Friday, October 31, 2014

Gingerbread, box and away.

1. While Bettany is napping Alec and I make gingerbread biscuits using the recipe from my cousin's handwritten cookbook. The paste is a delight to work with, fine and soft with a wonderful smell of treacle and Christmas. We eat quite a lot of it raw. The earlier batches are a little puffy (but some gingerbread is soft) though our later batches are crisp and thin enough to make me feel very proud.

2. In my clear-out I discover a long unopened box, just a small one, of trinkets and junk from my time at university. A torn wristband for the college ball; a couple of corks from my 21st birthday Champagne. A programme and a ticket for a concert. Junk, to be thrown out the moment I die. But each item makes my brain replay a few vivid memories: my legs stung by nettles in the botanic gardens after the ball; the corks hitting the high ceiling of our third year house; my acute embarrassment at hearing my own lyrics sung at the concert (and the composer saying they were easy to sing).

3. To whisk a bag of unwanted toys away to the charity shop -- and to enjoy the space created by a re-arranged living room.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Departure, cooking and puff pastry.

1. To hear Alec chatting calmly with Nick as he sets off for nursery.

2. To show Bettany how to use a biscuit cutter (she loses interest after one and goes back to stamping around the kitchen in her wellies).

3. I notice with some satisfaction that my rough puff pastry has formed plenty of layers -- so all that folding and rolling was worth it. (I'm not normally allowed to make pastry because it's Nick's job).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Costume, headspace and taking over.

1. Godmother Catherine arrives with a historical parade: Daniel with a Roman gladiator's helmet and shield and Ellie dressed in a carefully composed outfit topped off with a rather outré Laura Ingalls Wilder-style straw sun bonnet. I wonder if anyone on the train saw them and thought they'd slipped in time.

2. Bettany's small friend pushes her on the swing while we mothers chat. With Bettany entertained and Alec away with Daniel I find I have enough to headspace to remember why I wanted to introduce these two people -- but not enough to jostle the topics-in-common into the conversation. Luckily they do it for themselves.

3. Catherine takes over bathtime so I can make downstairs comfortable for Nick. It's a gift for both of us (as well as a pleasant change for the children).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sketch, mushrooms and hands.

1. While I am dressing Bettany I remember with shameful pride a cheeky verbal sketch I made when I was ten of a classmate's overbearing mother: 'She's the sort of person who always makes sure her son has his vest on and then checks everyone else's vests, too.'

2. To find a pair of beautiful boletuses in the park -- velvety warm brown caps the size of espresso cups. Later Alec calls me over to see what I think is a purple russula -- he has very sharp eyes to spot it among the leaves.

3. It's one of those moments that I ought to photograph, but I don't bother to get my phone out because I don't want to miss a moment while trying to frame it and catch it behind glass. Alec holds Bettany's hand and they walk up through The Grove to the playground. At the corner he tells me seriously 'Me and Bettany are just friends.'

Monday, October 27, 2014

Expression, badger and sticky.

1. My mother tells me that she has come across a photo of her father as a small boy. 'He has just that sad, thoughtful expression that Alec has sometimes.'

2. Nick comes home with a new pair of trousers for Alec. They have a badger on the pocket, which is as close as this family gets to a totem animal.

3. To watch Bettany gnawing the Kinder Hippo that Nana sent home with her. Alec ate his in double quick time and now he is hanging round her high chair with a pathetic look on his face, hoping she will be generous and give him bite. He is daft: the hippo is a mess of stick and dribble and Bettany is oblivious.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cthulhu, up the hill and rolling grapes.

1. Alec explains that we are going to the Specific Ocean to set camera trap for Cfulhu, to be fixed down with nails and a padlock. Much later I entice him into the bath by suggesting he can test his design with a mock-up made from a soft cheese tub and some sucker hooks.

2. I discover I can sell the walk to Auntie Katie's house by explaining that the long hill is The Mountains of Madness. Alec scoots the entire way without once asking for a tow. I do end up promising to take him to the actual Antarctic one day, though.

3. Rolling grapes across the table to Baby Ella, who is much happier now she has had her lunch and is sitting on her mother's knee.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Encore, spin-off and costume.

1. To sing to Bettany while I change her nappy. Alec from the other room looks up from the tablet long enough to ask: 'Sing that John one again.'

2. I come down from settling Bettany for her nap and find Alec in front of Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. His eyes are like saucers and he is so full of questions (me too -- how did he even manage to navigate the watch again menu?). Later he tells me that the two of us, like Sarah Jane and her adopted son Luke, are a team defending the Earth from aliens.

3. Bettany's Halloween costume arrives. It's beautiful and it will only fit for a short while so I put her in it. She pats the layers of net and struts around with a little smile on her face... and then brings me her wellies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Printed pumpkins, descent and between.

1. I give the children some painted pumpkins, a dish of black paint and an old sponge cut into triangles. Alec examines the experimental pumpkin face I stamped out yesterday and then pronounces himself disappointed with his own version. 'Throw it away,' he says.
'No, put it up here and look at it when you do the next one so you know what you didn't like.' I warm to the subject. 'It's good to make mistakes. It shows you're working hard.' I stop, feeling a bit awkward and overbearing. But he looks... he looks exhilarated.

2. Bettany's first pumpkin is pretty uniform: I showed her where to put the stamps and pressed her hands down. (She definitely said 'Press!') The second pumpkin is covered in small coaly fingerprints and faint black triangles where she has re-stamped. And the third... the third... it's just dark.

3. When I pick Bettany up we sit on the floor to do the handover. Bettany runs first to me and squeezes me and then back to the practitioner, gives her a squeeze and then runs back to me.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

No chores, still no chores and Bettany's wellies.

1. To ignore most of the chores and play with Bettany instead.

2. At naptime I continue to ignore chores and set up some printing for Alec to do tomorrow. He recently enjoyed a sticker sheet that came with the Boden catalogue -- pumpkin heads and some scary eyes and jagged mouths -- and I thought he might like using a sponge to print features on to a colouring page we found last week.

3. It is time to go but when I try to put Bettany's shoes on she pushes them away and sets off to the shoe rack in a determined fashion. She comes back with the shiny wellies I bought for her today.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ask, aid and achievement.

1. When I turn back Bettany has escaped -- somehow, over the roar of conversation, the rolling of the ride-ons and the voices of busy children, she has heard a mother opening a snack packet. When I get there she is signing 'please' and being adored and admired for it. 'Can I give her one?' asks the mother holding up a bag of rice cakes. It seems rude to say no, really.

2. Alec wants to leave, and then he doesn't and then he has a tantrum about it. We are rescued by a friend of a friend who says that her little lad did the same in the supermarket yesterday. 'Sometimes it helps if a stranger...'
'Yes please,' I say quickly before she can change her mind. She goes back and talks with Alec about how it's hard to stop crying sometimes and then she takes him by the hand and walks with us as far as she is going. I feel as if she opened the way back in and shoved Alec gently through it.

3. To have both children asleep when Nick gets home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Little dog, courage and yard work.

1. The feather soft fur on Alice, Godfather Tibby's new dog. I want to compare her to all the things at home that I go out of my way to touch when I pass: my frivolous ostrich feather duster, our fleece blankets, my cashmere jumper, Bettany's fast disappearing baby hair

2. Alec screws up his courage and strokes Alice -- he is scared of dogs, particularly excited ones, but Tibby holds her firmly so she is calm. It is amazing to see him come round to things he is unsure about:

3. To open the back door on what might be the last warm day and do some garden work. Bettany is driving Alec crazy by poking the calculator key on the laptop so I put her shoes on and shove her out, too. She eats some nasturtiums and squats down to examine things too insignificant for me to see. I ignore Alec's requests for technical help until he joins us. He quickly finds himself planting daffodils for spring. It's rather fun to watch him diligently placing bulbs on the compost, and to see Bettany removing them all the moment he looks away. And then there's a little scrap over who gets to place the last bulb (until I find the second, third and fourth last bulb that Bettany has stashed under a nasturtium).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Compost, close and plums.

1. The compost has come out well. I have to sieve it to get rid of the mats of unrotted mind-your-own-business, twigs, leaves and a few unbroken eggshells (these go back into the composter for another go). It is a satisfying task on a weekend morning and I end up with about half a sack of lovely soft compost that smells good enough to make me jealous of the bulbs I'm about to plant in it.

2. I close the cellar door and Bettany says firmly and clearly 'DUT', which I think must be her go at 'Shut'.

3. Bettany's enthusiasm for baked plums. She sucks the flesh yellow and then hands the skins to Nick. I used this recipe, which has an interesting meringue crust, and it was very good.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lessons, taster and skills.

1. To walk out of the Saturday morning house for a day of cookery lessons.

2. 'Oh, just use your finger,' says my cooking partner offering me the nearly empty pistachio paste bowl.

3. I am very pleased to be taught some proper knife skills, and to see that sophisticated, exciting food is really is not out of my reach. And it's fascinating to get a bit of insight into the bodges and fixes that chefs use: we saw a scrambled custard rescued with white chocolate and soft cheese, and an over-sweetened custard redeemed and elevated with a squeeze of lemon juice. And I was particularly glad to see that top-of-the-range kitchen equipment are plagued by the same glitches that affect my own gear.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Snap, pints and going home.

1. I let Alec win several rounds of dinosaur snap to encourage him and to make the game last longer. When I lose all my cards he gives me some from the back of his own hand.

2. To be able to carry three pints. 'I can see you're proud of that by the look on your face.'

3. I have to hurry home after an hour because I left Nick with Bettany awake. I have to down my last quarter pint and I am very sorry to leave such genial company -- particularly as Paul only flits in once a year -- but on the way home I realise that I am very pleasantly drunk. I notice all sorts of odd, inconsequential details on the way home -- Two men crossing the road, one of them laughs and says 'You're never happy'; the sound of a penny whistle; the windows open in my old flat; water falling down a drainpipe.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Buttons, rest and click.

1. After lunch, to give the children a few chocolate buttons before I bundle them off to nursery.

2. To ignore the lunch mess in the kitchen and take a break on the sofa with some reading material and a cup of tea. And some cake.

3. To click a new ink cartridge into the printer. I am glad to do it now when I am not desperate for a print-out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fourth cake, share and duties done.

1. I am just thinking with some regret that I should have asked for a fourth cake so that Nick can have a treat this evening when I realise that I nodded at the wrong time so they've got my order wrong and added a brownie to the bag.

2. Alec loves to share... provided he likes the look of whatever is on your plate.

3. My baby settling duties are done so I can sneak upstairs for a last thing at night cuddle with Nick.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Woodsmoke, capture and slide.

1. It is not quite foggy and not quite raining in the garden this morning. I am standing with the empty coffee pot in my hand and I can smell warming woodsmoke.

2. Bettany bolts off round the corner while I am paying for my cup of tea. I send the boys after her. By the time I've put my cup somewhere safe and caught up Alec and Anthony are escorting her, with her arms held high, out of the toilets, one on each side.

3. At the bottom of the slide, with Bettany laughing between my knees and Alec already asking to go again, I can still feel the writhing anxiety I felt at the top of the slide.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rain park, dam and guilt trip.

1. To take Alec to the park in the pouring rain and let him jump in a large and muddy puddle. I join him after a few minutes -- I have my wellies on and there is no-one to see. We jump in and out 'My turn!', 'My turn!' until the puddle is much emptier and surrounded by a halo of sodden leaves.

2. To show Alec how to dam a trickle of water using handfuls of red and yellow leaves.

3. Our nursery is always asking for family photos for their picture box and I never seem to get round to doing some prints. A friend tells me that she was guilted in to it after hearing that her toddler picked a photo of another child's granny and carried it round with him all afternoon, embracing it tightly if anyone tried to take it away.

Monday, October 13, 2014

LTM, share and helper.

1. It is rather jolly to go into a museum and not bother about any of the history stuff but instead to go straight to the bits that Alec loves -- the play area and the model bus and the large selection of children's books at The London Transport Museum.

2. Alec's cherry lolly arrives but my pudding (which I was planning to share with Bettany) does not. I persuade him to give her a lick and he is marvellously patient and generous. When my pudding comes and he realises that it is delicious his patience and generosity go into overdrive.

2b. Another mother laughs kindly at my disarray: 'I was wondering when it would change from "Stop licking me!" to "Stop biting me!"' I'm glad I'm not the only one.

3. The darling, charming lady on the train home from London who chatted so easily and naturally with Alec to keep him entertained (and she was even kind enough to play along when I threatened to give her his jelly if he didn't calm down).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Run out, laugh and a good lunch.

1. I don't find my keys but at least I got a good run out on a bright, rainwashed morning -- and we ran into Bettany's favourite big girl friend which resulted in many squeals and eeee-eee-eees.

2. 'I've never heard him laugh like that,' says Nick.
Alec is watching The Sooty Show and it's true, he is laughing differently: not in that overexcited way that we rather dread. Alec never quite enjoys surrendering to high emotion but now he sounds relaxed and happy and uninhibited.

3. We give our guests hot dogs, Brut and gypsy tarts for lunch. Convenient, classy and local.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rascal, not open and refuge.

1. Bettany stands on a rock chanting not quite the words but the noises of 'I'm the king of the castle, you're the dirty rascal!'

2. When I discover that I've lost my keys next door's builders come up and try to get at the latch through the letterbox. This is beautiful because it was very kind of them; and because they failed.

3. We arrive at Carluccio's dripping wet (luckily our waterproofs were stowed in the bottom of the pushchair) and very wretched. The children are hungry and tired and I have no idea how I'm going to make them sit for an hour until Nick gets home: it's too wet to wait outside. The manager welcomes us as if we were the most important customers ever. Things look much better after some juice, pasta and ice cream (them) and a glass of wine, a larger portion of pasta and a plate of tiramisu,

3b. Bettany squawked at Alec and signed please. He understood immediately and leaned across to spoon some of his ice cream into her mouth.

Friday, October 10, 2014

No negotiation, adventure, choice.

1. Alec has not been the most agreeable of creatures this morning and I am expecting a fight when Jane and Anthony set off for the swings and we go off to nursery. But he is calm and doesn't pull or bolt or try to negotiate and I am very grateful.

2. The sky is filled with sycamore seeds. 'Are they going on an adventure?' Alec asks.

3. 'Did you have your eye on any particular piece?' she says.
'No,' I lie, so as not to seem greedy.
'That one at the back is bigger, and it's a corner piece.'
I love the staff at the Cake Shed.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Turning year, at play and story.

1. There is something irretrievably autumnal in the movement and the taste and the temperature of the air and as I jog along with the pushchair trying to keep up with Alec on his scooter I feel a great rush of melancholy that magnifies every single one of last summer's lost forever pleasures.

2. I love to watch my children playing -- in the bath tonight they were not still for a moment, busy busy busy. Alec was serving cups of bathwater coffee; Bettany was copying him, pouring water from one cup to another, over and over again. They did not add to the world and did not subtract from it (though I know they were adding something to their own selves).

3. Alec asks very politely if he can come downstairs and have a story on the sofa. When I attach conditions (one chapter, straight upstairs to sleep by yourself afterwards) he is continues to be agreeable and calm. What a grown-up man!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Tidy, handing over and gentle.

1. The low autumn sun is not kind to dust and muddle and it has motivated me to move round the house interrogating one shelf at a time. It takes just fifteen minutes work with a basket to wake up the corner by the front door: all the sunhats and sandals need to go; the sling that is now too small for our Betts and my exhausted winter coat, which I need to replace right away.

2. To hand over the bedtime story to an audiobook -- this complete Beatrix Potter, which I had on LP as a child, is just lovely -- we lounge around listening (mostly) until Nick gets in.

3. Pete gives me a lift home from games night: the gentle way that he shows concern about the tiny walk up the hill to our front door.

PS: report on last night's game, in which we may have opened a hell mouth, is here at Chronicles of Cidri.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Snack, helicopters and not interested.

1. To show Alec how to wedge his fingers into Hula Hoops before you eat them.

2. 'What's that falling?' It's sycamore helicopters tickering across the bowling green in this morning's gusty wind. I shake a low branch to make more fall for his enjoyment.

3. When we go in to collect Bettany from nursery she looks up at us and then goes back to playing with a set of stacking shapes.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Duty, sky and plan.

1. I wake late when Bettany is placed on top of me. "She's dressed, she's had her breakfast and I've just changed her nappy," says a very pleased-with-himself Nick.

2. Auntie Katie walking towards us on the Pantiles. She is wearing one of her beautiful jumpers -- it's a warm blue like the sky on a really hot day (and we are pleased to see her for her own self).

3. Alec carefully describes his plan for when he loses his first tooth: he's going to pretend to be asleep and then grab the tooth fairy when she comes (I couldn't get him to explain why).

Sunday, October 05, 2014

At play, extra time and off my hands.

1. I stand well back and watch Alec at play on the wooden pirate ship. He is scrambling around quite happily when a boy about half his height comes up and gives him a good shove. He looks surprised and puzzled and then the boy's mother comes down like the Assyrian and sweeps her son away in a torrent of angry Spanish. Minutes later a boy closer to Alec's size starts to lecture me about how TV villain The Numbertaker has stolen all his tools. "DON'T LISTEN TO HIM!" his parents chorus -- but I'm well used to this sort of thing with Alec and a new story always makes me smile.

2. Everyone wants to go upstairs on the bus, but I have to stay downstairs with the pushchair. I have a book on my phone, though, and it is lovely to have 15 minutes to read in peace.

3. Alec is having a colossal tantrum. I am so glad Nick is there to take Bettany so I can focus on Alec.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Chalk, guide and reading.

Nana recently sent Nick home from a visit with a magazine published by one of her favourite charities, Bransby Horses. Leafing through I noticed an appeal for used postage stamps, which for some reason seem to accumulate round here ('for some reason...' -- I save them because I like the tiny pictures). Anyway, we parceled up our pile of stamps (it was enough to need a LARGE letter stamp) and sent them off to Bransby Horses. I know there is a ready market among collectors for used postage stamps and Bransby say on their webpage that they made £9,000 from them last year.

So anyway, if you have a stash of used stamps you can bring joy to Nana's heart (and give aid to vulnerable horses) by sending them on to Bransby Horses, Bransby, Lincoln, LN1 2PH.

1. While blowing bubbles for the children to chase round the garden I step on a piece of chalk. It crumbles beneath my heel in a pleasing way.

2. Nick comes home with a present: a pocket mushroom guide. I love reading the names -- russet toughshank, poison pie, spectacular rust gill, plums and custard, deer shield, dog stinkhorn. And I enjoy examining the descriptions of those I know and comparing the words with what I've experienced.

3. I am not ready for bed but Bettany is not sleeping well. I stick her on the bub, wedge her in place with some pillows and read Lucia In London (which is just right for my poor overworked, oversensitive brain)

Friday, October 03, 2014

Story, afternoon off and want.

1. Instead of immediately turning to the TV after breakfast Alec asks me to sit and read him a story.

2. Rosey and I escape: we leave the children and nursery and go to one of the town's grand hotels for lunch, a gossip and a play in the spa.

3. While I am swimming up and down enjoying my freedom I suddenly think of Bettany's face, her wispy hair and her sticking-out ears and her four or five front teeth and her large round eyes. It makes me want her so much it almost hurts.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Run, wasting time and cheese.

1. To run with a cheerful Bettany sitting right forward in the pushchair.

2. To waste time indoors on a fine afternoon -- we are rolling round on the bed singing to each other.

3. The crispy cheese on top of a shepherd's pie.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Joining in, stars and treasures.

1. Alec joining in during story time and song time at toddler group. They are handing out vegetables to illustrate the story of Joseph and he tells me later that he got a radish to hold.

2. While we are trundling through the woods Bettany looks up at the leaves and the spaces between them and says 'Dar, dar!' which is what she says when we stare at the stars on the bedroom ceiling.

3. Alec has filled his blue bucket with conkers and carried it himself all the way up the hill. We find the pile of hay from Sunday and he empties the bucket on top of it, abandoning his treasures without a second thought.

Art book, gossip and watermelon.

1. Among my birthday presents is a new book of Tove Jansson's art, featuring lots of bits I've never seen before. 2. Stopping for a ...