Wednesday 16 November 2016

Advent approaches

"Advent fast approaches and I've accomplished nothing", so says my husband - but he doesn't mean it. It is just that living in a #lodgehousechallenge# is, well, truly challenging. Take for example, getting an extractor fan fitted in the bathroom...

We lease the property, so we must ask the estate people to come. Six weeks later they arrive, but fit an extractor so basic it is Neanderthal, open to the elements, the perfect nesting site for birds, and filters an icy gale through the bathroom. So we get back on the email. Everything is fixed, eventually. And we are thankful. Right now our lean to is being re-built. I mean, it was a danger to all those near by in high winds. And the chaps that are rebuilding it are brilliant, skilled carpenters. We are thankful, truly.
The compost bins were meant to have been built, by us, in September. They are now done! Hurrah! It happened by happy/unhappy accident. G was in our old banger trying to drop B to childcare and get to work. The car broke down post childminder but pre work, leaving him stranded near home with 'nothing' to do. Nothing. Ha!
In a moment of inspiration we have asked a lad from the nearest village to help us at weekends when he can. It makes the world of difference. Progress gets made.You see, one of the biggest challenges we have faced is that we thought there would be two of us working outdoors, but there is not. Bertie, who turns one this weekend, doesn't like watching gardening from his buggy. He wants to do other one year old stuff, like play and crawl and giggle. Who'd have thought? So, with the best will in the world, only one of us gets to garden. I want to dig my herb patch, just outside the lean to. G wants to get started on the 'kitchen garden', viz the jungle. Somehow or other we needed to work a way of pleasing us both. Getting a little help has proven the miracle solution. We thank God for Archie.

To keep chipper we have to keep reminding ourselves why we have come, and what we are aiming to achieve. We have to keep thinking about how much we have already achieved. Inside, we have redecorated half of our small home. Outside, we have cleared the old barn. Tools have been organized, cleaned and oiled. We have started to dig a herb patch. The compost bins and leaf pens are built.  The gates have been painted. Wood for winter has been split and stored. Plans laid for the season ahead...
Money is not easy, and we are struggling to make ends meet each month, but, as my Ma would say, 'the struggle is all'. And, my Da would have said, 'it's only silly old money.' We have come here because we want a simple life, filled with fun and family - and that's it. Family comes first, all the great concerns of the world, like Tellies and iPhones and Shopping and Clothes and Bank Balances and Stuff, come later. Much later. So much later in fact that getting a haircut needs advanced planning at the moment. Maybe I'll buy scissors? And we still can't afford bedroom curtains - just as well there are no neighbours!

Ironically, the simpler you try to live, the harder it seems to get. Sometimes the task seems too much. In such moods, we light the fire and give each other a pep talk about how everything that people think matters doesn't really matter. That helps. Then we buy wine. We are going to have to give that up and start making booze. Such is the self sufficient life.
As Advent does approach we know one thing...we haven't any money for Christmas. And we have faith in another, we are going to have the best Christmas ever! We have wood for the fire; enough for a hearty meal; I've saved for a new toy for little B; last years tree is growing in a bucket; I've made the puddings; and loved ones will come and we will visit. Maybe we will buy ourselves some curtains...

Thursday 29 September 2016

A year in my arms

One year.
One year you've been in my arms,
not counting the months
you grew inside me.

One year and nine months -
let's face it -
you didn't know
you weren't me,

until one day -
you became you -
 - and I became I
once more.

But I am still you,
defined by love,
my image remoulded
because you're enfolded

in my arms.

Peace at Michaelmas


Hallo all. It has been a while, but #lodgehousechallenge is going strong! We have a very peaceful life in the woods. Even when we are both working we come home, cook the dinner, light the fire and cuddle under a blanket to listen to 'story' before bed: SJ Parris' Heresy, since you're curious, we love a bit of historical fiction.

I adore, yes, adore, the feast of Michaelmas - the Feast of St Michael and the Archangels. It is my favourite, frequently marked by Michaelmas daisies growing in the garden. But there are none this year! The garden is new to us and whoever loved it before did not share my passion for this little delicate flower. Ah well, in years to come it will grow abundantly. In the meantime, each morning at 7.30am forty to fifty pheasants graze on our lawn before passing into the adjacent field, and well they are quite a sight to see! Geese fly over in the evening, making a journey to their night resting place. I've never seen them, but they are quite a thing to hear!

G and I have worked out a few domestic things, as well has making excellent progress on making our lounge the cosiest place ever, and improving the facilities in the bathroom. Our biggest victories have come in the form of food and drink. We were spoiled in Lane End with Lacey's Guernsey herd producing creamy milk just down the road. I did not think we would meet their match. But we have landed on our feet: North Aston Organic Dairy has a little herd of 12 - 17 milking cows, and we are in lactose heaven. Next door North Aston Organic Farm organise us a veg box to pick up each fortnight, full of delicious fruit and vegetables - a surprise each time - enabling us to get creative in the kitchen. Both of these local sources of sustainable food are admirable businesses and fascinating to G and I. On the alternate weeks, I am off work on the Thursday and pay a regular trip to Witney fruit and vegetable market where I happily stock up on all our needs. We have even had some amazing organic beef from the North Aston Dairy, osso buco, and little Bertie certainly did enjoy the stew we made from that!

Amidst the peace of the house, there is the chaos - boxes still packed, jobs still to do, tasks which seem overwhelmingly huge, but slow and steady wins the race! One of the jobs that is on out mind is to make the place ready for Autumn and Winter. This weekend we will sweep the barn and lime wash it, and on Tuesday we expect a delivery of two tonnes of logs (and a man to get rid of the moles). Next weekend we should build a leaf pen and compost heap (but we have an appointment with the bank manager, hey ho). In the mean time, well, tomorrow I might make Orange Cake and tea, just for the Archangels, me and the family.

Sunday 14 August 2016

The Garden Journal

Everyone says we should keep a garden journal. The purpose I suppose is to record progress, and have a record of which plants went where year on year, and how they performed. I am a prolific keeper of notes, diaries and records, and there will be, no doubt, an old fashioned hand written school notebook with spidery scrawl and pencil line drawings, but for now I thought I'd start here. With pictures. To show exactly how much imagination G and I are going to need to make this place happen.

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden needs to evolve slowly, it will provide all our basic staples as well varieties we enjoy which are not easily obtainable. Potatoes (Cara, Wilja, Charlotte, etc); Roots (Parsnips, Carrots, Celeriac, Beetroot, Turnips); Onions (Bedfordshire! (It's where I'm from!) Pinks, White and Reds); Brassicas (the usual suspects to feed us year round); Summer Veg (peas and beans); Squashes (Pumpkins!); Salad crops;Tomatoes; Everything Else.

This should be an idyl, the perfect productive garden (Nine bean rows shall I have there...).

Herb Patch

With herbs we need all things. Herbs for cooking, herbs for healing and herbs for bathing: rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, marjoram, angelica, fennel, sorrel, bergamot, lovage, chives, mint. You name it, it will live here.

Wild Garden

The wild garden remains a bit of a mystery. We would like to eradicate perennial weeds such as bindweed and establish native species to attract even more bees and butterflies. We will research and take advice on the best plants to flourish in this little tended 'wild' patch.Ultimately it should be largely self sustaining.

 Blind Alley 

The previous occupants had the conifers drastically cut back outside the lounge window, now the view is a brown dead mess. We hope it may green up, but in the meantime we aim to treat the weeds in this dark area,and put down a weed suppressing mat and some gravel to join our driveway and brighten up the whole damp sorry patch.

Concrete Paradise

I have visions of an eight by eight checkers board; G has visions of a greenhouse (large), with compost bins conveniently located behind. We shall see. He may win on shear practicality.

Lavender and Rosemary Borders

G brought home sixteen half-dead lavender plants from Homebase. They were free. Now they are nearly all dead. Still the precedent lives, and the front garden will be a lavender and rosemary garden. In fact, all around the house, in the borders underneath the windows there will be lavender and rosemary to waft in refreshing and soothing smells. We need to take cuttings from the Ma's.

And so endeth the tour of the work that is to do in the garden.. The visions are big, the labourers few and the work is much...,but paradise beckons. We live in eternal hope.

Monday 8 August 2016

The chaos and the calm

Anything called #lodgehousechallenge has to have an element of, well, challenge. And so began our journey into the lodge house. Moving day arrived, and the vans pulled up, G and I still hurling things into boxes. 

My sister called, Mum had injured herself, badly. In fact, as a trip to the hospital some days later would reveal, she had torn a tendon and ligament in the groin - a typical footballers injury, and it would take some months to recuperate. So, mid move, Bertie and I abandoned ship and headed to see the injured patient, bringing food, and later transporting her to hospital. Happily, now home again, Ma is on the mend.

Meanwhile, my husband's parents arrived to stay and help us get everything shipshape. We didn't really unpack. All our possessions are in the garage, with a skeleton of stuff to make the house operable, scattered around the various rooms. G and his dad set to in the kitchen. Five days of 10 hour shifts and, sweating at the brow, they transformed the place. G's mum, set about helping me get the piles of laundry through (our washing machine in old house packed up a week before we moved), and sorted. Soon, little B was able to abandon disposable nappies and return to his favourite brand of cloth (Charlie Banana).

Meanwhile, in the garden, we have been attempting to tame the wilderness in preparation for clearance come the winter. Brambles that stretch 10 metres deep need to be brought to heel, bindweed must be annihilated, nettles, thistles, thorns, ragwort and encroaching woodland all need to be banished. We admit we may need heavy machinery and help to complete this task in the end, but for now, it is us against nature. 

Oh, and then there's the bees nest in the empty chimney, brought to my attention by the chimney sweep who gave our working chimney the all clear for a wood fire open grate.

G's parents left last Wednesday, and today he returned to work. We have done our best to make the house 'workable' for the next while. There is an oasis of calm amidst the hive of activity. #lodgehousechallenge is, after all, our home.

 Next we will transform the sitting room, turning it into the cosiest lodge house lounge ever.

Thursday 21 July 2016

ab initio...

It's tomorrow. We officially become tenants of the Lodge House at midnight tonight. G is picking up keys in the morning. After that, despite the excitement, everything will be fairly humdrum whilst we pack up our one bedroom flat here, make arrangements with electricians, plumbers, chimney sweeps and removal men and, finally, put everything into transit on Monday.

The real work will begin in earnest on Wednesday when the tradesmen depart. There are rooms to paint and decorate, outbuildings to lime wash and equip, tools to organise, borrow and beg for. There is furniture to restore, and amidst it all, a baby to mind.
Oh, and then there's the garden.

The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. It's going to take a this space!

Friday 8 July 2016

Good Vibrations...

It is exactly two weeks until we move. Excitement is not the word. I think both G and I are suffering from that childhood experience of moving through time as if we were wading through jelly. Neither of us can wait for the day to come, but more than that, neither of us can wait for the moment at which we can look around ourselves and think, 'that's it, we are settled'. Both of us think this move is the most exciting thing that has happened to us since Boy was born.

We have done a few things to prepare. Not much, I hasten to add, we are both working round the clock in the old 'nine to God Knows When'. However, G did spend a lunch time looking at our energy suppliers. Unsurprisingly, it is not a conventional set-up. Electricity is solar and mains but gas is via an LPG tank. Recently G heard an interesting talk at a work seminar by the founder of 'Good Energy', Juliet Davenport. They are the UK's first 100% renewable energy supplier and currently partner the National Trust on some of their renewable energy projects. As we have solar, and can sell our energy back into the grid, they seem like a natural choice. So, we can be sure that all the electricity we use will be either our own or from another renewable source.

As for LPG, it's a bit of minefield, because it's pretty niche for domestic; most rural properties are oil if they are not on mains gas. We are looking at various farming co-operatives but are committed to using local wood fuel for the majority of our heating needs through winter. 

As for me, my preparations have involved exploring the vast cellar in my ex-convent school. The building dates from 1860, schooled Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin when it was an Anglican foundation; then was bought by the Jesuits, and finally the Bernadine Sisters I know and love. They left in 2006. Suffice to say, there is enough history down that cellar to satisfy an AQA Exam Board. I found an old piece of the reredos or altar screen and two large galvanised pails. I took the pails.

Friends have offered an unusual array of house warming gifts, including chicken wire, a sledge hammer, straw, feed, and planks of wood. All of which we are delighted with. The in laws have bought us a bed. Hurrah! We will be 'upcycling' the old shin splitter to a new incarnation as yet undetermined (leaf pen?).

In the background we have been keeping a detailed inventory of all 'household waste'; it makes shocking reading but we need it to benchmark for future improvements. More on this subject anon...

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Lodge House Challenge

Perhaps parenthood has changed my husband and I irrevocably.

Not perhaps.

Let me start again.

Parenthood has changed my husband and I irrevocably. We seem to have suddenly developed the capacity to see into the future - to peer into the mists of the unknown - and imagine the world as it might be when our son is grown up.

It's frightening.

So frightening, in fact, that we are making whole scale, radical changes to the way we live. We are going to 'opt out' as some might call it, 'go back', regress to a past in which children played outdoors, vegetables grew in the garden, time moved slowly and life was altogether more simple.

Here's how it goes:

Instead of earning over forty grand a year as a Senior Manager in a lively Secondary school, I am going to teach a little part time and do my best to be a stay at home mum.

Instead of belting it in opposite directions down the M40 each morning, we are reducing our commute to work to 20 minutes. I'm renovating my bicycle.

We've taken a lease on an 18th Century lodge house on a large estate in Oxfordshire. There are no neighbours. There is about 0.5 acres of garden, some good stone outbuildings and a serious amount of woodland. It needs a lot of work, but we will just about afford it on our new limited budget.....

....if we stop buying stuff.....

So, the plan is to buy less and make more.

We've very little furniture, so upcycling is the order of the day. A trawl of local tidy tips, antique markets and charity shops will need to produce a kitchen work bench, wardrobes, chairs, cabinets, towel rails, shelves and tables.

All those household chemicals - bleach, surface cleaner, fabric softener, fire lighters and polish are all going to have to go. They are bad ecologically and economically. We're going to replace them with some old fashioned wizardry with bicarbonate of soda, lemons, oranges and white spirit vinegar. Landfill will be spared the plastic bottles they come in.

Glass bottles and jars I am going to start hoarding. I'm planning to store the preserves, pickles, jellies, jams and delicious cordials we create in those. Our restricted budget means regular wine is off the list. We drink too much anyway. We thought we'd have a go at hedgerow booze - elderflower wine, sloe berry gin, that kind of thing.

In a nod to greener energy we shall be using some solar power and wood, our sustainable local fuel source. 

Finally, and most importantly, our aim is to create a kitchen garden and build a chicken run, becoming self sufficient in eggs, veg and herbs in 24 months.

All because we had a baby.

For the record, I don't call this 'regressing' or opting out. I'm not harking back to an idyllic past. We are 'opting in', building a future, making waste a thing of the past and the great outdoors a pleasant place for the future. 

It is all rather daunting. Our new adventure is an ethical choice - it might not be for everyone, it might not be for us, but we are going to have a go and hopefully we will have much fun along the way. Keep us on track and follow our journey at #Lodge House Challenge, learning to #livelightly. We are bound to make some funny mistakes and we won't be shy in sharing them!

Thursday 10 March 2016

How precious the young, how precious the old

I saw from the window of my car,
As I was speeding by,
An old man.

He walked like my Father did,
one short shaky step after another,
looking forward with concentrated eyes,
that told you in no uncertain terms
that this was work.

The world had changed
from a place of confidence and freedom
to a whirlwind of frighteningly infrequent familiarity.

My Da would, as he walked towards you on his shaky pins,
give a characteristic wave and a happy smile.
To see a friendly face, a welcome in the road,
made him happy.

I looked in the rear view mirror,
and glimpsed you, the future.
The one I named after the Father I loved.
And I wanted to stop the car,
and chase after the old man,
and show him you,
and watch him smile,
that I might glimpse what Dad's smile might have been.

How precious the young,
how precious the old.

Home Spun Mum

I often cook and bake with little Bertie. It's chaos, but fun. When I'm in the kitchen, Baby Cloister is on the work surface in his bouncer, and we play the 'Mummy is pretending she is on a TV cooking programme' game! I narrate everything I do, pass things to Bertie for him to hold, let him sniff the smelly ingredients, stick his hand in the ones that won't be too messy to clear up. It sounds and looks ridiculous:

'Today, Bertie, we are going to be making, Orange, Vanilla and White Chocolate Muffins. Okay?'
'Goo, GAH!'
'Here, have a wooden spoon to hold, that's interesting isn't it?'
*Wooden spoon flies across the work top* 'GOOOOOGAH!'
'Oh dear, you dropped it, would you like it again?' *pass spoon*
'What we'll need is
2 Eggs, (no you can't hold those)
125ml Vegetable Oil (It has a red label, look at that!) *grins* 'GURGLE'
250ml Full Fat Milk
200g Brown Sugar
400g Plain Flour *Bertie sicks up down his suit, needs to be mopped up, a commentary on this ensues - 'Oh dear! What caused that then? I need to mop you up, don't I? Shall I sing a song? -The big ship sails on the ally ally oh, the ally ally oh, the ally ally oh... ' -

3 tsp Baking Powder (comes in a funny little box, would you like to hold it?) *Baking powder is observed then thrown down*
1 tsp Salt (For a reason I do not understand, you're not allowed this until you are big)
200g White Chocolate Chips
Vanilla Essence
1 Clementine, squeezed

'What we do is, preheat the oven at 180C, that's quite hot. We line these muffin tins with cake cases, they make a good noise, feel?' *scrunch, scrunch, smile, chew - a few less cake cases are now useable*.

'We crack the two eggs into this big bowl (that makes a good noise, doesn't it!) and whisk them with the electric mixer *Whirr Whirr wide eyed face*.
'Add the sugar, and whisk until smooth' *whirr, whirr: smiles and giggles*.
'Add in the vegetable oil' *whirr whirr: gurgle, slight grizz, pass the wooden spoon back*,
'and the milk' *whirr whirr*
'We are looking for a nice smooth batter, what do you think?' *Bring mixture closer, spoon it up and let it fall back*
'We should squeeze this clementine now' *Cuts little orange in half and squeezes into cake mixture it with hands, pulling a face, laughing and saying 'Ewwww'*
'Here, smell this' *Lets Bertie smell orangey hands, he tastes the juice left on my fingers and pulls a face, then smiles - his first taste of of orange juice* 
'And add the vanilla' *Let's Bertie sniff the vanilla essence from the bottle, he pulls a face*
'Mix!' *Whirr* 
'Now, we need to fold in the flour, baking powder and salt, very gently, we don't want to make the muffins tough!'
'Add the chocolate chips! You'll love these when you are big'.
'Now we are all ready to put this into the cases! We need to fill each one three quarters full, look like this *demonstrates as if she's on the telly, looking to camera (sorry, I mean baby)*. It gives them room to rise *said as if she's a pro*.
'These will smell yummy in the oven, we need to bake them for 25 mins, stand back (as if a baby in a bouncer on the work top can stand back), it's hot.'

Cooking is often interrupted, and things have to be left half done whilst we play games, change a nappy, feed, nurse to sleep or do some other thing.

EDIT! I make these using CLOTH now, and they are ace. They just get washed alongside the nappies and then I make up the mixture and start all over again.

Yesterday, after we made these muffins, we made baby wipes for the first time. I have been using WATER WIPES until now, I like them because they have no chemicals, but they are expensive, so a little internet research and we have now made our own according to a recipe which pleases us.

1 1 / 2 cups Boiled Water, cooled
2 tablespoons Almond Oil
Tiny squeeze of Organic Lavender and Chamomile Baby Soap
3 drops Lavender Essential Essence
Premium Kitchen Towel (the sort that won't break)
Plastic Storage Tub

The hardest part is the first part, you need to cut the kitchen roll in half, length wise. Use a very sharp knife and be determined. Place the half you are planning to use into your plastic storage box. Mix together the other ingredients in a jug. Poor them gently over the top of the kitchen roll. Leave for 10 minutes. Gently remove the inner cardboard core of the kitchen roll. Place the lid on top of the container, and squish it down to close it. Turn the container over and leave for a further ten minutes.

Ta da!

You can use these for about a week (if they last that long), then make some more. It works, it's got no chemicals, and its cheap! You can find a version of this recipe on Earth Mama, and better instructions!

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Hush Little Baby

There's a lullaby I sing Bertie, you'll know it:

Hush little baby, don't say a word;
Mama's going to buy you a Mockingbird,
and if that mockingbird won't sing
Mama's going to buy you a diamond ring...

It's all very commercial and about possessions being the thing that will calm your baby. But, it is sweet and the tune is addictive.

Then I found an American version by Sylvia Long. She changes all the bought items for things you can find in nature, or things you might do with your child. I use her board book to sing this to Baby B all the time, and think it very beautiful to sing about the natural world. It begins....

Hush little baby don't say a word,
Mama's going to show you a humming bird.
And if that hummingbird should fly,
Mama's going to show you the evening sky.
As the night time shadows fall,
Mama's going to hear the crickets call.
As their song comes from afar
Mama's going to search for a shooting star.......
Now, my husband says that these lyrics are lovely, but too American, and maybe I should compose new ones that reflect the view from our window and the things we do together.

Hush little baby don't say a word,
Mummy's going to show you a small blackbird.
And if that black bird flies away,
Daddy's going to show you an oak tree sway.
If that oak tree falls to the floor,
Mummy's going to show you a red kite soar.

If that kite goes out of sight,
Daddy's going to show you the firelight.
As the fire embers burn,
We will hear the rooks return.
As they settle to their nest,
we will count ourselves as blessed.
Robin, he will come to play
at our house at break of day.
Hush little baby don't you cry.
Mummy's going to sing you a lullaby.
And in the morning when you wake
A new adventure we will take.

I keep changing it, looking at all the things we see each day. It has become my infinitely adaptable lullaby. I long to draw the pictures to match the different versions composed for each day. Maybe one day I will.

Maternity Leave Cooking

I adore being on Maternity Leave with our beautiful son. Each day is a new adventure in growth, giggles and development. Each day I have faced new challenges and, together with my husband and little one, made it to bedtime in one piece. Each day I have felt blessed when I look upon my husband and son tucked up cosy, warm and peaceful.

I'm not about to turn this blog into a mother's forum for talking about her baby. Although, I could talk about Bertie at great length if called to do so. This blog was always a place to talk about religion and food, so I aim to keep it that way.

This was the first Ash Wednesday in my adult life that I have not marked the beginning of Lent by attending Mass. Motherhood makes church going challenging. Bertie and I marked the day quietly at home with a little bit of peace and quiet, whilst I explained what it was all about to him. Not that, at three months, he is particularly theologically adept, but that he likes the sound of me nattering on, and vocalising the significance of the day forced me to pay it due attention.

I was not fasting either. Breastfeeding a baby really does use every ounce of energy you have, and if I fast I would be inflicting that same behaviour on my baby boy. Not on, thought I. So, this morning with Bertie happily watching me from his bouncer I made peanut butter cookies. I have been baking a lot recently. I developed a very sweet tooth after Bertie was born. Mostly I send the goodies to work with G. His office colleagues are very happy about this. And, sending a few sweet treats with G help him through the day, especially if sleep has been lacking!


8 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 free-range egg yolk
50g/1¾oz butter, softened
icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180C. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and use a knife and your fingers to bind them into a sweet dough. Knead a little until you are happy with the texture. Pull walnut sized pieces away and roll them into a ball. I then squished mine with a little star cutter, but you could use a fork. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown. Once cooled, dust with icing sugar.

Actually, I have been really into cooking and baking since I have been on maternity leave. I enjoy using those spare precious minutes making something that all three of us can enjoy. I'm not particularly health conscious, but eat a fairly balanced diet. My only 'food fad' is that I hate the idea of chemicals or weird additives in my food. So, cooking things from scratch is a way of ensuring that what goes into me, and then into Bertie's milk, is known to me. Sometimes, if Bertie is awake, he helps by holding a carrot or stick of celery and waving it. I put his bouncer on the worktop so he can see what is happening, and we do a little running commentary to each other about the proceedings. I've had a few little triumphs, and I hope to share with you some of the recipes in due course. I record them here to remind me of what I've been up to.

Mini Bakewells; Lemon Madelines; Plain Cakes; Oat Mincemeat Slices; Date and Orange Slices; Scones; Flapjacks; Chocolate cookies; Lemon Drizzle

Seafood Pancakes; Spaghetti Bolognese; Lasagne; Salmon en Croute; Chilli Tortillas; Chicken Crown roasted with Red Peppers and Olives; Macaroni Peas; Barley Risotto with Lamb; Steak and Kidney Pudding; Giant Cous Cous Peppers

Of Baby, Adventures, Cakes and Being at Home

The greatest adventure of my life to date happened recently - my husband and I welcomed a little baby to our family. There was so much advice and help for us along the way. That was a good thing, but it was also confusing. Sometimes I appreciated the information that was coming my way, sometimes it was pure opinionated fiction. Sorting the wood for the trees has been a constant part of pregnancy and early parenthood.

Here are some of the myths I have come across, and how Mr. Cloister, Baby Bertie and I have responded:

1. Once you have a baby you will not be able to cook a meal: order take away! Cook for the freezer while your expecting! - Every book, blog post and person I spoke to mentioned this. It made me nervous. What would we both be doing? It may well be true that one of us cannot cook, but there are two adults in this team - right? Right. Mr Cloister made me steak, chips and green beans on our first night home with little one. Not a day has gone by where we have sat down, looked at each other and declared 'we cannot cook, we must starve!' Cooking is a life skill that does not disappear. Thank God.

2. You'll not leave the house for weeks. I was honestly frightened of this. It turns out, it is rubbish too. Basically, if you want to go out with your newborn baby, you go out. Yes, you have to think about what to dress your baby in, and how to keep him clean and comfortable, but no one is going to force you to stay inside. In the same week Bertie was born Mr Cloister and I walked round the local farm, went to Church as usual, went to the shops - you know, normal living. That was essential for me, especially post C-Section. Since then, wherever we have wanted to go, Baby Cloister has joined us. Simple.

3. There is a right way to do everything (and you're probably doing it wrong). We have broken all the 'rules'. Baby B feeds when he wants, sleeps on the sofa (before we go to bed) and in our bed (when we are there), hops in the bath with me, goes out in cold weather, and sometimes even sleeps outside too - he seems fine. Meanwhile, we eat what we like, drink as we please and share the many jobs (washing nappies, mainly) - we are fine too. Pah! to rule books. Following our parental instincts and keeping things simple works for us.

Some things have been really important to keep in mind, and I've found them helpful. For example, everything can't be perfect so don't try and make it that way; your family is made of love, keep loving; my husband, my baby and I are all beautiful (and I'm not just being big headed); snoozing in the middle of the day is not only okay, it is essential; sleeping through the night is overrated, the medievals never did it; complaining ruins morale, keep chipper; do nice things for your partner; hug whenever you get the chance.

On sleep, I admit, that Mr Cloister and I love snoozing and so have adapted very quickly to a routine of eat dinner, tidy house and do chores, take peppermint or chamomile tea (wine on Friday's) to bed and listen to audiobook story really rather quickly. We are normally all three tucked in by 9pm, but then we don't worry about being up changing a nappy at 2am. From the cosiness of bed we conduct our evenings, chatting, listening the radio, even folding nappies and laundry when needed!
Well, that's my baby post. I don't think I'll do another - there are too many out there. 

Being at home has its challenges for me, I find four walls difficult to handle. For this reason, Baby Cloister and I have been going out on some adventures. I have asked the other mums I know from antenatal class to let me plan a little walk (with buggies or slings) for them every now and then. They will do the same for me sometimes, I'm sure. Here's a picture of us out and about enjoying ourselves.

Cake is the other essential to motherhood. And lots of it. I make cake all the time, but try not to eat it all myself. I made these mini bakewells to send into my husband's work and they got a good review! Enjoy.

225g / 8oz plain flour
110g / 4oz butter
80g / 3oz sugar
1 egg

Crumb together the butter and the flour by hand, add the sugar. bind the mixture quickly by mixing in the egg, and a little milk if needed, to form a soft dough.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a baking tray with 12 x fairy cake tin. Roll the pastry out and use a round cutter to cut shapes a little bigger than the pattie rounds. Place the round pastry shapes into each space and leave to one side (in a cool space preferably). I cut little star shapes out with left over pastry for decoration later.

Strawberry or Raspberry Jam
150g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
150g ground almonds
almond essence*
1 lemon zested*
flaked almonds*

*all optional

Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the 3 eggs, whisked, slowly. Add the last egg yolk, slowly. Fold in gradually the ground almonds, almond essence and lemon zest. To your pre prepared pastries spread a little strawberry/raspberry jam at the bottom of each tart. Add a little of the cake mixture to each and smooth out. Add flaked almonds or pastry stars to the top. Bake for 20 - 30 mins, until soft, golden and springy.