Dear Twitter

Dear Twitter

I’ll admit I was skeptical of you at first. I used to call you Twatter. I thought all you were about was slebs tweeting PR friendly snippets of a carefully constructed life to their sycophantic fans.

Now I know better. I have embraced all that you have to offer. It is like having the best bits of the Internet delivered to me personally. I love following people with whom I have shared interests, and some people with whom I have nothing in common. Some people are clever, and some are just damn funny. Twitter is the first place I turn to in the morning for news and activity. I share my news and my grumbles, and rejoice in the joy visited on people who I have never met. I have found help and advice on varying topics such as Excel, parenting and baking bread. Yes, my conversion has been complete.

But Twitter, I feel our relationship may be coming to an end. Oh, it’s not because of the inane Twitter parties, or the fascist, racist and homophobic comments. I understand this is the price we pay for free speech. No, the straw that is slowly floating down to rest atop the overloaded camel is the frequent pornographic avatar photos that bombard my connections page.

On a weekly and sometimes daily basis I am faced with lewd pictures of people who are following me. These pictures are generally close ups of men’s penises. Occasionally the penis is penetrating a woman, her vulva unnaturally stripped of any hair.Other images have shown painful looking piercings, and varying degrees of flaccidity and closeness.

I’ll admit my curiosity was marginally peaked by the man who’s penis was fully tattooed in green and designed to resemble a dragon. You’ve got to admit that sort of dedication to the cause.

Today’s monstrosity was a woman who’s bucks had been stretched apart and clamped, exposing the intricacies of her reproductive organ. I’m not sure if I am supposed to feel aroused or threatened by this image. Either way, I can’t understand why these people think I am their target market.

I’m am unsure what the point is behind these images and the accounts they are linked to. I dare not investigate them in too much detail. But I am telling you here and now Twitter – I DO NOT WANT TO SEE THEM. Obviously I don’t even want them to exist, but there is little I can personally do about that. We live in a patriarchal culture where misogyny abounds, and certain men brandish their penis as a weapon, caring little, and perhaps even relishing in the damage it causes.

I am not a prude, and I refuse to engage with anyone who even thinks that puritanism has anything to do with this. This is about these sickening images being thrust upon my personal account without my consent. These images, once seen, cannot be unseen, and though I block and report them, for a time they remain on my connections page, strangers’ cocks just winking at me malevolently.

Twitter, this is your patch, your application, what are you going to do about it? I am a 31 year old women, and while these images sicken me, I’m mature enough that my disgust comes mainly from what these images represent than what they are. But what if it was a teenager or young adult seeing these images? What messages are they going to take from the freely distributed pictures of parts of the body that should remain private between intimates? What is the impact of the normalisation of images of women’s shorn pubic areas, being violated by various objects?

I don’t know how it can be stopped, but then I don’t own a massively successful social networking application. I’m assuming that within the technologically skilled Twitter HQ there are people who could come up with some sort of filtering a mechanism to screen out pornographic images. Twitter, please do something about it, even if it not from fear of losing one lowly user, but out of a sense of social and moral responsibility.

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Easy, well-loved curry recipe

I don’t often do recipes on this blog but this curry is such a hit with our fussy eaters and our friends that as we were having it tonight I thought I really should blog about it. I won’t claim it as my own. It comes originally from the Cook Yourself Thin cookbook, so is pretty healthy but absolutely yummy. Now, this is no place for a curry purist, this isn’t proper homemade curry, but it is about as homemade as this busy mum gets when it comes to curry (and even busy dad is trained to make it).

I’ll give you the original recipe then tell you my modifications.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 2

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon tikka masala curry paste (Patak’s is the best we’ve tried)

150g of 0% fat natural yoghurt

2 diced chicken breasts

salt

For the sauce:

1 rounded tablespoon tikka masala curry paste

1 onion finely chopped

200g passatta

200ml tin light coconut milk

1 tablespoon 0% fat natural yoghurt

handful chopped corriander

To make the marinade, mix curry paste, yogurt, chicken and salt together, cover and leave to marinade ideally overnight

Preheat oven to 220C/fan200C. Wipe marinade off chicken and place on a baking tray. Bake for 10 mins.

Meanwhile make the sauce by heating the curry paste in a saucepan. Add the onion and sweat slowly for 5-8 mins. Add passatta and coconut milk and bring to the boil. Turn down heat and add chicken. Cook over a low heat for 5 mins or until chicken cooked through. Finish by stirring through yoghurt and coriander.

Now, here’s what I do: almost never actually measure any of these ingredients. I’m fairly liberal with the curry sauce and just adjust to how much we have left. This recipe says it serves two, but all that passatta and coconut milk make for a very runny curry. We just add more meat and we can make it serve 2 adults and a 5 and 2 year old for two nights. Also we rarely use chicken breasts, we often use leftover roast chicken, in which case we might marinade in curry paste (if we remember) but don’t cook in the oven. just straight into the sauce. I’ve never added salt and can’t remember ever reading the instruction to wipe off the marinade so I’ve never done that!

When I can get away with it I add grated carrot and courgette in with the onion (carrots work best as they blend in with the sauce, or potatoes (it doesn’t keep so well over two days with potatoes as they go mushy, and I pre cook them if I do add them for a quicker meal). I have also never added coriander as I never have any, and to be honest any greenery makes Betty suspicious. I tend to add yoghurt on the plate rather than during cooking, but to be honest you could omit yoghurt from the whole recipe and it would still taste great.

Both our baby led weaned kids had this as soon as they could eat, mixed with rice (to thicken and make it easier to pick up) and with yoghurt to cool, both temperature and spice wise (though this isn’t a hot curry).

Everyone we feed this to loves it, and one friend who we loaned the cook book to has made it a staple of her household and evangelised to her friends too. I also shared it with a Twitter friend who’s family also loved it. Like I said, this isn’t for the curry connoisseur, but it is great easy, healthy dish, for a busy family, and even fussy kids.

Christmas Leftover Tiffin

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Every year, usually before New Years Day, make a tiffin out of all the Christmas leftover chocolate and biscuits. Often known as refrigerator cake, tiffin is essentially biscuit and chocolate.

What I do is find all the leftover selection biscuits (the dark ones no one likes) and any other biscuits laying around, and crush them all with a rolling pin (there’s no rules but I like mine quite fine).

Then gather all the left over chocolate, even the chocolate coins and Christmas tree decs, the Celebrations no one wants (Milky Way). It does need a healthy dose of dark chocolate so it’s not too sweet. Add a bit of butter and golden syrup so it’s not too hard when chilled, and melt the lot in a bowl over a pan of hot water.

Mix together. Add raisins (to make it feel healthy) or nuts (I wouldn’t. In my opinion nuts ruin a cake or chocolate) or anything else you have leftover. There are no rules about quantities but you at least want the chocolate mixture to completely coat the crushed biscuits. Press firmly into a lined dish and stick in the fridge for a couple of hours. Make sure you keep it in the fridge if you don’t polish is off in one sitting.

There really are no hard and fast rules. It’s just biscuits, butter, sugar and chocolate; it’s pretty much going to taste good whatever! With this batch I used a box of leftover mint chocolate creams. I also added a layer of chocolate on the top. The result is delicious.

Somehow eating all that leftover food in compressed cake form doesn’t seem as bad as eating the chocolates and biscuits individually…

Simply Crochet and a new hook

Loyal followers (do I have any?!) might have noticed that I was surprisingly quiet in the crafting arena before Christmas, contrary to last year when I was manically making things for presents as well as yarn bombing and making decorations. This year, despite feeling the unspoken pressure from other beautiful blogs and ideas on Pinterest, I asked myself who I was trying to impress and concluded that no one would think any the worst of me if I gave it all a miss this year. Obviously I love making things, but managing to do so with a stressful 4 day a week job, 2 young kids and other commitments was just too much.

I was far more relaxed over Christmas because of it. I’d had a rather tense few weeks during November where I had taken on too much. I did a yarn bombing workshop (haven’t I told you about that yet? Well, I promise to do so soon.) but since then I have done very little crafting.

It’s doubled edged though really, as while the break from making things gave me some time back, I’m sure the lack of crochet didn’t help as I so often find the process relaxing and meditative. Whilst I did pick up my hook a couple of times, I’m no good without an aim or a project, but with a project comes pressure. To be honest, I felt like I’d lost my crafting mojo.

My creative interest has now been rekindled however, with the advent of a new crochet magazine dropping through my door.

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Simply Crochet magazine comes from the publishers of Mollie Makes, but is pretty much just crochet, as you would expect from the title. It has a similar format to MM but is slightly less twee, after all, there are only so many knitted or sewn food stuffs one girl needs. At £4.99 a go I’m not sure it will be a regular purchase, these are austere times after all, and for all the make do and mend talk, crafting can be an expensive habit. But I managed to get a 3 for £5 intro offer which was hard to refuse.

I decided to make a simple one evening project from the magazine. At the same time I could test drive a new crochet hook.

At Mumsnet Blogfest last year I was introduced to a lovely lady called Helen who runs an online wool shop called Love Knitting. She asked if I would provide her with some feedback on the site, and also said that if I wanted to review anything to just let her know.

I needed to purchase some wool for my workshop so a bought a few bits which came promptly, and nicely wrapped in tissue paper. There is a range of yarn on the site to suit various budgets as well as plenty of accessories. I was drawn to the interesting crochet hooks she stocks so asked if I could try one, any one would do. I do love a nice hook!

A few days later I received a beautiful looking bamboo hook. Helen also sent me some lovely sparkly white yarn which I fully intended to make heaps of snowflakes with, but the pre-Christmas wobbly put paid to that – sorry Helen! I will put it to good use eventually.

The hook is a Knit-Pro Symfonie bamboo hook. I’ve never used a bamboo hook before. I like the weight of the old fashioned metal hooks, but this one is a beauty. It is light as a feather to use, and very smooth. I found the end of the hook very sharp which had a tendency to split the yarn, though I think a lot of that was down to the yarn anyway. Annoyingly after just a few uses the printed size on the hook has all but rubbed off (but no matter because next month’s Simply Crochet comes with a free hook gauge!). Other than that I really liked the hook and will invest in some more in different sizes. My only real concern is that the hook appears quite fragile, and I am concerned that I might one day sit on it (a highly likely prospect) and snap it. Plus I tend to be a kind of “stuff in the hand bag and go” kinda gal, so we’ll see if the hook stands the test of my slap dash ways. Other than that I really like the hook and will likely invest in some more in different sizes.

Anyhoo, after all that time to show you the goodies. No, not those! What I ^made^ from the magazine. Here it is, a lovely brooch, fresh with my re-found mojo 🙂

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I’m bored!

Bored cat
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Currently I have a window of time, about an hour, in which I can do whatever I want. An hour’s free time! Iris is napping, and her light sleeping and the size of our hour precludes us from doing much in the way of housework during this time. Betty is amusing herself with the iPad. I potentially could do anything. There are so many things I want to do, so many books I want to ready, things I want to make. My degree starts in a little over a week and I will have little in the way of free time, and I am back to work tomorrow, so I really need to make the most of free time when I have it.

So I thumbed through a couple of books; there’s a Henry James book on my shelf which looks interesting. I’ve a few things saved on Sky Plus to watch, but I don’t really fancy them right now. I got several notebooks for Christmas just waiting to be filled with scribblings and drawing. But I can’t settle down to anything. I have this feeling a lot. Occasionally, DH takes the kids to his much’s for the day leaving me with the complete freedom to do whatever I want. But instead of the relaxing day this is supposed to be I inevitably end up even more stressed. I’m not going to get all the things done that I want to do. I will feel guilty if I don’t do a bit of housework. I want to make sure I get the maximum amount out of the day as possible, and by the time I have my hour’s warning that the rest of the family are due home I feel unsatisfied and the opposite of relaxed. I just can’t settle to any one one thing.

It sounds a lot like boredom. But how can someone who always wants to do so much and has such little free time, be bored when given the opportunity to do whatever they want? Well, boredom is more than having nothing to do. Some people look down on boredom as an inability to entertain oneself. Kids complain of being bored but how can you be bored when you have hundreds of toys and hours of pure leisure time ahead of you?

A recently published paper reviewed hundreds of studies of boredom, and the authors, John Eastwood, Alexandra Frischen, Mark Fenske, and Daniel Smilek in the September, 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, came to the conclusion that boredom is primarily a function of attention, and is also greatly influenced by our perception of the environment and our feelings about it. They cite a study by Robin Damrad-Frye and James Laird in the August, 1989 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  In this study, participants had to listen to a tape recordomg of a person reading anarticle.  In the next room, there was a television soundtrack playing.  For some groups listening to the article, the TV was very loud and distracting, for others it was barely noticeable, and for some it was not playing at all.  After listening to the article, people rated their boredom during the study. Those who heard the barely noticeable TV soundtrack reported higher levels of boredom than the other two groups. The group who heard the loud TV show reported feeling frustrated but not bored. Those who heard the low level soundtrack had difficulty concentrating, but weren’t sure why. They attributed this feeling to boredom. In fact other studies have shown that the more you try and distract yourself to alleviate boredom, the more bored you feel as you recognise that you are trying to distract yourself and realise the situation must be boring.

This is a good explanation as to why the book of magazine you bought just to make a journey go quicker doesn’t hit the spot and you end up putting it down in frustration; a combination of trying to amuse yourself in an inevitably boring situation, and low level noise and distraction.

It seems a trivial matter, but boredom can be dangerous. Boredom and lack of attention can be fatal for military personnel, airline pilots or other people operating dangerous machinery.

Despite the survey of the literature so far, there is very little advice on how to tackle boredom. However one study found that when participants were placed in a boring situation doing a mundane task, those who had been made aware of the boredom inducing effects of mind-wandering felt less bored than those who were asked to think about things they’d rather be doing in the task. Even an awareness of the feeling of boredom helped alleviate the effects. By that measure researching and writing this post should mean I never feel bored again!

Two more things help alleviate boredom; ambient movement can help people stay engaged. When airports moved baggage claims further from arrival gates flyers’ satisfaction increased. The positive, goal-directed act of walking was better than waiting around fruitlessly. Even low level movement can help keep attention maintained, which is why the Tangle Toy was invented, and why I no longer feel guilty for doodling in boring meetings.

Arousal is an important aspect of boredom. Boredom can be a disparity between our arousal and our need for stimulation and the ability of the environment to meet that need. To this end, lowering arousal is a way of alleviating boredom, creating a relaxed rather than bored state. One of the best ways of doing this is mindfulness, being in the moment, concentrating on your surroundings and your feelings.

For me personally, I know my ‘boredom’ stems from wanting to do too much, and worrying that committing to any one thing will not be enough. I feel like everything I do should have a purpose and be working towards making myself a better person, and nothing is good enough. Consequently I feel bored and cannot focus on any one thing, aware all the time that the moments are slipping away. I am very grateful then, that my mum bought me some felt tipped pens and a colouring book for Christmas. Yes, I am a 31 year old with my own colouring book. But as a child psychotherapist my mum instinctively knows the benefits that colouring books, or other such activities, can have. Apart from the creative experience, the repetitive action and and low level of concentration required can induce a mindful state, where thoughts and feelings are not suppressed, but just flow through you. Similar effects can be achieved from the simple act of stroking pets. In fact a team of ‘Comfort Dogs’ were sent to Sandy Hook to help the victims of the massacre there. One girl spoke for the first time in a week while a dog lay in her lap.

So, now my hour has passed, Iris is calling for me, and there is no longer time to feel bored. Tired, frustrated, entertained and all the other feelings that go with having children. But not bored.