30 Nov 2013

Lessons you don't learn in school (pt 2)

A paradigm shift has taken place in our house. I cook now. As of about 2 months ago.

Yes- I know. I was surprised too.

This change was triggered by the inheritance of a massive box of recipe cards from some friends who were moving house and asked did I want them? I most certainly did not want them but said yes automatically as I was in full clearance mode. (I have learned that one should transport as few things as possible when moving house). Never mind - the recipes would just live at our house for a few days then be passed on to someone who was likely to use them.

However, Madi discovered the box before this could happen and spent ages looking through the cards making comments like 'Ooh this looks nice' and 'I would LOVE to eat this thing here - what is it?'

Hmm. Lightbulb.

I summoned the boys and got all of them to look through all the cards and put their favourite looking meals to one side. I instructed them to pass round their favourites to get a consensus of dishes they would all be willing to try.

A few evenings later, K and me sat on the sofa with wine and maltesers and proceeded to look through the dozens of cards that had been deemed 'nice' by the children. We vetoed them and discarded all the cards involving obscure expensive ingredients and anything that gave a preparation time of more than 35 minutes. (Until they invent time travel I'm not interested).

This left 30 or so recipes.

Recipes. The word still sounds rather foreign to me.

These were arranged into a rota and a shopping list was made.

Shopping list. I know- It's a whole new vernacular. Until now we've operated with a type of inventory / roll call system. Run out of beans? Replace them. Tomato sauce needs too much shaking before anything comes out? Replace that before it runs out completely and J goes into withdrawal. Tuna?... Tuna??... TU-NAH!??... Darn it, tuna's gone awol again- source more, ASAP!

Shopping list in hand, I took the 2 youngest kids to Tesco the following evening after tea. It was a most efficient exercise- we got everything on the list, suffered minimal infiltration by non-listed items and finished off with our usual free reward of browsing in the toy aisle for 10 minutes. (Note to self: Food shop on a full stomach. Always).

The kids loved it. We each chose an item, scouted off to find it, then raced back to the trolley to score it off and choose something else. We always look out for offers and own-brand stuff, but this time a whole new world opened up. We covered £/kg, £/lb and why the marketing people are sneaky and don't standardise their labelling. The whole experience lasted an hour and a half and covered aspects of numeracy, literacy and the life skill of approaching a uniformed grown up to determine the location of coconut milk.

Over the next few days I gradually realised something which I suspect is common knowledge for many normal people: the mere awareness of what you are likely to eat later on in the day takes some of the stress out of making it. Why this is I'm not sure- the measuring / chopping / browning / simmering of things still has to be done. But the mental exertion of making certain decisions has already taken place so somehow all that stuff seems more bearable (Note: bearable- not necessarily enjoyable).

While having to actually perform the measuring / chopping / browning / simmering of things I employ the following strategies to further decrease monotony...

• Approach the whole thing like a massive science experiment. Prove the hypothesis: 5x + (3mb x CM4 - π5)2 = y

• Have someone to talk to / assist (our kitchen is open plan so there's usually another human being somewhere nearby). If not...

• Have music playing. Loudly.

• Gradually introduce variables into the known formulae: 5x + (3mL x CM4 - π5)2 = y (I used lamb instead of beef there and made my very own thing- Ha!)

Clearly we are in the very early stages of some sort of breakthrough here. If indeed it is a permanent change- this may just be the Cookiemoon or some weird mid-life blip and my real domestic rebel within will resurface any day now and force us to eat baked potatoes every other night, frozen stuff in between, and in the run up to big events when work/home boundaries are compromised allow the kids to have bowls of sugar puffs and wotsits for tea.


13 Nov 2013

Telling the truth (cont)

It's E's bedtime. I'm up in his room. We have been chatting about something (can't remember what) that he broached. I have talked animatedly about the subject for almost 3 minutes, uninterrupted. It was an intelligent, reasonably knowledgeable contribution, I thought.

E: Night night then mum...
Me: Ah, you want me to stop talking.
E: Yes please.
Me: Do I say ever say anything that is remotely interesting to you?
E: Um no... Not really.
Me: I see.
E: But I'm always too polite to tell you.
Me: Thanks mate.
E: I mean apart from right now when I told you. But that's only cause you asked me outright and I didn't want to lie.
Me: I appreciate the honesty. Thanks.
E: You're welcome.

4 Nov 2013

Strimming Frogs


In our house we do pets

We have a cat and a hamster and a long history of keeping small domestic animals. I catch spiders and put them outside rather than kill them. We genuinely don't set out to harm living things- unless of course they are teeny tiny bacteria that make larger organisms vomit- or wasps (these things can and should be destroyed).

In our house we don't do gardening
This is due to the lack of time, knowledge about gardening and motivation to increase knowledge about gardening. After a brief and unsuccessful flirtation with growing our own veg, we returned to soulless multinationals for all food. Grass cutting and occasional plant lopping are the only garden based activities we now indulge in. (Carrots are just too NEEDY while they are in the ground). Our garden is a place to keep the trampoline, shoo the cat towards when he's puking fur balls and occasionally sit in if it's not raining.

In our house some of us do Minecraft
Lego has always been massive for our kids, so this was only a matter of time. 

One Summer a few years ago I was strimming the grass in the back garden while Madi helped me with her plastic lawnmower. Suddenly, a large adult frog half flopped/half jumped by the whizzing wire and came to rest just in front of us. I stopped all activity and inspected it: 

• Bleeding from nose 
• Laceration to throat
• Hyperventilation (Hypovolemic shock?)
• Two missing digits on left hand
• Left leg at a peculiar angle
• Oops.

Madi, who came from the womb talking, immediately began interrogating me. Why had I stopped strimming? Will the frog be OK? Don't you know you strim grass and not frogs? That was a bad thing you just did. Oh ok, so you didn't mean to strim the frog. It was silly then. I'll need to tell Daddy that you did that. Silly Mummy strimmed the frog.

OK, evasive manoevers failed. Time for damage control. I found a paint roller tray in the garage and filled the deepest bit with water. Madi and I lined the shallowest part of the tray with some of the strimmed grass. We toured the inside windowsills of the house and collected all the dead flies which had buzzed themselves to death in the sunlight. We scattered them in the paint tray too, then gently transferred the injured frog to our makeshift ICU.

The frog just sat there among the bed of dying cut grass, hyperventilating.

So we placed it half-in / half-out of the water. It looked at us and continued to hyperventilate. Maybe they always breathe that fast? Respiration rates of normal healthy frogs were not covered in general nurse training. Madi tried offering it a dead fly, but it wasn't interested.

Over the next few days in between the school run, nursery run, work and playdates, I checked on the frog. It never moved from the position in the tray where I'd placed it. It got gradually more and more cyanosed, then on day 3 it died.

Ah well. I didn't mean to kill it, as Madi reassured me.


We recently spent a whole day in the back garden shifting 1/2 ton of soil from one location to another to make way for a massive shed garden office.

It was actually quite fun to spend the working day doing something so active. 1/2 ton of soil takes up a lot of room, so progress was easy to chart. The sum total of my physical activity in the day usually comprises of short walks between the kettle, my desk and the bathroom, so being energetic in a work capacity felt a bit radical. The day was not so positive for the tiny inhabitants of the soil however.

With every spadeful of the excavation process, we saw small panicking creatures, scurrying frantically away from the edge of the spade. Running for their lives from the unidentified wrecker of their world. Annoyingly, they sometimes ended up right in the path of the spade, such was their panic and haste to avoid what they didn't understand. I cut at least 3 millipedes clean in half. The severed head ends writhed around for a good 30 seconds afterwards each time. It was not pleasant. 

I had flashbacks to the frog. 

Minecraft is very big in our house. I have yet to make up my mind about it, having never actually played it myself (for the same reason a recovering alcoholic will not have medicinal whiskey in the bathroom cabinet).

Ethan is the authority on all things Minecraft in our family, having invested the most hours in playing it. The potential for creativity and learning simple engineering principles is huge and having unlimited resources to mould a world of your own design is most appealing. But there have also been a few moments of conflict which have led to the following code of conduct:

• Do not destroy anything you did not build
• If a structure was built jointly, always consult with collaborators before demolition / structural alteration
• Structural alteration includes anything not in the designer's original plans and always includes items placed without his/her knowledge. Waterfalls, lava, portals  etc are all considered to be structural alterations- even those placed as a 'joke'. 
• You may destroy a structure you created, however you must ensure that the resulting debris does not affect any other player
• In the event of accidental damage to another players property, an unprompted apology is appropriate
• Lack of such an apology will lead to a 24hr Minecraft embargo
• If you treat your neighbours well, then you probably don't need nuclear capability.

I don't know whether to be uncomfortable that the rules have to exist, or grateful that they do and we have agreed to stick to them.

It makes me think: What if the creator of our real live flesh and blood and water and mineral world were as violent and dictatorial as a teenager exploring the limits of his power with 3D textured cubes? 

Or what if our creator were as clumsy and uncaring as a amateur gardner shovelling earth from A to B for a greater purpose that doesn't concern a billion tiny creatures that are simply collateral to be damaged? 

The universe would be a seriously miserable place.