Sunday, 31 March 2013


The wonderful actuallymummy pointed something out to me via twitter this weekend.
"So I've read all the bits about your family.  Where is the bit about you???"

And she has a point.  There's plenty about Smiler, Noah, Petal and Mr Manley, but while there are posts about my past, there's nothing really about me.  So where should I start?

Funnily enough, I'm in the middle of writing a post about a part of my life that had a huge impact on everything that came since, but in the meantime, read on!

Who am I?

I am Lucas.  Yes, that's my first name.  No, not Lucy.  No, not short for anything.  Lucas.
Yes, it is unusual, but it's mine.  I love it.

I am thirty three.  I was around in the seventies.  For seven weeks.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

fighting and crying ~ a good thing

Always an individual with his own clock, Smiler arrived three weeks late at St Michael's Hospital, a specialist maternity hospital in Bristol (built at the top of a very steep hill, perfect for all those pregnant women to get to. . .).  Next to him in NICU I remember a teeny tiny little boy, who had been born at just 25 weeks.  There hardly seemed to be enough baby to fit all the tubes and wires into.  By comparison, within a few days Smiler had perfected pulling out the ng tube, his wrist ID was taped next to his name card because he kept wriggling out of it, and the SATs monitor  for his big toe was off as much as it was on.  Every time someone turned up wanting some blood, Smiler would fight and cry ~ it's only looking back that I understand why one of the consultants told me that was a good thing.  

Friday, 29 March 2013

fragments are . . .

...random snippets of thought that just might come in handy

Daytime/night time ~ how to help your child spot the difference

Also worth pointing out that this method works very well with Smiler, whose additional needs mean that at eleven this is still how he knows whether morning has broken yet!  A great way to support his independence while clock hands and digital numbers continue to remain a mystery.

On your shopping list :

• Blackout blinds or curtains with a blackout lining for any windows or glass panels in or around the door.  You need to be in control of the light that gets into the room ~ this is also a really good opportunity to start shutting your child's bedroom door, if you don't already.  If your parenting preferences dictate that the door be kept open, try and make sure that the hallway is dark.

•  Soft light source such as a mood light, powered by an ordinary mains plug.  You don't need to splash out on anything fancy, just a table lamp with a low watt bulb and an in~line power switch (not a 'touch' light though.  Take a look at the sort of thing that I mean...)

•  Timer plug through which you can plug in the lamp.  Personally I'd go with an electronic seven day one, as opposed to those ones with all the teeny tiny clicky bits (like the central heating/hot water ones with two ons and two offs and red and blue peg pieces...), because they tend not to be very accurate.

•  Clock with very clear hour and minute hands.  This one depends on the age of your child, but I would certainly recommend putting it there before you think your child would pay any attention to it!

* * * * *

The idea :

The premise is simple ~ while your child may be far too young to tell the time, you still want them to develop some sense of rhythm of day and night, so you provide a clear visual cue and, used alongside verbal reinforcement, your child will begin to work it out.  Adults often  underestimate what their child will be able to understand but, as with so much parent / child communication, the most important element is consistency and, as the adult, it is up to you to provide this.  Remember Alice in Wonderland, and 'say what you mean, and mean what you say'?

Try and imagine yourself in your child's place.  When you wake up, you have no way of knowing if it is time to start rattling those cot bars so that someone comes and gets you, or if it is two am and cot bar rattling and shouting would definitely not be appreciated by the grown ups.

Have you ever done that thing where you lay out on the sofa to get comfy for five minutes, and then wake up an hour later all panicky cos you're afraid you've slept through picking the children up from school?  Although we all have an internal clock of sorts, sometimes (no pun intended) it just gets messed up.  So, imagine how your child feels if they wake up in the night all panicky that they may have missed breakfast (oh the horror!).  They can't tell the time from a clock, you really don't want them to get in the habit of coming in to you every time, because they need to learn how to get themselves back to sleep, but to do that, they need some measure of reassurance.  Some children learn to self soothe with a specific toy or (we all know someone who has one...) a blanket, for some reason always shortened to blankie. . .  When they can, by simply glancing around their room, know that it's time to get up out time to sleep.

* * * * *

Setting up :

Plug the timer in, synchronize it with the clock in your bedroom, and set it to switch the lamp on at a time your child tends to wake up ~ actually, not when they awaken, but when they usually decide it's time for you to be awake too, and begin trying their best to make you aware of that.  Even if this time is a little earlier than you would like, set the timer.  This is a first step in helping your child make the link between the lamp being on or off and you getting them up or not.  Having said that, I don't mean 3am, even if they often wake around this time ~ 5am, or 5:30, or if they usually doze til 6:30 (fantastic!), set it to then.  Set the timer to switch the lamp off a couple of hours later ~ you wouldn't want them to sleep in and miss their slot!  Make sure the lamp is somewhere they will be able to see easily, but not so close to them that the sound of it clicking on, or the light emanating from it will wake them up.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

make it monday

I've realised over the past couple of years just how much enjoyment I get from using my hands (no, not like that, get your mind out of the gutter!).  

I bake.  I write.  I take photos.  I knit.  I fuse glass.  I sew clothes.  I cook.  I needle felt.  I crochet.  I make jam and chutney and marmalade.  I fiddle around with scissors and pipe cleaners and glue and glitter.  While I wouldn't claim to do any of these especially well, I'm a big believer in giving things a try.

* * * * *

As a child, I saw my mother carrying out tasks now rather fashionably referred to as home~crafts ~ she cooked meals from scratch, she repaired holes in socks, she knitted the occasional baby blanket for an expectant friend.  She had grown up seeing her parents make jam from fruit growing in the garden, making their own wine from the elderberry tree at the end of the garden, and baking their own bread as a routine everyday chore.  I should point out that while this may sound like a slightly stereotypical but idyllic white picket fence 'honey I'm home' existence, her father was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, and her alcoholic mother died of lung cancer when the paternalistic family doctor (white, middle ~ class, highly educated) was still telling her  that chain smoking cigarettes were a great way to relieve stress.

Sorry, I digress!  

Having grown up seeing and internalising as normal a birthday cake starting off as butter / sugar /  eggs / flour; and curtains starting as a pile of fabric next to a sewing machine, these never felt like alien processes to me, and this is the centre point of what I'm trying to pass on to my children.  Not that these things are completely simple and we should all cook every main meal from scratch, just that it is possible to begin with onions, olives, tomatoes and some bits and pieces out of the cupboard and end up with delicious pasta sauce.  I'm more realistic than aspirational I think, I'm happy to take the short~cuts ~ the tins of chopped tomatoes rather than chopping my own, using the bread maker instead of kneading the dough myself.   

* * * * *

Something I found out last week is that Petal is the only brownie in her pack who sews her own badges on ~ at first I sat with her, threaded the needle, knotted the thread,  broke each stitch up into  little steps, showed her each step, talked her through it, showed her again, explained why the thread needs to be pulled right through each time, sorted out some knots, talked her through it again ~ she now asks me to thread and knot the thread, but does the rest herself.  No, it's not perfect.  Yes, there are a couple of little loops.  No, the stitches aren't even.  Yes, I tell her it looks amazing ~ because it does.  And every badge is sewn more neatly than the one before it.  

* * * * *

I get a real sense of satisfaction from the things I do with my hands (I know, I know...), and I hope that if my children experience that same reaction, they will have the attitude to match ~ I don't mean they will make fresh pasta because they remember seeing me make pasta, or remember doing it alongside me, but will approach recipes with the mindset of 'well, the picture looks good, I'll get the ingredients and give it a go'.  And if it goes wrong, ah well ~ next time get it out of the oven sooner, or lower the temp, or use more onions, or less onions.  I want them to have the grounding, the approach, the attitude and, most of all, the confidence to give it a go, whether that means employing their hands in an officially 'useful'  way, such as cooking a meal, sewing up a hole in a sock, or knitting a scarf, or purely for pleasure ~ folding an origami frog, painting a picture, or planting up a garden.

* * * * *

I  have found so much inspiration in things that others have created, and sometimes it can be a tiny detail that catches my eye and rumbles around inside my head, gradually maturing into something that may bear little resemblance to the initial idea.  That is why I'd like to share make it monday with you ~ maybe some aspect of something of mine might set off your creative genius!  Maybe a recipe or tutorial or idea you find here might reinforce that grounding for you, might provide a little sliver of encouragement at just the right moment to make an impact.

Anything that I've made from a tutorial or pattern or recipe, whether from another blog or a book or somewhere else I will always credit my source, including a link if appropriate.  I'll try and reference anything that sparks me off on a crafty bender too, even if the link seems a little tenuous to anyone who doesn't live inside my head!  In the spirit of openness, honesty and paying it forward, if you find yourself sparked off by anything you see here, it would be great if you could let me know ~ I'd love to see!

make it monday posts

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

jam jar etiquette : lesson three

This is it ~ the nitty gritty ~ sterilizing those jars, why and how.

Why sterilize jam jars?

As I said in lesson one, I've tried to make this a virgins guide to jam jar etiquette, and that means including answers to all those 'but everyone knows that!' questions.  If you were lucky enough to grow up in a household where you regularly had the opportunity to see your adults doing these types of things, the whole process probably feels pretty straightforward, but for those of us that didn't ...  well, it isn't all as obvious as it might seem to you!

So, why is it important to sterilize the jars you're planning to use for your jam?  There are a few reasons why this is so important,  but most of them are too do with making sure that your jam or chutney or marmalade doesn't go bad.  Jars of jam that you've made can (if they're properly sealed, sit on a shelf or in a cupboard for several months.  Chutneys actually taste better if you leave them sat somewhere for a few months after they were made ~ the flavours mix together and the vinegary taste fades, so you have the rich flavours of the spices melding with the rest of your ingredients (yum.  Had chutney in cheese and ham sandwiches for lunch today ... mmmm).  But if the jars weren't completely clean at the beginning, then mould can grow inside them, and all your hard work will have been wasted because you won't be able to eat the fruits (bad pun alert ~ fruit ... jam ... see?) of your labours.  Even if they look clean, you have to think like obsessive new parent cleanliness, okay?  Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean there's nothing there ...

Monday, 25 March 2013

make it monday : birthday cake

To be perfectly honest, I find the idea of cooking with the children much more appealing than actually cooking with them (I have no patience ~ I'm a horrible parent), but Petal and Noah are old enough now that you can get them started and then wonder off, as long as you stay within earshot so you can veto making, for example, a christmas pudding.  Yes, this week.

I am completely aware that half the enthusiasm is because they get to eat the final results, and the other half is because they're hoping they might get to lick the spoon, or the beaters, or the bowls, or, in an ideal world, lick all of these and also the kitchen side.  After all, since it has to be cleaned, why waste the cake mix?

Mr Manley's birthday today meant that baking the all important birthday cake seemed a perfect way to occupy them for a while, particularly as Smiler seems to have the lurgy.  He's thoroughly bored of medicine ~ ten different ones today, some more than once. Anyway, it meant there was no way he was going to cope with cooking, so the baton was passed to Noah and Petal ~ I wonder how it will go...

Okay,  the kitchen looks a bit of a state, but surely from such messy beginnings a great cake will grow? 

Perhaps, in hindsight, a white top with a white cardigan may not have been the best choice Petal... Anyway, the timer beeped, time to take the two halves of the chocolate victoria sponge out of the oven...

That grey backdrop (no pun intended) is the kitchen floor...

...and that half looks like it may have sunk just a tad in the middle...

Great thinking ~ fill the sunken middle of the cake with mini smarties type sweets...

 ...and then put icing over the top to hide them...

Yep, great job ~ now some milk chocolate hearts and white chocolate mice for the top  (everyone likes white chocolate mice.  I dare you to eat just one...)


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Fleet Air Arm Museum

Anyone struggling to fill the days while the kids are off school?  Have you ever been to Fleet Air Arm Museum?  The website comes over as a little ... old~fashioned shall we say, but please don't let that put you off ~  particularly if you have mini pilots in your family ~ so so many aeroplanes!  The photo above shows Smiler playing with the fuzzy~felt~on~steroids they have there ~ a wonderfully accessible and enjoyable idea.

The pricing small print explains that if you make a donation instead of paying the entrance fee (a donation equal to the entrance fee) then you get a free annual membership which means as many visits as you like for a year.  It all seems a bit confusing, but if you ask at the entrance I'm sure they will explain it much better than I could!  There's so much there to see, even if your children are at the 'look at it ~ poke it ~ run around behind it' stage, they may well run out of energy (as well as concentration) when there are still plenty of planes left.  It's all indoors, so very handy when the weather's bad, and loads of room for pushchairs / wheelchairs / walking frames.  

I'm not sure if this makes me a horrible over~controlling mean parent, but I love annual memberships so if Smiler / Noah / Petal misbehave, I can do the 'you get one more chance, but if you don't behave properly we will go home!' and not be thinking in the back of my mind that it cost loads of money so I will have to pretend I haven't noticed if they pinch each other another few times ... (is that just me?  You ever done that?)

Look at this ~ a plane with wings that fold up.  Did you know those existed?  (well, I didn't) They don't just fold up once though, if you follow the wing up away from the main body of the plane you'll see the tips of the wings fold again ~ clever or what!

This is something I keep meaning to check out ~ two female glider pilots in 1897, one of whom seems to be dressed as a man ~ you know there has to be a story behind that!  I'm thinking the shocking level of gender inequality back then would have meant that a woman simply would not have been 'allowed' to participate, so either Ella or Dorothy did a 'Mary Ann Evans / George Elliot'.  What do you think?

There's just so much there ~ there's an interactive exhibit upstairs where you can try and land a plane or bomb a submarine ~ apparently I did not miss my calling ~ I was not destined for the Royal Navy.  There are photos and paintings and models and a motorbike, and then there's a whole aircraft carrier experience which  has been closed for maintenance but may have reopened already.

As usual, my camera and I (maybe I should name the camera ~ its such a feature of my life at the moment it seems wrong to call it it.  Any suggestions? ...back to the point Lucas...) camera and I got completely distracted by ~ well, not the planes exactly, more the industrial innards of the planes ~ plane intestines!  It turns out I also have a thing for propellers ~ who knew?!  I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear I'm saving (most of) those for another day.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Bristol docks

I've found an unexpected side effect of getting a new 'proper' camera ~ I see photos everywhere that I go, everywhere that I look.  You'll be glad to hear I've (slightly) moved on from trees.  I think maybe it was less the trees themselves and more the structure and the lines, so here comes another photo post, this time around Bristol docks.

If you've been anywhere near Princes Wharf by M Shed, you'll have seen these amazing cranes, standing tall, proudly reminding us of the heritage of the Bristol Dockyards.

Of course the traditional UK weather played along, spreading the springtime cheer by providing plenty of puddles to splash around in as well as some fantastic reflections ...

There's so much to see: boats; the cranes; the reflections; the tracks; the buildings; the water ~

I love the way the photos look in black and white ~ especially with the rain and puddles.  The tracks on the ground are not the easiest terrain around with a wheelchair, but these, along with the sheer height and majesty of the drains certainly create an atmosphere of awe and wonder.  You can't help but feel particularly small and insignificant when standing with such heavy equipment with such a fascinating history.

M Shed itself is a great place to spend the day, either on your own or with your family.  It's aim is to tell the story of Bristol's history through the stories of those people who were there, and encouraging everyone to continue to write this story by joining in with memories and opinions by providing context in which this can be shared.  Loads of interactive activities and opportunities to add to this museum, which will continue to evolve for as long as Bristol does.  

 They have plenty of events on, from travelling exhibitions (currently chocolate!), to Chinese New Year, to National Science Discovery Week.  M Shed celebrates national and international cultural, educational and artistic events, and has a hugely knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff.  The facilities are excellent, with a family friendly cafe, plenty of chairs and benches you can sit on for a moment if your legs get tired, and (that's a big happy and slightly shocked AND) accessible toilets which include facilities suitable for changing Smiler.  Lifts to all floors, level access throughout, staff friendly, informative, and not at all phased by a child in a wheelchair ~ my new favourite place!

Monday, 18 March 2013

make it monday : tropical fruit jam

Don't panic when you read the first two ingredients, I usually pick them up reduced at the supermarket.  The tins of peach and pineapple are cheap ~ most supermarkets do a value / basic version, and it really will all taste the same in the jam.  The amounts of each ingredient might look a bit odd, because I've used the weights of the tins and based the recipe around those ~ trust me when I say it's easier that way round!

You'll need to sterilize your jars and lids and scoops and funnels so that your jam will be keep~able, you can find out how and why and all that right here.  These amounts will make  seven or eight ordinary~jam~jar~sized jars of jam, which should keep you going for a week or two. 

250g fresh mango
335g cape gooseberries ~ also known as physalis
565g tin of pineapple (pineapple pieces in light syrup)
250g tin of peach slices (slices in light syrup)
1200g sugar
100ml lemon juice
a tablespoon of marg

These are physalis, also known as cape gooseberry.  They have these papery leafy bits around them, and they're usually a bit sticky, so it's best to pull the paper casing off, then give them a quick wash under the tap.

They tend to be found in the more exotic bit of the supermarket fruit and veg section ~ think mango and guava as opposed to pear and banana.  Chop them up a bit ~ into halves is fine.

Fruit and sugar into the saucepan (the absolute biggest one you have ~ I use a 10l stockpot, if that helps) including the 'light syrup' that the tinned fruit is in.  If you've accidentally picked up fruit in juice instead of syrup, don't worry, just throw that in instead and add an extra 150g sugar.

Stir it all up with a wooden spoon, George's Marvellous Medicine style.  I'm almost completely certain eating the jam at the end will not turn you into a giant chicken.

You won't need to add any water as the syrup  (or juice) from the tin is plenty, but this is the time to add that lemon juice.

Turn your hob on to a medium heat, and stir a little to help the sugar dissolve.

You don't need to stir continuously, but it is a good idea to gently crush the bigger pieces of fruit with your spoon, and try to chop those peach slices up a bit.  As the sugar dissolves and the mixture warms, you'll start to see some small bubbles on the  surface.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

jam jar etiquette : lesson two

Do you have a stinky jar? Are you embarrassed at the odour when you give home~made jam to your friends? 

If you have a problem, and no one else can help, maybe you should hire ... The A Team... Duh duh duh duh, duh duh duh, duh duh duh duh, duh duh duh duh der.. 

Something that can be very off~putting when reusing jars is the smell.  If the jar you have was used for blueberry and apple jam, or honey, or lemon curd, then you're fine, you can fill it with whatever you'd like to make.

If your jar was used for chutney or gherkins or mint sauce it may well have a noticeable whiff of vinegar, which somehow clings to the glass as well as the lids, even if you wash them several times.    Of course, if you're going to make chutney, that's fine, so you can get right on with that.  Jars which previously housed curry sauce or sweet and sour sauce will also somehow have managed to remain noisome*, but fear not,  good citizens, for I have journeyed far and wide in search of a cure for this loathsome odour, and I have good news for all ~ you shall make the jars not stinky (as in : you shall go to the ball!).  Do not fear, all is not lost ~ you too can have lovely~not~at~all~vinegary smelling jars!

First thing to do is work out whether or not you have a stinky jar, which is very easy to do ~ take your washed and dried jar and lid, and have a proper sniff of the inside.  If you can't smell anything, great.  Store the jar (with the lid on), wherever is handy for you.

If you feel just a tad dizzy from the vinegar fumes, that's what we're learning how to fix, so keep reading.  But sit down first, and take a couple of deep breaths...that's it...okay.  Now keep reading.

Put a teaspoon of bicarbonate of sodium, also known as sodium bicarb, into a measuring jug.  You can find it in the baking aisle in the supermarket, along with the flour.
Add warm water to the measuring jug to make it up to about ¼pint/400ml, stir to dissolve.  Don't worry too much if there's some sludgy bits still left in the bottom.

Pour the solution into the jar, close the lid tightly.  Trust me, you want this lid on that jar properly.

Shaky shaky shake shake ~ how you do this is up to you, but it never hurts to put some Ricky Martin on and dance your way across the kitchen. . .
Shake for anything upwards of thirty seconds ~ I'm sure it's excellent exercise, so carry on for thirty minutes if you like!

Tip the bicarb mixture out, either into the sink or into another jar if you have more than one to do ~ plenty of de~odourizing (see, that's where that word comes from) power left in that!

Now wash the jar thoroughly, allow to dry, and screw the lid on tightly before storing, ready for use.

If I was less lazy busy, I would do the sniff test on every jar before storing it, so that all the jars in the cupboard are ready to be pressed into service for whatever I'm making, without having to think about it.  You know, in an ideal world and all that.


            ~You've now completed jam jar etiquette lesson two!

jam jar etiquette : lesson one asked 'why make jam?'; whether to buy new jars or reuse those you already have; and how to store empty jars should you decide to reuse.

Today in jam jar etiquette : lesson two you found out how to de~stink jars so you feel happy and confident handing over jars to friends. 

Next time, jam jar etiquette : lesson three asks 'sterilizing jars ~ why and how?'; there are a few ways to sterilize jars ready to fill them with yummy homemade jam, chutney, or marmalade.  Different methods work for different kinds of jars, so this time the most frequently used type of jar will be sterilized step by step.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

the Fairbairn steam crane

I've seen the Fairbairn steam crane just along the dockside from M Shed running a couple of times over the years at the Bristol Harbour Festival, and it is truly an awesome sight (awesome as in full of awe).  The volunteers obviously delight in sharing their expertise, and the heat ~ it's all encompassing, as though you're inside the oven of the Hansel and Gretal witch, surrounded by flames licking their way closer to you every second.  Even declining to enter is no defence, as you can feel the heat when you're still stood on the concrete outside.
But somehow, even less the buzzing crowds and loud music, when it's standing still in the rain, it seems ... real ... almost alive, as though you just happen to have caught it in a brief unguarded moment of peace. 
Calm and measured as a sleeping dragon, tethered by day into submission by rugged hard~working men in oil~stained overalls, strong coarse hands coated with dust and grime, ground so deeply into every crevice, every callous, every cut, so as to never fly freely again.
Movement powered by some eternal fury; glowing red furnace breathing out blistering heat as men seek to harness the strength of the dragon to do their bidding, cajoling the sharp edged beast to stretch and twist and dip and turn.
Sinew and bone, merged and melded into rails and bolts, rivets and wheels, with serpentine shadows of rust travelling slowly, so slowly, inch by inch, slowly, so slowly, taking hold wherever a flake of paint gives leave. 

Panes crack, sending twisted metallic ribbons across the clouded glass, lit up in the sunshine like a spider web studded with morning dew.
Time passes, like delicate water nymphs flowing over stones in a cool stream, wearing away the crisp edges and the sharp corners, carrying resentment and anger and frustration far far away, leaving in their wake a sense of contentment and satisfaction, of finally reaching the end, and now ... to rest ... to be calm ... to be.