’t wait.

I remember reading something by Monty Don, the gardener, a few years ago. He wrote about the difficulty of gardening in that October – December slot, the time of shortening days.

(There is the dreich-er kind of comment that can be made after June 21, that ‘the nights are turning in again’. I choose not to go there. Not in June, for goodness’ sake.)

Anyway, I’m with Monty on this one. I find the whole descent into the dark difficult, though that difficulty can vary year by year, depending on what I’m doing.

In this current season, it’s working better for me. Yes, I get the kids up most mornings, but it is light before they leave the house for school.

I get my hit of daylight mid afternoon, at school pickup – and potentially at other times of the day too, on bright days. I’m not tied to a computer monitor these days – I can stop to soak it in.

So all that helps. As does a quick belt round the park before school comes out. But still.
It’s dark out there, folks. I feel the need to hibernate more as the month goes on.

Some days I get a bit of extra sleep – and yet I still want more sleep, in December. That has been a clear message this month.

So what to do in the dark times – in the belly of the beast, as it were?

Feed yourself. Grow stronger on the inside.

I’m finding myself remembering old favourite blogs, picking them out again, catching up with what the authors have been doing.

All that colouring is taking a back seat at the moment to reading, and that’s fine.

It may be dark here, but on the other side of the world, it’s summer. I can read posts about what is growing in an Australian back garden, or about whale watching off the Southern Cape.

If I want some perspective, I can read blogs where the writers are into their four- or five-month-long snow on the ground time of year. North-Eastern US, Canada, Alaska, and so on.

To be honest, it’s not about the vicarious travelling (though that can help when the dark mornings bring on more than a hint of Groundhog day here). It’s about the words.

It’s no surprise that storytelling comes up as a way of dealing with the dark. We make sense of our feelings about this time of being kept inside.

Drawn into an interior space through cold and dark, we find our way back into the wider world through stories. Memories. Recipes. (And I’m enjoying how much those food writers can write well as well as eat well.)

For the first time in years, I’m borrowing more library books than the kids.

That’s partly about them both being in school – and me having some more time to read.

But I have put down the colouring pens for a bit in favour of stories. Particularly science fiction of various kinds.

Some of it lighter, some of it more philosophical. Much of it genuinely page-turnable.

I’ve pulled the actual cookbooks off the shelves too. Maybe it’s a need for stews, soups, foods that warm you up just by reading about them. (I’m not against cooking some of them either.)

I’ve never got around to trying out daylight lamps, to help with the growing dark. I guess I’ve sought out other means of adding some light.

And of course, there are those ceremonies of light that come at this time of the year: Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and so on.

They remind us that light can follow dark; sometimes, that light is still there, even when the darkness is particularly overwhelming.

I went into this season hoping, in part, that my own words would come up for air again. That some of them might have ripened in the cellar; might even have transformed into something new.

Not quite yet. But then maybe there is a need for some of that dark. It gets our backs up against the wall.

It forces us to say what is necessary – and, also, what we long for to change.

And that, as my science fiction reading is showing me, is powerful stuff.

 

Little, and not all that often

October has seen me decide to reboot the blog before.

This time round, it’s probably looking like the reverse.

That’s OK. Blogs come and go, but they can also restart; have a hiatus while the writer is doing something else important, and many more variants.

I’m not doing daily writing discipline, this time round. Nor am I trying out a particular type of writing, or any of the other mini seasons I’ve done in the last year or two.

But I am here. Using words, thinking about them.

Not necessarily padding around writing posts in my head just now. To be truthful, more interested in Battenburg and box sets right now. (And it is the season of nights drawing in too.)

But I still want to bait the line with words every now and then; let them float out for a bit.

Sometimes they get a nibble from others, sometimes not. That’s become less important too, although it is nice to know when others like the bait.

===

I write because I continue to read what others write. I appreciate finding just the right set of ideas to carry me through. I write to give something back.

I write to clear my head. I write to capture a particular set of moments that would otherwise disappear entirely. I write to work through emotions, at times, to find a more constructive response to circumstances.

I write because it’s fun to tap away at the keys; to feel the rhythm of the letters combining, the pattern of sentences flowing. There is a music to words that I become more aware of, year by year.

I write to connect with others. All those other individuals, sitting at home, thinking their thoughts. (I’m betting a reasonable proportion of those are parents, duty bound to stay home, but still wanting to ‘chat’ somehow.)

Sure, the Internet is full of thoughts, and we don’t want to read them all. That’s fine. But we are allowed to think them, and to add our tuppence worth.

===

I write because it’s me. It doesn’t make me less me to be writing less regularly just now. But I write again to remind myself that this is one of the places where I feel most at home.

I write because there are natural and healthy limits to box sets and Battenburg, even when I’m tired and my mind and body tell me otherwise. Writing soothes a need for peace and quiet, for perspective – for escape, too – in a different way.

I write because I am an introvert, and sometimes I’m too tired to have the conversation for real, with people around.

(Or, equally, because I can get all the words out, in order, without interruptions, because Junior and Mini are in bed by the time the laptop comes out.)

I write because I become more and more convinced how much we need story; how much we rely on it. We can watch TV series, we can follow the sagas of stars in gossip mags (if we really want to), but all of it points back to story.

===

Story is you and me walking along together, when I write the words and you read them, at whatever time that is. Story is you and me trying to make sense of life – mine, yours, the other lives entwined with our own.

Story is putting one foot up on a stone, and resting on our stick, and saying, ‘hey, I’ve been thinking about this, and…’ It’s making our sign to help others avoid a wrong direction as they follow on their road.

Story is recognising that we are all putting one foot in front of another, day after day, looking to make sense of what is happening to us and around us.

Story is making light of our darknesses (when we’d rather have a streetlamp handy to chase them away). Story is pointing right back at the ones who tell it even better; who help us ponder in a different way.

Story is our tiny details and the big vistas when life drops away in front of us, and we can’t imagine even being allowed to be where we are right now. But we are.

===

Little and often is where I’d like to be. Little, and not that often, is where I actually am.

But I keep coming back to nibble on some words. To weave some more in my own story; to add some details where I’ve enjoyed another’s story.

And little by little, I hope to keep coming back.