I met a friend for coffee today and we talked about our children and how they are growing up. Our daughters are best friends – her eldest and my youngest. Later at home I came to sew on a name label into a school blouse and it struck me how very few years I have left of this sort of thing.
It feels a tad early to begin missing the girls while they are still very much here – but from time to time it feels like I get a little glimpse into how it might be when they have grown up and, assuming they get the chance to spread their wings in one way or another, have left home. When they no longer need me on hand to sew in labels, cook dinner, frown over homework with, nag them about the dishwasher and laundry.
I absolutely want them to go when the time comes – that’s the point of parenting after all, but I’m just feeling time flying by and so a name label for a school shirt brought a little lump to my throat today.
This is me, with a face to match my T-shirt having just run the local 5k Race for Life back in 2013
By the time I hit my 40s and our children had got past the stage where I was constantly on my feet chasing them about, I realised I spent a huge amount of time in the day sitting down. I thought I was fairly active, but when I really thought about it, I realised that most of my moving about lately was to get me from one kind of seat to another – car seat to office chair, to dining room chair, to class room chair, to sofa etc. My work meant I spent a lot of time on the computer, and when I began training for ordination, studying only increased this.
I did sport because I had to at school rather than because I particularly enjoyed it. As an adult I’d go through phases of swimming occasionally and toyed with the idea of joining a gym, but never actually did.
We don’t possess a set of bathroom scales in the house. This was a conscious decision once our daughters started to get older – I didn’t want them to see weight as something to obsess over. I have always judged how healthy or overweight I am by clothing fit and how I feel. I am tall, with skinny wrists and ankles, and probably of a reasonable weight for my height, but as I’ve got older it definitely has collected mainly in the bum, tum and thighs area. It wasn’t so much my shape that was bothering me – although a little less wobble would be nice. I just knew I wasn’t getting the kind of exercise that raised my heart rate.
Run baby run
I can’t remember when I stumbled upon the idea of going running. The appeal: being able to go from my house without having to travel to a place to do sport, with minimal equipment required. The drawbacks: I was totally unfit and had not put my body through any kind of workout for YEARS. I decided I’d like to get to the point where I could run for 30 minutes a couple of times a week. But how to start when the last time you ran was the 400m relay at secondary school??
That was when I discovered Couch to 5k. This is the NHS podcast programme to encourage people just like me – non-exercisers, to get up of their backsides and learn how to run. It is a 9 week programme. You download the app to your phone (iTunes or Google Play) and each podcast talks you through the different runs for that week as you do them (usually 3 each week). You build up gradually alternately running and walking, until you are able to sustain running for long enough to run for 5k. It is brilliant, and it works. There were some days when I even looked forward to going out to run – I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of having been!
I run now, usually once or twice a week, with a friend who I did the Couch to 5k programme with. Running with a friend means we keep each other motivated, and keep putting times in the diary to get out there. We still only do a maximum of 30-35 minutes usually – and that’s all we want to do. I have several people in my family who are awesome marathon runners. They have my greatest respect, but I know I will never be that, and I don’t especially want to be. I just wanted to get off my backside a bit more!
Finally, a pair of socks. I’m so happy with these – my first ever successful knitting project. Please see my previous blog entry on socks to discover the amazing woman and her blog that enabled me – a non-knitter – to do this. I had to post a pic to prove I don’t have to hop around the place in my single sock any more. And they are sooooo toasty.
For much of my life I have loved the idea of knitting, but never managed to knit anything beyond a simple scarf or two – and to be honest, those usually had the odd hole and strangely variable stitch count from row to row.
A couple of years ago, I bought a Very Simple Pattern and a few balls of navy yarn, and attempted a cardigan. Several mistakes in, and one failed attempt to unpick and re-load the needles and it was swiftly on its way to my Mum who knits like a pro.
I can do a basic knit stitch, I can purl and (once I’ve looked up how to do it again) can cast on. But my biggest problem has always been sorting out mistakes. Because I didn’t really understand how the stitches were formed, I couldn’t tell when I was putting the wrong bit back on the needle or getting it twisted. That’s why I love crochet – it only pings undone one stitch at a time.
Summer Project – Winter Socks
There is a sort of logic to this. I love yarn, and I’m midway through crocheting a blanket at the moment, but frankly, you don’t want a whole load of blanket covering your legs in the summer. So I was looking for a more portable project. And I thought of socks. I LOVE hand-knitted socks, especially the ones made of that multi-coloured yarn that helpfully knits itself into patterns as you go. A dear friend (and accomplished knitter) has gifted me two hand-knitted pairs in the past and I’m a convert. The are the toastiest socks I own – only fellow sufferers with poor-circulation will fully know what it is to search for the Holy Grail of toasty socks..).
So I decided that I’d try and find a sock tutorial. I figured that I could work it all out in stages, and it wouldn’t be like knitting a jumper when I could waste a whole load of expensive yarn if it didn’t work out.
I took these two pictures basically because I couldn’t believe I’d got that far and wanted to prove it to myself in case it all went pear-shaped.
Courtesy of one of my most favourite blogs in the whole wide world, Attic 24 I found out about this blog: Winwick Mum and her amazing Sockalong. And I have actually managed to produce a sock that fits and everything. I do mean sock singular – the other one is now on the way. But it turns out it’s been the most wonderful way to finally learn some key knitting skills I have always struggled with – and especially how to unpick knitting to rectify a mistake.
And I can’t even begin to tell you how satisfying it is to have actually knitted something that is useful, looks good and FITS!
I used King Cole Zig Zag Bilberry Pie knitted on a small circular needle and double pointed needles as per the Winwick Mum blog recommendations. As the yarn is coloured in sections, it knits into the patterns you can see in the picture as you go along – making the knitting look far fancier than it actually is.
I’m already thinking (and maybe salivating a little) about my next choice of yarn…
I needed a SYSTEM. A system for organising all my work and home stuff, and for keeping track of future stuff, and some way of trapping the dreams, interesting ideas and discoveries along the way.
For work – I’m a priest in the Church of England. Like most working parents, my week is a variable mix of mundane day to day stuff, Very Important Things That I Must Not Under Any Circumstances Forget To Do, routines that need remembering and attending to and domestic bits and pieces that keep the show on the road.
I make a lot of lists. I have tried more diary systems than you might think possible. I know the following about myself:
I do love stationery.
I prefer paper based diary systems.
I like lists and ticking off tasks.
My mind jumps around a lot and I can lose track of tasks/ideas.
I can’t remember when I first heard about bullet journalling, – I think I probably stumbled upon it on Pinterest, but it caught my interest and I began to do a bit of research.
Cue an avalanche of gorgeous images of expensive notebooks brim full of perfect doodles, life-enhancing goal charts and calm, ordered, beautifully embellished diaries. And a whole ton of Washi Tape.
They were utterly lovely. But I knew I just didn’t have time for all the twiddly bits.
I appreciated the approach in the video. Particularly the idea that you don’t need any fancy stationery to do it. (Although I’ve found that good stationery does make a bit of a difference – as I’ll explain). Also, if you do the bare minimum it doesn’t require much effort to get it all up and running and to keep it running. Also, you can start ON ANY DAY of the year. Genius!
I started with the basics, and rarely, but occasionally, get twiddly. I do have the odd drawing…
These photos show how the basic system works. You can expand and embellish to your heart’s content after that, if you wish.
Firstly, you need a key.
I’ve kept to the basic symbols for mine, but you can invent your own. On the left in pencil is a little reminder to me of stuff I need to do at the end of the month.
Then number all your pages. Yes, I know, but it means you can find stuff later and you’ll only have to do it once per notebook. Put a good bit of music on and just crack on with it.
Then you need an index. You do that on the first double page spread so you have room for all the exciting things you might want to add to it. I have a sticky tab that I’ve put in to help me find mine quickly, but (spoiler) it’s probably not necessary as it’s pretty much at the front!
The index means that when you build up a little library of these puppies over time, you will pretty quickly be able to find out what you had going on on May 22nd 1996, or refer back to your Annual Leave log for that year or whatever.
Then you set up your future tracker. The video recommends 6 months ahead, I went and did a whole 12 because that’s the kind of rebel I am. You use this for key dates you need to know are coming up.
This is probably a good point to say I have a diary as well. My bullet journal is not my diary – I still need that for making appointments and for scheduling time for things at a detailed level. I also have a log book. My bullet journal is my task system and my planning system, and the information in it is mainly recorded in bullet points (durr.).
I keep a separate log book that is simply an A5 exercise book that I use for notes, meetings, logging phone calls etc – the detailed and scribbly stuff. That’s the stuff that gets boiled down to the bullets that end up as tasks etc. in the bullet journal. Here’s a picture of my threefold system (I’m not suggesting anyone would have difficulty visualising a diary and an exercise book, but as a priest I have to say it’s rather satisfying for me to have a Trinitarian organisational system. Joking. A bit.).
Anyhoo, back to the job in hand. After your future tracker, you set up your month page. This is simply the next double page spread, on one side give it a title (the month)
then number down 1-31 or whatever for the days of that month. I find it helpful to write the initial of the weekday down the side as well. At this point, I write in birthdays and anniversaries (it doesn’t hurt to introduce a bit of contrasting colour here), and any key events – the kinds of events you really don’t want to forget, or might need to do some planning towards. I don’t put everything in here – just the really important stuff. Write the page number your month page is on in your index.
On the second page I have two main lists: Work and Home. Here I list in bullet form the main tasks, ideas or whatever I need to keep track of that month. I like to split them out into these two categories, but you don’t have to. You can list it all in any order – because you can prioritise later – that’s what the asterisk symbol is for. You can see from the pic I tend to list birthdays and anniversaries separately because I’m so lousy at remembering, it helps me to see them in a chunk.
The daily To Do stuff is recorded in lists under the day’s date, as below. Just find the next clean page and go for it. Just remember to put a reference to the page number in your index at some point so you can find the dates you want easily later. I do tend to repeat myself a bit in these lists if I haven’t finished the tasks from the previous day.
But that works for me. You can easily see if you haven’t completed tasks – because you change the dot to an ‘X’ on completion.
Project pages are the ‘I need to write this down somewhere’ pages that you expect you will need to come back to from time to time. For example, here’s one I set up when thinking about planning my back garden planting last spring (I really pushed the creative boundaries on that heading, donchathink?). It doesn’t matter where these pages appear – just start a fresh side of your notebook and write the topic and page number in your index so you can find it again.
At the end of every month you can migrate stuff you haven’t finished – go back through your month of lists and any ‘.‘ that hasn’t been completed (turned into an ‘X’) that you still need to keep track of/do, you change to either ‘>’ which means move to new month (write it in on your new month list), or to ‘<‘ which means moved to future log (write it in there).
Then you just set up your new month overview page – the one with the dates and days, and initial list of tasks, and off you go again.
I spent quite a long time drooling over stationery. There are clearly some favourites out there – you can look at other blogs for those – but what I have works for me. I have a big work satchel, and carry several folders with me most days. I needed something durable but not heavy. So I discounted hardcover notebooks. In the end I went for Moleskine Cahier Extra Large S0505X with squared paper.
It works for me because I like the squares (keeps it neat), the pages are stitched (keeps it together), it has a pocket in the back (I keep a complete list of birthdays and anniversaries in that – told you I was lousy at remembering – I need all the help I can get), it comes in a pack of 3 (good value) and it is large enough (smaller than A4 and larger than A5) with a good number of pages.
I use a Sharpie Pen because I like fine liners, these seem to last a long time, and I wanted a permanent pen in case I manage to get the notebook wet. I also like the fact it doesn’t bleed through the pages of the notebook.
So… that’s it really. Not very spectacular and not exactly rocket science, but it’s a good system that works for me. I’ve enjoyed experimenting and making it my own.
It was Monday when a GP visit ended unexpectedly with a hospital referral for my youngest daughter (11). I had fully expected I was being the neurotic mum, that it was only a virus and to be told to go home and keep spooning the Calpol!
One pulse monitor and two medical opinions later, and we were on our way with an admission letter to Margate hospital. I drove feeling strangely calm and focussed considering I was a bit vague about the route, and it was her heart rate they were concerned about. She was tearful and clearly rather anxious about the way her day was panning out, begging me to turn the car around and take her home.
Oddly enough I’d last been in Margate Hospital for a training placement with the Chaplaincy team. Now it was our turn to be given some care and support. She was there for 2 days and 1 night in the end, and I was able to stay with her the whole time.
The other side of the ‘adventure’ and I’m happy to report all seems to be on the mend. We go back for an ECG in a week’s time, which we’re all hoping will show that the infection was to blame all along, and the antibiotics have knocked it on the head.
All the hanging around meant plenty of time to think. I felt strangely peaceful and hugely grateful. Grateful that we are privileged to live in a country where it is possible to ring up ‘feeling a bit concerned’ and get an appointment that morning. That our shiny state of the art local GP surgery is well equipped and that the doctors are skilled. That a hint of trouble translates into an immediate referral to hospital specialists – a team on a bright and comfortable ward, who are kind and careful in their dealing with children. That they were so thorough and my youngest had ECGs, X-rays, blood tests, antibiotics, monitors, a bed, and meals from a menu available to her. That despite the busyness and pressure on the ward, and the clearly much sicker kids there than mine, they wouldn’t let her go home until they were satisfied it would be safe, and they want us back in a week to check. And (yeah, yeah, I know; taxes..) it was all free.
And even more than this, the prayer chain got going at our church (good old facebook) and so many dear folk were lifting us up to God. Her godparents visited, tricking her by ‘phoning first and walking round the corner as she was mid-call with them. Dad and sister dropped off food for me and treats for the patient. Our vicar Steve rang to see how things were. Many friends texted their good wishes and love. Jane, our Children’s and Families minister visited and kept up a steady stream of encouraging texts to youngest and myself (helped heaps she’s an ex paediatric nurse!) praying through the tricky bits (uncooperative veins for a cannula insertion) and messing about with the bed controls to make her laugh. People stepped in to cover commitments for me back at home.
It was a small scare for us. My heart goes out to the parents for whom this, and far far worse is ‘normal’. Especially for the ones where the outcome is not all smiles and relief.
But in our own little ‘crisis’ I saw and felt God working so very clearly through the hands and hearts and prayers of all those with whom we came into contact. And for that, and the privilege of the NHS, I am so very and profoundly grateful.
Having made the candied peel (see below) I now had rather a lot of orange left. It crossed my mind that oranges in syrup are rather delicious so I thought I’d experiment.
I poured about half the leftover syrup from the candied peel making into a jug, and mixed into it about 2 tablespoons of dark rum and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. I bunged in about 4 whole cloves for good measure – that’s what you can see in the top left of the jar to the front – it’s not a dead fly.
The orange segments divided evenly to fill two clean golden syrup jars I had. (If I’d thought about it harder, I think I might have sliced rather than segmented the oranges as it would have looked prettier, but like I say, this is an experiment..). I poured the syrup mixture into each jar, enough to cover the fruit. For cosmetic effect as well as for flavour I would have popped a vanilla pod in each jar if I’d had one, instead of using essence.
Well, we’ll see. My parents will get one as part of the hamper of goodies we are giving them this year, so I can get some honest feedback!
I thought I’d have a go at a different recipe for candied orange peel this year. I made it last year and, although nice, thought the pieces were rather tough to chew. So I followed this one from Jacob’s Kitchen and made sure the peel was really thin. I used a melon baller to scrape off the rest of the pith that was too close to the rind to cut away.
The down side of that is it’s quite hard to get those neat, uniform strips you see on Pintrest, but I think they are still beautiful in their own way, and would probably look rather nice as a decoration on a cake or dessert.
Here’s what I did:
Yes, it’s a lot of sugar! You’ll need 6 cups of sugar and 6 Navel oranges.
1) Scrub the oranges and trim off the top and bottom of each. Using a serrated knife cut the peel off in long strips from top to bottom, leaving as much pith behind on the orange as you can.
I used the melon baller at this stage to scrape off any excess pith.
2) Cut your peel into thin strips – mine are about 7mm wide. Put them in a large saucepan and just cover them with water. Bring it to the boil, then drain them off and rinse them. Repeat this process once or twice more – once if you prefer a more bitter orange flavour – that further blanching will take more of the bitterness away.
3) Drain off the peel and set it aside. In the now empty pan, whisk together the 6 cups of sugar with 2 cups of water. Bring it to the boil and simmer for 10 mins.
4) Add the peel to the simmering syrup and continue to simmer for 50 mins or until the edges of the peel look translucent.
5) Drain off the syrup (I drained it off into a bowl and
kept it for a different culinary experiment – info on that to follow) .
6) Roll the peel in granulated or caster sugar and leave to dry spaced apart on baking parchment covered baking sheets. Leave to dry overnight. I cover mine with fresh tea towels to allow the air to get to them but keep them clean while they dry.
You can half-dip each stick in melted chocolate once they are dry, and leave them to set, again on baking parchment. They look gorgeous wrapped in cellophane bags or in jam jars as gifts.
I found this gem in a charity shop. I’m a frequenter of charity shops in my spare time. For reasons like this:
There used to be a song on the US children’s show Sesame Street called ‘one of these kids is doing the wrong thing’ – the screen would divide into four and 3 children in 3 of the boxes would be, say, bouncing a ball and in the 4th box a kid would be trying to eat his or something.
Applying the same game to this knitting pattern, it’s the one in the blue hat. With red knitted helmet lady a close second.
Blue has always been my favourite colour. And something about blue and white mismatched china hits the spot too. The lime green candle came from Tiger and was a present from my eldest daughter just because she knew I’d like it. A fresh feast for the eyes.