About Me

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Currently, I'm a stay-at-home mum to an inquisitive and often rambunctious three year old girl and her sunny little brother. In a former life, I was a lawyer. I know which I prefer. On the odd occasion that I get some downtime, I knit, crochet, read, sew, sing badly, dance even more so, enjoy a glass of wine and watch bad TV, sometimes in varying combinations of the foregoing and not necessarily in that order of preference.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Desperate Housewife

The broadband router died last Sunday.  I hadn't fully appreciated how much we used our broadband connection until we didn't have it.  Suddenly, all online life had to be conducted via my iPhone using our somewhat shaky mobile signal (I have no idea why our signal is shaky given we live in West London, but for some reason it is).  It turns out there is quite a lot of stuff that you either can't do with an iPhone or that is such a pain you don't want to do it with an iPhone.  Blogging, despite the Blogger App, is one of them.  The App is fine and, if you set aside an unfortunate incident the other week when, in an attempt to correct a typo in the header of a post, I inadvertently deleted a whole post but couldn't find a way to undo what I had done and had to ask the wonderful Blogger gurus how to retrieve it from the ether, it works pretty well.  But it is just such a pain in the rear trying to type on that microscopic keyboard with my fat little thumbs, and it is hard to read back and make sense of a post when you can barely see more than a sentence at a time.  Adding photos within text is also a bit of a pain, unless you have the foresight and patience to add them as you go through your post, saving after each photo, exiting the post and then returning (if anyone reading this knows a better way, do PLEASE tell me).

After a couple of days, even reading stuff on my iPhone was proving a pain - the text is just SO small.  It was then that I realised just how much of my social life I conduct online.  When Hubby is working late, as he did most nights last week, my main source of "human" contact actually comes in the form of words printed on a screen.  I feel tragic for saying that, but as the stay-at-home mum of a toddler, outside of playgroups, it can be difficult seeing people face to face.  Facebook, Twitter, email: these are my lifelines, and while I can access most of them on my phone, I much prefer to use the home PC, with it's lovely big screen, or, more usually, the iPad which allows me to lounge on the sofa but if significantly more eyeball friendly than my phone.

It all made me wonder how people used to cope with the isolation of early parenthood before we had the internet?  Maybe this is where the archetype of the desperate housewife comes from.  A quiet recognition that the early years cut parents (but especially the primary care-giver) off from their pre-parenthood lives and friends and that many, many hours alone with only a toddler for company will, no matter how lovely the toddler and how sane the parent may have been at the outset, send you a little bonkers.  I have always thought of myself as pretty happy to keep my own company and good at occupying myself, but I have discovered, since having Baby Bird, that I am far more of a social animal than I realised.  Much of my enjoyment of my own activities comes from telling other people about what I have been up to.  I may enjoy doing things on my own and I certainly love making things, which often takes time alone in order to concentrate, but I want to share those things with others after I have done them and I like to collaborate.  I think that is why so many of my online activities actually revolve around craft sites.  In fact, I don't know all that many crafty people in real life so most of my craft activities are focused online.  That was part of the reason for starting this blog - as a way to tell my online friends more about what I'm up to.  The internet also has the advantage that, vast though it is, it is relatively easy to locate kindred spirits, far easier than in real life I find.  Simply find a blog dealing with your interest and start commenting; check out the sites of other commenters and comment there too; find out where they hang out online - there's always some kind of chat-hub out there - and Bob's your uncle, a friendship circle just waiting for you, location no obstacle.  Obviously, you might be that lucky enough to find your town or city has a group catering to your interest but it can be tougher to find and it can be difficult getting a critical mass of people, plus if it turns out you don't like the handful of fellow enthusiasts in your area, you are back in the wilderness.  Online, you just keep searching 'til you find some kindred spirits.  I have yet to find an interest where they weren't out there somewhere.  

I'm rambling a little I know, but I've got quite a lot of thoughts running through my head all at the same time and I really just want to get some of them out there.  Suffice it to say, I was delighted when we finally managed to collect the new router from the Post Office at the weekend and even more so when Hubby came downstairs on Sunday to announce that it worked.  Of course, typically, now that my online life is capable of being resumed, I now have a week packed with visitors and evening entertainment.  Still, I'm not going to complain to loudly.  It is nice to get back to blogging.  I hadn't realised quite how much I was starting to enjoy it until it became a pain to do.  Hopefully I'll sneak in a bit more time here next weekend.  There's knitting, sewing and gardening to talk about.

In the meantime, take a look at Experimental Thursday for a little look at what has been happening in my kitchen over the last few months.  That's where you'll find out how the 52 Cookbook Challenge (referred to in my New Year's Resolutions) is going.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Sewing plans

I thought it would be nice to get into sewing a bit more in 2012.  I have dabbled for a while, but not done much serious sewing so, I would like this year to be the year I really start to get stuck in to creating my own garments.  My gran is (well, was until her eyesight started to give out) a wonderful seamstress and she taught me the little I currently know.  Even if she can't do the close work herself any more, she is still on hand to give advice and inspect my efforts so, with that, a growing sewing library (my method for dealing with any problem or challenge is to borrow, or more usually buy, books), and a little time that I am sure I can magic up from somewhere (sleep is optional, right?), I have every reason to be optimistic.

Gran gave me her old sewing machine just before Baby Bird was born (as I'd broken mine making curtains for her room) and I have a fair bit of the kit I need.  I have even successfully made  a few bits and pieces, including some stuff for the nursery (the curtains and I recovered the rocking chair) and my skirt and Baby Bird's dress for her christening last summer.  With a little application, I'm sure I can really improve my skills this year.

I thought I would start small, and so, armed with the Christmas money my gran gave me (I thought she would approve of how I was spending it), I spent a happy afternoon just before New Year pottering round the internet snapping up remnants.  One of the many great things about having a small person in my life is that while the number of clothes she requires is many, the size of them is small and so even half a metre can be turned into something useful.  So the first week of the New Year was filled with lovely parcels and now, the fun can really begin.

Up first are some winter/early spring fabrics. the hearts print is a fleece, which I think I'm going to turn into a little fleecy sweater, perfect for running round the park in, and maybe a hat if there is enough left over.  The cow print and paisley are both needlecords, soft and cosy without being too thick or heavy.  I'm thinking pinafores or maybe dungarees here.

Then, looking ahead to the summer, I have bought some lovely cotton prints.  My main challenge here is trying to work out whether the metre I have of each is enough to squeeze out a skirt for me, especially if I can find some complementary plain fabrics, or whether I should be good and turn them all into pretty little summer dresses with cute nappy-covering pants.  I'm particularly tempted to try and keep the butterfly print for myself...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The many joys of risotto

Tuesday morning was cold and bright. We wrapped up warmly and headed out to our favourite singing session. I knew it was properly cold when Baby Bird made no attempt to remove her mittens. A first, and proof that we have, thus far, been having an unusually mild winter. This time last year, we were just thawing out from six weeks of snow and ice. This year, half my early spring shrubs have gone bananas and started flowering and last summer's geraniums, which i never quite got round to taking in are still blooming here and there on the patio.

We had had an early start, Baby Bird having decided that 5:50 is the ideal time to start the day, so I was delighted when she crashed out in the buggy on the way home from playgroup. I was desperate for some time to get things sorted out, and maybe a chance for a quiet cuppa. Which is precisely why I should have left her in her buggy, done up like a Michelin man in many, many layers of sleep-inducing wool and puffa coat. But the panic-merchant in my head was bleating that she would overheat and so I attempted a buggy-bed transfer, including removal of shoes and coat. Yes, a bold parenting move that only the most virtuoso mothers can accomplish.

Which is precisely why my daughter only had a twenty minute nap (the time it took me to walk back and potter around Sainsbury's) and why, by 4:30, my head was ringing from the whinging, whining and general grumpiness that affects the overtired toddler and I was desperate to do something calming that got me a little space from the endless rounds of requests to be picked up followed immediately by tears, shouting and struggling to be put down, followed immediately by further tearful requests to be picked up. Several further fruitless attempts had been made to achieve a nap and we were now firmly in ride it out 'til bedtime or she'll be up 'til midnight territory.

This is all a very longwinded way of explaining how I came to cook risotto for dinner on Tuesday. You see, by 4:30 (the ludicrously early time that my thoughts now have to turn towards the dinner table if I want Baby Bird to still have the energy to eat a proper, home-prepared meal), we were both in need of a little quiet time. What better way than for me to retreat to the kitchen and indulge in the wonderfully restorative process of endlessly storing a risotto, while she played with some toys and "read" her books?

The initial round of banging saucepans and shouting at Mummy to join in was not exactly calming but thankfully (and I feel like an appalling mother for writing this) if you make it clear that whatever boring activity you are engaged in is the only thing you will be doing, she will get bored and start amusing herself. Lest you fear I neglect her, I should point out that she is in same room as me or the room next door, surrounded by many toys, I always check on her of she sounds in distress or if she is ominously silent and I can't see her, and I will generally chat and sing songs with her while cooking. So she is ignored but only in the loosest sense of not being actively played with and not for very long.

So, by the time I had chopped the onion and mushrooms and crushed the garlic, she was happily bobbing up and down on the back step, talking to the garden, and by the time I was ladling the first spoonful of stock into the pan of sweated onions, garlic and lightly fried rice, I was beginning to feel significantly more human. Cooking risotto never fails to restore and refresh me.

I never use a proper recipe for risotto (which is why I always manage to make too much) but the key, I have learnt, is to add good stock to good rice a spoonful at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the stock and go sticky before adding the next spoonful. Stir slowly but constantly adding stock for twenty mins or until rice is tender. All this stirring means that, for those twenty blissful minutes, I am at once completely physically engaged and completely mentally free to wander; the perfect state I find (I love swimming for a similar reason). I can literally feel my mind unspool and soften as my hand moves slowly round and round and the gentle steam and wonderful aromas rising from the pan warm my face. That, right there, is heaven to me.
I opted for a simple mushroom and pea risotto on Tuesday, using some chestnut mushrooms I had in the fridge and frozen peas. I added a small sprinkling of dried basil and lots of pepper. Then came the finishing and the real indulgence. For no other reason than because it was in the fridge and about to go out of date, I added a splash of double cream as well as a small nob of butter and a generous handful of cheddar cheese. The result was this divinely sticky bowl of comfort.

Baby Bird and I tucked in happily, and I tried to stop myself from eating the inevitable third portion that I always seem to end up with by thinking of how yummy risotto cakes would be for Wednesday's lunch.
I was semi-successful in that and only ate a third of the leftovers... Then, both happily full and half asleep, we cuddled up on the sofa, watching The Adventures of Abney and Teal, before Baby Bird went to bed.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

If Mohammed won't come to knit night, then knit night must come toMohammed

Well, something like that anyway.

In 2007, keen to make some friends in my area and wanting to share my growing knitting habit with other like minds, I joined the Westender Stitch 'n' Bitch. Thankfully the bitching part is really directed at political figures, writers, television programmes, films and whatever else is the big issue oft day, and I have met a fantastic bunch of people over the last 4 and a bit years, some of whom I count amongst my closest friends. The last Sunday of the month is permanently booked out and very little will keep me from attending (birth of daughter being a rare exception).

Somehow or other when the girl who originally set up the group couldn't continue, I ended up organising the group and, with a close friend from the group, set up a second meeting, this time a weekly pub fixture. Wednesday night knitting was a fiercely guarded diary fixture. I would work late every other night of the week if it meant I could get out on time to be there.

It probably sounds silly to non-knitters or, at least, to those who don't have hobbies that they enjoy sharing with fellow enthusiasts, but the loss of my weekly Wednesday knitting sessions with the girls has been one of the hardest parts about adjusting to life as a mum. For the 18 months before Baby Bird arrived, I had gathered up my latest work, taken it to the pub, enjoyed a glass of wine (or once pregnant, a sensible fruit juice) and shared something of myself with a disparate group of people bound together at first by nothing more than sticks and string. It is so much fun. I always learn something new about my craft, I enjoy celebrating the growing accomplishments of each member, and I have made some really good friends. It is therefore hard that Hubby's working hours often keep me away from knit night.

So when my good friend, J, suggested I combat the gloom of Hubby's Year End (for non-accountants, this is the annual misery of finalising the previous Year's accounts and involves said husband disappearing into a
black hole, also known as Aldgate East, only to be seen at weekends if I'm lucky) by bringing knit night to me, I jumped at the chance. What a fabulous evening.

Six of my favourite knitters, plus a very lovely new girl who has joined in the last couple of months, piled into my living room this Wednesday. Cake, tea and wine were consumed, jumpers, cardigans, hats, baby bonnets and booties were made and I laughed more than I had in ages. J worked on an adorable purple sweater for a baby whose name she refuses to pronounce (long story) while regaling us with the (equally long) list of famous people she can't stand (Caitlin Moran and Professor Brian Cox featuring prominently but by no means alone). M made baby clothes (the only thing I have ever seen her make in the 18 months I have known her and always impeccably worked to the same pattern!). E completed the fronts of her very first cardigan and promised us authentic Japanese cooking lessons. G debated what to make next while P patiently cranked out a baby sweater in tiny yarn on tiny needles and C worked on a pretty little bonnet for the pretty little baby one of our other members has recently produced and entertained us with tales of life in rural Ireland in the sixties.

What was I up to during all this? I was serving up this coffee and walnut cake.

It admittedly needed more walnuts, but being uncertain if everyone liked them, I had left enough space to cut walnut-less slices if necessary. Very little was left by the end and I will be covering liberally with walnuts next time. I was boring (I mean "entertaining") my friends with Baby Bird's most amusing antics. But mostly, I was working on this:

my Urban Fern. The original pattern is the lovely Fern by Ann Shayne, on half of the highly entertaining Mason-Dixon Knitters.

In Knitting Between the Lines, she explains that she was inspired by the woods near her home, choosing the colours and striping pattern to mimic and reflect the forest from floor to canopy, and embroidering it with the fiddlehead ferns that she sees throughout the area. This got me thinking. We don't have much in the way of fiddlehead ferns in Ealing and I liked the idea of creating a cardigan the was inspired by the landscape the surrounds us. So, I have chosen a series of greys to mimic the urban/suburban landscape, and will be adding in the bodice a lovely collection of pink, yellow and sky blue to represent the sunsets we so often see from our study window. The embroidery will be a jaunty cartoon skyline (assuming I can overcome my fear of screwing up the cardigan by adding my novice sewing). I have been sketching away for a few weeks and think the design is coming together. The yarn is the very lovely Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift. I hadn't used this before but I am pleased to discover it is not nearly as scratchy as I feared and is knitting up surprisingly quickly given how fine it is and how small the needles are (3.25mm). I am delighted with how the stripes as blending and how dense the yarn's halo makes the very fine fabric appear.

All in all, I am very excited about this cardigan, the first of my 12 in 2012.

Hopefully, once work calms down for Hubby, I will get out to knit night a bit more. In the meantime, I am very grateful to my yarnie friends for foregoing the pub and bringing knit night to me.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A little quiet reflection

It is Saturday afternoon.  Hubby has taken Baby Bird, as our little one is known, out for a walk and has promised to do the shopping on his way home.  I have been promised two whole hours of peace and quiet.  The temptation to spend that time "productively", doing any of the many, many jobs that need doing around here is immense.  There's laundry, ironing, all manner of cleaning and tidying to be done.  However, I know that if I spend this time doing any of those things, I will regret it.  Hubby can, and will quite happily mind Baby Bird at home while I am doing housework and housework is fairly forgiving of interruptions (equally likely from the older as well as the younger members of my household!).  Before they left, I was made to promise that I would spend this afternoon relaxing, enjoying myself and doing something fun.  In fact, I was specifically told that "If you're going to waste the afternoon doing something productive, you can get your coat on and come and productively help me do the shopping".  I know he is right.

I don't get a huge amount of time to myself with zero responsibilities these days.  Hubby works pretty long hours, even more so at this time of year, and so during the week, I am generally Baby Bird's sole caregiver from the moment she gets up until she goes to bed, and often for much of the evening as well.  Consequently, afternoons at home alone are rare and precious things to be savoured.

So, here I am, sat in our office, drinking coffee, listening to the new CD I had for Christmas from my Grandpa, and doing the thing I probably enjoy the most: making plans.  I love planning.  I am a compulsive list maker. Everything from groceries, household chores and to do lists to more aspirational lists such as books I hope to read, craft projects I would like to make and long-term goals.  I have been making lists almost as long as I can remember.  I feel all at sea without one.  It is the first thing I do when I being a task.  I don't always make terribly good use of the lists; I often fail to look at them again after I have made them, but there is something about the very act of making the list, the process of pushing the information out of my head through my hand and on to the paper, that helps to cement the information in my brain.  Mental lists have never been as effective for me, and need to be rerun, over and over again, in order to remain in my head.  Yet, once it is written down, I can "see" the list again in my mind's eye, even if I don't look at the physical paper very much.

Asides of the lists and the wonderfully exciting stationery needs it creates (I'm certain there will be more on my love of stationery later), planning also allows me to indulge my imagination, my desire to better myself, my desire for change.  It is about possibilities, hope, opportunities, but it feels one step closer to action than mere daydreaming.  Even if the plans are never enacted (and often in my heart of hearts, I know that they wont be, even as I am making the plans), an afternoon planning always feels like time well spent.  There is a quiet, collected energy about a well-made plan.  I feel galvanised, rejuvenated, ready to go.

What am I planning today?  Well, partly this blog (and I'm coupling it with a spot of confidence-building action by writing this post), partly my favourite type of planning: craft projects.  I suspect there are not enough hours in a lifetime to make all the things I would like to, but that's no reason not to daydream, and not to plan.  I received an order of fabric remnants from the lovely Dots N Stripes the other day, so I'm planning what to make with those and I have a stash the size of a small yarnshop to be converted in my head into knitting and crochet projects, making a little Ravelry research an inevitable part of this afternoon.  By the time Hubby and Baby Bird return, cold and hungry, I shall have a crafty to do list as long as my arm and I will finish the year with most of it unmade.  It doesn't matter.  I have learnt that even if I only make a fraction of the ideas I come up with this afternoon, I shall feel the lovely warm buzz of completion, of creation, and of  physical endeavour that makes me love making things so much.  More importantly, those two hours of planning will restore me and leave me ready to rejoin my family, ready to make dinner, ready to be a wife and a mum once more.

The clock is ticking.  Only an hour left now.  There's work to be done...

Monday, 2 January 2012

So, I'm a Cliché

Here we are, the beginning of January, and I'm starting a blog. I'm starting a blog with a list of New Year's Resolutions. Could I be more of a cliché?

Well, we could add all manner of facts about my life to further cement my status but let's save that for another day, save for one, which will be the theme of this blog.  I am, sssshhh whisper it, a housewife.

Yes, that's right, I got married, worked for a while at a successful career and then gave it all up to stay at home with our baby.  I'm often asked (usually by strangers, who feel inexplicably entitled to question my life decisions in a way that my friends do not) whether I get bored and what on earth I do all day.  The one thing I never struggle with is occupying my time.  In fact, I often wish there were more hours in the day, or at least that I could figure out a way to eliminate the need for sleep (the sleep itself is often eliminated by the little one, but the need for it, sadly, remains).  So, when I'm not toddler-wrangling, I cook, knit, sew and spend more time than I ought contemplating whether I can make all manner of things that normal people would buy.  I'm also always on the look out for new learning opportunities, an impulse from my school-days that has never quite faded.

Which brings me to some more clichés.  How about beginning a new endeavour on 1st January (well, 2nd now, as I took a while to edit this post)? Obviously a cliché   How about beginning a blog at all?  No longer the preserve of the hip and trendy, blogging is now ubiquitous.  Blogging as a stay-at-home mum looking for a way to reconnect with the world outside her home, even more so (there's flipping hundreds of us!).  No doubt numerous blogs will have been started this weekend and many will have been abandoned before February. Maybe this one will have too.  However, clichéd or not, I'm going to give it a go.  I never said I was going to be original.  I just thought it might be fun: a bit like the diaries I always used to begin on 1st January as a teenager.  On second thoughts, that may not be the best omen... they were generally abandoned after a couple of weeks when I realised I wasn't all that interesting... Who knows, I'm keen to try.  I think it will be a great way to keep track of what I get up to, both with and, at times, in spite of, the little one, and, if I'm lucky, it may even turn into a proper conversation with other grown human beings...

Now for the final cliché of this dreadfully hackneyed start: I'm starting with my New Year's Resolutions.  This year, I'm trying to keep them achievable.  I'm also trying to focus on positives rather than negatives, so my resolutions don't involve not doing stuff, so much as on acquiring new skills and habits.  A good friend of mine blogged far more eloquently than I on this topic.  This year, I've taken inspiration from a number of places, including some of my favourite blogs, and I'll expand on the inspiration and the goals more later.  However, in the interests of getting something "on paper" for want of the right expression, and of getting to bed, here's a quick list:

  1. Grow something in my garden that we can eat.
  2. The 52 cookbook challenge - cook one recipe from a different one of my many, many cookbooks, each week this year.
  3. Make chutney - this one is largely driven by the husband, who seems to have decided it is something I need to do.
  4. Knit a cardigan for each month of the year for my daughter, including one that I design myself.
  5. Read a book each month - shouldn't be a challenge but I only managed to read four books last year and seem to have forgotten how to make time for reading.
  6. Think of three happy things each day - a shared challenge with my husband.
More on all of this, and hopefully much more, as the year goes on.  But for now, good night.