Saturday, 31 January 2015

Ruby lately // remembering the little things


I started writing this list a few weeks back, and it's amazing to think how much Ruby has changed, and the different things that come to mind when I think about what she is like now. I thought I would go ahead and share this list anyway, as I am sure that I will enjoy looking back on it in years to come.

These days...
You sit on my lap while I'm eating a slice of lemon drizzle loaf, and delicately dip your index finger into the lemon curd, then pop it into my mouth. You repeat this over again, finding great delight in feeding me. 

You love sitting on your new chair in the kitchen that you can easily climb onto by yourself. You sit there, banana in hand, and I join you, sitting on the floor with my morning coffee in hand, listening to 'Awake my soul'. You gently nod your head in time to the music, and I smile at you, just loving the beautiful simplicity and joy of this moment. You smile back at me, stand up from your chair, walk over to me and wrap your arms around my neck. While you have cuddled me since birth, there is something so wonderful about this expression of love from you, that you now initiate cuddles, rather than being the one scooped up in our arms. 

You have discovered that the kitchen bin is the perfect height for you to open and empty. Over and over again.

Each morning starts with you waking up, clapping and saying, 'dat, dat, dat, dat!' (Your word for everything.)

You have learnt to blow on hot food to cool it down. The only disadvantage about this is that you often blow on the food as soon as it enters your mouth, which sprays the food everywhere! The other day, you touched the radiator and quickly withdrew your hand, looking up at me. I nodded and said, 'It's hot, isn't it?' So then you blew on it, just as you would do to cool your food down. I love seeing how you make sense of the things you understand and translate that knowledge to make connections.

Ever since we bought your first pair of shoes, you have loved going to find them in the cupboard when I tell you that it's time to go out. Or, if I ask you if you'd like to go for a walk, you go straight to the cupboard under the stairs where your shoes are. Your understanding never ceases to amaze me.
We have started going for late afternoon walks, just to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. It turns out, the back alley behind our house is perfect for you to explore. I don't need to worry about you running out into the road, and you find great delight in spotting the neighbourhood cats.

We have started looking at photo books at meal times - you point to the bookshelves and make plenty of noise to indicate that you would like to look at a book. We have been particularly enjoying looking at the photos from Barbados in 2010, our American Road Trip in 2012, and photos of Dadyd as a baby. It's fun to tell you about what life was like and the adventures we went on before you were born.

The washing machine and laundry basket get a lot of your attention, and you will happily spend chunks of time lifting items of clothing up and over your head, as though you are trying to put them on. We bought you a little wicker basket at the flea market last week, so that you can put your dirty clothes in there, and you seem quite delighted by it. You have quickly learned which buttons you need to press in order to turn the washing machine on and start the cycle, and I love enlisting your help with this.

You give the most wonderful cuddles. Of course, this has been the case since you were born. But, now that you embrace us and your friends of your own volition? It's a beautiful thing to see and receive. What a treasure you are.

Friday, 30 January 2015

morning light

When John and I started the process of looking to buy our first house in 2012, we found a house that we thought we would be happy to live in. I asked my Mum to have a look around the house with us, to see if there was anything important that we might not have noticed. One of the first questions she asked was which direction the house was facing. We established that the main living room of the house would never be full of light. We tried to buy the house, but it was an unusual sale process, due to having been repossessed. I can't quite believe we considered living in a house that would never benefit from direct sunlight. For so many reasons, I am glad that we didn't end up living there. I am pleased to say that the house we ended up buying glows when the sun shines. I just love coming downstairs on a sunny morning and seeing the walls turn golden.

One of the first lessons I learned when I started using an SLR camera was how important lighting is, and there is absolutely no light that compares to natural light. We often play with our shadows in the morning light, in that small window of time when the sun fills our dining room while we eat breakfast. I took these photos on the morning that followed a particularly rough night with Ruby that involved very little sleep and plenty of tears (mine included). There is something about the darkness of night that can feel heavy, particularly when sleep evades me. In the middle of the night, it can feel like morning might never come, so when it arrives in such a glorious manner, I am even more thankful for the beauty of light. It is a simple but constant reminder that God's mercies are new every morning. When I think about how much happiness sunshine brings, and how much the light alone lifts my spirits, it makes so much sense to me that the Bible says, 'God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.'

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The 52 Project: 4/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
You have recently discovered that the kitchen bin is the perfect height for you to open and close, and not only that, but you have worked out how to put things in the bin, as well as how to remove them. I have started keeping a list of the things I have discovered or observed you putting in there:
1) Parsnips
2) Your reusable nappies
3) Daddy's old glasses

Yesterday, you worked out that you could do exactly the same thing with the laundry basket upstairs, and so far you have left me a few surprises to discover in amongst our dirty clothes:
1) A Christmas bauble
2) A plastic bag
3) My iPhone

This weekend you had your first experiences of a flea market, and you loved finding all of the chairs designed for children, and climbed in as many of them as you could. The abundance of dogs delighted you, as did this earless horse, which you kept revisiting. I'm afraid we didn't bring the horse home with us, but at least you have this photo to remember him by.

All my love,
Mum xxx

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

by the light of the street lamps.

Dear Ruby,
I have written to you before and said how I often compose letters to you in my head as we go about our day. This is one of those letters that I 'wrote' while we were on an early morning walk.

You had woken at 5.40am, crying and wanting milk, as you normally do. Once your tummy was content, you struggled to return to sleep, thanks to your congested nose. So I sat with you in the rocking chair, going back and forth, back and forth while you clung to my neck and groaned. Every now and then, you would calm down, your body limp and heavy with the weight of sleep being so close to you, but then the groaning would start again. After an hour of this, I needed to change tack, so we got up. My stomach was growling, as it always does in the morning, ready to start the day with food. I opened the tin on the side which held a batch of breakfast cookies that I had made last night. I gave you a piece and you climbed onto your chair and quietly nibbled away.
When you had finished your cookie, you walked over to your buggy and pointed at it. Knowing that you were still tired after a restless night, I asked you if you would like to go for a walk in the buggy to go to sleep, and you nodded, continuing to point at it. Your ability to communicate non-verbally continues to astound me, and I loved that you were able to let me know what you wanted to do. Ever since you were five months old, you have taken your naps in the buggy. We have done more laps of the block to lull you to sleep than I care to count. I used to wonder whether I should try and teach you to sleep on your bed for naps, but I stopped worrying about that a long time ago. After all, I doubt you will have any memory of how we got you to sleep when you are older. I often think that as Mother's, we do what we need to do in order to survive, and hopefully thrive. To some, this might seem ludicrous, that you have to go for a walk to get to sleep, but I have learnt to enjoy these daily walks of ours.
While we were out walking this morning, I thought about how peaceful it was to be outside while it was still dark, walking by the light of the moon. And then I thought how that seems like a bit of a romantic notion, really, because I couldn't see the moon anywhere - all I could see where the bright street lights and row upon row of terraced houses that characterises our neighbourhood. So, we walked by the light of the street lights, and I let the sky fill my view. There was a star so bright that I had to stand still just to confirm that it wasn't the light of an aeroplane coming into land at Bristol Airport. Sure enough, it was a star, and I felt a thankfulness that because of the light pollution that spoils our view of the stars, it feels all the more special to see such a bright star in the sky.

I know that this letter contains many small details of how our day begun, and I wonder whether we will look back at this letter in ten years time, and I will wonder why I bothered to write these things down. Every time I have this thought - this questioning over whether my words and thoughts are worth writing down in this place, the after-thought is always the same: I have never regretted the time I used to spend putting pen to paper and journalling, and I think I am more likely to regret the times I decided not to write. I know that my memory cannot be relied upon to recall these small details that make up our days, and I am sure that one day, when you are much older, I will hold a gratitude for writing these things down to remember what our days looked like when you were little.
Here's to many more walks together by the light of the sun, the moon, and the street lamps.
With love,
Mum xxx

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The 52 Project: 3/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
Our week has been filled with runny noses, hacking coughs, loss of sleep and so many books. I knew as soon as I felt that scratchy feeling at the back of my throat that this was where our week was heading. But instead of lamenting the challenges that this has brought, I am choosing to celebrate the precious moments that come out of the change in our rhythm and health. I have learnt that the best way to settle you back to sleep in the early hours of the morning when you have woken from your coughing is to sit with you in the rocking chair. Yesterday morning we slept like this for three hours and I treasured that time where you were peaceful, sleeping snugly on my lap with your legs wrapped around my waist. I know that all too soon, you will have grown so much that we won't be able to sit like this anymore. Your long legs will spill over the edges of the chair, and we will have to find a different way to cuddle in comfort when you are poorly.
We have started going on evening walks this week. Just before dusk, we walk along our road. You and I both thrive on this opportunity to stretch our legs and fill our lungs with fresh air. It provides the perfect interlude between our afternoon reading time and dinner, and I love talking with you about all of the things you point to. The stoney gravel that covers our neighbours' driveways holds great appeal, but the house you love the best is the one with the wonky concrete slope that provides you with a tiny hill to climb. If I let you, I am certain you would walk up and down this garden path too many times for me to count. Here's to finding more daily traditions that help us thrive.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Malted Wholemeal Baguettes


Last week, my husband requested that I make some baguettes to take to work for his lunch. I was more than happy to oblige and attempt to make a new-to-me bread. I was surprised to discover that baguettes don't require any butter or oil - all they contain is flour, yeast, salt and water. I think I have avoided attempting this kind of bread in the past, because I thought it would be hard to create the same beautiful texture of baguettes bought from a bakery - crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside.

Thankfully, it turns out that baguettes are much easier to make than I was anticipating. I love the satisfaction that comes from trying something daunting and being delighted with the results.

ingredients: makes 5 baguettes
400g malted bread flour
100g strong white bread flour (or you could use all white if you prefer)
10g salt
10g yeast
370ml cool water

1) Lightly oil a 2 - 3 litre square plastic container.
2) Put the flour, salt and yeast into a mixing bowl. (Paul Hollywood recommends that you put the salt on one side and the yeast on the other.)
3) Pour in three quarters of the water and start mixing all of the ingredients together, either by hand, or with a freestanding mixer.
4) As the dough comes together, slowly add the remaining water then continue to mix the dough on a medium speed for 5 - 7 minutes(if using  freestanding mixer). If you don't have a mixer, knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes, or until you have a glossy, elastic dough.
5) Put the dough into your oiled container, and leave to prove for one hour, or until doubled in size.
6) Line two large baking trays with parchment paper.
7) Lightly oil your clean working surface, and carefully tip the dough out. The aim here is to keep in as much air as possible, rather than knocking it back, which is the usual process when baking bread.
8) Divide the dough into 5 equal sized pieces. I did this by weighing the dough, then diving that amount by 5, so that they were all as equally sized as possible.
9) Shape each piece of dough into an oblong, flattening it out then rolling in the sides. Roll each piece up into a sausage so that you have the smooth edge facing upwards, and the seam of the edges of dough tucked underneath. Gently stretch and wiggle the dough until it is the length that you would like your baguettes to be.
10) Place your baguettes on the trays, leaving space between each one, then place inside a plastic bag, making sure the bag does not rest on top of the dough. I like to think of it as creating a little tent for the dough. Leave to prove for an hour.
11) When the dough has been proving for about 40 minutes, preheat your oven to 220C and put an empty roasting tin in the bottom of the oven to heat up.
12) Once the dough has finished proving, pour boiling water into the roasting tin to create steam which gives the baguettes a crisp finish, then place the baking trays in the oven.
13) Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Axbridge

Last week, I wrote a post about our plan to try and go on more weekend adventures as a family to places nearby that we haven't visited before. Last weekend saw our first West Country adventure of 2015 to Axbridge. It's a forty minute drive from Bristol, but feels a world away from the city life that we are used to. The centre of the village is so small that it is impossible to get lost, and you can stand in the village square and see all of the different places to eat while standing on the same spot!
We settled with The Oak House restaurant as our choice for lunch, and enjoyed a coffee served with biscotti while we waited for our table to be prepared. The atmosphere was very welcoming, with comfy sofas to sit on while we drank our coffees, and a warming open fire crackling away. The food was delicious - I ordered gnocchi with sundried tomatoes, mozarella and rocket, and at first glance, it looked like the chef had forgotten to include the sun dried tomatoes. It turned out, the gnocchi were stuffed with the mozarella and tomatoes, which worked so well. I had a delicious milk chocolate tart for dessert, served with chocolate ice cream. The restaurant felt very spacious, and there were just a few other families enjoying dinner, so it was wonderful that when Ruby wanted to walk around and explore, there was ample space for her to do so without us feeling like we were getting in the way.
After lunch, we walked to the reservoir, and I loved spotting all of the wonderful names on the cottages, There were a number of stalls outside of people's homes selling their produce, ranging from vegetables and eggs, to honey made from local hives.
We took a few wrong turnings on the way to the reservoir and kept ending up in fields with ponies in. I felt a bit sad for this pony that was tethered and unable to roam around the lush green field that it lived in. The reservoir was sign posted, and it wasn't so much a case of it being hard to find, just that we followed our noses rather than a map!
The reservoir itself was very peaceful, and our daughter loved watching the ducks and gulls swim and fly around - there were hundreds of them! 


I would happily visit Axbridge again - the proprietor of The Oak House highly recommended returning in Summer to enjoy dining in their garden, and I would love to try out the tea shop that was recommended to me. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The 52 Project: 2/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
You are changing so much, sweet girl, and I am constantly amazed at how you are no longer my baby, but a wonderful girl who is starting to understand so much of what we say to you. You have started responding to my questions with emphatic nods, and I love that our means of communication is strengthening. Ever since you were tiny, I have always sought to communicate clearly with you, using some Makaton signs to help support your understanding of what I am saying. For the first time this week, you seemed to attempt to sign, 'I love you' in response to me signing this message to you. It was as though you made the connection between waving and the sign we use for 'I love you' - they are fairly similar. (I have always joked that your waving is a little bit like the Queen's infamous royal wave, and I love this about you. Perfectly in keeping with your royal surname!) I have been very conscious of not wanting you to feel like things are just happening to you without giving you forewarning or choice in the matter, and the more your communication skills and verbal understanding grow, the more I am seeing how confident you are in expressing yourself.

I am thoroughly enjoying the difference I see in you, now that you are able to walk so much more. On Tuesday, we made the trip across the city to the sling library. This was very last minute, and I had forgotten that we would need to go on that particular day. Not surprisingly, by the time we had driven to Southville, you were feeling quite fed up of being sat in the car for twenty five minutes, straight after naptime. So, rather than putting you in the sling or buggy, I asked you if you wanted to walk. You smiled and nodded. As you clung to my finger, we made our way slowly, slowly down the road. Aside from walking around at the zoo at the weekend, this was the first time you have walked outside on the pavement. Although I am aware that when you are in your pushchair or the sling, you are at the mercy of my walking pace, we have always taken the time to talk about the things we can see, and the things you like to point at, but it was so different seeing you stop and observe certain things. You were fascinated by the steps leading up to each of the houses on the hill, each of them reflecting different colours and textures. Each time you saw an open gate, you wanted to walk through it, and you stopped to point at the birds and the sign which warned drivers not to park on the private drive. As you gained confidence and momentum with your walking, you giggled gleefully. It is such a privilege to witness you finding joy in these simple things. You truly are a pleasure to spend time with.
All my love,
Mama.

P.S In this photo, you look a little forlorn. I can assure you that you weren't really unhappy - we were on a walk in Stoke Park, and there was a very cold wind. You had a very rosy nose by the end of the walk, but you mostly loved pointing at all of the dogs and birds that you spotted.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

sweet potato fries

I remember the first time that I ate sweet potato fries, just a couple of years ago, and the thought that crossed my mind was, 'oh my, how has it taken me this long to discover these? I have to make them.' So, we attempted to make them, but always found that they were rather floppy, and not beautifully crisp, as they had been in the restaurant where we had discovered them. We tried a good few more times, varying the length of time we cooked them for, and coating them with cornmeal to try and help crisp them up. But they just weren't quite right, to the point where my husband (who is an excellent cook) decided they weren't really worth the bother. 

That all changed on Sunday, after John had listened to a BBC podcast, with the Harold McGee, who is the man who inspired Heston Blumenthal and all of his adventures with chemistry and cooking. He explained the crucial difference between white potatoes and sweet potatoes, which makes all the difference when turning them into fries. Sweet potatoes have got a lot of sugary starch in them, which is released when they are baked, thus resulting in soggy fries. So, all you have to do to get them to crisp up, is to replace the sugary starch with a non-sugary starch, such as cornflour (cornstarch) or rice starch. That's all there is to it. We were so excited to have discovered this, that we made some sweet potato fries there and then.

Sweet Potato Fries
1) Peel and slice your sweet potato into evenly sized pieces.
2) Place the slices into a bowl of cold water and leave to soak for 20-30 minutes.
3) Pre-heat the oven to 220C / gas mark 8 / 450F
4) Drain the water from the fries and place inside a freezer bag.
5) Add a good shake of cornflour or rice flour and shake the bag until the fries are well coated. (I didn't measure how much cornflour I used, but I would estimate it was between 1 & 2 tablespoon's.)
6) Place the fries on a baking tray and spread them out. Lightly cover with sunflower oil. (Don't use olive oil, as this will create a lot of smoke.)
7) Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
8) Serve immediately with your favourite condiments!

Sidenote: I really wish that my Science teachers had taught me about the connection between food, baking and chemistry. I am pretty sure that it would have massively affected my lack of interest in Science at school if I had realised that the keys to baking are all in the chemistry. It is a helpful reminder that so much of teaching is about finding ways to connect with students in a way that is meaningful and applicable to them.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Beautiful Bristol and Beyond


As 2014 came to a close, and we started thinking about the year ahead, John and I talked about things that we would like to do differently in 2015. One thing that we both want to do is to explore the South West more. There have been seasons in our marriage where we have had a lot of weekends away for various celebrations and holidays, and in those seasons, when we find ourselves with a weekend at home, all we want to do is relax and stay put. However, it feels like that busy season of life is changing, which means we'll be home more. We've decided to be intentional about going on regular adventures as a family, just day trips to places that are nearby and won't cost much money, but will widen our perspective and bring that sense of feeling refreshed that exploring somewhere beautiful always gives us.

I recently asked on a Facebook group that I am part of if anyone could recommend any places within an hour's drive of Bristol that are worth visiting. There was an overwhelming response, both from people who have visited many wonderful places that I have never heard of, and from women who also want to go exploring and adventuring with their families. As Facebook can be a bit of a bottomless pit when it comes to retrieving information once any time has elapsed, I thought it would be useful to create a list of all of the places that were recommended. The list also includes places that we have already visited and loved, and would be very happy to return to. If you are local to Bristol, I hope that you find this list useful. There is a mixture of places to walk, National Trust Properties and Country Parks, with a few pubs and tea shops thrown in, because a walk outdoors always feels complete with a coffee and some good cake at the end of the day.

If you have any other recommendations, I would love to hear from you - please do feel free to share your favourite places to visit in the comments section.

Barley Wood Walled Garden in Wrington

Bristol (within the BS postcodes)
Barley Wood Walled Garden - amazing views, incredible food, a wonderful place to go for a little bit of respite with space for children to explore.
Chew Valley Lake and Country Farm (the farm doesn't reopen until March 2015.)
Chew Magna - Very close to Chew Valley Lake. The Bear & Swan do excellent food.
Snuff Mills and Oldbury Court
Easter Compton
Axbridge Reservoir & The Almshouse Tea Shop comes highly recommended
Slimbridge Wetland Centre for plenty of wildlife
Tyntesfield (National Trust) I particularly like their walled kitchen garden, where you can purchase the produce that has been grown there.
Dyrham Park (National Trust)
Abbot's Pool (near Ashton Court) - beautiful place for a weekend walk

Symonds Yat in the Wye Valley

Wales
Carleon
Tintern Abbey & Brockweir farm shop
Wye Valley
Forest of Dean
Puzzlewood (in the Forest of Dean)
St Fagan's National History Museum (Comes very highly recommended with lots to explore.)
Margam Park
Caldicot Castle

Other
Lacock Abbey (National Trust)
Farrington Gurney Farm Shop - this is also the home of England's only tulip farm, where you can buy enormous bundles of 50 varieties of tulips when they're in bloom. (April - May)
Kilve Beach
Brokerswood Country Park (Wiltshire)

Monday, 5 January 2015

Bristol Zoo

One of the presents that we received as a family for Ruby's first birthday was membership to Bristol Zoo. I love the zoo for many reasons, perhaps the biggest reason being that it gives us a beautiful space to enjoy, whatever the weather. You'd think the animals would be the biggest attraction, but not for me! I love walking around the grounds and enjoy seeing the changes in the flora through the seasons. On Sunday afternoon, we went for a very impromptu visit, after about half an hour of wandering, I realised I had taken a number of photos, but not one of them had been of the animals. I like looking out for the beauty and details that are around me that would be easy to miss if I was simply focused on looking at the animals. I did end up taking a few photos of animals - I particularly loved the little robin who wasn't at all bothered by how close we were, and carried on singing away while I took photos.
I have to admit that I have become a little lazy with taking photos on my DSLR since having an iPhone, which is far more convenient to carry around and use, especially if I am on my own with Ruby. But every time I make the effort to take my DSLR out with me, I am so glad that I did, and love the quality of the photos. I am very grateful that I have a tolerant and patient husband who never complains at the volume of photos I take!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The 52 Project: 1/52

'A portrait of my daughter once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
At the start of this week, we returned home from our Christmas expeditions, and you seemed thrilled to rediscover your wooden car ramp. As soon as we came into the house, you walked into the living room, picked up your cars and put them on the ramp, quietly giggling to yourself. Kitchen dance parties to Michael Jackson have been a regular feature this week, and it is amazing to see how you now understand the word, 'dancing.' Whenever I suggest to you that we could put on some music and dance, you eagerly nod your head, and start your dancing immediately.
On Saturday, we bought you your first pair of shoes to accommodate your new-found walking skills, and it was a joy to see you walking around the zoo today, exploring a familiar place in a new way. You have this wonderful way of walking with your arms and hands outstretched, as you steady yourself from falling. Here's to a year ahead filled with much walking, dancing, and eventually running. Oh, the fun we'll have. 
All my love,
Mama. 

++++++++++++++++++

At the beginning of 2014, I came across The 52 Project, and loved the idea as a way of documenting Ruby's first year (she was five weeks old at the time). It's now a year later, and I am so pleased that I committed to this form of documenting last year. Just as I had anticipated, the enormous volume of photos I took of my newborn baby tailed off as the months went by, and so it was very helpful to have the discipline of making sure I managed to take at least a handful of photos to choose from for the 52 project. I have decided to continue with the project this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing just how different this second year of parenting Ruby is to the first.