1000 piece jigsaw: tick!

Well, I’ve completed the first thing on my 40 things to do before 40 list. I completed it a while ago, I just haven’t blogged because I’ve been focused on another project which I will share in another post. Anyway, I finished a 1000 piece jigsaw!

Now, technically, it was a 999 piece jigsaw. Although this was brand new (I’ve been burned from charity shop jigsaws before), I’m not sure whether I lost the piece or whether it was a manufacturing fault. I’m giving the manufacturer the benefit of the doubt, as on balance the piece is most likely to be on the floor of Bella Italia where I started sorting out edge pieces. (Can you spot where the missing piece is?)

Here are all the good things about doing a 1000 piece jigsaw:

  1. Everyone helps. Although technically this was my challenge, jigsaws are a nice community thing, as other people just can’t help interfering. My husband and kids took great pleasure in helping me out. It was good family bonding.
  2. It kept me away from my phone.
  3. It forces you to look at things in a different way. This is especially great if you select a picture of a painting, as you have to look at the brush strokes in minute detail. And when you are looking for pieces, they quite often end up not looking how you expect them to look. You think you are looking for pink pieces for a pink wall, but actually in the shade the pieces are red, or even grey. You might think looking for writing is easy too, but partial letters don’t look how you expect them too. You really have to go down to the micro level with a puzzle, and see detail you might never have noticed before. There might be a metaphor for life in here somewhere…
  4. …And on that note, this is the closest I get to mindfulness. I’m sorry, I HATE mediation and mindfulness, I really do. They make me massively uncomfortable and generally have the contrary effect to that which they proclaim to have. However, doing activities that mean you focus without worrying about everything else going on is a form of mindfulness, and this is as close as I will get to it.
  5. It requires focus: After doing all the outside pieces you just have to break the puzzle down into sections. When you are sifting for parts of a pavement, don’t get distracted collecting bits of the sky for later, or you’ll never get it done.
  6. They require a lot of room. Our dining table was half covered for about 2 weeks, and we had to squeeze around the puzzle to it. I considered buying one of those roll mats so you can tidy it away, but that seemed like too much commitment to puzzling. I’d be a puzzler. At 35. That said…
  7. I’d do it again! I really enjoyed finishing a puzzle. I’m not a completer finisher by nature. The sight end line of a race doesn’t incentivise me to sprint; it makes me want to stop, because I’m basically at the end, if not quite. But the puzzle, and knowing that I would write about it tested my perseverance, and I mastered it.

Not sure what is next on my list to do, but I’m working on the juggling thing at the moment.

Cute Animal Brooches

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These brooches were supposed to be Valentine’s Day gifts, but they finally made their way to their recipients about 2 weeks ago! One is for my mum and one is for her friend who loves foxes. I just free-formed them, but they were small and easy.

I wasn’t as enamoured with the cat as I was the fox, it looked a bit sinister rather than cute, so I tried again and came up with this little grey one.

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Feeling inspired I have now splashed out on a whole bunch of cottons to make more cute little brooches. It’s hard to find nice, brightly coloured, non-mercerised cotton but this Rico Aran from Cucumber Patch was available in a wide range of colours and came super quickly.

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My Cool Shed

My cool shed by Jane Field-LewisYesterday I spent the day at home studying for my Master’s degree while kids went off to the child minder.

It was glorious, the sun was shining, and I was motivated to work. I spent the day analysing my husband’s response to my job analysis and writing it up.

It was absolutely silent, and I wasn’t even tempted to put the radio on as I usually would. There were no kids shrieking “I want the yellow bowl”, no colleagues discussing their weight loss, no phones ringing and people shouting down them. It was lovely.

I made myself a sandwich that hadn’t been sat around all morning, and for my afternoon break I made a cup of tea, wrapped myself in a blanket and sat on the garden swing in the sun. I could get used this. I always assumed I’d be really bad at home working, but a combination of factors motivated me yesterday, not least the fact that it didn’t feel like work. I always wondered what that felt like in a job, and this is it.

There are, however, a number of dependencies which made yesterday a success. One: the house was tidy. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to relax. Two: I was enjoying what I was doing. I’m not sure it would have felt so lovely were I wrestling with Excel spreadsheets. Three: there was no one else around. For some people, freelancing or working from home means fitting it around looking after children. I’ve also tried to study while they are around and I am nowhere near as productive.

My cool shed

My experience made me think of a book I bought DH for Christmas, My Cool Shed. Within are pictures of various sheds, hideaways and bolt holes where people work, play or just get away from it all. Admittedly some of these ‘sheds’ are bigger and more luxurious than my house, but DH and I fostering a dream where we could each have our own little place to go, somewhere you can put something down and know it will be in exactly that same place again, somewhere where your books and papers remain felt tip free. We both crave our own space, and at the moment we have to find it retiring to our tiny bedroom, using ear phones to block out the sounds of the children wrestling with each other. The beauty of the shed is that it needn’t be too expensive, nothing like to cost of a real extension. That said, even a shed is out of our price range at the moment, and living in a rental property I wouldn’t want to invest in anything that couldn’t be moved.

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So I will continue to dream about my little white washed shed, with large windows, and crochet blankets aplenty. And maybe by the time I can afford it I will also have a home working job I can do it it.

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.

The heir that’s hard to bear

pregnant queen princess

Bring back confinement and allow pregnant women to suffer in peace. And with servants.

 

I’m fairly ambivalent about the news that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. It’s welcome news for them but has very little relevance to my life.

I do feel sorry, however, to hear she has been hospitalised with hyperemisis gravidarum, an excessive form of sickness beyond the common symptom of morning sickness. Sufferers often can’t even keep water down which is obviously a worry when someone is pregnant.

“Pregnancy isn’t a illness” I often hear, usually from men, and usually right after they have finished telling me that their wife cycled right up until the day she gave birth.

Well, I’d like to counter the notion that pregnancy isn’t an illness. Yes, there are some people who suffer no symptoms, experience increased energy and even “bloom”. But every pregnancy is different. Mine wasn’t even a difficult pregnancy and I suffered many problems.

First there was the morning sickness. If you’ve never suffered the best way I can describe it is like a hangover, nausea, headache interspersed with raging hunger for very specific food stuffs. A hunger that if not satisfied in the space of 10 minutes turns back into stomach churning nausea. I remember crying in the middle of Waitrose because they didn’t have the pasta sauce I was craving. Fortunately it was Waitrose where crying is considered mildly eccentric. If it was Asda, which is my post-children haunt, they might have called social services. If you felt that sick outside of pregnancy you wouldn’t be expected to go to work and function normally. But pregnancy isn’t an illness!

Then there are the cramps; shooting pains through your calf waking you from an already fitful sleep straight into excruciating agony. That’s when you are not suffering from insomnia which makes you bone shatteringly tired. And tearful. I cried on the pharmacist in Boots when she refused to sell me even a herbal sleeping aid. “It’s preparation for when the baby comes” people would say without a trace of irony. I didn’t need preparation, I needed more than 3 hours sleep a night to prepare myself for getting no more than 3 hours sleep a night for the three months after the baby was born. If you can sleep between the cramps and the insomnia is a broken by a constant urge to wee, and every time you get out of bed, or just want to turn over a military operation ensues to reposition multitudinous pillows holding up the sagging parts of your body.

Another early pregnancy ailment I had was sacroiliac joint problems. When you become pregnant all of your ligaments soften which mean it is easy to damage them. At one point, even before I weighed the same as a baby elephant, I could barely put my feet on the ground because of the pain in my sacroiliac joint. I rather embarrassingly had to be rescued from a residential course I was on with work, by my mum!

Heartburn, piles, itchy skin, not to mention a mental health so fragile you make Michael Jackson look normal. Plus the heart stopping fear that grips you when you worry that something might go wrong. Then the equally blood chilling fear when you thing that what if it actually all does go right and you end up with a baby – then what the frig do you do?

So you’ve carried round a squirming parasite using just your abdominal muscles for 9 months. Then you have to get said parasite out of your body. I’m not going to dwell on the excruciating pain and fear that often accompanies labour, suffice to say for those who have never tried it, imagine pushing an orange up your nostril and you have an approximation of the experience. “That’s they call it labour dear” is a favoured quote from a midwife.

Finally, many people forget that after labour there is the recovery, often major stitching right on the most delicate of body parts, those you spend a lot of time resting your weight on. Or in the case of c sections you learn just how much you used those stomach muscles on a day to day basis for things like getting out of bad. And coughing. Ah yes, coughing and sneezing. Best not to risk either with a full bladder after pregnancy has had its way with your pelvic floor. Oh how we laugh at the Tena Lady adverts. Less funny when you quite literally crap your knickers in front of your husband because things ain’t holding up down there any more.

I paint a bleak picture of pregnancy don’t I? I’m sure there are some positives to it, but I can’t really think of any right now. Except I recently saw a picture of myself when I was pregnant and my skin and hair looked AMAZING. But I totally didn’t appreciate it because I was spending most of the time trying not to vomit. Or fall asleep in the loos at work (don’t get me started on my irrational fear of going into labour at work.

Everyone’s experience is different, some people will sail through pregnancy, making those of us who suffered with it feel pretty crap and inadequate. All I ask is that people remember that growing a life inside of us is a pretty complicated and exhausting business with many complications, some which I have not even mentioned. I hope that the media leave the Duchess of Cambridge to herself during this time, and refrain from commenting on her behaviour, her appearance, and other private matters surrounding her body. To be admitted to hospital for hyperemisis is no laughing matter, she must be feeling dreadful. And the knowledge that cameras and journalists are camped outside the hospital must just be adding to the stress.

As for me, would I do pregnancy again? Not if I can help it. I loathed every minute of it. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I have two amazing miracles of nature that I grew for nine months and fed exclusively for 6 months after that, carrying on nursing till they were both over 13 months.

But pregnancy is not an illness? My torn and sewn up back side it’s not.

I’m reblogging this (which I have never done before, and never been quite sure of the point) mainly because it says lovely things about me (just call me Doogie Howser), but also because also because the author is an awesome writer, and because she is promoting one of my favourite topics – the power of Mumsnet. Enjoy!

Wine Can't Cure Back Pain

I have been a ‘Mumsnetter‘ for many years. There. I have said it aloud. I don’t normally advertise it by shouting from the rooftops but there are probably certain behaviours that might give it away. You will find me charging across the busy supermarket to retrieve the BOGOF Fruitshoots that R has put in the trolley, I was an avid breastfeeder and yes I would get my norks out in public to feed my baby (and, shock horror! toddler), and no I wouldn’t cover myself in a huge shroud to hide it, I am proud of being a woman and a supporter of girls being girls not sexualised mini-adults. Now I suspect that those traits along with my other ‘mumsnet outing’ traits were always there and that is why I am a mumsnetter, although to some extent I probably have a little more confidence to voice some of my longstanding…

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This is a guest post I wrote for sexpositiveparenting. It’s a new blog exploring sex and gender issues in parenting.

Sex Positive Parenting

In the sea of pink that inevitably comes with having a newborn baby girl our eldest daughter seems to have emerged as a slight oddity: she wants to be a boy. For the sake of anonymity I’ll refer to her throughout this article as Taylor. It is has become a unisex name in recent years, but mainly it is her name of choice for when she is a boy. It certainly wasn’t on our list for either a boy or a girl!

Taylor is nearly 5, but from the age of 2 she professed her favourite colour to be green, and has for the most part stuck with that choice. DH and I were slightly smug, right on parents with a girl who eschewed the regulation pink. It quickly became the bane of our lives as everything which came in a colour option had to be green, such is the…

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Danger: Men at Work…with needles and stuff

On Friday the Guardian reported the latest from the trial of Anders Breivik, the man killed 77 people in a gun attack in Norway last year. One of the motivations he has given for the attack is the “feminisation” of Norway. He said “Suddenly boys are supposed to start knitting and doing crochet and cooking,” complaining that gender roles were becoming reversed.

Well, this is a post to celebrate those role reversals. Far from being dismayed at the emergence of men on the craft scene, I am impressed by it. As a feminist, I am keen that men don’t muscle in on a traditional female area and try and take over, after all, far more doors have been closed to women for many years than have been closed to men (and still are – fancy a round of golf ladies?). But the male crafters that I have seen are simply men who craft, carving their own small niche in the crafting blogsphere.

First up is The Crochet Dude, who is rather well known in the US. who even goes so far as to run a Crochet Cruise. Now that sounds like my kind of holiday.

Next up is Michael at State of the Craft. He is a keen quilter and blogs with a sense of humour, and quilts with a keen eye.

Rugged Flair is quite circumspect about his position as a male crafter, but still pursues his main passion, which is for collage:

digibudi is a very talented crafter. I got side tracked by so many cute projects like this cupcake pillow that I had to really search hard to to find evidence that the blogger behind it all was really a man:

My final choice of men who craft is Matthew of One Man Crochet. I must admit that this one is a personal recommendation as his the brother in law of a good friend of mine. But even if he wasn’t, I’d still be recommending you look at his website. He is a relatively new blogger, doesn’t have a shop or a business, he just crochets for the love of it, making gifts for his wife and friends. But most of all I love his little crochet avatar, a wonderful likeness.

So, while we women take back the craft, subvert it and make it a symbol of choice rather than lack of it, we can make a bit of space for the men out there who want to get in on the act. After all, we all know that crafting – the needle, thread and yarn sort – is relaxing, beautiful, practical, and gives us an enormous sense of achievement. Don’t mind the men being a little late to the party…as long as they bring wine.

New categories menu for my blog

Just wanted to give a quick heads up about the new categories menu bar I have across the top of my blog. I have been branchingabout a bit with my posts recently. I know the idea of lots of different things is the whole emphasis of my blog, but it started out mostly craft related. I didn’t want to put off those of you who come just for the craft with my feminist diatribes or psychology insights if you aren’t interested. Now you can just select the category you want and you will see only the posts relating to that category.

I have Born to Shop, Forced to Work to thank for the technical help, she succeeded where  google, and various WordPress forums failed!

 

Bread, the food of life

A few months ago I was inspired by this post from Sally Donovan and for my birthday I requested being signed up to an ‘artisan’ bakery course.

Last Sunday was the day of the course, and I returned full of inspiration, and, well lots of bread! Now, I don’t want get too personal, but I will admit to you all that I am currently following Weight Watchers. Two children, 3 years of breastfeeding and sleepless nights have left me with a bit of a mummy tummy (how cringeworthy is that phrase?). The WW diet is going fine actually, and is not that hard to stick to. But I have spent most of my late 20s with this ingrained belief that bread is somehow bad for you. Cutting out bread as a way of losing weight is a fad that regularly comes into fashion. But how bad for you can a mix of water, yeast, flour and salt be? And therein lies the problem: most breads that people by from shops, and yes, even some bakeries, have many more ingredients, and are produced quickly. The course that I attended was all about slow bread, left to rise for up to 12 hours. This slow rising allows the gluten to open up and break down, making a more delicious, longer lasting, and easily digestible bread.

The beautiful view from our teaching kitchen

On the course we did two bakes: we made rolls from scratch, which were left for only 2 hours or so, a quick rise; and a loaf of bread using premade dough which had been left overnight to bulk rise.

The beauty of the slow rise bread is that you have the benefit of time, warmth and sugars in the dough which help the yeast do its job, meaning that you really don’t need to do a much kneading as you might think, nor as much yeast.

First we mixed the ingredients for the rolls, kneading, leaving for five minutes, chatting, kneading again, leaving again, for about half an hour. Leaving aside that dough, covered in a carrier bag – yes, it was all very technical here! In fact the most technical that it got was the use of this natty little scraper to mix the ingredients together without getting too messy.

Next we were given some of the slow rise dough to knead and shape. Taking care not to use too much flour, so the dough still remained moist we folded the dough into a ‘belly button’.

Next we made Mickey Mouse ears to fold in and shape the dough into a longer shape, then pinched the seam like a Cornish pasty. The dough then went into a bread basket for final proving.

Mickey Mouse ears - this shapes the dough and adds air into it
Bread basket or 'banneton'

Before putting it in the oven the dough was scored to allow the loaf to rise even further in the initial heat of the oven. A slight dusting of flour was followed by a quick spritz with water to ensure a nice crust.

10 minutes at 230 degrees in the oven then turned down to 200.

Look how big it is!

Out of the oven looking definitely rustic!

Then on to the bread rolls, shaping them and dipping them in seeds, or brushing with egg, or dusting with flour (stops them going too dark). Sorry, I don’t have a photo of the finished rolls. But I do have one of our lovely lunch. Homemade bread, made by Dede (the course instructor), some gorgeous local cheeses, and various pickled veg, delicious!

At 2pm it was time to go, with armfuls of bread and rolls, inspiration for future loaves, and plenty of tips for airy, flavoursome bread.

The fear surrounding bread and wheat products, perpetuated by women’s magazines, the Atkins Diet and faddy food intolerances, neglects the traditions going back thousands of years of bread as a food of life. That’s not to dismiss real medical issues such as coeliac disease, but other complaints of bloating and stomach upsets are more likely to be down to the overly processed nature of modern supermarket breads, even the ones they peddle as fresh.

Bread is part of the traditions of many cultures and religions, indeed bread is seen as the symbol of Christ himself. The hot cross bun is a symbol of his return from crucifixion. In the Bible Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, not steamed fish and a side of edamame beans. Now, those who know me know that I am an ardent atheist, but you can’t deny it’s pretty hefty symbolism. Bread is prominent in most cultures, the Jewish Challah and matzo, German Stolen, Indian Naan and Chapatti, Italian ciabatta. It’s significance is often religious, but ultimately it is social and familial. Breaking bread together is a traditional way of welcoming people into your home.

It’s no coincidence that ‘bread’ or ‘dough’ are used synonymously with money. Bread is the lifeblood of the world. The same few ingredients can make things as diverse as croissants, pitta bread and steamed dumplings. Bread is amazing, and anyone can make it. So, put away your Atkins book, put down that Kingsmill and go and buy yourself some yeast.

Here is a link to a simple bread recipe.. So what are you waiting for? Just your dough to rise!

Harts Barn Craft Centre, Forest of Dean

This is Harts Barn Craft Centre, where the bread making course was held (and paid for by DH for my birthday in case you were wondering!) I really enjoyed the course and would recommend something similar to everyone. For details of your local courses and more information on why real bread is so brilliant check out The Real Bread Campaign.