Sunday, 26 January 2014

Five ingredients, a whole bunch of recipes, clearing out the freezer and a new theme for 2014!

I thought I would fill you in on how the last few of our challenges went in 2013.

Back in October we had what was possibly the most revolutionary of all the months for me: five ingredient month. I didn't think I did particularly complicated cooking on a day to day basis but it was quite tricky to make things that simple. I did cheat a bit - the very first day, I just forgot the rules and added extra spices before realising that only salt, pepper and oil were "free" and at other times I was a little loose with the definition of "one ingredient" and did things like counting pieces of chicken and chicken stock as the same thing. However, even with these little tweaks it was still a remarkable month. G&E ate everything I put in front of them, even things they didn't like previously because they were simple. They also totally entered into the month and were very sad when the month ended. I have tried to maintain the simplicity but oddly it isn't always easy to make myself!

November was recipe book month. Or recipe magazine. But not recipe Internet. I had to use a recipe that was already in the house. Ideally ones I had wanted to try but hadn't had the chance. It took a few days but the kids entered into this theme too especially once I sat down with G and let him choose some of the recipes. After only about twelve days, we did decide to formally quit recipe month. We had tried a lot of nice things and added new recipes to our regular repertoire but using new recipes every day was proving a lot of work, expensive, wasteful and fattening!!

December...well, we didn't have much motivation for a theme in December or much time to see one through and so A created the very practical theme of clearing out the freezer. In advance of all the jollities and cooking and keeping and leftovers storage, we needed some space and so for the first twenty days of December the challenge was to use up one thing from the freezer a day. Think we managed it though I wouldn't swear to it!

We really enjoyed the majority of our themes for 2013 but were aware we were getting less enthused and so thought we would take a break for 2014 and do something different. So this year we are just picking random challenges each month rather than food related. This way, they are a challenge for A too where most of the food ones were really just challenges for me.

January has been read a chapter a day month (and that did not include any read we might do with G&E). It has been great being "forced" to pick up a book every day and have a reason to make it an priority. I have split my time between The Shadow of the Wind (yeah, I know I am pretty behind the times coming to this one...and a chapter a day hasn't got me very far through it yet but I love it), The Last Dance and other stories by Victoria Hislop (I have thoroughly enjoyed everything she has written and learnt a lot too!), The 24-7 Prayer Manual (inspiring) and An Ancient Future Prayer (about the Lord's Prayer. Some very interesting ideas but I keep not quite finishing it. And then I restart it again! Which perhaps works quite well as the first few chapters are seriously embedded now!).

February is going to be exercise every day month. We couldn't do it in January because it would have been heavily lopsided - A is still working a cycle ride away at the moment and he would have counted that as his exercise. But would have refused to count the forty plus minutes I walk every day taking the kids here and there and to the shops and so on and so on. In February, he starts to work forty miles away again and so is very keen for a kick up the backside to make sure he keeps up the exercise. And I won't feel quite so grumpy that my lifestyle doesn't count and his does as now neither of our lifestyles will count and we will both have to make special effort. Wish us luck!

Sunday, 19 January 2014


Thanks for waiting, if indeed you have!

In the past few months, I have written a number of posts for this blog but they have all remained firmly in my head, fingers failing to reach the keyboard, "publish" key not tapped. This is for lots of reasons and I won't bore you with the majority of them. But here is one thing I have been thinking about a bit over the past few weeks.

Life gets easier pretty much constantly at the moment. G and E are increasingly able to do things for themselves - putting shoes on, coats on, getting dressed and undressed, using forks and spoons, finding the book/toy/DVD they want and so on and so on. I even have two mornings a week to myself. Of course there are days that are more difficult, caused by illness or tiredness or general crankiness or wet weather or a lack of adventure or too much adventure or... But the general trend is for an ever easier life than when they were teeny tiny or quite small or just a month ago.

However, I have significantly less spare time. When breast feeding a baby, especially without a toddler around, you can get quite a lot done. Replying to texts and emails, making a phone call, Internet shopping, writing a blog... Nothing that involves any great movement but still stuff that needs doing. Even a few months ago, I could get the odd email or text blasted off "on the side" while the kids were playing. At the moment, this just doesn't happen without expressly explaining to G&E that for the next two minutes, they will have to wait. They want my attention All The Time. There is always a question that needs answering, some Lego to build, a toy to mend, a story to read, ten more questions, a cup of milk to heat up (G has become a total fuss pot and only I know exactly how to heat his milk apparently. And he won't drink it cold. Or drink anything else.), seventeen more questions to answer, some biscuits to make because E has just decided that is The Thing this afternoon or maybe just a few more questions to answer. The point being that where a while ago, my presence was the necessary thing, now it is very much my attention and my mind that are required. 

Fundamentally this is a good thing. My kids are growing and taking an interest in everything. It is more interesting for me too. The days that dragged by with me bored to tears because the games were just so repetitive and my mind had left the building are, for now at least, behind us. It is more fun, more interesting and vastly more time consuming. And so I haven't replied to texts or emails or written any of the thank you letters that I should have because it just doesn't fit. Nor have I written a blog post. 

I am not complaining, it simply took me by surprise, this latest change in how my days are structured, what I can and cannot do and what does and doesn't end up taking my time. It will all change again, of that I am absolutely certain.

I wanted to drop by and try and get back in this habit because, frankly, I need to be a bit honest all over again. Winter is not my friend. Hopefully now I have broken the silence, I will be back to say a little more soon.

Til then. Cheerio!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Then it was September 30th...

So that month didn't exist, did it?

Rather like our Carribean month in June, we have had very little time this month to do normal life and therefore very little time to tackle this month's challenge of food with a name. It has been a great month with an extremely whirlwind eight day trip round the country visiting almost every first and second degree relative we have plus a few third degree, plus a few distant, never met before but got on like a house on fire relatives! We have also just returned from our church weekend away in Scarborough. It wasn't what many people were expecting it to be like but I hope and pray that the impact made will last far beyond the doors of Green Gables.

So, back to the point. Food with a title. It was fun, really fun and quite silly in places. There wasn't much of it but we went out on a high today with Boats. Not only food with a name but also would have scored points under presentation month, African month (ahem, it had cous cous in it...) and base ingredient month (which we haven't done yet but have discussed a lot). Boats is made up of sailing and rowing boats, the former being half a jacket potato with a rolled up piece of bacon skewered to the top as a sail, the latter being stuffed peppers with carrot baton oars. Fun times! And no complaint about any element fom the kids cos I called it Boats. Win. Win. Win.

Next month is five ingredient month. We have a couple of hours left to thrash out the rules precisely but basically any main meal will only contain five ingredients (but, for example, a stock cube would be an ingredient not all its component parts. That is for base ingredient month...). I am also aiming for olive oil, salt, pepper and possibly balsamic vinegar to not count as ingredients... I am aiming to do it as a "full challenge" i.e. every single evening meal. Wish me luck! (And possibly a back subscription to Good Food magazine...)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

There's a Hole in my Bucket

I am aware I may not always sound it, and many times it takes me by surprise when I realise it, but I am intrinsically an optimist. However, I have noticed recently that when I get to feeling particularly low or volatile, I have a tendency to look only at things that are missing, the holes in my bucket, rather than my more usual approach of looking at all the many wonderful ways I could plug the holes.

One of the holes I have dwelt on a lot in the past is not having a sister. I had one once upon a time, before I was born, but she died when only six weeks old. No one ever really knew her, and certainly not me, but at times I become extremely despondent over her loss and over what life would be like, if only I had this unknown sister.

Another hole is of course the anxiety/IBS/endo combo. In this case, there are of course some fairly real concerns, but the bit that counts as my "hole" is that nagging feeling of what life would be like if I never got nervous about leaving the house. Imagine all the things I could do if I didn't always have to know where my next "convenience" was...

Recently, however, I have had a big old smack round the head about one of my most common holes. It is, quite frankly, a ridiculous hole and I am a little ashamed to admit it, especially to some of you that I know are reading this. This hole is the lack of a life long best friend, the one I met on the first day of school, we were each others bridesmaids, we talk on the phone at least once a week even though we now live in different parts of the country etc etc etc.

I am sorry for all the times I have felt jealous and insecure about your other friends and wondered which one is your best friend. I am sorry that I have wasted time imagining a relationship so utterly secure as to be impossible.

I don't fall into this hole very often anymore but it is the kind of one that sneaks up when I am getting a grip on the anxiety but it still needs somewhere to leak out. I was aware it was trying to gain some traction recently. And then came the smack round the head.

In the space of about two hours the other week, I had texts from about five different people, all of whom I value highly, all of whom are very busy. They all took the time to text and say their parts of the following:

How are you?

I miss you.

You did that really well.

I love you.

What can I pray about for you?

How did X that you were worried about go?

What a wake up call, and what an unbelievably blessed and lucky person I am because they aren't the only five people who would say those things to me. Thank you. I love you too. And I promise I am going to plug that hole in my bucket as soon as it appears next time. I am going to plug it with your names.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Being Busy

As I mentioned a post or two back, it turned out that doing nothing I found stressful was really bad for the anxiety and we threw around a few ideas of why this might be and what could be done about it. One of the ideas was that I was simply a little bored of mind.

Since writing that, I haven't really had time to stop and think about how to challenge my mind, or indeed anything else. It has seemed to be the case that I have been less anxious also.

The big thing that has occurred has been just the start of term, the start of pre-school, the start of all our regular fixtures like the mum's cell group that I "run" (I use inverted commas because the three other members of the group really do their fair share of running it too, I just get to claim that it is me...), swimming lessons for G&E and so on. These are the kinds of things that make me busy but don't necessarily challenge my brain (other than cell group (oh by the way, in case you are not jargon-tastic, a cell group is not a terrorist organisation in this case, it is a bunch of Christians meeting together to study the bible, pray and challenge each other. In our case, we also laugh A Lot and eat plenty of cake.)).

I have, on the side, however, picked up a couple of these more brain challenging things, occasionally by accident. I have led, or helped to lead, a couple of services at church. The first was a last minute offer to lead an evening prayer service. It was a little stressful at the time simply because leading a service that you have been to once before and is of a fundamentally quiet and reflective style is very hard to judge whether people are engaged or bored to tears. Those closed eyes and relaxed faces could mean one of two things...fervent prayer or blissful sleep! However, I did enjoy it thoroughly and had a lot of positive feedback afterwards. The second service was the dreaded, horrifying All Age service. I think we put together a good service. I think it went well. I think those who were there enjoyed it and hopefully learnt something from it. I hated it. At the time it was ok but I went into bit of a state of shock afterwards and crawled off into a cave to recover. It was tough going. I am still trying to work out which kind of tough going - the kind where you should keep going and stick at it or the kind where you should know your limits and make a graceful exit. I fear it is the former!

The final challenge to my brain has come in the form of E's impending second birthday. I decided a while ago that I would write her a story for her birthday, the hope being that I shall continue to write stories for both children for each birthday for as long as they want. But let's not get ahead of ourselves!

The thing about a story for a second birthday is that it has to be illustrated, not much way round that with a two year old! I can write stories but I can't draw for toffee. And yet, here I sit, while writing this, spraying pages of drawings with fixative so that they don't smudge the opposite page and considering the drawings still remaining and attaching the words and...! And feeling pretty darn chuffed. I still can't draw but I have drawn enough to get the point across. Why the heck I decided to include a horse in the story I will never know (thank goodness there are words there too so people will know it is a horse...). It has filled my evenings this week, along with a bit of party preparation and it has been a very good challenge. Of course, as soon as I finish it, I need to start on G's story...

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Breakfast Month

Breakfast month was good. The kids were a little unconvinced and largely stuck to their cereals of choice but A is very pleased with his new found love of porridge (in August. No doubt he will be sick of it before winter arrives...). We had less exciting blow out breakfasts than hoped but still found a number of nice new things so a win I would say. Except that now my health is such that I am eating rice cakes for breakfast. Yum. With a glass of water. Goody.

Anyway, A felt we needed to go a bit silly this month. September's theme is...titled food! To which I said  "eh?" (And I am not quite sure I get it yet but I will try to explain...)

To "score points" this month, I must make a dish with a name. But the name can't be "sticky chicken" or "roast dinner" as they are simply descriptive. Beef Wellington would count. Spaghetti Bolognese would get half marks (as would any other regionally named dish.)

So far I have scored points with "leftovers" (I thought this would be too descriptive but it seemed to tickle A) and last night's self-named Thai-nese Tickle (griddled trout with Thai sticky rice and stir fried ribbon veg, the ribbony bit being the tickle in my mind...). I need to do some research and look in some different cookbooks as most of the recipes I use tend to have very descriptive names.

(By the way, I am aware I have mentioned strict budget month to quite a few people. We have ultimately decided not to do that as a challenge month but just as something ongoing. I may or may not blog about our findings. But this week I am doing food shopping on a budget that has been chopped by a third. So far, so simple, but the weekend will tell what it is really like.)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A Weird Thing

(A bit more back on topic)

So. I decided that during the summer holidays I would take a two week block and do nothing I found stressful. It took a bit of careful engineering in places to avoid places I find difficult or journeys I find difficult or...but I did, as much as possible while dealing with G and E, none of the things that unnecessarily stress me.

And the effect? Mucho mucho anxiety. Ridiculous levels. By the penultimate day, I was an absolute wreck, completely terrified of a drive home that I know well.

Conclusion? It isn't good to be always in my comfort zone. A and I have discussed this back and forth for much of the past weekend. There are several almost opposite arguments we keep putting forth about what to do about it, new challenges, different challenges, counselling, exercise, study...

No decisions yet. But the basic conclusion was stark, interesting and a starting point.