Easter Holiday Traditions

A few years ago I heard Steve Biddulph, author of ‘Raising Boys’ speak about parenting. One of the things that struck me was how he talked about traditions. I hope I’m not misquoting him but I seem to remember his speech going along these lines “Children who have grown up in happy families look back on their youth and say ‘remember when…’ as parents we have to provide the traditions that our children will remember with fondness”. He talked about families that spent one night a week all ‘camping out’ on mattresses in the same bedroom to illustrate that traditions don’t have to be expensive, they just require the willing input of the family, particularly the parents.

This all comes to mind now, as I look back on our recent Easter holidays. Traditions are becoming ingrained within my family and our friends family, who we share our break with. This year is the third year that we have spent time together at my Sister and Brother-in-law’s farm in Cumbria, in their simple holiday cottage. You can see posts from last year and the year before herehere and here. You may notice that I take pretty much the same photos every year, all that changes is the weather and the size of the children.

Every year our children look forward to helping out with activities on the farm. They herd the sheep, feed the lambs, look for eggs, fill up the hopper on the turnip masher (I’m sure there is a proper name for this bit of farming kit but I don’t know what it is), throw straw around in a vain attempt to put bedding down for the cows, feed and water the indoor sheep and venture up to the fell top to feed to the hardier sheep up there. Then there is playtime; they build straw bale castles with their cousins, splash stones in the stream, collect ‘crystals’ from out of the stream, kick a football and ride a bike. Together we have Easter egg hunts and walks over the fell, share meals and bedtime rituals. As each year passes, they have more things to look forward to as they remember the things they did the year before. Long may it last. We are already booked in for next year!IMG_4694 IMG_4699 IMG_4712 IMG_4755 IMG_4662 IMG_9752 IMG_4677 IMG_9758 IMG_9761 IMG_4681 IMG_9790 IMG_9836 IMG_4738 IMG_4746 IMG_4745IMG_4750IMG_9846IMG_9861IMG_9867IMG_9870IMG_9895IMG_9898IMG_9899

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Christmas Wish List

imagesPredictable, but I’d really like this book….(I think my brother might be on to this already)

imagesI made one of Kat’s oxtail, steak and kidney pies a few weeks ago. Actually I think I made three and it took four nights (some coming from the freezer) to eat them. However, I didn’t have a proper pie dish and it was difficult to get the pastry to stick down at the edges. Steak pie has been one of our dinner menu ‘hits’ this year so I’d like to continue that into 2014 without resorting to Fray Bentos (unless we are in the caravan). So, Father Christmas, I’d like one or two (or three) of these falcon ware dishes from 24cm upwards to 28cm.

imagesMmmm, now, I don’t usually go for a lot of make-up but I quite fancy some of this. Having been told today, in no uncertain terms, that now is the time to “invest in your skin” a bit of Clarins Beauty Flash Balm could be just what I need.

imagesI’d love a pair of pinking shears. I’m not sure why because I don’t sew much. Can I really justify a pair of these when the most exciting thing I’ll make is jam pot covers?

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6a00e551101c548834019b01bfaec2970b-500wiBuying a magazine is such a luxury, they are quite expensive and I don’t indulge in them very often. I’m bored of the glamourous end of women’s magazines because I’m not particularly interested in celebrities, make-up or fashion. I could have a very happy time reading one of these though. I’d get to enjoy the reading and visuals and then perhaps make some of the projects they contain. I’d love a subscription to these but I’d be more than happy to receive just one of them (it’s my birthday this month too you know). Look here and here for subscription pages. Simply Crochet has an offer at the moment…

imagesI’ve been using blue and white cornishware since I bought some in a sale before I went to University. I have only ever owned seconds so some of my plates are a bit wobbly, but that’s ok, I’m fine with that. Unfortunately there have been a few breakages over the years and I am now down to three, 15.5cm cereal bowls. The pattern I have got is not so easy to buy either, it’s called cloverleaf and only has the stripes on the inside of the bowl. I’m trying to bid for a few on ebay but if anyone spots any…

Oral-B_Vitality_Precision_Clean01_DetailImg_OWMy electric toothbrush has conked out after three years use. I changed the head onto my son’s but then that started playing up. It kept switching itself on in the middle of the night! Anyway, I will be getting myself a new one eventually unless Father Christmas comes up trumps. Maybe I could just have a voucher for Boots to contribute to the cost?

imagesOur sofa could do with some new cushions like this and this and this and this and this and this and this. Get the idea? I like checks and stripes and geometrics in reds, naturals and maybe a bit of aqua/light teal. Actually, what I really want is a LARGE cushion cover to go over the large cushion we already have. It’s approximately 22″x22″, is regularly fought over by the children and is becoming rather threadbare. What I like about the current cover is that the pattern is very busy and quite dark. Great for not showing marks. So although I like the look of the cushions I’ve linked to above, if anyone sees something with those general themes and colours but much bigger, I’d be very impressed. Failing that, maybe I’ll have to get stitching. Ideally I’d like another two cushions in the same big size so that there are no more squabbles. I’d be happy just to get the cushion pads and then I’ll have to get crafty to cover them.

Well, I think that’s the end of my list. This is completely self indulgent so please forgive me (and please don’t ask me what my husband wants).

Sweet, sweet chestnuts

Have you ever foraged for sweet chestnuts? For me they are deeply associated with memories of my Dad. My Grandparents lived in a house on the Broadmoor estate (they were both nurses in the secure hospital) and right behind it was a little area of woodland where lots of sweet chestnut trees grew amongst the pines. I loved going into the woods with my Dad. It seems to me that it was something that we did together, without my Mum, a bit like sledging. Dad loved to tell me all about his boyhood, playing in those woods. I envied him that freedom even thirty years ago. I thought it must have been so exciting to escape into your own woodland playground with your friends to build dens and play hide and seek.

I always felt a frisson of fear in those woods too. They were not far from the forbidding walls of the Victorian hospital which housed some of the most notorious criminals of the last few decades. I knew very well that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper was in there and, despite my youth, I had a fair idea of what he had done. Occasional thoughts used to flit through my brain along the lines of “What if someone escapes while we are out in these woods”? I must have voiced these concerns to my Dad because I remember him reassuring me that if anyone escaped, they would want to get as far away as possible. I wasn’t so sure. After all, weren’t the inmates locked up because they were mad?

We visited my Grandparents in the October holidays of 1982. I would have been seven years old. I know this because we gathered and ate a lot of sweet chestnuts that year. The following spring, my baby brother arrived with a head of dark brown hair. Clearly (according to my Grandparents) the result of all the chestnuts my Mum ate. I seem to remember Grandad having a sack full of them and every evening some more would be cooked. In fact, I think that sack of chestnuts was still in evidence when we returned at Christmas.

I can’t remember exactly how Grandad cooked them but I think they might have been done in the oven. Actually, it’s probably much more likely that my Grandma cooked them. I seem to remember that they eventually took to doing them in the microwave, piercing the tough shells and putting them in a covered bowl with a small amount of water. I loved them. There’s nothing nicer than fresh, hot  chestnuts, especially if you don’t have to peel them.

However, the best way to enjoy them is with your Dad, in the woods, over an open fire. Dad and I shared a slight pyromaniac tendency over the years and I think my first taste of it was during that October holiday. Dad must have built a little fireplace from stones and found an old upturned paint tin lid (there was a bit of a tendency to dump rubbish around the woods from time to time). He had no problem lighting the fire because in those days he was still a smoker so he had matches to hand. I felt like I had escaped into some sort of adventure story and we were surviving on our foraging skills. I also knew that Dad trusted me around the fire and that made me feel extremely grown up.

We never found any sweet chestnut trees in Teesside. I have a theory about this and it is all to do with Romans. They were the ones who introduced the sweet chestnut to Britain. A Romans road existed through the area that is now near Crowthorne, where Dad grew up, so perhaps that explains why they were so common there. Dad did start to grow a sapling from a nut he brought home once. Mum tells me she’s still got it in a pot in the garden but I haven’t spotted it for a while. The nearest Dad and I got to chestnuts in later years was peeling them for Christmas stuffing.

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Fast forward thirty-one years and my children are visiting their paternal grandparents during October half-term. My eldest is just a little bit older than I was when I went chestnut foraging with my Dad. We decided to have a walk up Penrith Beacon, a hill on the edge of town.

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We hadn’t been on the path long before I spotted the distinctive leaves and spiky cases of sweet chestnuts littering the ground. I immediately sent The Husband back to the car for a bag so I could gather some.

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IMG_3790I was so excited to have found chestnuts. It wasn’t really about wanting to eat them (because I still haven’t – oops) it was purely about me recreating memories. Dad would have been as excited as me about finding them. We didn’t actually gather any until we were on our way back. It seemed silly to carry them up the Beacon and back again. The rest of our walk was lovely. The weather was mild and bright. The sun shone through the leaves and there were lots of other things to spot along the way.

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The view from the top wasn’t as fabulous as we might have hoped. Trees obscured the view in most directions making the beautiful guide to the fells and landmarks pretty much obsolete.

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We could see Penrith, and a few of the fells beyond, through one little gap in the trees.

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When we got to the bottom of the path everyone else went ahead while I gathered chestnuts. I made a few mistakes in my foraging. The best, ripest nuts are the ones in the cases that have just split open. I picked up quite a few cases that were still intact and the nuts inside them were disappointingly pale. Obviously it’s been too long since I foraged for chestnuts.

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Once I got them home I wasted no time in ‘de-shelling’ them. You really need a tough pair of gloves for this job if you don’t want to get spiked. Most of them had one decent sized nut and a couple of ‘runts’ that weren’t worth keeping.

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I took far too many photos. The variety in their ripeness and the fact that they popped out so easily when they were ready got me thinking about babies and due dates. But that is a whole other rant blog post. I’ll let you ponder on that one.

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IMG_3804So beautiful. I really must get around to actually eating them.

And what about my theory? It is well known that Romans lived around Penrith. There was a Roman road in the area that connected Penrith to Carlisle and Manchester. Teesside was also subject to Roman rule and there is plenty of evidence for Roman occupation but according to this:

‘The people living in the Teesside area during the Roman occupation were native Britons or ‘Celts’. Teesside probably saw no large-scale movements of population following the Roman invasion or any great influx of new immigrants. Indeed in many parts of Britain there is little evidence for the adoption of Roman culture or beliefs among the majority of the population.’

Is that why we don’t have chestnut trees in abundance here? Or is it just that we don’t have the right kind of soil? I don’t know but if anyone has an answer, I’d be pleased to hear it.

(Semi) Silent Sunday: Showtime

It was our town carnival and garden show last weekend. Very tacky in places, very expensive when you have three children who want to ride the rides, very exciting when you win a prize in the craft show (I got a first for my pink crochet bag, my rhubarb chutney, a black and white portrait of The Middle Miss and a second for my hanging heart decoration) and generally very good, old fashioned fun. Are these shows a British (and ex-colonial) eccentricity or do other cultures do them too I wonder?

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IMG_8242Three cupcakes (children’s class – 3rd prize)

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IMG_3452Winner: Best fancy dress, dog and handler (not best behaved dog though)

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It’s spring on the inside

Even if it’s snowing outside.IMG_1905

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IMG_1913Pah, so it’s not Easter yet, who cares? Any excuse to put up some decorations. We will be away at Easter so we might as well enjoy a bit of spring-time cheerfulness now, especially when the weather is not being springlike. In this household, getting the decorations down from the loft is not just for Christmas.

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IMG_6543I’ve done  a lot of spring themed crochet in the last few days too. I started this project on Thursday night as part of my ‘Home Made Gift Challenge’. I have had my hook at my side whenever possible: in the car while Babykins sleeps, at the poolside while the bigger two have their swimming lessons,

IMG_6539yes, even in the bath this morning. I’m starting to think that I have some sort of problem that requires a 12-step abstinence based solution. My project is almost finished. I had to hand it over to my Mum today because it was a gift for Mothering Sunday. Unfortunately, I will have to get it back from her because I just couldn’t get the flowers stitched on in time. Oh well, home made gifts can’t be rushed, and I will probably never be better organised.

The snow play and the lost hill

The met office finally got it right for my patch this weekend. We had lots of snow on Friday night and now it has all gone. It melted almost as fast as it arrived. Yesterday could have been our last opportunity of the season for snow related playtimes.IMG_1474IMG_1445 IMG_1449 IMG_1450 IMG_1451 IMG_1461These were some of out antics from last weekend.

If you live in a climate where living with snow is a regular occurrence the British obsession with it must seem strange. We pore over weather forecasts, worrying about driving to work and if the schools will be closed. Children (and -ahem- some adults) stay awake at night, constantly peeking out of the window to see if there are any flakes falling yet. We moan or get excited about it in equal measures. We don’t really cope with it well, and it’s not surprising really is it? Our snowfall is unpredictable, some years there is barely any. Hardly worth investing in special car tyres for example. We live on a crowded island too. Our roads only just cope with the volume of traffic at the best of times. Add a blizzard and a few crashes and there’s bound to be mayhem.

But, I still love snow. It’s one of those things that gives me a feeling of childish excitement even though I’m now a parent. I used to share this excitement with my Dad. He loved to get out and play in it and, unluckily for the rest of us, was a mean shot with a snowball. I could rely on my Dad to take me sledging whenever it snowed, even if it was a school night. I’m sure we must have been with my Mum and Brother but I don’t have memories of that. What I do have memories of is heading off to our local sledging spot, often in the dark.

Dad prided himself on finding the best spot. He didn’t necessarily want to go down a steep slope like most of the other people on our local golf course. For him it was all about how long you could spend going down hill. To be fair, he also avoided the crowds because he was a teacher in the local secondary school and didn’t really want to be among the pupils in his spare time! So Dad and I had our own private hill and it did seem like a good long ride down to the bottom. There was a pond near the bottom that you had to be aware of. Falling in to that would have been a disaster but, at the time, it just added to the adrenalin rush. Sometimes Dad would go down the hill on his own while I waited at the top but more often than not, he would lie on his front on the sledge and I would lie on top, holding on to his shoulders. Dad did the steering by sticking his toes into the snow and by leaning one way and another. It was such a thrill to be barrelling down hill, feeling as if I was teetering precariously on top of this speeding sledge. It is such a vivid memory for me.

Now that I am taking my own children sledging I wish I could find that hill. It can’t have changed. The little conifers that we used to pass through to get to it must be considerably bigger but it must still be there. Somehow I just can’t seem to work out which hill it was that we used to use. Yesterday, despite not being able to find the hill, I did resurrect Dad’s sledging technique. Going downhill fast with your face inches from the snow is really the only way to go sledging and I think I have passed on this family tradition to another generation.IMG_1587