The Here and Now

A real pet hate of mine is when, usually in response to me trying to calm down my somewhat ‘boisterous’ children, someone says sagely to me ‘you’ll miss this stage when they’re older’ or worse, ‘it only gets harder’. It’s not that I doubt the truth in these words and I do appreciate that they are trying to be helpful but mostly, it bothers me when people express these sentiments because it just doesn’t help how I’m feeling in that moment. If anything, it only adds the extra emotion of guilt to the mix as I feel bad for not appreciating every single urine soaked minute of early parenthood.
After a day like today when, for no discernible reason, bedtime just couldn’t come fast enough, being essentially told that I’m probably in the ‘best’ stage of parenting stings a little. Both the boys have been rather…challenging the last few days and after a rainy day stuck inside providing activities, playing peacemaker to warring siblings and dealing with the constant refrain of ‘Mummy!’ that seems to follow me everywhere, I’d just had enough. Today I found parenting exhausting. Now that they’ve all been asleep for a few hours, I can step back and process that it was just a bad day and that tomorrow is likely to be much better but if you approached me at 4.30pm when both boys were crying incessently and told me that, well, more fool you. 

It’s a funny thing perspective. On one hand, I do realise that these first years of parenting will be over in the blink of an eye and then other more complicated challenges will face us; hormonal teenagers, first boyfriends and girlfriends, financial issues and so on… And I do completely agree in my calmer moments that it is likely that I will really miss certain aspects of life with kids under 5 (and one just above). But I maintain that I won’t miss toilet accidents, the nought to sixty reactions, the crying, the absolute exhausting physicality of it all. And I think that is OK. I think it’s perfectly fine to be able to say yes, I love my kids and they can be heart meltingly cute and side splittingly funny but only a second later, they can drive me up the wall. It’s OK to be annoyed, to be tired, to want to pull a sicky (chance would be a fine thing!), to want a break. 

I guess a little like we forget the pain of childbirth, age must give us rose tinted spectacles when it comes to our children. After all, why would we want to remember all the things that we found so hard? So, having mulled it over, I guess I shouldn’t be so annoyed when people make those comments. Perhaps they miss their children being gorgeous toddlers, perhaps they remember the best bits and have forgotten about day to day life with small ones. But I still maintain that the folks who sympathise, offer a hug and are able to let me know that it’s OK to be stressed are still the interactions I prefer on a bad day. Parenting, like life in general, isn’t all sunshine and roses. So don’t feel bad for wishing bedtime on them occasionally, it’s more than likely that tomorrow will be a better day. Hang on in there fellow parents of Exeter (and beyond), we’re doing great!

One of the moments I WILL be remembering!

Going To Ground

Darker mornings and evenings have been steadily creeping up on us over the last few weeks and as they do, I am becoming increasingly jealous of those creatures able to hibernate until warmer days return. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about Autumn and Winter that I love; the gorgeous changing colours of the leaves, bonfire night, all of my children’s birthdays(!), having a good excuse to spend wet chilly days inside with a fire roaring in the hearth and endless mugs of hot chocolate to warm the insides. But, in my heart of hearts, I am a summer enthusiast. I love being outside, I love not needing to pack jumpers and coats when we go out, I love not having to wear shoes, I love salads and ice creams and summery cocktails… In the summer I have more energy, more enthusiasm and more motivation.

As October has unfolded I’m finding my energy levels dwindling as I become more tired, I don’t feel like working out and I just want to eat all the comfort food. Although I think a gentle slowing down is natural (especially as my intense half-marathon training is over now) I’m aware that if I give into these hibernation-esque tendencies, I might get into a slump that it’s hard to dig myself out of come Spring! Both in terms of my body and mind, I’ve been working hard all year to keep myself healthy and I don’t want to undo all that work with a few months of duvet-days and one too many mince pies. So I’m guessing the answer, for me at least, is to try and adjust my routine to the seasons outside.

Back in the day, we would have risen with the sun and gone to bed with the sun so I’m guessing going to bed a little earlier, now we’ve lost our long light evenings, would help. I’ll probably do a little less running over the coming months and a little more weight lifting , choosing to exercise in the warmth of my home rather than on the dark damp roads outside.  And as time outside with the kids will be limited by the weather and temperature (Forest School continues all year round but I’m less inclined to wile away 6 hours at the beach when we’re in single digits), I’m going to try and be inventive with things we can do inside that don’t revolve around a screen and that will entertain all three children. So yes, I might partake in a going to ground of sorts but I will aim to make it a healthy, happy hibernation this winter.

Enjoying Autumn at Killerton

The Art of Breadmaking

The smell of freshly baked bread is one loved by many. There is something about it that is downright comforting as well as it holding the anticipation of one of the most simple but delicious meals. Warm bread with butter melting into it, either on it’s own or topped with your favourite filling (for me, I can’t decide between home made jam, peanut butter or a good mature cheddar). Take your tedious complicated culinary creations and give me freshly made bread, warm from the oven, any day. But unless you live next door to a bakery, the only way to create this meal yourself is to bake your own bread. For years I shied away from making bread. My attempts were few and far between, united only by them all being complete failures. Bread seemed to be just out of my reach. It seemed so simple but I just couldn’t grasp the subtle nuances required to produce a well risen, delicious bread rather than a hard, shrunken rock-like slab of bread.

But in the last few years, I have discovered both a white and seeded brown bread recipe that work every time. Both were discovered entirely by chance. The white recipe was actually in one of the kids books and we only tried it to satisfy their requests to do so. Imagine my surprise when the kitchen filled with that most satisfying of aromas and from the oven came three perfect white loaves. The brown recipe was actually deliberately sourced as I found it on the side of a packet of bread flour but I was similarly surprised when it was a success (brown bread seems the harder of the breads for some reason, I’m sure Paul Hollywood could tell us why).

The key to success though I think, comes down to two reasons. The first is taking your time to knead your bread. It might seem tedious but kneading your bread for 15 or even 20 minutes makes all the difference to simply mixing the ingredients together. It’s got something to do with forming gluten strands (I think) but I just know that patience is the key. After a while you get into a rhythm and if anything, it’s quite a therapeutic way to spend some time. Secondly, is the temperature of the dough whilst it’s rising. Having been cursed with exceptionally cold kitchens over the years I tend to actually put the oven on whilst I’m kneading, then turn it off and put the dough in with the door open when it comes to the proving period. I’m sure seasoned bread makers out there will be horrified by this method but it works for me! Nonetheless, making sure your dough is warm enough will make or break your attempts at bread.

The whole process is admittedly, quite lengthy (you could probably walk to your local shop and buy a loaf in the time it takes) but I think it is worth it. There is something intentional about baking bread that I love, something that feels very nurturing and helps you to pause a little. You just can’t rush it. We spend so much of our time madly dashing from one thing to another, trying to fit in more than we probably should. Baking bread is a great way to remind ourselves to slow down and put all our attention and energy into one task. It is a task that benefits us through the making and waiting as well as getting to eat the glorious end result. Why not have a go at making your own loaf this week? You won’t regret it, I promise!

A Green Fingered Shift

As I worked in the Autumn sunshine alongside three enthusiastic helpers in our front garden this afternoon, it struck me that I hadn’t written a column about our gardening efforts for a little while. To be honest, after the garden being flooded with sewage earlier in the year and having to dispose of our potato plants, I was feeling fairly despondent about the whole thing.  That particular happening seemed to be the latest in a string of circumstances that seemed to hinder our attempts at green fingered-ness this year. From Elijah pulling up every seedling that grew, our turf dying in patches with all attempts at reseeding failed, the previously thriving plum tree suddenly looking rather sorry for itself and generally just being so busy that the garden sank down the list of priorities, I felt that gardening was going to be off the cards for us for a while.

But then two things happened. The first was that a friend from Church invited us to go to Broadclyst Community Farm to help out. We spent a very pleasant day there in the summer, getting to grips with where things were, weeding and planting out lettuces. We were made very welcome and hope to be back there again soon to get stuck in. The second thing that happened was that Eli got older. I know that sounds ridiculous but somehow, over the last few weeks, he has got just a tad less destructive and a tad more helpful, or at least less inclined to undo everything I’m doing.

Our front garden has been looking more and more overgrown recently and so yesterday afternoon whilst the kids were happy, I took my gloves and clippers out there to start tackling the irritating ivy that continues to prosper despite my best attempts to eradicate it. Before long, I had not one but three accomplices. Sophia took it upon herself to weed our flower bed, Isaac picked up all the garden waste we created and put it in the compost and Eli…well he just pottered. But, and this is a big but, he didn’t hinder our work. He tried to help dig a little bit, he played with the dustpan and brush, he chattered away and generally was just content to be with us as we got on with the task in hand. A repeat of the situation this afternoon and all of a sudden, I’m feeling inspired again for our garden. Sophia and I are resolved to properly rid the gardens of weeds and hopefully plant some bulbs in the coming weeks for Spring. And now that I know he won’t be quite such a pest next year, I’m looking forward to growing some veggies again. You can’t beat a few hours working in the garden to rid everyone of cabin fever and feel productive and inspired. So here’s to a 2017 with gardens overflowing with bountiful produce and many happy hours spent getting there!

It wasn’t me

Despite being a fairly sensible (mostly), grown adult, I think I am starting to believe that some kind of small magical creature is residing in our house. Probably not a fairy but more likely to be an elf, imp or pixie. For we seem to have a problem with things mysteriously disappearing and not a soul knowing of their whereabouts. We also seem to have an ongoing issue with spillages, breakages and stains…caused by an unknown perpetrator, unseen by everyone.

Most recently, a toy belonging to a friend (luckily just a small shopkin rather than something of greater monetary value), ready to be returned to it’s owner, has completely vanished. The person last seen with it swears blind she accidentally dropped it in a drawer but after said chest of drawers being emptied three times, it has not reappeared. And more costly a loss was that of the recent disappearance of Dan’s tooth. After several mishaps with basketballs and lorries in his youth, my gorgeous husband had to succumb to a fake tooth on a plate a few years previously. He had left said tooth on the windowsill one day and when he went to get it, it wasn’t there. I had seen it there just an hour previously but after a very thorough search of the bathroom (which included taking the bath apart), we concluded it well and truly lost. All three children have been examined (with no prejudice) but all absolutely deny any wrongdoing or accident. £250 and a new denture later, the tooth has still not surfaced and we are no clearer as to it’s fate. I’m guessing it’ll turn up in six months at the bottom of a toy box.

In fact, Sophia has been ahead of the game on us with regards to these mysterious happenings. Last year, this poster appeared on the wall of our living room. When asked who it was, she said it was the girl who kept losing things, breaking things and making a mess in her room. Smart kid, our girl! The pictured creature has never been caught and thus, the problems remain… It’s a funny thing actually though because upon conferring with other parents, most homes with children seem to have one (or more) of these creatures living alongside the children of the household. Really, we should stop accusing our offspring when we find a spilt mug of hot chocolate soaking into the sofa, a book with pages ripped out or a lego box emptied across the floor of three rooms. The poor things are taking the blame for the work of some pesky mythical creature, designed to antagonise parents and drive a wedge between them and their darling offspring…honestly, you can’t make this stuff up!