Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Merry Christmas

It's Christmas Eve Eve, known more commonly as the 23rd December, and I still have lots of final touches to do. Presents to wrap, a few more stitches to put in my homemade ones and food to eat(!) so this will be my last blog post for a while. I've really enjoyed counting down to Christmas and recording my preparations. I hope they have been of some use.

All that remains is to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

I'm only just in time with this post, but better late than never. Not a particularly Christmas related post today, but it's a present for Alice, so I think it counts.

Lately, she's developed an interested in clocks and watches. She spots them long before I do, and delightedly shouts 'tick tock!' I thought that she'd enjoy having her very own little watch, so here's what I've cobbled together:


Some very wobbly stitches, but I'm quite pleased with the result. I tried i
t on her when she was sleeping, so she won't see it until Christmas morning. I can't wait!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Mess free painting

Uncharacteristically, I've made an attempt to be more organised this Christmas. Today, I thought it would be good to do some painting with Alice that we can use for thank you cards. Normally, I'm more than happy to let her get herself and everything around messy, but I've got a lot to do before the big day, so I'd rather not add to the workload. Fortunately, I remembered a craft idea I came across when I was a teacher that is almost completely mess free, but still fun for a toddler.

You'll need:

A ziplock bag
some paper (I used the backs of old envelopes)
Paints
A sponge cut into pieces



Cut the paper to fit into the bag. Dampen the pieces of sponge and dip each into a different colour of paint. Put the sponges in the bag and squeeze out a little air. Zip up the bag and allow your toddler to squeeze, shake, stamp and jump up and down on the bag. Before the paper gets too battered, take it out and hang up to dry. Add some more paint to the sponges, another sheet of paper, and off you go again!



Alice loved seeing the colours spread across the paper. This kept us both entertained, and we have some lovely paintings to show for it.


Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Warming drinks

It seems the nights are drawing in not long after lunch, and snow is falling, I've been enjoying snuggling up with a hot drink. I've got a few favourites, so here they are:

The Cold Buster
My husband calls this my vitamin drink, and I've been needing in lately to help see off one of the many colds flying around. It uses some of the elderberry syrup I made in the Autumn which is apparently full of vitamin C, but I'm sure any cordial would taste good.

Put into your cup: 1 tsp honey (manuka is best for its antibacterial properties), 2 tsp elderberry syrup and a good shake of lemon juice or a slice of lemon. Peel a piece of fresh ginger and bash it with a pestle or the end of a rolling pin and add to the cup. Top up with boiling water and leave for 3-5 minutes before removing the ginger. Inhaling the steam seems to clear my blocked nose and it is very soothing on the throat. I've swapped my breakfast tea for this recently, and it's a lovely way to start the day.

Mulled Juice
As I'm breastfeeding and trying to conceive, I'm pretty much teetotal nowadays. This is a drink that makes me feel Christmassy without the alcohol content!

Warm a bottle of grape or cranberry juice in a pan along with half an orange and some strips of lemon peel. Wrap half a stick of cinnamon, a few cloves, a piece of peeled ginger, ground/grated nutmeg in a piece of muslin and tie with string. Add to the pan of juice along with a cup of water and boil for about 5 minutes before serving.

Decadent Hot Chocolate
There are few things in life that make me feel cosier than sitting on the sofa covered with a blanket and drinking a hot chocolate. This concoction may be the most decadent version I've ever tried.

Using the cup you will be using to drink from, pour out some milk until the cup is nearly full. Pour into a pan and add 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder and 2 tbsp brown sugar. Put the pan on to a medium heat and whisk until smooth. Reduce the heat and add in a handful of dark chocolate broken into pieces, a strip of orange peel and a cinnamon stick. Keep whisking over the low heat until the chocolate is melted. Allow to stand for a further 5 - 10 minutes. Remove the peel and cinnamon stick and gently reheat. Pour into your mug, top with whipped cream and dust with cocoa. Put your feet up and enjoy!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Cake decorating

Before we start today, I should warn you that this may be a bit of a letdown. As my mother would tell you, I am not the most organised and forward thinking of people. I like to jump straight in to situations and sort out problems as they arise. Unfortunately, lack of planning means that problems frequently do arise. My first attempt at Christmas cake decorating is a case in point.

Problem 1: The cake needs a board to sit on.
Solution: To my delight I found a board at the back of a cupboard. It was round, but no matter. It just fit underneath the cake. Hurray!


Problem 2: Once the marzipan is on top, the cake board is too small.
Solution: A mayday call to my mum yields an excellent solution. The cake can sit on the lid of my cake tin and the tin can then be placed back on top for transportation. Genius.

Problem 3: Once the icing is on top, the cake doesn't fit on the lid.
Solution: No problem. A cereal box covered in foil stuck d
own with parcel tape is an excellent back up. Well, it's a back up.



Problem 4: The cake will need transporting in the car for an hour and a half. It has no container.
Solution: With no large enough cake tin to hand, I have made a valiant attempt at making my own using a roasting dish with a carving board and sealed with foil and more parcel tape. Necessity is the mother of invention.


I had hoped that this blog post would record the beautiful embellishments I had dreamt up to decorate my cake with. Instead it shows rather more parcel tape and foil than I had imagined possible. Tiny snowmen and cut out stars will have to wait for another day.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Brownies in a Jar

I'm taking a risk that the recipient of this gift doesn't see this blog post before Christmas, but I'm pretty confident they aren't a reader, so here goes...


Brownies in a jar:


There seem to be endless variations of these presents on the Internet including gingerbread, cookies, and hot chocolate mixes in jars, but brownies appealed the most. I was pleased to find this recipe that has metric measurements.

The dry ingredients are piled up and look really pretty. All the recipient has to do is mix up the contents with melted butter and eggs, and pour into a tin before baking. I've added a wooden spoon as I thought it looked quite cute. I was concerned that the ingredients might shift a bit, but they pack down firmly and the layers have stayed distinct. I think my friends and family will become quite familiar with these gifts over the next few years!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Spicy nuts

A cheat post today because I haven't done this yet. I've been struck down by one of the many colds going around, and have been taking it easy.

I've decided to make little jars of spiced nuts as gifts for a few people this year. I found a recipe that includes whisked egg white to stick the spices to the nuts. I think it will add a nice glaze too.

This is the recipe I plan to use:

  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups pecan halves, or assorted nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, or almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Beat egg white until soft and foamy. Combine all remaining ingredients except pecans; whisk into egg white. Stir in pecans until well coated; spread mixture in single layer onto an ungreased baking pan.
  2. Bake pecans for 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Using a metal spatula, toss, stir, and separate nuts. Reduce oven to 250 degrees. and return nuts to bake until medium brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven; toss, and stir again. Place baking pan on wire rack to cool (they will crisp as they cool). Break up any that stick together; store in an airtight container, at room temperature, up to 2 weeks.
It sounds delicious, I'll report back on how it goes!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Cosy reads

One of the things I'm really enjoying about having a toddler is that I get to read my favourite stories with her. A friend recently bought Alice a lovely copy of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. She sits and points at all the pictures and usually wants to go back to the beginning after we finish.

These short days are giving us lots of opportunities to snuggle up and read festive stories together. Even better if we read them in a den!

We've decided that we'll tell Alice the story of Saint Nicholas rather than the modern Santa or Father Christmas. I've not got a book about him, but I've been having a go at telling it in my own words. The oral tradition of telling stories is as old as the human race, and seems particularly appropriate at Christmas. and I'm using the opportunities I get to develop my skills at it now when
she doesn't mind too much when I get it wrong or muddle my words!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Fat balls

Although it's not as cold here at it was a couple of weeks ago, food is still tricky to find if you're a bird. To make their lives a little easier I thought I'd make them a treat: the delightfully named 'fat balls'.

There are 101 ways to make them, but generally they need 1 part fat to 2 parts bird food. The food can be bird seed, nuts (only in Winter, as baby birds can choke on them), little scraps of bacon rind or any combination.

I used 250g lard and kept adding seed until it looked right (around 3 cups).

Here's how:

Gather some containers - plastic yoghurt or hummus pots are good. I've use
d some little metal pudding basins for mine.

Get a length of string, make a loop and tie a very large knot in the end. The larger the better as this will keep the fat ball attached. The loop will need to be long enough to reach all the way to the bottom of the mould and to have a good length to hand the fat ball from.

Melt the lard in a pan and take off the heat then stir in the seeds/nuts.



Pour into moulds, making sure the string is pushed to the bottom and is roughly central then allow to cool


Put the moulds into hot water for a few seconds to loosen the lard. Remove the fat ball and either hang outside or store by wrapping in cling film and leaving in the fridge until needed.


And there you have it, a cheap and easy way to let the birds share in the feasting this season.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Ivy garland


We returned from my parents' house this weekend with a large bag of ivy gathered from their garden. I hoped that I could manage to somehow form it into decorations that would replace a Christmas tree and help our home look really festive. Armed with florists' tape and some ribbon, I had a go and discovered it was harder than I initially thought to make something that looked like it should be in my home rather than on a compost heap.

My attempts looked a little weedy, so I've added some large gold stars to bulk it out (and perhaps draw the eye away from the ivy...)



I've got lots more greenery to experiment with, and hopefully I'll get better as time goes on.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Nativity



This post is a bit of a cheat, as I intended to make my own nativity scene this year. It was still a half formed plan, and I wasn't quite sure how I'd do it. Fortunately, I haven't had to! My parents decided to give Alice a Christmas decoration every year, and this year my mum chose to get her a little nativity scene made up of little painted plywood shapes. It's brightly coloured and a bit quirky. Mary in particular looks unlike any representation of Mary I've ever seen! I'm already looking forward to putting it up in our house. Hopefully we will be able to retell the Christmas story with it when she's old enough to understand.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Fragrance Balls

Here's something I've tried for the first time this year. Nothing makes me feel more like Christmas is around the corner than a house that smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Hopefully these fragrance balls will make that happen even when I've not been busy in the kitchen. It's a very simple idea.

All you need to do, it heat 2/3 cup water in a pan with a stick of cinnamon, a little grated or ground nutmeg and a few cloves. Alternatively, for a stronger smell, use a teaspoon of essential oil in a scent of your choice. Heat the water until it boils then take off the heat.
.
Put a cup of flour, 1/4 tsp cornflour and 1/4 cup salt in a mixing bowl and add the scented water. I left the bits in the water, but you could strain them out if you'd rather. Stir together until a dough is formed.
.

Form the dough into balls and leave in a warm place to dry overnight.



I have to remind myself not to eat these, as they look and smell delicious. Next year I might try adding some glitter or making different shapes for a bit of a change. I've put mine in a glass jar with a few of my dried oranges with a bow around the top to make it look prettier.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Plum and Mulled Wine Jam

There can be very few more Christmassy sounding preserves than plum and mulled wine jam. I thought it would make a nice little present for friends as well as filling my store cupboard. Unfortunately, I didn't learn from my last preserve making experience and realised too late that I was making more jam than would fit in the pan. After faffing about with ladles and trying to mix the sugar evenly through both pans, I had rather a messy kitchen. Exactly like last time, the jam in the smaller pan scorched and the other batch wouldn't set even after 40 minutes of trying.

You win some, you lose some.

Anyway, in case you'd like to try your luck, here's the recipe taken from Jams, Pickles and Chutneys: Best Kept Secrets of the Women's Institute by Midge Thomas.

4 lb red plums, stoned and halved (I added an apple to make up the weight)
1/2 bottle red wine
Mulled wine spices tied in muslin
Piece of orange zest (without pith)
4 lb sugar
  • Put the plums and wine in a preserving pan (a BIG one!)
  • Add the spices and zest to the pan and cook gently for 15-20 minutes to soften the skins.
  • Take out the spices and zest add the sugar, stirring constantly until dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached (the book says 10 minutes. HA! I say...)
  • Remove scum and pot into sterilised jars.
No pictures today I'm afraid as we're spending the weekend with my parents.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Charity Shop Clear Out

I've decided to make a tradition of spending some time every December clearing out the old. I'm a dyed in the wool hoarder, and hold on to things long after they have served any useful purpose. Making sure that I sort out at least once a year will hopefully stop my house looking quite as much like Steptoe's yard. Clothes and other items are always in demand by charity shops at this time of year, and it's a good opportunity to make room for new things. In the process, I've rediscovered things I had forgotten and have inspiration for modifying some others to make them wearable again. It's like having a new wardrobe for free!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: present tags


Every year I try and do my bit to recycle our Christmas cards by cutting them up to make tags for my presents next year. My mum has done this for as long as I can remember, and it's a frugal tradition I'm happy to continue!




Here's my batch from last year. A hole punch to make the hole and some pretty ribbon is all that's needed to make them pretty enough for any present.

I know, I know,
it's something that is pretty commonly done, but I've got to fill my 24 posts somehow!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Decorations old and new


I got out my box of decorations today. I love doing this every year. It's like seeing old friends!

There are some old one that have hung on every one of the Christmas trees of my childhood, including the skiing Father Christmas and the tiny book with a real story inside. There's a bauble my grandparents gave me for my first Christmas. There's also some modern ones added to my collection. An angel sitting on a glass bell given to Alice last year, and a star a thoughtful friend brought round when I complained I had nothing to put at the top of my tree.

They may not all be the most tasteful items (to put it mildly) but they all have their stories and their place in my home. In our modern times, most people no longer live by the seasons and many of the high days and holidays of the past are long forgotten. I think Christmas is the perfect time to remember past times and think of future ones. In some small way, these little decorations help me do just that.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Pomander

I've come across various methods for making these, but this is how I've always done it and haven't had any problems!
Take an orange and put holes all over it with a cocktail stick or fork.



Push a clove into each hole. The closer the cloves are to each other, the better.
Roll the pomander in ground cinnamon and nutmeg.



Leave in a warm dry place for a few weeks, or in a low oven for a few hours. It will shrink quite a lot after it has dried.
If you want to suspend it, criss-cross a ribbon around it with a loop at the top.

They look and smell lovely in a bowl or hung around the house, and after Christmas can be put into a wardrobe, drawer or airing cupboard to keep clothes and linen fresh and moth free.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Christmas countdown: Cinnamon bundles

A quick and easy idea today. This is one of my favourite Christmas decorations. Bundles of cinnamon sticks tied together with ribbon, or string. We've not got a Christmas tree this year as Alice would probably eat all the needles before the big day, so I'm going to nestle these in between holly and ivy branches around the house.


Sunday, 5 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Popcorn garlands

I think these are an American tradition, but they have become a favourite in our house as I've got a rabid dislike of tinsel!

Not much instruction needed on how to make these. Pop some corn, and use a needle and thread to join them together (I use a double thickness of thread.)

Patience is definitely required as the corn is liable to break in two, but the evidence can be easily destroyed by eating any failed attempts. A nice idea is to string dried cranberries between the popped corn like little rubies.



My photo doesn't exactly do these justice. I'm planning to string them up among some holly and ivy, rather than haphazardly from the dresser drawers, so hopefully they'll look nicer then!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Christmas countdown: Advent Calendars


Advent calendars hold very good memories for me. I had one every year as a child and was always so excited to open a little door every morning. My favourite one was made for me by my parents out of a narrow box with doors carefully cut out, a funny picture drawn on each one and a sweet stuck behind them. My parents run a jewellery shop, so there is no busier time than in the run up to Christmas. The time and effort they put into making it was very special to me, and I'm hoping to recreate a similar feeling for Alice.

With that in mind, last year I bought an advent train. I couldn't resist it! It has tiny drawers to put a little something inside. When she's big enough I plan to make a jigsaw cut into 24 pieces that she can put together over the month. At the moment it contains dried fruit, which is less inventive, but seems to be going down well. I love seeing it on our mantelpiece and imagining years to come. It is so wonderful to be creating our own Christmas traditions and memories.


Friday, 3 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Paper doves


I've made these before in school, but this time I've used sheet music to make the doves. I got a book of music from a charity shop for £1.50 and there's lots left. When I bought it, I felt a pang of guilt knowing that it would be cut into bits rather than used to make music, but it will give us happiness in another way. My piano playing on the other hand certainly wouldn't bring happiness to anyone with eardrums.

Anyway, here's how:

Stick a sheet of music to the front and back of a solid piece of card (I used a cereal box.)

Draw the body of a dove and cut out.


Make a hole for the wings to go through. A craft knife would be useful here. I made a slightly less professional job by pushing one blade of a pair of scissors through into a ball of blu-tack.

Concertina a rectangle of sheet music and push half-way through the hole. Fan out prettily.

Make a small hole in the back of the dove and loop through some thread or ribbon to suspend it.

These would look lovely on a Christmas tree, but as we're not having one this year for fear that Alice would eat her body weight in needles, I've hung my little flock from my dresser.



Thursday, 2 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Cranberry Chutney


Part of my plan for Christmas this year was to make most of my presents. One of my ideas was to make a chutney, and I came across a very festive recipe for a cranberry chutney that I'm sure would go very well with turkey sandwiches!

I've never made so much chutney in one go before and found myself wishing that Father Christmas brings me a large preserving pan this year.


To make 6lbs of chutney, I heated 2oz butter, 22oz onions, 2lbs apples and 3tsps spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice were what I went for) in a pan until the onions were soft and translucent.

Then added 1lb 8oz fresh cranberries and 2lbs light brown sugar to the pan and stirred for a few minutes before pouring in 30 fl oz white vinegar. After bringing it to the boil, it was then left to simmer for about an hour and a half.

I finally potted the gloopy mixture into sterilised jars.


I'm a bit nervous about the final result, as chutney needs to mature for 4-6 weeks to develop its flavour and texture, so I'm hoping it tastes as good as it looks. I managed to make 10 jars of the stuff, so it had better be tasty!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Christmas Countdown: Dried Oranges


It's December, and this year I'm absurdly excited. Knowing that Alice will really appreciate it for the first time is making me see it through her eyes, I think. Being a stay at home mum has allowed me to fulfil my dream of having a craft filled, home made sort of Christmas, and to encourage me to do as much as I can I've decided to try and write a blog post a day to document what we've been up to. I hope I don't regret making this promise!

To start off then, here's my first offering!
Dried Oranges

Cut the oranges into slices around 1cm thick and sponge dry with kitchen paper or a cloth.

Rub with ground cinnamon and nutmeg, or whatever Christmassy spices you like best.

Put directly onto oven rack (I put mine on a wire cooling rack first to
make it easier to get them out)

Heat at 130° (GM 1) for about an hour or until the oranges are dry.

Use a needle and thread to make ties to hang the slices up with, or leave them as they are in a glass jar, vase or bowl.

Unfortunately, my terrifyingly temperamental oven scorched a few slices, but I still like them, and they smell amazing.



Friday, 26 November 2010

Trust

To have a strong relationship with someone, it is essential to trust them, but if we trust our children, we're often frowned upon, or at least deemed irresponsible.

It is not only children who are mistrusted. From the moment of conception, we're encouraged to put ourselves in the care of professionals. Doctors and midwives take blood samples, measure heart rates and take scans. During the birth, mother and baby are monitored, and all too often the birth is taken out of the mother's control. It seems a natural progression then that professionals should continue to be involved with the subsequent care of the baby. Health visitors, well meaning friends and of course, the ubiquitous baby care book are all on hand to offer advice and the mother learns to ignore her instincts.

Those who practise cry it out or controlled crying techniques rarely enjoy the experience. The sound of a baby's cry, even one that isn't ours, spurs us to do something about it. To ignore a baby's cry goes against our instincts. Jean Liedloff writes in The Continuum Concept that 'young mothers read and obey, untrusting of their innate ability, untrusting of the baby's 'motives' in giving the still perfectly clear signals." (p.49) In our society, children, even babies, are viewed with suspicion. Rather than trusting that their cries signal a need, we are told that they are manipulating us. Liefloff continues, saying that "Babies have, indeed, become a sort of enemy to be vanquished by the mother. Crying must be ignored so as to show the baby who is boss, and a basic premise in the relationship is that every effort should be made to force the baby to conform to the mother's wishes." (p.49). In this relationship, there is no trust. The mother no longer trusts herself, and she certainly doesn't trust the baby to know his own mind. Saddest of all, the baby soon learns that its mother cannot be trusted to fulfil his needs.

This pattern continues as the child grows. 'Pick your battles' while true in essence, and something I regularly remind myself of, emphasises the way we view our relationship with our children as an adversarial one. There can be no real trust with an adversary. Locked in a battle of wills with their children, it is no surprise that many parents find themselves under huge stress. Would it be so disastrous, however, to trust our children? To assume, unless clearly proven otherwise, that their motives are good? Christina Fletcher, writing in The Mother says of children 'it's important to see them as Who They Really Are through our words, actions and thoughts, and make them feel like they have great worth to the world." (p.31) When we see them this way, when we trust in them, they will more often than not live up to our expectations.

Fletcher, C. (2010, November/December).Dealing with sibling rivalry with spirit. The Mother, 43, 31-32.

Liedloff, J. (2004) The Continuum Concept (New Ed edition)
London: Penguin.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Toddlers



Life is tough for a toddler. Imagine you have just begun to realise your sense of self. You have preferences and are starting to realise that your actions have an effect on the world. This is an exciting development, but it's also a frustrating one. Barely an hour goes by without someone trying to make you sleep when you aren't tired, to stop you pulling put the interesting wires in the wall, to put you in a pushchair when you haven't finished playing or to feed you unknown substances without giving you a chance to look at them closely.

Imagine you are living in a world where people communicate through an unfamiliar language, and although you are beginning to understand, there is a lot of confusion. Your own words are few and frequently misunderstood by those around you. You are beset by emotions that are too big for you to deal with yet, and sometimes the strength of them is scary.

It is all too easy to view toddlers' tantrums and shouting as mere defiance. To think that their sole purpose in life is to thwart whatever you have planned for them. It is easy to become frustrated and wish that they would just do as they were told. Taking a step out of your own needs and feelings for a moment, and seeing the world as it is to them can help us to remain calmer and more tolerant. Allowing some freedom to choose, to consider whether what we are asking is too much and to devise compromises wherever possible can go a long way to smoothing their path through a tricky time, and allowing ourselves to feel calmer.

1. See it from their point of view. A child who screams when having their coat put on may just be too hot. They don't know that the temperature will change when they get outside. Maybe try going outside first before putting it on, or playing a hide and seek game with their fingers.

2. Leave lots of time for potentially contentious tasks. Walking to the shops may take four times as long if you stop to look at every leaf and stone on the way, but it will be a lot less stressful.

3. Allow some degree of choice. Sometimes choices overwhelm children, but allowing some control over their day will make them feel a little less powerless. It makes no difference to you which shoe goes on first, but it might to them.

4. Distraction often works like magic. Breaking into song or playing pat-a-cake might be all that's needed to halt a stand-off.

5. Be aware of danger times. Tiredness and hunger makes us all grumpy, but is especially hard when you are small. Try to arrange jobs that must be done just after nap times or meals when your toddler is at their most amenable.

6. Talk to them. Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. They may not understand every word, but they are starting to get the gist of most of what you say. If you're going to leave the park soon, tell them. To be whisked away from a task you were enjoying would annoy anybody, but some advance warning may help.

7. Listen to them. Even if they don't seem to be saying proper words, they are trying to communicate and it is only polite to listen to them. You might be surprised at how much they can convey. Even if you don't understand, they will at least feel you are taking notice.

8.When tantrums hit, stay close. Turning your back or ignoring the tantrum isn't showing your child that their behaviour isn't acceptable, it is telling them that they are unacceptable. Although a hitting, kicking, screaming child might seem defiant, they are just out of control. You wouldn't leave them if they were crying in sadness or pain, why leave them when they are overwhelmed with anger and frustration? Sometimes a hand laid on their chest, or just sitting by is all that's needed to let them know you are there to help. Naming their feelings is another useful way to show you understand and to help them recognise what is happening to them.

9. Enjoy your toddler. When you've had a particularly trying time, make sure you find some time to reconnect with your child. Taking a nap together while you stroke their hair, or playing a favourite game reminds you both that your relationship is based on love not opposition.

10. Take time for yourself. If you are exhausted and at your wits' end, you can't give anything back to your toddler. I know you've heard this advice before, and it's easy to scoff and say you've no time for it, but make time. It takes far less time than you'd think to recuperate. 5 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes for a cup of tea and a biscuit or 20 minutes for a hot bath. Try and fit time for yourself in to the day and your whole family will benefit.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Christmas Cake



I'm quite overexcited about this one. It's always been an aim of mine to make a Christmas cake, but I've always been too disorganised to get one prepared earl y enough. Seeing how cheap they are in the shops compared to how much the ingredients cost is another little niggle, but I'm confident the time, effort and money spent will be worth it.

Contending with a scorchingly hot fan oven has put me off baking a little until my mum kindly bought me an oven thermometer. With this I have discovered that turning the dial to 50° results in an oven temperature of 150°! Some careful jiggery-pokery and turning the dial fractional amounts allowed me to finally get a l ow enough temperature to cook the cake long and slow. I held my breath a little before taking it out, and actually gave a shriek of joy that it looks like it should do!

I wrapped it up in foil and settled it into a tin with no less care than I tuck Alice up at night, and I'm already looking forward to feeding it next week. You don't get this much fun with a shop bought one!


No more daydreaming

15 years ago I had my first period. It was a time of mixed emotions, but I was excited (and relieved) that I was on the first step to womanhood. Through my teens my time of the month was regular as clockwork, and always very painful. After dreading every one for so many years, it seems strange now that I can't wait for its return.

Despite Alice having started weaning at 6 months, she still relies heavily on breastmilk night and day. As a result, I haven't had a period since November 2008. My teenage self would be jumping for joy, but I'm getting so frustrated. Since Alice was barely a month old, I've felt broody, and that broodiness has only kept on growing. I find myself frequently daydreaming about how life would be with another baby around, and I absent-mindedly rest my hand on my tummy as if I was already carrying a new little life.

I've realised that I need to try and stop this. Daydreaming won't make my fertility come back any faster. However much I wee on sticks and squint at them until I could swear I could see a line won't make that baby appear any sooner. At times, I have considered trying to night wean Alice, and have even tried to put her off when she comes to me for a feed. This was the final straw. It is important to me that I nurse Alice until she's at least 2, and if she self weans before then I wouldn't want it to be down to my actions. I have been putting my desire for a new baby ahead of her needs, and I must stop it. I am going to try my hardest to enjoy every stage of her toddlerhood and a sibling may or may not come along. I don't have a right to have another baby. I realise how lucky I am to have one, and I should stop taking her for granted.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Carrying the Donkey


I've been thinking a lot lately about how other people perceive me, especially regarding how I parent Alice. I think about it far too much and sometimes worrying about what people will think affects my actions. I was reminded recently of a folk tale I read once as a child. I can't find the book it was in, nor can I find it on-line, so I thought I'd write it down as best as I can remember it. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

One day a man decided he and his son should travel the long journey to the markets. They took their donkey to carry their supplies home and set off. The father got up on the donkey and the son led it along the road. It wasn't long before they met a traveller coming the other way. The traveller looked at them in disgust. "How shameful. That poor boy is being forced to walk, while you his father are taking it easy riding on the donkey." In great embarrassment, the father quickly got down from the donkey.
"Of course, you're right. I'll let my son ride instead. I don't know what I was thinking!" he exclaimed, and they carried on their way.

Soon after they were met by an old woman walking along the road. She looked them up and down and tutted. "The young have no respect. That boy is full of energy, but is making his poor father walk while he rides the donkey. Surely there's room on that donkey for two." As she passed them by, father and son looked at each other, and the father said "she's right. The donkey could manage us both. Let me ride with you." and he got up on the donkey too.

As they neared the market another traveller met them with wide eyed horror. "Good heavens! That poor beast's legs must be nearly buckling under the weight of you two! The cruelty some people show to animals is astonishing."


Without saying a word, father and son got off the donkey, hoisted it onto their shoulders and carried it all the way to the market. Everyone in the busy town square pointed and laughed at their foolishness.

Sometimes I think I end up carrying the donkey as I desperately try to please all the people all the time. This little tale has been a reminder to me to do what I feel is right, not what other people think I should do.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Preparations


I've decided to start Christmas preparations in good time this year. Usually I leave it until the last minute, but with a toddler in the house, it's not so easy to manage!

Yesterday I made my first lot of mincemeat. I've never made it before and was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was. I won't be going back to the jarred stuff in a hurry!

I used a modified version of a recipe in Best Kept Secrets of the Women's Institute: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys by Midge Thomas

6oz sultanas
4oz raisins
4oz currants
2oz chopped almonds
2oz mixed peel
grated zest of a lemon and an orange
juice of lemon and orange
2 chopped apples
3fl oz brandy
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp allspice
4oz shredded suet (I used veggie)
1tsp nutmeg
8oz dark muscovado sugar

Then I mixed them all up in the bowl, covered in clingfilm and will leave it for a week, stirring daily. Then I'll pot it up into sterilised jars and leave for a couple of weeks before using.

It already smells amazing, and I can't wait to taste it. The brandy and spices made me feel like it's Christmas already. My next project is the Christmas cake. Wish me luck!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Tips for a Tummy Bug

For the second time in a month, it appears that Alice has a stomach bug. My heart sank when she was sick again this morning, but I have learnt from my last experience and I am finding it it much easier to cope. A while ago, I ditched my usual cleaning products in favour of all natural stuff, but found it a challenge when all I wanted to do was bleach every conceivable surface to be sure I'd killed off the bug. With a few modifications, I came up with a more environmentally friendly and healthier alternative to caring for a sick baby.
  • Have a jug a water at hand with a few drops of tea tree oil for antibacterial/antiviral action and some lavender oil for the lovely smell. It's easy then to grab a cloth and mop up any unpleasantness straight away.
  • Try to use a sick bucket/bowl. This might seem incredibly obvious to most people, but I was mopping up from the floor with so many muslins my wash load was huge before I realised there was a better way.
  • Have a bundle of rags or muslins in every room and replenish before you need them.
  • A bucket with a lid filled with yet more water and a couple of drops of tea tree oil is very handy for chucking in any cloths or clothes that are waiting to be washed.
  • If you're breastfeeding, try to do so little and often. It's hard to stop them midfeed, but is easier on their stomachs. Try having a toy nearby to distract them with part way through.
  • Put some cinnamon in a pan of water and boil to get rid of unpleasant smells and freshen the house.
  • Use a waterproof sheet over your mattress, and have at least one spare set of bedding and nightwear next to the bed for quick changes in the night.
  • Put away toys that are difficult to clean and wipe the ones left out with the tea tree and lavender water every so often.
  • Cover upholstered surfaces with towels or flat nappies to protect them.
  • Wash your hands frequently!
With any luck, these tips should help to prevent others getting the bug and keep your home naturally clean. If you know of any other ways to avoid or deal with bugs, post a comment!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Much more than milk

A friend recently lent me the latest edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and I barely made it past the first page before I realised that this was a book I needed to buy myself so that I can highlight, underline and otherwise scrawl all over. There's a little gem of wisdom in every line. Even the introduction gave me a question to ponder that made me look at my breastfeeding relationship and what I value most about it.

What if you had to choose? You can either bottle-feed your baby with scheduled feedings and little body contact, but with your milk in the bottle. Or you can breastfeed your baby, responding to his cues, but only formula comes out of your breasts. 1
It is a hard question, as I take great comfort in knowing that Alice is getting the food designed to suit her needs. Particularly when there has been illness around, I have been relieved to know that she's getting all the nutrition she needs along with a dose of antibodies to help her along. For me, the answer didn't take too much thought as I can not imagine bottle-feeding a baby. Breastfeeding has moulded my mothering and shaped our relationship into what it is. Being the only one to nourish her in the early days could be hard, but it was immeasurably rewarding. It forces me to sit and focus on Alice, to make me get my priorities straight. It has also given me confidence in my body to do the best for my baby, and has made me trust my instincts as a mother. I know that our bond would be weaker if I had fed her in another way.

Thankfully, I don't have to make the difficult choice between the health giving benefits of my milk and the close relationship forged through nursing. It is credit to the La Leche League and other breastfeeding organisations that they are helping so many other mothers and babies reap the rewards of a happy nursing relationship too.


1. Wiessinger, D. et al. 2010. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition. London: La Leche League International, xxi.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Tantrums

Before having Alice, I was pretty hard on parents. I was convinced that I would be able to sail through parenting and would always manage any behaviour problems with ease, that is if my child ever showed any sort of misbehaviour. My fine skills would mean that any child of mine would rarely, if ever display any sort of undesirable behaviour. Now, at thirteen months old, Alice is showing me that I might have been a bit hasty to judge so quickly. Most of the time, she is a sunny, happy little girl. She's confident and full of humour. Unfortunately, as she displayed even as a newborn, there's no middle ground with her, and when she's not happy, she makes it very, very clear.

Tantrums are the usually result when I pick her up when she doesn't want me to, try to carry her when she wants to walk, or take something away that she was playing with. I try to limit how often this happens, but there are always times when it can't be avoided. She will alternate going totally rigid with becoming floppy and throwing herself on the floor. She's impossible to pick up when she's in this state. She screams like a banshee and writhes around and all I can do is sit near her and stroke her back until she's back in control.

I cope quite well when we're in private, but if this happens in a public place, I can't help feeling the eyes of other people on me. I am tempted to be harder on Alice when we're in public, putting on the stern face, or yanking her to her feet, as I want to show bystanders that I am doing something about her behaviour. My child may be all but foaming at the mouth, but I'm not a pushover, oh no! It's at those times that I need to remind myself that she is more important than the opinions of others, and she needs calm reassurance to regain her control.

If nothing else, I've learnt to be far less judgemental about the decisions of others. I don't always deal with her tantrums as well as I should do, but I'm sure I will have many opportunities to practice my skills over the next few months!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tummy bug

As I type, Alice is sleeping on my lap recovering from a particularly unpleasant tummy bug. There's been a lot of it around lately according to my doctor, and I'm hearing about lots of cases from friends. She started being sick at 4am on Monday, and has pretty consistently vomited every 2-3 hours since then. Today we've also had the added delights of diarrhoea to contend with. I must admit, I have rarely had negative thoughts about reusable nappies until this week!

I took her to the doctor yesterday who gave me a prescription for a rehydration drink, although she agreed that Alice wasn't dehydrated at the time. Despite the frequent bouts of sickness and diarrhoea, over 24 hours on she is still seeming to be reasonably well hydrated. Her tongue isn't dry, she still makes tears, and she is getting wet nappies. I can only put this down to the breastmilk. Since Sunday evening, she hasn't touched solid food, or even water. Breastmilk is the only thing she will accept. I have decided to ignore the doctors advice to express milk and add water to it. It seems a strange idea to me to dilute the milk that seems to be helping her, not to mention that drinking from a cup doesn't have the emotional comfort that getting milk straight from the tap does.

Having a poorly baby makes me feel very powerless. There's not much I can do to help, but feeding her is giving her the strength she needs to get through without too much trouble. Apparently, I'm not alone. According to the NCT, babies who are not breastfed are 5 times more likely to be admitted to hospital with gastroenteritis and in 1995, the Department of Health estimated that the NHS spends at least £35 million per year treating gastroenteritis in bottle-fed babies in England (Breastfeeding: Good Practice Guidance to the NHS, Department of Health 1995).

Anyway, after all my handwashing, laundry and covering everything in tea tree oil, I'm not feeling too good myself. If only breastmilk could protect me from the ill effects too!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Breastfeeding a one year old




A couple of days ago, Alice was a bit under the weather. We were walking around town when she started grizzling, so I sat on a bench on the main street and offered her some milk. It was a short feed, and she quickly settled, but I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable. I realised that now she goes longer between feeds and is more interested in what's going on around her, she tends not to want to nurse in public so it has been a while. Although I've seen lots of women breastfeeding their babies in my town, I can't recall seeing anyone nursing an 'older' baby. Having said that, I received no dirty looks or comments, in fact I'm pretty sure nobody even noticed. The uneasiness was entirely down to me.

This took me by surprise, as I am totally committed to letting Alice self-wean and I consider feeding toddlers and children a beautiful and natural thing. I thought I had become inured to closed minded attitudes and would be confident feeding wherever and whenever Alice wanted. I think perhaps I am just out of the habit. To give myself some encouragement, I've been thinking of all the things I love about feeding my one year old.

1. Her obvious delight at feeding. She actually giggles when she sees my boob. She'll look up at me while feeding and give me a huge grin before latching back on again.

2. When she sings and feeds at the same time. She often hums a little as she feeds. I don't know why, I think she's just happy.

3. The way she manhandles her way to a good latch. No more of the worries of the early days when I wasn't sure she was properly latched. Now she pokes and prods until she's feeding in exactly the way she wants.

4. Her ability to feed in any given position. Standing on the floor while I lie on the sofa, lying over my shoulder while we're in bed and the opportunistic latch as I get dried after a morning bath. I am constantly amazed by her ingenuity.

5. The confidence that she's getting nourishment. When she goes through phases where she doesn't eat as much, I feel more confident knowing she'll still be getting nutrients through nursing.

6. Milk as medicine! When she has a cold or is feeling poorly and there's nothing else to be done, I know that milk provides physical and emotional benefits.

7. A moment of calm. Since she started to walk, she doesn't want to stop. It can feel like we're both on the go all day, and nursing is an important oasis where we can reconnect.

Hopefully as time goes on I will get over my feelings of awkwardness while NIP. I felt similar when I first started, and it soon melted away, so I'm sure this will too, and hopefully doing so might encourage others that it isn't something to be ashamed of.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Slugs and Snails and Puppydogs Tails


When I was very small, probably around 2, I decided on my favourite colour. Looking back, I struggled with the idea of a favourite colour (how can you choose?) but realised that it was an important question that all children must know the answer to. My answer was pink. This decision wasn't based on aesthetics, it was based on expectation. I was a girl, therefore my favourite colour would be pink. Although my answer to the question changed as years when by, the influence remained in more subtle ways.

Children continue to be heavily influenced by society's expectation for different genders. Here's a little test for you. I'll give the descriptions of characters from the children's TV programme, Waybuloo taken from the CBeebies website and you decide if the characters are male or female.

1. Full of fun, mischievous and loves surprises.
2. Creative and thrives when dancing or painting.
3. Practical and inventive, happiest when making things.
4. Thoughtful, caring and loves gardening.

(answers at the bottom!).

My mother came across these wonderful items in a toyshop. Magnetic words, supposedly linked to the National Literacy Strategy separated into girls' words and boys' words. Boys get climbing, helicopter, snails and mud while girls are offered cooking, dancing, lipstick and (I can barely contain myself for this one,) fluff! Apparently even our language needs to be polarised between words suitable for the two sexes.

These stereotypes may well suit some children, but the problem is that they do not suit all, and the pressures of conforming to something you are not at such a young age must be damaging. Girls who climb trees or don't want to pretend to be Hannah Montana are deemed 'tomboys' as I remember calling myself as a child in the post-pink days. The judgements on a boy who prefers playing with dolls to football are even more damning.

I have always hoped that my children will be able to choose what they do, wear and say based on their own thoughts and feelings, not because it fits with the expectations of society. It seems that this might be a more challenging dream than I had realised.

In case you are burning with the need to know the gender of the Waybuloo characters, the answers are 1. male, 2. female, 3. male, 4. female. If you got them all right give your self a gender specific pat on the back.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Baby Wearing and Buggies



Since Alice was a couple of months old I carried her everywhere. The pram I had thought to be compulsory for all parents was consigned to the garage. I began to learn more and more about the benefits of baby wearing, and it seemed strange and unnatural to even think of putting her so far away from me.

I've had a few slings and carriers, some better than others. My favourite was, and is, a BabyHawk mei tai. By far the prettiest and most comfortable of the lot. I used to happily walk for miles while carrying Alice, the changing bag and often a shopping bag too. If the destination was within 4 miles, I'd walk it. I loved the ease of being able to go up steps, on escalators and over rough ground with no concerns, often with Alice latched on.

Unfortunately, the inevitable happened. The baby got bigger. Even my lovely mei tai is causing me trouble if I leave it on too long. At around 23lb (10.5 kg), I'm not fit enough to carry Alice as far as I did. I had found by the time I came home, I was exhausted. My back was giving me the odd twinge, and I'd often choose the route home that was the shortest rather than the most fun.

I struggled with the idea of giving up carrying her everywhere. It seemed like a very visible indication of my parenting style. To begin using a pushchair felt to me as if I had somehow failed. It was with a heavy heart then that I accepted the offer of a lightweight buggy from my mum. Thankfully, the first time Alice saw it, she crawled straight in. She even chatters to herself while she's in it. It's easy to use, and I'm more likely to take a detour to the park on the way home. I must admit though, I miss feeling her little body next to mine. I miss the running commentary I gave her as we would walk along together, touching leaves on bushes and kissing the top of her head.

Progressing to the pushchair feels like the physical manifestation of the separation that has started between us. When she learnt to walk, there was a change in her. She suddenly became a little more independent. My little baby had been swapped for a toddler and I hadn't been informed. I suppose that's just what the mother/child relationship is though. A gradual separation. Although the AP methods I have employed have helped, and are still helping her to develop confidence in herself and take those steps to independence, I also hope that they have forged a connection that will last even when she is grown.

Our baby wearing days aren't over yet. I still bring the mei tai whenever we go out, just in case, and it's invaluable when getting on the train or going for walks in the country.
Now, when I use it, I value every moment.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

New Shoes

These are Alice's first proper pair of shoes.


This is how I see them.



This is how Alic
e sees them.




Now she is walking fairly well, she always wants to get down and wander about when we're out, and sometimes socks don't cut it on wet, uneven or dirty surfaces. We fulfilled my dream of going and getting her fitted in Clarks and became proud owners of new shoes (size 4G if you're interested.)

The problem is she hates them. Despises them. Loathes them. Detests them. If I manage to get them on her feet, which is a herculean task, she stands stock still and screams until she is purple. No amount of distraction technique is enough to dissuade her. As she apparently will need a new fitting in 4-6 weeks, I want to get my money's worth, but she has other ideas. We've tried leaving them around while she plays, and she even picks them up and puts them next to her feet, but she will not tolerate actually wearing them.

If anyone has any tips, or even just a bit of sympathy, it would be very welcome!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Unconditional Parenting



This week I've been reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. The first I heard of it was from reading blogs and forum posts from people who mentioned that they not only didn't punish their children, but avoided praising them too. At first this idea appalled me. Surely children need as much praise as possible to be self confident? Since reading this book, I realise that the exact opposite is probably true. I have seen first hand while teaching that children who are frequently praised are often more tentative when approaching their work. My own experience as a child, and even now as an adult is that I am rarely confident in my actions unless they are validated by others.

If the reward of your actions is praise from others, it devalues the intrinsic rewards of the action. I would hope that Alice will share her toys because she respects her playmates, not because she gets a beaming smile and an enthusiastic 'Well done for sharing!' from me.

Lack of praise does not equate to lack of love. I constantly shower Alice with kisses and cuddles and tell her how much I love her. I hope she'll never be in doubt of that. It is hard to break the habits of a lifetime, and a 'Good girl!' occasionally escapes my lips, but I am getting better at commenting on what she has done instead. 'You climbed right to the top of the stairs!' allows her to see that I'm interested in her achievements, but still lets her have her own sense of pride.

I'm still very much at the beginning of this journey and learning alternatives to the traditional carrot and stick approach. I certainly don't aim to be permissive, but I believe there are more alternatives than is often made out. Alice is still a baby and both of us have a lot to learn. As long as I maintain the respect for her that I would give any adult, and make a point of ensuring she knows that I always love her, I hopefully won't go too far wrong.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Green Wrapping


We're off to London tomorrow to celebrate a friend's birthday, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to use a tip I read: Using a tea towel to wrap a present rather than paper. The paper doesn't get wasted and the recipient gets something useful.

Here it is:



I'm really pleased as it looks lovely, and also should provide a bit of extra cushioning from the inevitable knocks it will get while we're on the train. Looks like everyone I know will be getting a tea towel with every present from now on!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Knitting knovice

Last Tuesday I did something I've been wanting to do for a while. I learnt to knit! Actually, I think my use of the past tense there might be a bit presumptuous. I am learning to knit. The more I've looked into it, the more I've realised how complex it can be. I met up with some other ladies I met through La Leche League who very kindly showed me how to do the basic stitch. Until then, I had no idea there were more than one type of stitch. I came home , eager to continue my new found skill, and discovered I'd lost a knitting needle. Not the best of starts.

No matter, I bought another pair (much to amusement of the lady who had sold me my first set 24 hours previously,) and headed home to try again. Then I realised that I didn't know how to cast on. As a child of the modern age, I turned to the Internet to help. After I had looked at about four hundred videos all telling me 'the easiest' way to cast on, and failing miserably at all of them, I finally found one slow enough and simple enough to get me started. I don't think it's the best one as looks go, but I can work up to some of the trickier ones. I was pleased to find that I hadn't forgotten hat the lovely ladies had taught me, and I now am the proud owner of a holey, ragged, uneven piece of knitting. despite its shabby appearance, I am very pleased with myself.

I realised that it has been a long time since I learnt a genuinely new skill. I might have tried a new recipe or read up on growing potatoes, but apart from a doomed attempt aged 8, I have never tried to knit. The ladies who taught me couldn't have been more patient, but I still felt nervous, watching them carefully, trying to make sense of what their nimble fingers were doing, then, horror of horrors, trying it myself. It made me think about the times I have taught children skills that were familiar to me, and the feelings they must have experienced. Learning something new is exciting, but can be intimidating too. The rush of finally getting it right and improving was wonderful, and has encouraged me to keep searching out new experiences.


Here, for your amusement, is the fruit of my labours:


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Perfect mum




Before I had Alice, I imagined that birth was a transforming process. I would emerge from it like a butterfly from a chrysalis, purged of any shred of selfish thoughts, entirely focussed on the new life I had brought into this world. I would have made an irreversible transition into motherhood.

In some ways this was true. I am different, and birth itself is a life-changing experience. I will always have another person's welfare to value above my own, but the embodiment of unselfishness and maternal feeling I am not. It has come as quite a surprise.

Mothers are held up in most societies for their ungrudging and generous natures. Colicky babies and toddler tantrums are dealt with graciously by this image of the ideal maternal figure. That is what I wanted to be, but I am not her. It came as a shock to realise that sometimes I take the behaviour of my tiny child personally. My rational mind is telling me that she has no concept of how her behaviour affects others, but I can't help feeling cross, and frustrated. I feel like having a tantrum of my own. Quite often, I am selfish. There are times when what Alice needs more than anything is gentle words and cuddles, but sometimes I just want to get away. At these times I am so grateful for my husband, and so in awe of parents who weather the hard times on their own. I simply do not have the ability to be a great mummy all the time.

The title of this blog is something I repeat to myself often. I am trying to be good enough, not perfect. If it gets too much, as it has been quite a lot recently, I am trying to allow myself the time to recharge my energy, give myself a break and try to lower my expectations of myself a little. We all have off days, even when we are mothers.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Snack Bar Experiment

The other day I was talking online with a fellow lover of Nakd bars. I discovered them while in the early days of my sugar free challenge. If you've not come across them before, they are a snack bar made completely from raw, natural ingredients. They are more expensive than I would usually spend on such things though and I wondered if I could make a passable alternative.

Here's what I came up with if you fancy some experimentation:

I put about 70g dates, a small handful of sultanas, and a couple of handfuls of oats in a bowl with about 2 tbsp of apple juice and blended it up with my stick blender. When I try it again, I think I might use the food processor because the motor seemed pretty hot after I'd finished!

I stirred in more sultanas and a few chopped nuts. You can add whatever you like at this stage though. I also put in some cocoa powder, because chocolate is always good!

Then I kept adding more oats and ground almonds, stirring with a spoon until the paste was really stiff, then formed it into small bars on greaseproof paper.

I folded the paper around the bars and pushed down on the mixture, smoothing it outwards until it was well compacted. Then I popped them in the fridge for later enjoyment!

They taste pretty good, but I'm going to enjoy experimenting to see if I can improve them. Frankly, with ingredients like those, you can't go wrong!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A word of advice

As Alice has reached her first birthday, it's got me thinking about the experience of looking after her. While I was pregnant I was almost overwhelmed with advice. Parenting is an area that everyone has an opinion on, and everyone wants to share those opinions with you. Sometimes the advice is helpful, sometimes not so much. Here are five sayings that I found invaluable, and five that I wish I'd never heard.

1) This too shall pass
I'm still reciting this mantra virtually every day! It is good to know that just when you think you can take no more - broken sleep, biting while feeding, throwing food, pulling on wires, the phase is over and the baby is on to the next stage.

2) Follow your instincts
It is still miraculous to me that somehow Alice and I just seemed to know what to do. She latched on herself better than any midwife could have latched her. I knew I should feed her when she wanted to, not just at 2 hourly intervals, and I always picked her up when she cried. Obviously, some things took practice, but the essentials were there.

3) What babies need most is a happy mummy.
I still need to remind myself of this. A good mother is seen as totally unselfish. To occasionally put ourselves first seems like sacrilege, but it is sometimes necessary. I have been so burnt out at times that I have resented the baby for doing what babies do, and that is a horrible place to be. Calling in the cavalry (usually my husband!) and going for a long bath with a cup of tea is a much better way to deal with the inevitable frustrations of baby care.

4) Sleep breeds sleep
In the early days I worried that if she slept too much, she wouldn't sleep at night. Turns out they sleep much easier when they are well rested. Which brings me on to...

5) Never wake a sleeping baby
Enough said.


And now to the not so helpful comments:

1) You're making a rod for your own back.
Co-sleeping, picking them up when they cry, breastfeeding on demand. you name it, you'll hear that awful phrase. Well, it isn't true.

2) Crying is good exercise for the lungs.
I think it was Dr Sears who said if crying is good for the lungs, bleeding is good for the veins.

3) Breastfed babies don't get colic
I laboured under this belief for a long time but have come to realise that Alice was a colicky baby. her symptoms melted away at around 4 months and she seemed like a new baby. I had a very quick let down and she was constantly sick. I feel awful that I didn't make an effort to help her more at that stage.

4) Big babies need weaning sooner
I've heard this from all corners including my health visitor, but it has never made sense to me. How could mushy vegetables or cereal provide more calories than milk?

5) Put the baby down or they'll get clingy.
Nope.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Elderberry syrup


This year I was full of good intentions to make elderflower cordial. I've always wanted to try it, but unfortunately I missed my chance as the flowers were very much past their best when I eventually got organised enough to make some. I've been noticing the elderberries ripening and thought how lovely it would be to use them, but I only knew of elderberry wine and didn't fancy the whole wine making process.

When I came across this blog post for elderberry syrup by Dawn at Raising Seedlings, I was delighted. A great way to use up the berries around me, and with health benefits too! We went on a family forage this afternoon and picked what I thought was a lot of elderberries (I'll come back to that later!) plus some early sloes and damsons for flavouring gin.

I used Dawn's recipe as a guide, but also made some tweaks, as I am apparently incapable of following a recipe to the letter!

I removed the berries from the stalks with a fork and washed them in a bowl of water, removing the ones that floated (along with assorted earwigs, grubs and spiders)


Then they went into a pan with enough water to just cover the fruit. I put them over a low heat for just over half an hour until the fruit was soft. I also added some crushed ginger after the fruit had been bubbling away for 10 minutes or so.


Next, I strained the mixture through a sterilised muslin. I think it's going to be permanently purple from now on! I found I had a mere 3/4 of a pint of liquid,despite the mass of berries I started with, so I added 10 oz sugar and some honey.



I gently heated the mixture until the sugar had dissolved and added the juice of a lemon to counteract the sweetness a little. I also popped in a small handful of cloves and boiled the whole lot on a rolling boil for ten minutes



Finally I poured my finished syrup into sterilised jars. I'd have preferred to use bottles, but didn't have any to hand. Although I thought I had picked an abundance of berries, the quantity didn't quite fill two jam jars. I think I might have to make some more soon! So as not to waste a drop, I poured boiling water into the preserving pan to reward myself with a lovely hot drink and a slice of date cake. An afternoon very well spent.