Bread by Hand

You may be able to tell from my recent posts that I’ve been on a bit of a baking streak at the moment. It goes hand in hand with my home improving and is all probably due to that crazy pregnant lady phenomenon known as nesting. Ah well, I’m happy and so are all those at the receiving end of my baked goods.

I’ve been making bread by hand for the last few weeks now. It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve done it, in fact I was inspired the year before we conceived Sandy and I made a vow that year to not buy any bread from a shop routinely. It was a resolution I actually kept! However things crept up (my masters dissertation probably) and then I was struck down with morning sickness and I didn’t bake another loaf by hand until, well, a few weeks back. I think it’s one of those things where the longer you are out of it the more of a challenge it seems.

So just how hard is making your own bread? Not hard at all is the simple answer. You don’t need any prior knowledge, experience or baking prowess. Seriously.

That said though there are two things you will need (aside from the ingredients and an oven) and that is ten minutes of elbow grease (just ten minutes, I promise) and to be in/close by the house for roughly three hours. Might be you do your baking on a weekend if you work for example. Being the stay at home bum that I am I tend to do mine whenever our supplies diminish but two bakes a week keeps our family in as much bread as is ever needed.

Now the very simple recipe that will make two small loaves:

1000g strong white flour
15g salt
10g fast action dried yeast

(Both the flour and yeast are available at your supermarket)

Mix these in a large bowl then add 600ml warm water.

Stir until you can’t any longer then it’s time to get your hands in there. Bring it together to a dough and onto a lightly floured worktop and start to knead.

Kneading is just stretching the dough out. At first the dough will be quite sticky but persevere and don’t add more flour and it will soon firm up. Knead well for ten minutes. Think about things that make you angry and imagine the good it’s doing your arm, shoulder and chest muscles. Oh yeah.

Once done form the dough into a ball and lightly oil it and put back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with clingfilm or a plastic bag.

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That’s stage one over and stage two is to leave the dough somewhere warm for 1.5 hours. A warm cupboard is good, or the oven on the lowest of low heats (make sure it’s just warm not hot though). This is the rising stage.

Now if you want just a plain white loaf you can go put your feet up or get on with your day. Just remember what time it will be finished rising at. However, if you want to add some flavour to your loaves now would be the time to get these inserts prepared.

There are a myriad of things you can do to plain white dough to make fun flavoursome loaves, here are some rough ideas:

– Add seeds, any you like… pumpkin, sunflower, linseed, etc.
– Add herbs and spices… black cracked pepper, chilli, cumin and tarragon, rosemary and garlic, etc.
– Add vegetables or fruit… tomato and oregano, cooked pumpkin, fresh berries, etc.
– Go sweet… cinnamon sugar, chocolate, etc.

And finally, just make something up. Imagine a delicious flavour combination and recreate it in bread. For example raspberry and white chocolate sweet loaf or a tomato, mozzarella and basil loaf.

So in this vein here are two of my recent concoctions:

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Rarebit bread – cheddar cheese, cracked black pepper, and mustard.

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Chilli and herb bread – sliced chillis, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin and oregano.

So, on to stage three – proving. You get your risen bread which will now be doubled in size and take it out the bowl and flatten it. Then you add any ingredients you have chosen and roughly knead them in – but try and minimise touching the bread too much.

Then you shape the bread again.

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It can be a simple cob shape like this plain white.

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Or in a loaf tin like the rarebit bread here.

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Or more fancy shapes like plaits which the chilli and herb bread became.

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Now allow the bread to ‘prove’. This is also known as the second rise and is usually around 30 minutes to 45 minutes. The more dense your ingredients the longer it will take though so use your own judgement. You want it to get towards doubling again. Plain white is ready in 30 minutes, 45 at least for the rarebit with all that cheese weighing it down.

Then when the prove is over just bang it in a 180 degree oven and cook until it looks like this:

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It should be medium brown on top and solid to tap.

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Plain white Cob.

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Chilli and Herb Plaits.

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Rarebit Loaf.

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And that’s it. It really isn’t hard. Make the dough, knead for ten minutes, rise for 1.5 hours, prove for 30 minutes and bake. There’s nothing else you need to do.

Fresh artisan bread that costs less than buying it from the shop. Perfect.

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Summerlee

We seem to have a fairly regimented weekend schedule these days. On Friday nights Sandy sleeps over at his grandparents, alternating weeks between my parents and Stuart’s parents. We pick him up after his nap on a Saturday giving Stuart and I some time to ourselves which we usually use to realise there is still a lot of stuff we want to do to the house. Saturday afternoons we usually play at home with Sandy. Sunday mornings are taken up with a trip to get the weekly shop.

Sunday afternoons though, those are the free time. Stuart was lamenting recently that my Dad gets to take Sandy to more fun places than he does so we are filling our Sunday afternoons with trips to places not too far, not too expensive, but lots of fun.

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Last Sunday we went to Summerlee Heritage Park in Coatbridge.

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It recently (and by recently I probably mean in the last five years, not five months) got a big makeover for the visitor centre bit and now has a cafe, and a lot of indoor exhibits and play stations – fabulous for when it’s raining, which it always is.

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Summerlee isn’t far from where Stuart grew up so we invited Gran along for the trip before stopping at theirs for dinner.

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It occurred to me that Summerlee will be a perfect place to come in the latter stages of my pregnancy where I am too whale-like to do much. It has plenty of room to run about, some fun things to play with, and places where I can collapse.

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Making an arch. Stuart helped by adding a keystone.

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Sandy helped by demonstrating that I had clearly made it too short.

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There is a lot to do at Summerlee. I’ve been several times pre-Sandy and on a dry day you can ride on a tram, visit the mine hatch (and I believe go down the mine though I have yet to) and the old trains, as well as see a block of six cottages with each one decorated from a different era in history.

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Annoyingly this was the extent of our outdoor activities on Sunday; walking back to the car.

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Sandy didn’t seem to mind though.

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We will definitely be back in brighter weather to explore more with Sandy.

Cookies

Last week we were over at my Mum’s and I asked my brother to make a recipe for pinwheel biscuits from his Mary Berry book. A few days later when my Dad came to pick up Sandy eight of these beauties were deposited with me and they were pretty much all gone an hour later. What can I say? This is the last time I’ve got the pregnancy excuse and I’m making the most of it.

Jamie had asked me to bake something too and I couldn’t remember what, so I text him and he said he didn’t mind what. Then I was watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage winter programme and he made a ten minute cookie recipe which looked just right. He was making them for selling at a market, and I being the glutton that I am, didn’t decrease the quantities. So when presented with a MASSIVE bowl of batter I split it in four and made each a different flavour.

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The recipe is very simple:

700g sugar (half brown, half caster)
500g butter
4 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
600g flour

Melt the butter and mix with the sugar. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour. DONE!

Really, that easy. Then bake at 190 for 10 mins. You can use greaseproof paper but I hate the stuff so have this non-stick baking sheet stuff you can buy and cut to size your trays, it’s the BOMB. Nothing ever sticks to it and it’s washable and reusable.

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Fudge batter

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Treacle batter

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Double Chocolate Chip batter

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Chocolate Chip batter

All you do is decide what your flavours will be and add them before baking. Put a dessert-spoon full blob for each cookie and leave a good amount of room for spreading. They double in size pretty much.

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Mind you, if they do join up it’s no big deal.

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Chocolate chip cookies

These turned out pretty well. A little sticky in the middle, in hindsight just a tad more flour in this batch would have helped them not spread so far.

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Double chocolate chip cookies

These were the best ones, the right size, not too spread, and really chocolatey. The cocoa powder added helped combat the problems the choc chips ones faced.

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Treacle cookies

The first few of these I put in were way too thin and didn’t cook properly so I quickly added more flour and they came out well. A lovely treacley rich cookie.

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Fudge cookies

These ones were a right pain. The fudge melted obviously, which is really tasty, but a right b**** to get off the sheets without them falling apart. I think in hindsight it would have been better to sprinkle the fudge bits on top of the cookies halfway through the bake so they didn’t stick to the bottom. Still, very tasty!

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So I will be delivering a few of each to Jamie tomorrow for his judging. Hopefully they go down a treat! And there are so many of them now I can give them out to loads of other people, not forgetting my main taste testers though, Stuart and Sandy.

I’ll be making a post about bread by hand soon too.

Garden: January 2014

Ok so this is the first update on the state of our garden which I am going to be blogging about throughout the year, hopefully charting it’s progress from pool of mud to blooming and beautiful.

When we moved here last may the garden was literally a sea of mud. As if that wasn’t bad enough we soon discovered that “mud” wasn’t exactly accurate. Our land was about 70% clay, 20% rocks and 10% miscellaneous items. Under misc. imagine broken bottles, old toys, halved bricks and random metal and plastic rods. Fair enough, it was a building site. So we looked longingly at next door who had already turfed theirs and asked the builder tentatively how much it would cost for ours to be the same. We decided we could save most of the £500 offered by seeding it ourselves. What ensued can only be described of weeks of toil, removing the misc., raking out the stones, leveling to some extent and going mad at weeds. A lot of our Sandy-free time was spent in this manner.

Anyway it all paid off because by the end of summer little shoots of grass were sprouting and now we have what can finally be described as a lawn.

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Ok, so you can’t play bowls on it. And it’s not flat. It’s got its lumps. And some patches. And drainage issues. But LOOK! We did that ourselves. So the next priority is to seed on top of it to fill in the gaps. Secondly, and you can see I’ve already begun, is to create a border. I dug out the sides all the way around and have been putting in edging and covering the border with bark. I need to finish this off once Stuart removes an almighty boulder which has stopped my progress. Then I get the joy of plant shopping for some bright and pretty foliage to put in my hard worked land. We have tiny elder trees planted in each corner that you can see here (one in the back corner at the fence, the other nearer the house) and some little conifers.

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Before it got very wet and cold we rushed the progress on getting a hut. Except we didn’t just choose a regular hut, we chose this one which has a sort of balcony layer in half of it with a ladder making it a perfect play house for the babies! Hooray! We decided on the 6×8 size which just fits into this kind of pointless space up the side of the house. We had a dilemma of the door opening the wrong way so we’ve got to get the hinges and locks switched around but I also have long term plans of making it into a fab den for Sandy (and number 2 when they are big enough). These plans may or may not involve little curtains for those windows and potential camp outs!

The rest of this space it is aimed will be filled with a greenhouse. It will either be one smaller in size than the hut or, ideally, a lean to one which goes against the wall of the house. I’ll fill you in on the kitchen gardening that this will be a part of below…

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This is the left hand side of the garden which is where our drainage issues emerge from. The garden next door slopes into ours so we are working on a drainage system, probably involving ground gutters, to drain some water out the back of the fence into the field. We plan to use railway sleepers here to form a sort of raised border where I will plant climbers and fruit bushes. There are already a couple in there and, ridiculously, some sweet peas FROM LAST YEAR. What a mild winter it has been.

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So this is looking back up to that area and you can see that we’ve got a patio. There was one row of slabs all the way across but we bought more and Stuart laid them temporarily. He will level them off in better weather with more sand and then we will arrange on here our sun loungers and table and chairs. I also will have a potted herb garden and, hopefully, a strawberry barrel. I’ve got my Dad on a mission to source a cheap whisky barrel which we can jigsaw holes out of the sides of to grow hanging strawberry plants. This should save ground space by going vertical as well as make Sandy very happy as he adores strawberries, and you can’t beat home grown ones!

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On the right hand side we need to get a fence up. We told the neighbours we’d get a quote… last October. Pregnancies and Christmas have got in the way, and not to mention the fencer who didn’t bother his backside to show up. Stuart has called again and been asked to text the guy the night before so he actually appears. Doesn’t sound too promising but we will see if he shows. Once the fence is up we can really sort out this side of the garden.

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As you can see there is the edging and the border with bark down. But see that strip of sloping land behind it? That is what will hopefully become a very productive kitchen garden in a few months time!

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Once the fence is in Stuart is going to put some sleepers in to allow us to level off the soil. Then I can get to work raking and fertilising the ground in preparation for vegetables. I’m going to plant a decent amount of summer veg, a good stock of my favourite and less spacious winter veg, and a small salad garden at the end. Combine that with some fruit bushes, potted strawberries and in future the promise of elderberries, elderflower (for wine) and the results of a greenhouse, we should have a lot of home grown produce! More to come on this but suffice to say I’d love to be bringing home grown veg to the dinner table a lot this year!

In this area Stuart is also going to lay a couple of extra slabs for the bins and we are in dire need of an uplift for some remaining moving rubbish.

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Finally we have the front garden. This was where Sandy spent those hot days of summer last year as it came turfed. Since then we added a rowan tree – you can just see it in the middle of the grass against it’s pole. In years to come we hope to have a thriving tree with those lovely red berries in the autumn, and it will also host Christmas lights when it’s big enough.

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Under the windows I’ve dug out two borders which will in time get the edging like the back has. For now both are filled with bulbs I planted in October which will provide some colour in spring. After that it’s my aim to grow rose bushes, certainly under the left hand window. I’m really looking forward to going and picking out which varieties, and apparently our clay soil is perfect for them.

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Digging this particular little trench was one of the first gardeny things I did when we moved. Last summer it was filled with marigolds and cosmos plants which flowered late into autumn so I will probably do something similar this time to bridge the void after the bulbs have finished.

So there it is, our garden, already a long way from the muddy mess it was when we arrived. Secretly I am happy looking at it needing so much done and I do get a lot of joy and satisfaction from developing it. Here’s to a bountiful 2014!

Fail Safe at Home Toddler Activities

Sometimes we have days where nothing seems to make Sandy happy. There might be a legitimate reason – teething, minor illness or the like – but often there isn’t. There are days where he is just an angry young man. Goodness knows what he’s got to be angry about, but usually it stems from something involving a “no” head shake “NO!” “WAH!” cuddle “WAH!” scenario. Closely followed by “I said NO!” “WAH!” cuddle “WAH!”

On these days normal household activities become horrible chores which Mummy is doing merely to torture her young charge. There’s no point in trying “Look Sandy! It’s the DISH WASHER! OOOH! Come help Mummy unload it! You press the buttons!” and it’s even more pointless to suggest that he does something on his own while I risk a bit of work in the kitchen. This type of day is when his beloved toys, each lovingly chosen or gifted by adoring family, become little more than wooden or plastic turds littering the floor. They are thrown, ignored or screamed at in frustration. The one he spent ages with in hysterics the day before? It may as well not even exist. And the soft toy he ran around hugging? It’s the devil incarnate and Sandy doesn’t tolerate Beelzebub in his realm.

Anyway, I think you get the picture. It’s days like these which stretch us the most and they never seem to occur under anyone else’s charge than Mummy’s. So what to do when nothing will do?

Here are our four fail safe (at home) toddler activities to dry the tears and maybe, just maybe, draw a smile:

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1. Home made Soft Play

I think for Sandy – who is an active chap – the frustrations of the day are all the fiercer if he’s not had a chance to release some energy. You can go out somewhere, sure, but in the winter with an 18 month old it’s hard to find much that doesn’t cost the earth. The park is out unless the weather is ok, but even then facing him with obstacles he’s too small to climb up is just asking for trouble. The obvious soulution is soft play but it either costs an arm and a leg, or the Under 2 area is chock full of rambunctious eight year olds flying into the ball pit on steroids. When you are approaching the third trimester it ain’t much fun throwing your whale-like body over padded walls to protect your tiny shrimp of a child from such monstrous children.

SO, my solution? Soft play – at home. This picture illustrates just how simple it is. It’s an unused single mattress, three toy boxes and a pop up tent. That’s literally all you need, apart from a little room to set it up. With this alone Sandy can be entertained for a good while climbing the boxes and flinging himself down onto the mattress. Small disclaimer: of course you are a very attentive parent who sets up things like this with much care and supervises their child when using it. Honestly though, you can set it up so very little harm can come of them with the use of pillows, low items and keeping it all away from anything solid or jaggy.

And if that gets a bit tiresome add some other things to the mix. Soft play balls can be bought in ASDA or wherever and you can make little nooks to fill with them. Bubbles bring hilarity to any situation and don’t add clutter. Tunnels and tents can be found cheaply at many places including IKEA. We have several and alternate them providing endless hours of peekaboo fun.

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2. Music

Seems simple, but music in the background helps. It seems there is nothing more annoying to Sandy than silence. Music seems to fill an unsatisfying void in him and I’ve seen in many instances him able to play longer on his own or with me with something to listen to. Let’s face it, it’s not been all that long he’s been away from the comforting bubbling and wooshing of the womb, so music can provide a bit of that comfort back now. Also it has the added benefits of allowing me to actually listen to my music (he seems not to care too much for what’s on) and we can DANCE. Bouncing, spinning and throwing him up in the air are all fab ways to bring a smile to grumpychops.

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3. Hoovering

Along the same lines as music, hoovering is one of those white noise scenarios which seems to soothe Sandy when he is in a tantrumy mood. Not only that but the hoover provides him with an interactive ride on toy. If you have an upright you are missing out on this joy. He pulls the cables, pushes the body and helps me push the head of the hoover. Best of all? You can take it all round the house getting a chore done with a content little chap by your side.

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4. Water.

I’m not sure if it’s just Sandy, but this boy LOVES water. He really should have gills. Apart from swimming which we do weekly now, there are plenty of ways to bring water activities into the day. I find of all these, water is the most likely to please. First you’ve got the bath, an obvious choice. Chuck him in and bring your book, super. Secondly, the shower. The easiest part of my day is now the shower time (well, apart from nap time). Sandy goes in to the cubicle with a few toys and starts to play. I straighten up the bedroom (we have an ensuite so I can keep an eye on him) and then join him. Once I’m done he’s happy to play in there while I dry, dress, sort my hair etc. He is routinely in there for half an hour playing away. And obviously the water fun potential will increase as the weather improves with paddling pools, sprinklers and slab painting all coming into viability for toddler calming options.

These are the best ways to get through our grumpy days, so we can put him to bed at night and hope he wakes full of sweetness and light the next morning!

Best Presents and Toddler Activities

I’ve been meaning to do this post for a good few weeks and missed a link up about it in the meantime, oops! So I’ve added our top 5 Christmas presents to a few recent activities I tried with Sandy.

In no particular order…

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THE CHAIR!

I think it is called POANG which will lead you to quickly understand it comes from IKEA (aka my soul mate, sorry Stuart). This was an inspired gift from Sandy’s Gran and Granda (in-laws). Not only is it fab as a place to keep him contained when eating his mid-morning snack, it (combined with bloody Mr Tumble) gives me a good 10-15 minutes when he is actually still. It’s pretty cute though, the other day I came in to find he had just gotten onto it and curled up watching the TV. Finally it also doubles as a prop for daredevil type acrobatics as performed by fearless one-year-olds. Super!

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THE GARAGE!

This Garage was a present from Granny and Grumpa (my parents) and I think is PlanCity. From the moment it emerged Sandy was smitten. Having already had a BIG thing for cars this just expounded the fun and he loves making broom broom noises as the cars drive around it. It has funnily enough also facilitated his learning to count to three. I put three cars in a row in the parking spaces and ask him to point and he points to them in order as I say “one, two, three!” It’s a pretty snazzy garage it must be said, featuring a working lift, helipad, petrol station and even a car wash. I think it will grow with him and be a firm favourite for years to come.

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CARS!

Sandy got A LOT of cars for Christmas. His stocking was full of them, Grumpa stocked him up, and Uncle Jim got him a mega multi-pack of bright coloured ones from Hamleys. They just keep on giving. I’m not sure if it’s a boy thing but Sandy just can’t get enough.

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THE D-WOOFER!

This my friends is the D-woofer. It’s a guitar, shaped like a dog. It has a scale of buttons to press, strings to strum, a whammy bar and of course many songs, both with lyrics and instrumental. It’s an Amercian toy judging by the voices and is actually really good, if a bit bonkers. Mind you, often the best things are a bit mental! It has three settings, acoustic, electric and howl. The latter being that all the notes come in woofs, which kills Sandy. He presses the lowest “owww” and then the highest “ooow!” and we mimic it and leave him in fits of hysterics. The songs are hilarious, like one about a dog that jumped the fence, then jumped the sea, and another about a dog called pepper who went missing. The instrumental ones are delightfully varied, from nursery rhymes, American classics to crazy marches and progressive/classical. Makes a nice change to the creepy kiddy voices on some other electronic toys. Thanks to Auntie Fran and Auntie Lib for this one!

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THE DUMP TRUCK!

Potentially Sandy’s Number 1 from Christmas, the CAT “Job site machine” (add the words dump and load to the mix and we had a right old laugh on Christmas day about that!) was a fab buy from Uncle Jim. Reason why? It is MANLY. I swear I never tried to gender my child. I always thought all this manly boy stuff was nurture but it must be nature because I’m surprised now to look back at Sandy’s newborn pictures and not find some sort of mechanical device gripped in his tiny sausage fingers. It looks manly, it moves in a manly way and the sounds it emits are UBER MANLY. It likes to tell Sandy “HONK HONK! DON’T FORGET YOUR HARD HAT” and “LOAD UP THE TRUCK! MOVE IT OUT!” and best of all, as far as Sandy is concerned, it plays macho music. DOO DOO DOO DO-DO DODODDO DOO DOOOOO! It reminds me of the theme song to World’s Strongest Man. Sandy grins and dances whenever he hears it.

Of course Sandy was ridiculously spoiled and received a myriad of other lovely toys, many of which I am sure are yet to come into their own. Thanks to everyone who got him something!

In other news I’ve been trying to be that wonderfully creative Mum who whips up fascinating home-grown activities for their children to do, that cost barely anything. Basically I went on pinterest and stole some ideas. I tried two so far, and I’ve got to say Sandy wasn’t exactly impressed. In fact I think he’d rather be doing this all day:

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Nonetheless I set up this straw organising challenge. The straws were meant to be in cups but the cups just fell over so I put them on plates.

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He did this for about four minutes.

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Then he did this.

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And then he returned to an old favourite, kamikaze jumps over the couch.

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Followed by a quick soothing cuddle from “bahbee”. He calls his favourite soft toys bahbee now and runs around cuddling and kissing them. TOO CUTE!

So on to activity number two. I was sure this was going to be a hit…

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It’s a bag of paint! No mess finger painting and the light shines through it when stuck to a window! WOW!

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Sandy touched it once, realised he couldn’t pull it down, and gave up. Sigh. Plus I had to spend a stupid amount of time removing selotape gunk from the window after. Oh well, I tried!

I will be trying some more activities in time and will report back, especially if any of them actually enamor the boy who never stops moving.

Also I aim to post soon on the fail safe activities that never cease to entertain Sandy, you know, those things you do when nothing else will keep them from whinging!

Calderglen

Yesterday we took advantage of a break in the rainy miserable weather to go to Calderglen country park.

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I used to go a lot with my Grandparents when I was little. I think Stuart and I went when we were not long together but I haven’t been since.

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It has animals and freedom to safely let little ones roam, so Sandy loved it.

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We looked at some exotic birds, but after this he wasn’t interested in the animals so much as he was interested in running too fast, finding patches of dirt or puddles to stand in and generally trying to maim himself on whatever was available.

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My favourite bit when I was young was always the guinea pig run. We had guinea pigs from an early age at home and they are wonderful pets. In fact, my Mum was still keeping some for a few years after me and Jamie moved out, such is their appeal. The most we ever had at once at home was 7 (after buying two because it would be unfair to split up sisters, of which one turned out to be pregnant) but I always dreamed of a massive outdoor run for them like at Calderglen with hundreds of guineas.

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One of Calderglen’s main draws are the meerkats. I got a little obsessed with them when the programme meerkat manor came out. They are pretty cute. Sandy had a brief look.

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Then he wanted some cuddles.

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He wasn’t best impressed with me trying to get him to pose with this chap.

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And incase you were wondering how baby number two is coming along well here they are. I’m getting a fair bit bumpy it must be said, and beginning to feel the weight!

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After running about for a while a miracle occurred, Sandy actually ate his lunch.

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Happy Monday!

Baking

I love baking. I really enjoy cooking too, but baking is where my heart lies. Before Sandy was born I would bake often. I’d whip something up because I could, or spend inordinate amounts of time planning intricately flavoured and decorated baked goods to share out with colleagues, family and friends. If there was an event I was going to – party, get together… Tuesday – I would immediately think of what I could bake. I did a lot of the birthday cakes for my immediate family, decorating them in themes and priding myself on each one out-stripping the one prior. Then I had a baby and baking became a thing of the distant past.

I have baked since Sandy was born but it tends to be sporadic and quick. A batch of scones that take twenty minutes, or some flight of fancy that doesn’t come to much. I certainly couldn’t justify spending my hard earned alone time working away in the kitchen so baking has been firmly on the back burner for a while now. I had a big bake for Sandy’s birthday, which I am very proud of, but since then not much.

I spent a few days of illness (norovirus, shudder) watching the Great British Bake Off recently and my love was reawakened. I think a lot of the time I spend my Sandy-free time doing nothing, because I think that I should be resting, that I never get a chance to do nothing when he’s around so that’s what I must do. But honestly, doing nothing just isn’t me, and I relax by doing. So I made several things I’d never tried before and was surprised with the good results, then a few days back I baked bread by hand for the first time in years, and was rewarded with a husband and son who wolfed it with big smiles. Oh and I got to try some hot out the oven too!

I was lamenting though that Sandy couldn’t be involved. I loved baking when I was young and want to start with him, but he’s not big enough (or aware enough of danger) to stand on a stool up at the counter. Then, as I was tiding the playroom the other day I had a brainwave – the clip on high chair!!

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And cue our first mother and son bake-a-thon. We made brSandy Snaps!

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I always liked this Phil and Teds Metoo clip on highchair as you can get them right up at the table with you when out, and it’s fab for picnics too. We’ve not used it in a while though and I was so chuffed when it fit perfectly onto the counter with an open cupboard to accomodate Sandy’s legs.

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In hindsight brandy snaps weren’t the best choice of bake as the dough was hot and I had wanted to give him some to play with, but I filled bowls with flour and sugar and he played with utensils.

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And then while I was taking them out of the oven and speedily shaping them (yep, another reason why they were a poor choice with Sandy around!) Sandy did the washing up for me. By which I mean he made himself and the floor rather wet. But you know what? He was happy, I was baking, and I can only imagine as time goes on (and I pick more appropriate recipes) he will become more involved and hopefully come to love baking with me!

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Plus it was all totally worth it for the flour-faced baby pictures alone!

Toddlerhood & Tantrums

It’s official. I can hide it no longer. My baby is no longer just that. He’s a toddler, a boy, a child. Okay, so probably anyone who knows him or follows these posts will be sighing at the lateness of my acceptance of his toddlerhood. However, I only just feel comfortable calling him a toddler, sort of. Just in time to get used to it before our second arrives c. May.

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Yep, that there is a toddler.

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The reason for this post is about toddler behaviour. Most people have heard of the terrible twos, irrespective of being a parent or not. Most parents however will be able to testify that it isn’t all smooth sailing until that dreaded landmark. Sandy’s terrible two-esque behaviour started around his first birthday. It started with the tantrums. He’d known ‘No’ for a while and, even though his co-operation wasn’t always guaranteed, he certainly understood when we didn’t want him to do something. In the months before he turned one it was easy, we said no, or moved him and he would either do something else or try and go back for a lather, rinse, repeat of the no-inducing behaviour. It was mostly touching the gas fire (unused, but still).

Fast forward to not long after his birthday and suddenly the word no, even whispered, became a catalyst for a screaming fit to make his previous bouts of grumpiness seem like a mere hint of a frown. These soon developed from crying to flinging himself around – backwards, forward, on the ground, into walls headfirst etc – and hitting himself in the head in frustration. If picked up he would be consoled for a moment until he realised there was something in the house he wasn’t allowed to do and he’d then try to and begin the whole process over again. My goodness, going from his happy naivety about the meaning of no to full on meltdowns over the tiniest little direction was a culture shock for me. At first it drove me beserk, I’d tell Stuart just how devilish he’d been all day, and how he had moaned, whinged and cried from the moment he woke to the moment he went to sleep. I’d call him a grump and I started to believe he really was an unhappy child. I couldn’t think how to fix it because he had the same life as before, better in fact with trips out more often to try and quell his rage. I’d give in to him on some things (non-dangerous things, like having the remote or climbing the stairs supervised) and then feel like I was becoming completely lax and confusing him about my role in telling him no. I began to walk on egg shells, even saying ‘careful’ was enough to set him off. Things were not good.

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So how did we overcome this issue (or at least make it manageable!) ?

Well, at first I would just pick him up every time he cried. So basically I was picking him up roughly every 40 seconds. Not the best when suffering early pregnancy exhaustion and morning sickness akin to dying of the plague. Even though it stopped the crying as soon as he was up he wanted down and would whinge and thrash to get down. So I put him down and then one of two things would happen, either A) he would go and do whatever it was he was told not to do straight away or B) he would cry because I had dared to put him down, and he would want picked up again. To an adult brain this just seems perverse, flawed and ultimately pointless behaviour. To the toddler though, it must seem rational. They never know what they want and even when they do, what they get is either not good enough, or immediately some other want comes into their little brains. It took me a while to understand the processes of his mind and why he reacted to things the way he did, and a great deal longer to accept it, but doing just that helped a lot. For my sanity anyway.

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But of course acceptance of constant tantruming really isn’t any practical help and was far from enough to make me feel at ease again, and certainly Sandy couldn’t have been happy in a state of turmoil over everything from waking to bed. So I tried my next move, which wasn’t very natural, but had to be given a shot in a trial and error troubleshooting session of ‘why is my baby broken?’. I ignored him. Well, not entirely, but it got to the point that as soon as he started tantruming and I went to him or held him it made him even madder. So I backed off, left the room or tried to play with something to entice him. Suffice to say that failed. I don’t know if it’s the same for other toddlers, or just the obstinacy of mine which rendered this approach utterly pointless but he would literally fizz and weep with his face on the floor for… well I only let him do it for ten minutes before the pain became too much. And then I mentally took that approach and crumpled up the instructions and threw it in the bin. It got to the point not that long after the initial tantrum starting that he was just upset from being upset and leaving him wouldn’t advance the plot in any way.

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So I asked a group of online Mum friends with babies a similar age for some advice and one of them told me how as soon as her boy started to get upset, the very first cry or frustrated wail, she would force him to cuddle her, and tell him she was here, and that she understood how annoyed he was, even if he really didn’t want cuddled. It seemed a backward step to me, what with his disinclination to take any comfort from me during a tantrum, but I decided to give it a go. And you know what, it worked. I also decided too, myself (and I’m proud of this!) that I needed to get down to his level for comforting him, to remove the need to be constantly picked up. So he would do something and be told no, or get frustrated with a toy he couldn’t work, and I would rush over, put my arms around him and tell him “poor baby, I know it’s hard to be told no” or “I understand that it’s frustrating when you can’t work your toys” etc. At first he resisted, but soon he accepted the physical affection and seemed slightly soothed by the words, and this led to distraction finally working. He would soon push off me and find something else to play with, or I would help him with the toy that had frustrated him in the first place. Hooray! The tantrums subsided!

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Several other things have helped too. Firstly, I had a good look at the house and his toys to try and eliminate potential tantrum inducing specifics before he had a chance to get them. Moving things out of view, taking toys that were too old or young for him away, and so on. Things like duplo he was happy to just throw or chew before, but now he realised it did something, but he couldn’t make it work, it was a rocket waiting to go off.

Generally, alternating toys well has helped too. Boredom leads to tantrums for Sandy, the more used to a toy he is, the more he expects it to do, and when it doesn’t, and he realises he has already found all that was interesting about it out, he will go off. So I took all his toys one day and lumped similar items together in boxes (stackers and cups, musical toys, soft toys etc) and every so often I do a complete overhaul and he is entertained once more.

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Now this one may not be music to the pressed mother’s ears, but being near him has drastically reduced whining and removed a lot of the following around/holding onto your leg/begging to get up behaviour which is rather draining when you just want to boil the blinking kettle. A lot of the time Sandy completely ignores me as I sit on the ground near me, and sometimes actively pushes me away if I try and play too. But it’s my presence that seems to keep him content. I’m not saying I sit all day waiting while he plays, usually I can slink off and do some things and he will continue, and then when he comes for me I return. Other times I read or use my iPad while he plays. Plus it’s good posture for the pregnant lady.

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So, that’s how we overcame the worst of the grumps and tantrums that seem to inevitably follow the gaining of independence that new walkers and hopeful talkers develop. I’m not saying any of this will necessarily apply to other toddlers, each being their own little person and all that, but maybe it’s food for thought. Generally the main rule for me was to spend more time at his level giving him attention, or merely being accessible to him should he need it. And you know what? The added benefit of all this time spent is the heart melting way he will suddenly turn to you and then run over full of slobbery kisses and rough and tumble cuddles.

2014

The end of the year has come and gone. I’m not sure how to feel to be honest. It has undoubtedly been the hardest year of my life, yet I don’t feel like I just want to boot it out the door and welcome 2014 with open arms. Maybe because I’m sure 2014 will be full of challenges too. It’s the first full year Sandy has been alive (out of the womb anyway) and he’s gone from a baby to a little boy. There are so many happy moments in among the god-awful ones. It’d be a shame to say 2013 has been the year from hell and to shun it. I’d never give it up. It’s been the year of me as a Mum and I can look at all the effort exerted throughout the months and see Sandy as he is now and feel proud.

Here’s a quick recap of what we got up to this year:

1
Our first family holiday in Fuerteventura. I wouldn’t call it restful, but then with a five month old nothing is!

2
The no-sleep doom era. See that mattress Sandy is on? That’s our mattress, formerly a place where sleep and rest occurred, in our own room. Here it lies on the floor in Sandy’s room as some sleep-deprived nonsense convinced me if I put it there and wedged us all in maybe he would sleep and maybe we would be ok. We were ok, but that certainly wasn’t the way to get him to sleep!

3
Wearing his Cool in Town vest, as we enjoyed our last few months in the city: we finally managed to sell our flat!

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Out and about in Glasgow, wearing hats, layers and babies.

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Yo! Sushi – his first taste.

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Days in April just him, me and the camera. I started this blog.

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The first hot weekend of what would be an incredible summer this year. Fond memories of the sun and the warmth flood in when I think of summer.

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Sandy’s photoshoot at Stuart’s work.

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Buttercup picnic. Probably one of my top three happiest moments this year. A perfect day. We’d just moved house, the sun came to stay and everything seemed golden.

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First (real) father’s day for Stuart.

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Spending time in the front garden (the back still being mud!) with the sprinkler on and the paddling pool out.

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A rather sticky trip to Sheffield to visit Sandy’s Great, Great Aunt Marjorie.

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And an amazing trip to Derby for an en masse, August baby online group birthday bash!

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Sandy turns One! 2/8/2013.

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And three turn to four later in August.

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Enjoying the last two weeks before the morning sickness set in…

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and the last of the summer in the drive.

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Making fun close to home at Halloween as I struggle with pregnancy round two.

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Some energy regained and the first frost, we take a walk and for the first time Sandy walks too.

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Swinging at the Christmas lights turn on.

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Even more competent steps out with Daddy. Dark times but struggling through.

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Christmas comes and something seems to give, finally things improve and we are headed to 2014 on what should be an upward curve.

So what for 2014? Should I make some resolutions? Last years resolutions I think I remember were to not be pregnant. Oops. And the year before that was to have a baby, ha! This year there will be some serious ones though. Coming off the back of hard times into what will hopefully be more a more positive period really makes me feel productive. So with that in mind…

New Years Resolutions 2014

1. Have a baby. I’m not even joking! Having a baby is tough. Maybe the resolution should be ‘have a baby and survive‘. Either way, I have hopes for the birth and newborn days which I’d like to keep to. Not all set in stone of course, but it’s a big one on my list this year.

2. Regain fitness. Ah yes, the boring ‘exercise more/eat better’ resolution. Honestly, I’m not unhappy with how I look, mostly because since I had Sandy my vanity levels decreased by 99% and I care very little how I look. If you catch me in something other than pyjamas it’s a momentous occasion. This is mostly to do with being pregnant though and still holding some baby weight from Sandy. When we decided to try for number two I decided to just let myself not care until after the baby. I eat well now, a healthy diet to be fair so I will be continuing that, only less those extra calories the pregnant among us tend to consume, whether advised to or not. But I will be exercising again. In 2010 I did the Great Scottish Run 10k, so I’d like to be looking maybe to do that again. Realistically not til 2015 but I will be running post-baby for sure, and regaining my figure while I’m at it.

3. Work out what to do re: a sticky situation with my PhD and work etc. I can’t go into this in detail yet as it’s not all ironed out, but suffice to say by hogmanay 2014 I want to be working or close to the close of my PhD. Which of those options is yet to be decided but it is the decision making that forms this resolution.

4. Grow lots of fruit and vegetables. For the first time in my life I have my own garden, and not one made of asphalt. So I will be planning and planting this spring and hoping to grow a lot of our own. That’s one thing I will be updating on here!

5. Finally, I want to re-discover my confidence. It’s taken a massive shake this year for various reasons and has left me feeling as though sometimes I’m not even sure who I am anymore. There are parts of the old me I’m happy to leave behind, the more outspoken and arrogant parts, but I need to find assertiveness and avoid feeling as though I have no belief in my own abilities.

There you go. Five resolutions immortalised in blog form for pouring over in 365 days time to see how it went. Of course an unwritten goal is the continuation of this blog so I’m hoping anyone reading will still be doing so then, and perhaps a couple of others will have joined along the way.

A Happy New Year, firm handshake, and some shortbread from me.

ohsoamelia