Sunday 30 December 2018


cramp balls?

wood ears?

As usual I am galloping towards the New Year with a head full of plans and dreams and trying to ignore any niggling anxiety. It's always the same. Excitement and fear. But it's good to feel the feelings, no?

I've been working hard on the writing front, both the non-fiction, which earns the money at the moment, and the fiction, which is the dream. I've really enjoyed meeting more fiction writers this year. There's a group I go to occasionally where everyone is so knowledgeable and encouraging and I always come home really inspired and motivated. Slowly, slowly, I'm building a little network of writer friends, both in the fiction and non-fiction worlds, which I'm happy about - a while back I didn't know any at all. Now I'm starting to become immersed in those worlds, and I'm loving it.

The children still have loads of time off school, which is good. There are still leftovers to be finished off for one thing. Although on the subject of food, remember the twenty food photographs the biggest boy had to produce for his homework? He informed me the other day that he needs to take twelve more. Twelve! The first twenty nearly finished me off, and I honestly don't think I have any more photo-worthy dishes I can produce. I have already done my entire repertoire. I am trying not to think about it in the sure and certain knowledge that we can scream at each other about it later on in the week when I have work to do and time is almost up. We do our best work under pressure.

We went to the pantomime yesterday. I always think I'm not keen on pantomime, but I do enjoy it on the whole once I'm there. I like the time-honoured tradition of going to a theatre and being entertained by people. And I like going out for something to eat afterwards, I especially like that. The littlest boy and I can be lured almost anywhere with the promise of something delicious to eat. I am always dragging him along on the most tedious of trips simply by throwing in a packet of crisps or a good biscuit. I suppose one day he will stop being so happily enthusiastic about it all, but for now he is full of joy about pretty much everything.

Fungus pictures from a walk in the woods today. I'm guessing that they're cramp balls and wood ears. Wonderful. It's all deliciously damp and decaying out there. You can almost hear everything recycling itself. Nutrients returning to the soil, bacterial activity teeming.

And so it just remains for me to wish each and every one of you a very happy New Year. Thank you for coming here to visit, it means a lot to me. I hope 2019 contains some magic for you and yours and that your dreams come true. Happiness to you all. CJ xx

Thursday 27 December 2018

Festive exhaustion

The dog is lying on the sofa on his back with a cushion over his head. He has found Christmas frankly exhausting. All the excitement that has to be kept up with. Endless walks with numerous people to be constantly shepherded up. Frequent outbursts of merriment, games of chase, comings and goings, high octane exuberance all the live long day. Sausages everywhere, all the time.

No sooner does he lie down than someone leaps up and does something that need supervising.

Everyone else is hanging on in there, enjoying their Christmas presents and the freedom of days with no school. The urchins had a begleri each in their stockings which they've loved. It's two big wooden beads, one at each end of a short string, and you do fiddly little tricks with them. Non-plastic, not from China, small and (in the general scheme of things) fairly environmentally friendly, being basically wood and string. Win, win, win, win. I like it when a modest thing is popular. Although on occasion they do shoot across the room at top speed taking out anything in their path. But you can't have everything, and they are marginally less destructive than a yo-yo at high speed. Ask me how I know.

I've got a couple of little outings planned with the younger two over the next few days along with a bit of hanging out at home. How is the festive season sitting with you? Got through the mince pies yet? Gifts giving you gyp? Cushion over your head? Do tell.

Monday 24 December 2018

Festive wishes

Just a line to wish you the happiest of Christmases. All is calm here. I still have things to do, but I'm just bumbling along, not getting stressed. I shall make a pass of the supermarket later, so of course that may all change.

I do have that feeling that I've forgotten something vital, but we will just have to power through without it, whatever it is.

We have a quiet few days planned, family time, just us and the dog. So I shall wish you a very happy Christmas, and see you on the other side. If you have any idea what essential I may have forgotten that Christmas can't be properly done without, do let me know. CJ xx

Saturday 22 December 2018

Of biorhythms and mince pies

The dog went for his first big walk since his operation today. Oh how he loved it. There were boys to chase, sticks to fetch and dogs to talk to. The weather was glorious. He adapts according to the weather I think. On a particularly rainy day last week he spent the whole afternoon pressed into a cushion, motionless. If I got up and walked past he followed me with his eyes, but nothing else moved.

It suited me though, the lunchtime dog walk can make the afternoon disappear rather. By the time I've settled down to work again the urchins start piling through the door and all is noise and chaos. It's my worst time of day I think, the time before tea. I am grumpy and definitely not in the mood to get in the kitchen and create something marvellous. I'm more of a morning person, and I'm in a very good mood in the evenings too. I would happily join the dog in pressing myself into a cushion come 4 o'clock though. My biorhythms and blood sugar levels are all wrong. It's a nice time for a little dog walk round the neighbourhood, especially at this time of year. I love to see the odd window where someone is sitting in a chair with a book and a lamp on, it always looks so cosy and peaceful. You know how I like to look in the windows, and right now it's practically expected, what with all the lights and trees and things.

School finally finished on Friday. The middle boy dissected an eyeball on the same day as the Christmas lunch, but didn't seem phased. In fact he was rather thrilled that his group of three were given an extra eyeball as there was a spare one left over, and that it was tipped out and all the blood came out of the bag with it. It's the little extras that make the memories special.

I was planning on making my Christmas veggie roast tomorrow, but I bought the ingredients from memory and now I find I don't have any mushrooms which is annoying. I can't tackle the supermarket just for mushrooms, but what to do? It would probably be easier to forage in the woods for them than take on the massed inhabitants of Above The Riversville, who can turn a bit savage in the veg aisle at this time of year.

Has anyone noticed how off-piste mince pies have gone lately? I have seen salted caramel, frangipane, florentine, almond and black forest. I thought I was avant garde with my crumble topping, but this is mince pies taken to a whole new level. It's easy to get overcome with it all and find all sorts in the bag when you get home isn't it? Or maybe just me.

Cauliflowers have been insanely cheap lately. I bought an extra one and I'm fermenting it. If I'm brutally honest, the scent of fermenting cauliflower isn't entirely festive, but it's delicious when it's done and I'm persevering. The gas will stop bubbling up fairly soon, I'm certain of it. Any festive smells I should know about chez vous?

Sunday 16 December 2018

Just when you thought there were no more gloves

It always amazes me how at this time of year things move from it's far too early to think about Christmas to THERE ARE ONLY EIGHT DAYS LEFT AND I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING YET in the blink of an eye. Christina said something today which has stayed with me, about women (never men) putting pressure on themselves to make Christmas perfect.

I am going low-key this year. As always in fact. I am living in fear that the dog will swallow something again, so I am avoiding low-lying decorations, in fact pretty much all decorations, at this point. A chunk of work came in at the end of last week, to be done over the next few days, so I won't be spending my days creating festive works of art or planning elaborate menus. Hopefully once the urchins are home there will be some time to do things with them, which I'm really looking forward to, but I am trying to keep it simple and not Get In A State.

The youngest has found a type of glove which he does not yet have. You will recall his love of accessories and the fact that he has ALL the gloves - cycling, climbing, skiing, gardening, ordinary woollen, goalkeeping, running and last year's gift, Really Grippy, which were in fact a triumph. Well, he has discovered, wait for it, yo-yo gloves. Oh yes, that is actually a thing. Gloves to protect delicate little hands from the wear and tear of constant yo-yo-ing. The biggest boy said, 'Thank goodness he doesn't know there are basketball gloves.' Of course, I was immediately thinking, surprise gift! The gloves he didn't even know he needed. Basketball and yo-yo are huge around here right now. As is chess. I love how things go in cycles. Suddenly someone will get something out and, bam, everyone is obsessed.

Other than that, my main preparation for Christmas has been to stop taking iron tablets, which I'm sure have been making my joints hurt and my appetite disappear. I've lost any desire to eat an evening meal, and at the same time, it means that I don't really enjoy cooking it. I stand in the kitchen sighing and wondering what I could make that would be appetising, and thinking, actually, nothing. Which is not at all the thing for the festive season. I want to be looking at everything and wanting to eat it.

How are all the festive preparations coming along with you? Simple or elaborate or more than  you can chew? I shall look forward to hearing.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

How not to photograph mince pies

Oh my, Saturday was intense. You will recall that the biggest boy was doing food photography, and I was tasked with helping him create twenty things to take pictures of. TWENTY. I have always thought that food photography is astonishingly hard, and now I'm even more in awe of people who produce amazing images. Honestly, it was agony.

We went to the shops first and bought some Interesting Things, including some fantastic little squashes. I'll try and get a shot of them another day, it was a bit tense during the actual shoot in my tiny kitchen, with the biggest boy, the food everywhere, literally everywhere, most of which was poisonous to dogs, the dog, the biggest boy's tripod, which I fell over several times and the two others who were doing diablo and yo-yo (diablo is a circussy-trick kind of thing involving two long sticks and a heavy thing flying through the air).

We were VERY short on time, and VERY cross with each other for much of the day, partly because there wasn't enough time and partly because it was really hard to make things look good. Honestly, I was in there for hours, clearing up and generally being annoying. The biggest boy complained that the shots didn't look right. I told him he needed twinkly lights, rosehips and a sprig of ivy or two. He was not impressed. I think he would have preferred a slab of slate and a thunking great big knife, but other than the slate round the edge of the pond (which he did threaten to bring in at one point) these were the props we had.

He wanted a shot of icing sugar sprinkling down on mince pies. The first take was all wrong (my fault!) and because he insisted on using an auto thing rather than pressing the butting (camera shake!) I was sprinkling long before the shutter clicked and the mince pies ended up buried under half a centimetre of icing sugar. I debated hoovering it off, but I think we all know how that would have ended. In the end I put in some new mince pies and had another go. It had all reached farcical proportions by this point and I got a fit of the giggles which enraged some people. Suffice to say, the icing sugar shots did not make the final cut, nor did the cream pouring ones. As I say, it's REALLY hard to take a good shot.

Food in this house is not prettily arranged on plates, we are more quantity over style I'm afraid. I slam it down, they stuff it in, bam, job done. I seem to be sadly lacking in pretty vintage props as well. I couldn't find my lovely little old hand painted plates - far too small and dainty for anything this family eats. Maybe we should have done more of a social narrative shoot, with piles of carbohydrates and the ketchup bottle featuring large.

Anyway, it's done now, and I hoping the next lot of homework is a little easier on the mother. And that there is more than eighteen hours' notice. We shall see.

The littlest boy is on a bit of a roll at the moment. Two goals in his Sunday football match, his Silver Chief Scout Award at cubs and a note from his teacher talking about helpfulness and enthusiasm. It's true, he is always offering to help and his enthusiasm for absolutely everything is boundless, it makes me a bit dizzy at times. Oh, and he won the biggest bottle of wine imaginable in the school Christmas fayre tombola.

We spent the rest of the weekend working our way through the photogenic (and not so photogenic) food. It's a tough job etc. All well at your end?