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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

What a brilliant prompt Aimee chose for this week! This blog is all about accentuating the positive, and so this has come at precisely the right time for me, because where I live is currently somewhat chaotic. We’re doing a spot of reorganisation. We’ve cleared out an upstairs storeroom to make a laundry room. This has necessitated the banging and scraping involved in new plumbing and the heaving about of the washing machine. I’ve just been told that because of a ‘vibration mounting’ (oo-er missus!) I can’t do any laundry for two days. I am, as you can imagine, heartbroken. We’ve also discovered that the chimney is leaking smoke and carbon monoxide into our bedroom so we’ve got to get it lined before we can light the woodburner. I’m also rearranging the playroom to make a proper family room, clearing a lot of stuff that was lingering in corners of the hall, and then I need to sort my office so I can move it up to the attic, thereby making space for Littlest S&S to have her own room (eventually). Then we’ll be finishing the new bathroom and putting in a new kitchen – our current one doesn’t suit the way we cook and the amount of stuff we have (my baking stuff alone could fill half the available storage) so that will be all change.

Yes, it’s exciting, but the process of planning changes on this scale means that you, of necessity, focus on what doesn’t work, what drives you mad, what needs changing. So, thank you, Aimee, for a timely reminder to do a spot of Blessing Counting.

For those who are not regular readers, I live in an old farmhouse in the middle of Wales. Nobody really knows how old the house is. We know the kitchen is the newest part and was built in the very early 19th century. (It’s the only room to have a damp-proof course). The oldest bit was probably a Welsh long barn and could be very old indeed. There have been people farming here since at least the twelfth century, and probably longer. The sense of history is one of the things I love – the feeling that other women have lived their lives here, brought up their children, done their laundry and swept their floors and tended their gardens and hens. And probably sat by the fire with their knitting or sewing at the end of the day. They are probably looking at me with my washing machine and dishwasher and muttering that I don’t know I’m born. I love sitting in bed, looking at the beams in the ceiling, beams that have been there for hundreds of years, but still have notches in them from where they were used before. How many people have sat under these beams, slept there, dreamed there? Yes, the house is cold, and old houses take seemingly endless maintenance and special paint and so on, but it’s worth it.

I love the river. It runs by the house – when the river’s full we can hear it from the kitchen – and one of our ways out is over a footbridge. I love the various moods of the river and how it changes over the seasons. When the river’s low, there are pebbly ‘beaches’ where we can sit, and the children paddle in the shallows of the clear, sparkling river and spot fish. When there’s been heavy rain, and the river’s full, it roars along at top speed, sometimes bearing branches – or whole trees – as it goes. The beaches are long gone, as are the river banks, under feet of swirling brown-grey water. Then the water subsides and the banks are covered with flattened grasses. And then in winter, the edges freeze and the banks are stippled with white.

I love the remoteness. I love the peace and quiet. We do have the rumble of the odd lorry on the road in the distance, and we also have the RAF practising low flying from time to time – a Tornado going over at less than 200ft is not restful – but generally it’s very peaceful here. Some visitors from the city complain that they can’t sleep as it’s ‘too quiet’. I love being surrounded by nature and the way it’s brought me an appreciation of the passing of the seasons. And I love the proper dark. There’s no light pollution so on a clear night the stars can be breathtaking.

I love the view from my back door. Winter or summer, rain or shine, I absolutely count the blessing of this view every day of my life.

I love the community of living in a rural area. I love knowing my postmen by name. I love seeing lots of people I know when I go into town. I love knowing that if I need a lift, a half hour’s babysitting or a parcel collecting, there are a dozen people I can ask. Yes, there’s gossip and the occasional generations-old family feud that can trap the unwary newcomer, but generally, I love the ‘everyone knows everyone’ thing.

I love the space. There’s room for the children to run around, for friends to come and camp, for parties and bonfires. We have decent sized rooms and big cupboards and store rooms that can be made into laundries. Yes, this sense of space often manifests itself, day to day, as frustration – a garden so big I’ll never get it under control, and a big house that takes an age to clean and has infinite corners to accumulate clutter and dust and cobwebs. (Argh, the cobwebs in old houses! That’s one thing I do not love.) But we will chip, chip, chip away and get things closer to how we want them, and in the meantime, we have space to run about and space to keep all our stuff in while we sort out which we actually need to hang onto. And the space brings possibilities. There are so many things we can do – obviously, doing them is another matter. But the possibility is a wonderful thing. And I’ve got the rest of my life to explore it.

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John chose this happy word this week – what a nice word to have as my first Weekword in a long, long time!

I am late posting this because I’ve been trying for days to get a photo to illustrate the post, but the adage about children and animals goes double for 7 month old babies. Littlest S&S is not a co-operative model.

And she’s the subject of this post because… she’s teething. Not something that instinctively leads to ‘smile’, perhaps. ‘Yowl’, maybe. ‘Bonjela?’ ‘Drool?’ ‘Aaaagh, you little bugger! No biting!?’

But the first tooth is now well through and clearly visible on her bottom gum, and as she’s quite a happy little thing, it’s when she smiles at me that I most notice it. And I am now in that bittersweet phase I have had with all my babies when their teeth start coming.

I have been with this little person nearly 24 hours a day for the last 7 months. (Longer, if you include the time she spent trampolining on my internal organs, but I digress). I know her, every inch of her. I’ve watched her unfold from a crumpled scrap of humanity who did nothing but eat, sleep, cry and poo, to a little person with strong desires and preferences and a sense of humour. I have spent ages gazing at her little sleeping face. And her face looks complete – it’s what she looks like. And then the teeth start to come and I realise that I can’t imagine what she’s going to look like with teeth. Where will they go? There doesn’t seem to be room in her face. Will her jaw change shape? Her cheeks? What will her smile look like when she’s got teeth instead of just gums?

Of course, the teeth come in and somehow they fit in the baby’s head and they still look like the baby and I realise I’ve been ridiculous. Of course she’s going to have teeth and of course they won’t look silly. She’d look much sillier without them, after all. But that little pearly bump on her gum is a milestone on her journey out of babyhood. Although it sometimes seems like it – when the nights are broken and the days are filled with nappy changes, drool and yelling – this phase doesn’t last forever. It is really ever so short, and before long she’ll be running around, and talking and doing all that stuff they do when they’re not babies any more.

It’s bittersweet, I suppose, but then, I imagine the things she’ll get up to and the curiosity overwhelms the tinge of sadness. And I smile.

Check out John’s blog to see the other Weekworders!

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We were in London a couple of weeks back, and so we decided to go to the zoo. Goodness me, the zoo is expensive! Fortunately we used some supermarket coupons, and so instead of costing us £75, it cost us £15-worth of supermarket vouchers. Excellent!

I hadn’t been to the zoo in years. It has changed a lot since I was little, mainly because the animal enclosures have been hugely improved. We didn’t see the tigers this time; they were hiding – not something that was an option for them when I was little. You’d see the poor beasts pacing up and down in front of the glass. And I remember being upset by the polar bear, as even as a child I could see that the poor creature was going mad. So, no polar bear, big tiger enclosure, huge gorilla enclosure, the old elephant enclosure now has small bearded pigs and the elephants (and rhino and hippos) are living it up at Whipsnade. There’s a new penguinarium (that’s what I call them, it’s not a proper word, although it should be) – the old one is now Grade 1 listed so they can’t demolish it, or even get rid of the sign.

Would you like to see some pictures?

The new penguinarium:

Rather huge beastie in the Butterfly house:

Pelicans at feeding time. I am fond of pelicans.

They had an enclosure with free-range squirrel monkeys. They were super cute and the kids loved them.

A lioness briefly woke from her nap to gaze disapprovingly at us.

This is Zaire, the matriarch gorilla. She’s splendid. She was lounging about, picking her teeth with a stick in a marvellously louche manner.

We love giraffes Chez S&S. So we had to go and see them.

Littlest S&S liked the aquarium best – I didn’t take any pictures but it was great. By the way, did you know that ‘aquarium’ was a word coined by London Zoo for their aquarium? Before that, the name was ‘aquatic vivarium’.

All in all, a lovely day, although I think the children will get even more from it when they’re a bit older. We’ll keep saving those supermarket vouchers.

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Has it really been almost two months? Where has the time gone?

There has been the usual school holidays/ camping holiday business, but mostly the last few months have just been pretty stressful. I won’t go into detail as this is my ‘counting blessings’ blog, but suffice to say, we’ve had a rather difficult time, and juggling a family crisis on top of the usual ‘three-children-under-five’ stuff has been a bit of a struggle.

But things have been happening and somehow, in the fringes, I’ve been managing to find some pockets of creativity and inspiration, so I hope to be back to the blog a bit more.

In the meantime, here are some pictures I took a few weeks ago and meant to share with you. This year has been a wonderful year for foxgloves. The first summer after we arrived here, so four years ago, was wonderful for foxgloves. The next year, there were hardly any. I reasoned that as they are biannuals, they should be back next year, but they weren’t. But this year – they were everywhere. Every hedgerow was filled with clusters of purple spires. Gorgeous.

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Jubilee fun

I’m not a royalist by any means, and am usually one to avoid enforced jollity, but I did enjoy the jubilee celebrations. Not the ones in London, which passed me by, but the village picnic organised by some community-minded souls. I think pretty much the whole village was there for food, football for the grown ups, races for the children, face painting and balloon races and the rest.

There was bunting aplenty, but there are times, apparently, when mere bunting will not cut it. Oh no.

There was free tea and coffee all day and the WI provided a huge array of cakes:

No village occasion is complete without a small child attempting to carry a bear larger than they are:

The children ran around and got themselves overtired and overexcited, and Littlest S&S held Daddy’s raffle tickets (red, white and blue, naturally) during the draw.

The Little Boy won second prize for his crown, but refused to model it for photos and so won’t be in the local paper. Boo!

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A conversation with me this morning:

‘I wish we could throw aliens in the bin!’
‘Really? Why?’
‘Because they eat the spring leaves and they eat stars.’
‘Gosh, do they?’
‘Yes they do. Because they’re in space, Mummy.’

OK then.

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I do enjoy making the children’s birthday cakes – before they came along I’d never really done cake decoration beyond sticking some flowers or sweets on top, but that doesn’t cut the ice with small people, and after forking out a fortune for my eldest’s first birthday cake, I have gone DIY ever since.

But a seven week old baby who doesn’t like to be put down does cramp the baking style a bit. So for the Little Boy’s birthday I needed something that he’d love, but that I could throw together quickly. He does love his diggers, and can frequently be heard singing the Bob the Builder song around the house. So I made a building site cake. I made a double quantity of Delia’s all-in-one sponge with some cocoa powder added, and used one batch for the cake and one for some cupcakes. Then came a huge bowl of my favourite chocolate fudge buttercream – it’s fantastic stuff. I use dark chocolate for adults and a mix of dark and milk for kids. For this, I used 250g of butter, about 400g of chocolate and I don’t want to think about how much icing sugar – I don’t weigh it, I just tip it in until it looks right. Lots, anyway. So, sandwich the cake together and rough ice it and the cupcakes. Add a dumper truck from the playroom (thoroughly washed) and some Bob the builder figures. I’d made some chocolate crispy cakes, and kept some mix back. I added a bit of black food colouring to make some aggregate. Ice a name, add candles and away we go.

The rapturous reception made me wonder why I bother with elaborate cakes. He was thrilled, and one of his little friends declared it ‘the best cake ever’. I doubt it, but it was easy and tasty, so I count that a double win.

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