Thursday, 20 November 2014

Cancel the search party. Nothing to see here.

Oh, I'm so sorry. Did you think I'd turned off the Internet for A MONTH? No-one is that strong.

Our week-long screen-fast went brilliantly, though. Eldest read half a book. (This is a record). I read a whole one (a record this year). Children drew with actual pencils. Littlest only threw herself on the floor and whined once.

I didn't achieve a great deal. I'd love to say I sewed an entire wardrobe and became proficient at the saxophone (or even the mandolin, which I actually am learning), but what I did do was tidy up a bit more and read a bit more and waste less time fiddling around.

After a while, Eldest found a lo-fi way to tune the rest of us out, with the discovery of an ancient Sony CD Walkman which she plugged herself into for much of the week. You can take away the smartphone, but you can't cure a teenager of being, well, teenaged. She was allowed one birthday visit to the library to check her Facebook messages, during which she took the opportunity to leave a small online cry for help, like a message in a bottle sent from a desert island - "My mum has turned off the Internet..."

Since then, we've been playing at being a little bit stricter. We turn the screens off at 6 during the week, except Fridays and Saturdays, which are a bit of a free-for all. Sundays is completely off limits. The kids think we're evil. We don't care. Steve Jobs was super-strict about screen time. We're not even close to that.

I'm not preaching. I don't suggest you do this. If anything, it adds another layer of stress - can Eldest get her online homework done before 6? How can we possibly keep up with Strictly Come Dancing? How can I quietly pay bills online in the house on a Sunday when there are tiny angry eyes watching around every corner? It hasn't cured the children's addiction to their favourite poisons - Facebook, the Emmerdale website, Minecraft, Littlest Pet Shop videos - just given a definite shut-off time. It's easier to say 'No' than 'Just another ten minutes'. It takes less thought.

And less thought is about where I am right now. Less thought all round. That's just what I need.

Friday, 24 October 2014

T minus 30 minutes

In half an hour, I'm turning the Internet off for a week.

(Just in this house. Don't worry. I don't have power over the whole Internet. Though the Littlest Latte did ask.)

It's all the fault of this book - Susan Maushart's The Winter of our Disconnect - which I borrowed from the library. In it, a single mother of three teenagers turns off all the screens for six months, backed up by Henry David Thoreau and a shedload of academic studies. During the six months, one of her children bakes cakes, one becomes a fantastic saxophone player and the other one rings people up a lot.

I was entranced. And despite the fact that we don't even own a saxophone, I am confident that a screen-free half term will change my entire family for the REST OF THEIR LIVES, and that we will all become spiritually and emotionally balanced individuals, discovering the pleasures of intelligent conversation, literature, handicrafts and Deep Thought.

In a few moments I shall unplug the TV, the PC, and the little black box thing that connects us to the Internet. I shall make a little pile of switched-off mobile phones. I texted friends this week to tell them they would have to use the landline to call me.

I got a number of texts back, most using the word 'brave'. Feel free to leave a comment along the same lines. I won't see it for a week, mind. I'll be over here in Deep Thought, and not thinking about wanting to watch Netflix at all.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Zen and the art of coat-making

I can't tell you how delighted I was the last time I posted - after months and months of silence - to find out that people were STILL HERE. The Internet, we're told, is an up-to-the-minute, fast-paced environment, which certainly doesn't wait around for half-assed bloggers to make good on promises they can't keep.

It seems we have all been misled, and the Internet is actually full of lovely, Zen-like people, quite happy to wave and smile whenever we briefly bob up on the horizon.

And in honour of all that, here's a picture of me holding a finished quilt in a Japanese garden.

Part English Paper Pieced, part machined, the quilt was a retirement gift - a very well-received one, thankfully - for a professional who has worked tirelessly (no kidding - I think the word was coined for her) with Eldest since she was very small. I'll miss her a great deal.

Tess took the picture. (In addition to helping me lay out and pin all the layers together, and coming up with a shortcut to binding the thing.)  I finished it during our craft weekend with Emma, Monica and Ali last month.

For ages I've been envious of some of the Australian bloggers I read, nicking off to Sewjourn for the weekend, having a fine old time with lovely people, and coming back with umpteen finished skirts. I wanted to do the same; and having stayed so many times at the Scargill Movement with my family I knew they'd be more than welcoming to us. For two nights and two days I sewed and sewed and sewed - occasionally stopping to eat cake, or laugh, or chat, or admire progress, or squish lovely new balls of yarn, or drink coffee, or make a stiff hot toddy (Eldest kindly gave me her stinking cold to take away with me) - until the quilt was finished and I'd made rather a lot of headway into sewing a coat.

It was amazing. It really brought home to me what those sewing blogs mean when they say 'the pattern came together in a weekend'. They mean an actual, whole weekend. They don't mean 'the pattern came together in half an hour after breakfast on Saturday, a snatched hour on Saturday night after loading the dishwasher, and twenty minutes after church on Sunday when everyone else is watching YouTube'.

Given time and the headspace to think, you can attempt something new without getting so tired it becomes impossible. Your brain actually works. You can get a big giddy and obsessive - and you can even, whilst hugging a friend to say goodbye, find yourself ripping her jacket off her shoulders to see how the facing is sewn in.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about time - or my lack of it - and the experience of the craft weekend has made me more forgiving of myself. Ten o'clock on a school-night is no time to get out the sewing machine. Craft becomes another chore to be fitted in, rather than a space for enjoyment, which on this occasion it truly was.

It was a lovely weekend in very good company. I hope we do it again.

Monday, 15 September 2014


Mudmaid in the Lost Gardens of Heligan

Where have I been? What can I tell you? I'd love to say I've been lying in a forest letting moss grow over me.

I haven't. I have no moss. If I did lie still for longer than a moment (I do try: flinging myself on the bed under the guise of putting away ironing, I often get as long as 17 seconds) it's unlikely I would be covered in greenery - more likely I'd be subsumed in bits of laundry, or toast crusts, or a plastic medal for an event no-one can remember attending, or a cardboard box inexplicably painted a lurid green that must Never Be Thrown Away. It's an educated guess, based on the contents of the floor around me.

It was my understanding that as children got older, they stopped being quite so all-consuming. It was toddlers, I thought, that didn't give you two minutes space to go to the loo. Once you had a teenager and a child in KS2 (or Juniors, as it still exists in my elderly head) you'd be able to sustain a meaningful thought process; you'd be able to get through a Saturday morning without feeling that your brain had been violently stirred with a spoon.

Not so. And having searched all summer for a blog post that suggested some kind of personal growth, I gave up. I made a collage. Personal growth; a sense of achievement; clarity on the meaning of life - these things may never come. I best stop waiting, and just start filling the space.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The alchemy is complete

Last time I was here, I invited you to laugh at my profligate behaviour in a health food shop, and to mock my chia seeds.

I return to you a maturer woman; someone who has found their own path in life. And by the power of Aldi, I have conquered the Office Bomb recipe of Susan Jane White.

(I do think that to cook properly from the book, you would either have to live in a tent (not a yurt. Yurts cost money) or be on the Rich List to be able to afford to eat. But still, I find myself renewing the library book; find myself energised by her enthusiasm and her writing, and though I won't be boarding her Train of Extreme Health, I will be waving at it, like a poor Railway Child who can't honestly afford Chia Seeds, and couldn't buy them in the quaint Yorkshire village where she is forced to live. (I am from Yorkshire, originally. And I can confirm that Chia Seeds, and fresh vegetables, and Chai Lattes are all available in God's Own County.))

Okay. It's late. I've overdosed on good intentions and the use of brackets. Here is my cheap, unapologetic version of Office Bombs, which takes no time at all to make, and has completely replaced my mid-morning Creme Egg or bar of Milka or Galaxy or whatever massive cookie happens to fall into my hands in the petrol station. My children clamour for them and believe me, my children clamour for NOTHING that can't be bought in Home Bargains.

(The original recipe makes 30 balls, but I'm sure Susan is grown-up enough to own a proper food processor. I own an Aldi mini-chopper, so I only make 16.)

Susan Jane White's Office Bombs, only altered a leetle bit
  • 1 cup Aldi milled seeds; the Goji Berries or the Raspberry ones. (About two quid a pack! For realz! I throw them in Eldest's food at every opportunity.)
  • Half a cup raisins, plus a small scattering of whatever other dried fruit you have around, to replace the 'raw cacao nibs' which I have never bothered sourcing.
  • Quarter of a cup tahini
  • Quarter of a cup ground almonds
  • Quarter of a cup honey (Mine comes from Aldi or Home Bargains or is on An Offer.)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt (not"pink Himalayan salt" though. Sorry.)
  • Some dessicated coconut, to coat
Throw everything bar the coconut in your mini-chopper, or food processor, if you are grown-up. 

Whizz till it clumps into an unlikely. sticky brown mess.

Roll into balls and coat in dessicated coconut. You can freeze it! You can put it in the fridge! You can pack it in your children's lunchboxes, and NONE OF IT WILL COME BACK!! (My children are miraculously able to survive on a miniature Fromage Frais all day, if the only alternative is sandwiches and fruit.)

Friday, 18 April 2014

The bonbons of weird

Things often get a little, shall we say, fraught in the Coffee House. Take a combination of much to do and too little time; a cantankerous teenager; and the increasingly complex honeycomb of frustration that is special needs parenting; and you have the perfect recipe for lost tempers and recriminations and screaming and hiding in the wardrobe.

What we need, I decided, in a fit of hopeless simplicity, is better-balanced blood sugar and some Omega 3s. Because all these problems can be solved by not buying Bounty Bars, right?! So I hung around the library until I found the most insane cookbook I could find. It turned out to be The Extra Virgin Cookbook, by Susan Jane White. And then I did two things, in the manner of throwing money at a problem:
  1. I went to the health food shop, where I dropped £30 on chia seeds and barley malt extract and Siberian ginseng.
  2. I drove to Aldi and bought a bottle of whisky.
Chia seeds are, it seems, priced in the manner of a semi precious jewel. Here they are, presented to you by my delightful Hand Model Number 2.

In order to make chia seed bonbons, you're going to need to mix together a quarter of a cup of tahini and nearly a quarter of a cup of maple syrup. On close inspection, my regular maple syrup turned out not to be really maple syrup at all, so I substituted agave nectar. (Agave nectar used to be a fancy health food, but now that you can buy it in Tesco it seems to have been excommunicated and is now not healthy at all. Apparently.)

Then you add half a cup of milled chia seeds (ours were not milled. We will not live to a grand old age), a quarter of a cup of ground almonds, and two tablespoons of cocoa powder. You then roll them into very tiny little balls, because they are so expensive, and you feel a need to eek them out.

Then roll them in dessicated coconut, as demonstrated by my delightful Hand Model Number 2.

They're nice. Let's just get that out there right now, because I can hear Emma sniggering already. The other day, when I outlined my desperation and its seedy solution, she just laughed at me. She did. She said 'chia seed buns?' over and over again, and did some comedy swearing. How vindicated am I, now that I have a fridge full of sweets that cost a squillion pounds each to make?

I also made some prune muffins, again from Susan Jane White, which went down very well. These had ingredients including carrots and linseeds and barley malt extract. (You know that advice that you're only supposed to eat food that you can describe, in order to avoid chemicals and E numbers and strange ingredients of fear? I cannot describe barley malt extract. We're coming full circle over here.) 

Mr Coffee actually said: "Of all the muffins I've had that aren't chocolate, and have some weird things that you've put in like fruit (here he kind of flinched a little), these are the best." 

I think you'll agree, that is the highest praise.

*Update - I'm very sorry to hear that Gwyneth Paltrow's marriage is over. I make lots of her recipes. I cry: "These are the recipes of a Film Star who is married to a Rock Star!!!" to my children, when they stare again in horror at anything with veg in. I like her. I shan't say sorry.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Get on with it, why don't you

It's been a month. It's time to face facts. Inspiration is not going to strike. It's time to throw some words at a screen.

Or some pictures. Or some bricks. Whatever comes to hand.

Pretty fabric, you say? I can manage that. I've started a new project.

It's another paper pieced Liberty quilt - bigger pieces this time, because the Liberty star quilt was had way too many bits. It's based on a pattern for a picnic blanket which appears in the Hexa-Go-Go book, modified to do something vaguely rainbow-like across the three chevrons. I keep adding new colours, however, and lengthening the chevrons as I go along. It will be shaped like a giant's table runner by the time I finish it.

I realised back in February that when it comes to quilts, I'm a hand piecer. Free time is in short supply around here, and disappearing into a room for hours to sew bits of fabric together in straight lines isn't the most pressing of pursuits. (I said *pressing*! About quilting! It's like a quilting joke! (or not. It's not like a joke at all. Moving on.))

English paper piecing, as we've established before, can be done in front of the television with a glass of wine. Or two. Because no-one is looking that closely at the stitching.

So. What else? My children bought me lovely gifts for Mothers Day. Here is some fabric and bow trimming thingies for me to make pants.

I got a knicker-making kit for Christmas, and I'm all set now to never set foot in M&S again. I'm not blogging my smalls though, however much Emma says it's fine. IT'S NOT FINE. It's not fine to put your knickers on a blog. For heaven's sake - my teenage daughter subscribes to this sh.. twaddle* by email.

(*I have to be careful. There were links with Rude Words on in a previous post, and Mr Coffee was quite finger-waggy about the whole thing.) 

Good grief. I'm running out of steam already. Um. Here's a miniature mandolin, and yet another book about polygamy. Will that do for now? This twaddle is tiring.