Sunday, 31 May 2015

The 52 Project: 22/52

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

Dear Ruby, 
I am feeling a little short on words this week, so I will just say this: I am so very thankful to have you as my precious daughter, and I love the way you laugh. 
All my love,
Mama xxx

Saturday, 30 May 2015

weekend walks

When we bought our house two years ago, one of the compromises was that we weren't going to be living near any green spaces. At our previous home, we had a beautiful woods right next door, and Blaise Castle was a short run away. I knew that we would really miss these places of beauty, but there always has to be some compromise in house buying, and this was one we had to make. Shortly after we moved, we discovered Stoke Park, which is a two acre estate of lush parkland and woodland, just a mile away from our house.  
It was such a great discovery, and I never get bored of going there. On Sunday afternoon when we were all feeling a bit lethargic, we decided to make an impromptu trip to the park to make the most of the sunshine. I am so glad we made the small effort to go there, because it was just what I needed. Fresh air, sunshine, trees & family. The grass has been allowed to grow, so it is filled with wildflowers, and is beginning to feel like a meadow. I loved watching Ruby walk through grass that was as high as her waist, and seeing her discover the joy of dandelion clocks. She spent ages brushing her hands against them and watching the clocks fly away. I hope we manage a lot more of these weekend walks over the Summer months.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Ruby at 18 months

When Ruby turned six months old, we celebrated with half a cake to represent half of her first year. I hoped we would continue with this tradition of celebrating half birthdays, but we didn't quite manage to acknowledge it yesterday when she turned eighteen months old. I baked plenty of cakes, but none of them were for us.

I thought I'd mark the occasion (just a day late) by writing down some of the things I want to remember about Ruby at this age.

I want to remember...

The way your hair sticks out horizontally every morning when you get out of bed, then softens into the most beautiful golden curls once we brush it.

How much you understand. At the start of each day, I try to tell you the plan of what we are going to do. Not only do you remember, but you talk about it in your own special way. For example, on Wednesday I told you that we were going to go to your friend's house, and then we were going to the farm with our friends. For the next half an hour until we left the house, you walked around the house signing 'friend' and saying, 'house, house, house.'

Your singing. I must make a video of this, but it is just wonderful. You sing a song from our swimming class most days, and you also sing, 'see saw, marjorie daw...' - just the tune without words, but it is very clear from your actions and the notes that you sing, that these are songs that you know. You particularly love it when we sing 'wind the bobbin up' and 'incey wincey spider', but you don't sing along, you just do the actions with a beaming smile on your face.

The way you identify our belongings around the house. Often during the day, I'll hear you shout, 'Dada! Dada!' while Daddy is at work. I look to see where you are, and you're invariably pointing to an item of Daddy's clothing or shoes that you know belong to him. You do the same with my clothes too.

How fascinated you are by the sewing machine. If ever I am sewing, you request to sit on my lap. You quickly learned how to lift and lower the presser foot, and how to turn the machine off and on.

The way you like to have the plug sockets in the hallway turned on. If ever we flick them off, you notice very quickly and remedy the situation so they are on again.

The way you sing the noises you hear different machines make - coffee maker & grinder, hair dryer, helicopter, strimmer - any appliance that makes a noise, you emulate it. I wonder if this is the beginning of you having a musical ear.

How you can identify different bird sounds - so far you can imitate seagulls, owls and pigeons.

The way you say, 'No.' It's never just singular. It's always, 'no, no, no.' Apparently I do this too.

How you love doors and garden gates to be shut. Thankfully, you have never trapped your finger in one.

How most days, you have a three course breakfast. Porridge followed by granola, finished with toast or a bagel. You're certainly living by the old adage of 'breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dinner like a Pauper.'

How you like to hug our necks as you fall asleep with your face pressed as close to mine or Daddy's as possible.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The 52 Project: 21/52

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

Dear Ruby,
These days, you sing all the time. Mostly, you sing a song from your swimming lessons ('splish, splash, splish splash, around in a circle and up in the air!') You can't sing the words, but the tune & accompanying actions are very much present when you sing. Yesterday was a beautiful day, and as we drove to Leigh Woods, you sung almost the entire car journey. There was no music playing - you just sang whatever tune you wanted to. I love hearing you sing.
I have always been amazed at your ability to communicate without words, and one of my favourite moments this week was when I asked you if you wanted to on a walk to the shops, You smiled in affirmation, and then I procrastinated in the process of getting ready. You are always motivated by the prospect of a walk, and you made this clear when you brought my shoes to me in the kitchen, and handed me some money, as if to say, 'come on Mum, you said we're going to the shops. Let's go!' Totally brilliant.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The 52 Project: 20/52

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

Dear Ruby,
I would have loved to have taken this photo moments earlier to capture your face full of joy with laughter. I was in the kitchen baking, and I could hear you laughing a, raucous, uninhibited and joyful laugh. I thought someone must be in the room with you, but I couldn't hear anyone else talking. So, I popped my head around the door as quietly as I could, camera in had - I didn't want to disturb you in whatever you were engrossed in. Sure enough, you were all by yourself. There was something rather special about catching you playing with your baby, laughing at whatever it was you were thinking about. It is a simple but lovely memory that I keep returning to this afternoon.
Keep laughing from your belly, my little one.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Friday, 15 May 2015

Play dough revisited

I have been meaning to make some play dough for my daughter for quite some time now. This afternoon, I finally got on with it, and Ruby loved it. I used to make enormous batches of play dough every week for my Nursery class at school, because it is such a fantastic material for children to work with. It helps strengthen fine motor controls, relieves anxiety, encourages role play, and provides a sensory experience, to name just a few of the benefits of good old play dough.
I set out the playdough on the table, along with some glass gem stones, matchsticks and pine cones. Ruby showed no real interest in the pine cones, but the glass gems got a lot of attention. She scooped, poured, piled and buried them in the dough for at least half an hour.

If you would like to make some playdough, when you add colour, you can use any kind of food colouring. I have tried them all over the years, but the best by far are concentrated food pastes, like these. I can highly recommend The Imagination Tree's website for more inspiration of what to do with play dough. You'll find an enormous bank of ideas there.
1 cup / 170g plain flour
1 cup / 250ml boiling water
half a cup / 125g table salt
2 tbsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
a dollop or dash of food colouring (if using liquid food colouring, you'll need to add a good glug to get a decent colour. If using the concentrated paste, a little goes a very long way!)

In a mixing bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat all of the ingredients together until a smooth dough has formed.
Alternatively, you can heat the ingredients in a saucepan over a gentle heat, stirring continuously with a heatproof rubber spatula.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Ruby's mud kitchen

After I graduated from university, my first job was as a teaching assistant in the Nursery class of a Primary School. I worked with an incredible teacher who had three decades of experience in Early Years teaching, and I learned so many invaluable things from her. One of the first things she taught me was about the importance of outdoor play, whatever the weather. This teacher never spoke negatively about how wet or cold or miserable it was outside (as so many British people are inclined to do), she simply dressed appropriately, went outside and created wonderful learning opportunities for the children. I cannot recall the children in her class ever complaining about the weather either, which I am sure is testament to the fact that children mirror what they see and hear.
In my years of Early Years teaching that followed, I endeavoured to provide children with an outdoor environment where there learning and exploration would thrive. While I often had to be rather creative, due to limited resources, I saw how children can take the simplest of things and develop wonderful play and learning through their own initiative. Like mud. In my first year of teaching, I created a digging pit and provided a selection of tools, pots and bowls for the children to use. All kinds of roleplay scenarios and learning developed in and around this digging pit, including digging for treasure, finding worms, making stone soup, exploring changes in the consistency of mud when water was added, the list could go on and on. I would have loved to have been able to make the children an outdoor mud kitchen to extend the learning opportunities, but sadly my budget just couldn't stretch to make it happen.
Now that I have my own daughter, I love that I get the opportunity to watch the way she enjoys exploring and learning. While we don't have a particularly exciting or spacious garden, I am so grateful for the space we do have, and I am trying to make the most of it. For some time, I have been wanting to create a mud kitchen for Ruby. I recently read a lovely blog post about a mud pie kitchen, written by Ginny who is a Mum to seven children, which gave me a bit more inspiration and motivation to actually create an outdoor kitchen for Ruby. I was surprised at just how hard it was to find kitchen resources in second hand shops, but after a good amount of searching, I found a few pieces. Then my neighbour's house was being cleared out, and an entire box of kitchenware was put out on the street to be taken, so I was thrilled to be able to give his old pots and pans a new home.
I would love to add more to the mud kitchen over the Summer, but for the time being, Ruby has been thoroughly enjoying mixing, pouring, stirring and transferring soil between her different containers.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

on food & friendship

I started writing this blog post many months ago, in the Winter of 2014. When I was sorting through my draft posts, I found this one, and I think the only reason I hadn't hit 'publish' was because I didn't have any photos to accompany the post. For the most part, you could read this and have no idea I wrote it over six months ago, except for the paragraph where I talk about Ruby and our morning routine involving clementines. Six months on, and clementines are no longer in season. Instead, our breakfast routine involves porridge for Ruby as soon was we come downstairs, followed by toast and coffee (for the adults only, of course). I wanted to leave that paragraph as part of the original post, as a little glimpse back to what our mornings used to look like. 


I have this memory from nine years ago while I was at university, of sitting against our rugged, well-worn sofa, reading Tessa Kiros' recipe book, Apples for Jam. I had stumbled across Tessa Kiros as a result of doing a Google search for lemon bars. After baking these incredibly delicious citrus treats, I promptly bought Apples for Jam. If the lemon bars were anything to go by, I wanted to bake every single recipe in this book. I had very little money in those days, and buying a brand new recipe book felt slightly frivilous, but I am so glad I did, for so many reasons.

As I sat against my well-worn sofa in the student flat that I shared with three friends, I read through my brand new recipe book, and revelled in the discovery that Apples for Jam was so much more than a recipe book. It was filled with stories from Tessa Kiros' own childhood, and the stories of foods that she made for her own daughters, that were shaping their memories of childhood. I loved the way this book was so much more than just recipes. I felt a great excitement at the prospect of baking food and making memories for my friends, and hopefully a family of my own one day.
It was around this time that I realised how much I loved just doing life together with friends, eating together and sharing the simple stories that shape our lives. At university, I found a friend who loved to share the details in retelling the stories of our days as much as I did. She and I could talk for ten hours without a need for silence, just telling stories back and forth, sharing the beauty and humour in our lives together as we baked and cooked and ate together. I realised just how life-giving those friendships are, and how important it is to share life with others who understand us.

Nine years later, and I am curled up under a quilt, reading my brand new copy of The Kinfolk Table, while my husband and daughter read together. As I read the stories of sharing food together with family and friends, of building beautiful traditions out of the simplicity and love for good food, I get that same feeling that I had when I read Apples for Jam for the first time, and I realise how my love for making and enjoying food with friends has very much remained the same, through all of the changes in my life over the last nine years.

It makes my heart incredibly happy to be in that place that I dreamed of all those years ago - of having a family of my own to enjoy food with. I love that our daughter is at the stage where she is discovering so many new foods and flavours. This Winter, a simple morning routine has evolved around our mutual love for clementines. We make our way downstairs in our pyjamas, slightly bleary eyed depending on how eventful the night has been, and I sit Ruby on the working surface between the Kenwood Chef and the fruit bowl. As soon as she spots the mountain of clementines, she kicks her feet with excitement, picks one up and starts chewing on the peel, while I prepare one for us to share. There's nothing quite like the smell of clementines to make me think of Christmas and to bring refreshment to my slightly sleep deprived brain.

When I think about what our lives might look like in the years to come, I have this hope and a dream that hospitality will always play a big part. Everybody needs to eat every day, and sharing food together has this beautiful way of building community and expressing love for people. I recently heard a woman describe her childhood memory of her mother's kitchen. She said, quite simply, 'my mother showed she loved us with food. There were constant offerings of the things we loved to eat.' I hope that my children feel the same way, and that there will always be room for one more at our table.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The 52 Project: 19/52

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

Dear Ruby,
My sweet girl, you show such a tenderness towards your friends and those you love - it is my joy to watch the way you embrace those you know with open arms. You discovered dandelion clocks this week, although you haven't quite worked out how to blow the dandelion seeds without getting a mouthful of them. Keep trying, little one, you'll learn soon enough.
All my love,
Mama xxx

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

mini cupcakes

These little cakes came about when I wanted to bake some miniature treats a couple of weeks ago. They are perfectly bite sized, and so small that you can eat two and you'll still have eaten less than an entire cupcake. I used petit four cases and a standard sponge recipe. You could easily change the flavours to make a whole range of flavours from one batch, just by dividing up the batter, and adding a little cocoa if you fancy chocolate, or lemon zest and curd if citrus is your thing.

ingredients (makes approximately 30 petit four sized cupcakes)
125g unsalted butter at room temperature
125g caster sugar
125g self raising flour (or 125g plain flour + half tsp baking powder)
2 free range eggs
half a tsp vanilla extract
optional: cocoa / lemon zest if you'd like to change the flavour

1) Pre-heat oven to 180C / gas mark 4 and put petit four cases out on a baking sheet.
2) You can either place all of the ingredients into a bowl and beat together until well combined, or cream the butter and sugar, followed by the eggs & vanilla, then lastly the flour.
3) Using two teaspoons, scoop a small amount of batter into each case. Don't load up the spoons too much, otherwise they will spill over.
4) Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, or until the sponge is lightly golden. You can insert a skewer or toothpick into the centre of the cake to be sure that they are cooked through. If the skewer comes away clean, they're done. If there are a few crumbs stuck to the skewer, bake for another 2-3 minutes. If the skewer comes out wet, bake for another 5 minutes before checking again.
5) Transfer the cakes to a wire cooling rack and leave to cool completely before icing. (This doesn't take long - perhaps about 20 minutes or less as the cakes are so small.)
6) Make a half batch of your icing of choice then pipe your tiny cakes with as much or as little icing as you like! I used this chocolate orange cream cheese frosting on mine.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Beauty at Bristol Zoo

We have spent a lot of time at Bristol Zoo lately. Ruby loves animals, and it is a beautiful setting to visit for an hour or two. We were given membership to the zoo for Ruby's birthday, so it never feels like a waste of money if we only visit for an hour. I love taking my camera with me and capturing some of the amazing things we see there. On Saturday, we saw this bat feasting on the flowers. I have never been as close to a bat as we were able to get to this one. They are incredible creatures!
We often see robins at the zoo, but what I didn't realise when I was taking this photo, was that the robin had a spider in its mouth. It was a fun discovery to see the spider in its mouth when I was looking back at the photos on my camera. Can you see the little legs sticking out of the robin's mouth?
There are so many tiny flowers everywhere at the moment, and the sight of water droplets on petals always appeals to me.
I am pretty certain that I took more photos of flowers and animals than I did of Ruby - it's a good thing my husband was there to make sure she didn't try and swim with the ducks, or climb in with the meerkats...

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The 52 Project: 18/52

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

Dear Ruby,
This week I have found a cat in the cupboard and a frog in the washing machine. I love these little gifts you leave me to find, and I am also grateful that neither of these creatures were real. You have well and truly perfected your penguin walks (thanks to the constant inspiration of the penguins at the zoo) and our daily walks mostly involve you squatting on the pavement, ready to practice jumping. (That is what you're preparing to do in this photo.) Thank you for making life hilarious.
All my love,
Mama xx

Friday, 1 May 2015

on tension & running

As my alarm rouses me from sleep, telling me it's time to get up and run, It feels like my whole body is groaning. This tension exists between craving more rest and needing to stretch out the aches I feel every morning. Staying in bed is such a temptation, but knowing that my daughter will be waking soon helps me to stick with my plan to run. I know that running will reap far greater benefits than an extra ten minutes in bed will. So I get up, pull on my running clothes, pop my ear buds in and go. It sounds so simple, just typing it out like that, but the reality always feels so much harder. When my body and mind battle to keep me in bed that little bit longer, sometimes, the only thing that spurs me on is the prospect of finding beauty outdoors.
I often lament the fact that our neighbourhood is not particularly beautiful, because beauty is inspiring, and rubbish littering the pavements is not. But I know that if I look carefully, I will find beauty in the smallest and most surprising places. There's beauty in the mist that shrouds the railway line and changes the way everything looks, painting a picture in muted colours. The more I run, the more I realise and remember that beauty doesn't come without growth. And growth is often painful. The beauty that I adore in Springtime only happens because of the death of Winter. Becoming strong again after my body carried a baby has been painful and painfully slow. But exercise has stretched me mentally, and strengthened me physically. 
I see these lessons about beauty and growth all around me. In the bulbs that I planted while I was heavily pregnant with Ruby, and in the spider's web on my run, carefully spun and hung with morning dew before the sun burns through the clouds. There is often a point during my running where I hit a stride that makes me feel like I am flying; when the mental battle to just get going has been overcome, and I have taken enough steps that my feet remember what to do without me willing them forward in a jog, that flying feeling comes. And I am reminded once again that exercise is always, always worth it.