Thank you to the lady in Tesco

Today was a fairly normal Friday morning, except I woke up with a sore neck so I was unusually grumpy. If you ask my family they’d probably tell you I generally come in two modes: Grumpy But Tolerable and Just Stand Well Back. Anyway, this morning I was several twinkles short of a glitter. We were late getting off to school. MoonMunkie forgot her bag and we had to go back. MiniMunkie cried all the way because she wasn’t allowed to sit in the front passenger seat. By the time we got to school I was getting to the Light The Blue Touch Paper Stage. As we dropped MoonMunkie off I decided that coffee and breakfast at Tesco would be a requirement if the day was to continue without me ending up in jail. We had shopping to pick up anyway. So off we went. I had a bacon sandwich and a caramel latte. MiniMunkie had a bath in steamed milk and rejected the biscuits I’d bought. But it did the trick.

476670_10153871281455491_636004983437822661_oTaking 20 minutes to sit and and engage with either of my kids always makes me feel better. Once I stop rushing around trying to do stuff and focus on them properly, it reminds me how AWESOME they are. How kind, creative, funny and actually quite wise they are.

Feeling refreshed, we went off to do the shopping. There were important decisions to be made, namely whether to get the Mermaid Bubblebath or the Pirate Bubblebath. There are pros and cons to either choice. The Mermaid is pink and smells of strawberry (well… what bubblebath makers think strawberries smell like). She has a starfish in her hair and a seahorse friend. But we had Mermaid Bubblebath last time. On the other hand, Pirate Bubblebath is also quite exciting. He has a sword and an eyepatch and we haven’t bought him for a while. But we can’t remember what he smells like, he’s not pink and he’s also a *boy*. You can see MiniMunkie’s dilemma. It took some careful deliberation over the course of 10 minutes. I did my best to contribute, but I only have a layman’s understanding of the situation.

Finally a decision was made and the Pirate was selected. We wandered off to pay but as we left an older lady stopped me. People often comment on how sweet MiniMunkie is. Her curly hair, cupid’s bow pout and big blue eyes belie her feisty nature and absolute certainty that she’s the boss of everything.  But this time the lady surprised me by saying that I was sweet as well as MiniMunkie. She spent a few minutes saying that she’d seen us round the store doing our shopping together and she thought that I was doing a lovely job as a Mum. I was stunned speechless. Not because I think I’m a terrible mum, although we all have those days. It was just that this wasn’t a particularly special day. We were just getting on with stuff that needed doing, me with a sore neck and MiniMunkie covered in steamed milk. And a stranger saw something lovely in that and then bothered to take the time to stop and encourage us.

So, I’d like to say thank you to the lady in the pink coat. And encourage us all to take the time to see the loveliness in each other. You never know when you’ll be changing someone’s day for the better.

 

 

Domestic Insurrection [Suspicious Asparagus]

Last Thursday MoonMunkie developed a tummy upset. She’d happily go into school bleeding from the head with a broken arm and a temperature of 40 degrees. But schools have rules about cross-contamination and so I had to keep her at home. That very same day MiniMunkie decided to get up before the birds. So by the time it got to 7.30 am I was ready for an IV caffeine drip. So was MiniMunkie. She’s not one for negotiation and compromise at the best of times, being completely certain that her way is the Right Way. (Extensions of the Munkie family will be mirthfully coughing into their hankies at this point, and trying to refrain from sarcastically wondering where she gets that characteristic from… I couldn’t possibly comment!) But a tired MiniMunkie is a force to be reckoned with on a global scale. Conflict began with the 8am Eeyore Disturbance. Ownership was settled through independent 3rd party mediators in MiniMunkie’s favour so I had hoped it would end there.

However it was soon followed by Blankey Incursions (Parts A, B and C), harder to settle because, although official status was designated by a United Nations Protocol the previous weekend, the development of illness in one party did seem to justify a temporary loan of said Blankey. This had to be secured with a  mutual hostage exchange and a 450 page contract specifying the terms of the loan, period of useage, sanctions for late completion and assurances that it wouldn’t smell weird when it was returned.

The Lemur Hostility of 8.15 ensued. No one could work out whether she was cross with the lemur or if the lemur was collateral damage in a guerilla attack from Dolly and pink flowery teapot. In MiniMunkie’s defence, it is very annoying when a lid won’t go on properly and violence towards lemurs can often be justified in such situations.

Then came the Teddy Bear Discord of 8.25 which resulted in MoonMunkie becoming a target for guerilla attack which meant that MiniMunkie  incurred sanctions from NATO and a well justified Sit on the Stairs. However, her compliance with the terms of her release was short-lived and she very quickly escalated the conflict into a full-on Buggy War.  The UN peacekeepers stepped in to remove the problem to her bed, under great protest and duress, but to the great relief of all lemurs, teapots, and poorly Munkies in the region.

Oh my, but my littlest girl is so fiery and so tender. When she’d had a rest she was back to her own affectionate self, fussing like a mother hen over her dollies and her poorly big sister. She makes my heart float. And her temper-flare is so like my own that I can barely withhold a smile, even when she is causing grievous harm to innocent Madagascan primates.

A bizarre sort of homesick

victoria park roadWhen I was in my late teens I couldn’t wait to get away from my home city, Stoke-on-Trent. Admittedly the city was in a poor old state at the end of the 1990s. The decline of coal and steel in the 1970s and 1980s, coupled with the later out-sourcing of the pottery industry to the far east left the city struggling. Our sturdy chaps with the strength and skill to tame the earth, to shape iron, coal and clay from the land, were abandoned by the government and the industries they had served for generations. I know it wasn’t that simple. I know about recession, free market economics, globalisation and finite resources. But I also saw the impacts and it devastated a generation. More than a generation. Parts of the city still haven’t recovered. Some parts of the city still had 50% unemployment in 2010. It’s hard for people who conquered the land with the might of their hands and strength of their will to make a dignified living in a call centre or a warehouse. Again, I know it’s not that simple either. Honest work is still honest work. But our identity as people and as a city had always been tied to the raw processes of the land and they were gone.

The word I used there in that last sentence – “our” – is the reason for my writing today. As a young woman I never felt a connection with my city. I just wanted to leave. I worked hard in school, kept my head down and did what I had to do to get away to university. And beyond that I lived abroad and then moved to rural Suffolk. But as I approach 40, I look back to my home city with a nostalgia that I never thought would be possible. The openness of the people towards strangers is the thing I miss the most. As much as I love Suffolk (and I do. I really do!) I feel like a real weirdo when I try to chat to people in a queue or make small talk with a shop assistant. And when I’m back and someone calls me duck, it brings tears to my eyes.

I miss the industrial environment – I never thought I’d be saying that either. Bury St Edmunds is not short on history; its bucolic tale wends back to the early days of our nation. Many of the events of the town have been formative for our nation-state – the preparations in the lead up to the signing of the Magna Carta are probably the most famous. Stoke-on-Trent is a city of the industrial revolution – in years its still a babe in comparison with Bury St Edmunds – but it has contributed so much to the formation of modern Britain. It makes me smile to think that some of the earliest canals – mass transit methods of the early industrialising age – were built there; and now Stoke is renowned for its distributions centres – mass transit in the age of just-in-time production and global logistics.

Maybe it’s inevitable that encroaching middle-age makes one nostalgic for one’s roots. I know I’m looking back through rose-tinted glasses. The Stoke-on-Trent that I grew up in is not really there any more and I didn’t like it much when it was! I’m pleased to see inward investment making improvements to the economy and really happy that some of that is trickling down to the people who live there – and about jolly time too. It’s lovely to see improved housing, new businesses and better roads going up all over the place. I just hope that I’m not too late in coming to love Stoke to appreciate the city it once was before it’s renewed, refreshed and ready for the post-industrial age.

 

 

 

 

Negotiations [Suspicious Asparagus]

20150911_152703605_iOSMiniMunkie is growing up so quickly. She knows her own mind. We all know her own mind. I caught her asking (well … ordering, really) MisterMunkie to go to the shops to buy grapes this morning. The fruit bowl was full with other stuff: apples, clementines, bananas, kiwi fruit, but no grapes. They’d all been eaten. I’m not naming the culprit, but she’s shorter than 3ft tall and thinks that we can’t see her if her eyes are closed.

She’s worked out that we go to the shops when things run out. So now it’s “Grapes? Shop? Yes?” and “Chocolate? Shop? Yes?” The child doesn’t eat enough to keep a fly alive, but grapes and chocolate she has no problem at all with. I’ve decided not to have fights with her about food*. She’s still breastfeeding on demand** and so I’m pretty confident she’s getting everything she needs. Then there are her energy levels which tend to run on one of two settings: maximum or overload. And there are no flies on her. She could out negotiate John Adams, as the little “incident” below shows.

MamaMunkie: Please don’t bite MoonMunkie. It’s not kind.
MiniMunkie: Hungry!
MamaMunkie: Not when you’re hungry.
MiniMunkie: Tiger?
MamaMunkie: No biting. Not even if you’re a tiger.

You see? Only 2 and already she knows that there are grey areas in life if you just search hard enough for them. I love that she’s developing empathy as well. She now signs and lisps “sorry” if she thinks she’s hurt you and comes over to give a kiss to “make better”. She says “please” and ” ‘ank oo” and if you sneeze she proudly exclaims “Bess oo!” It’s so much fun watching her grow up.

* insert sharp inhalation of disapproval

** insert frown and disappointed shaking of the head

 

 

Frozen-themed play dough [Sensory play]

Elsa and ElsaLike every other Mama, Elsa and Anna are honorary members of my brood. It’s tailed off a bit in recent weeks. I believe I’ve actually gone a whole 7 days straight without watching the movie or listening to the sound track. But the power of the icy pair remains strong. MoonMunkie loves it all and totally wants to be Elsa. She sings the songs and dances beautifully, dramatically throwing an imaginary crown at the appropriate point in the song.  MamaMunkie and MisterMunkie both prefer Anna – she more sensible, girl-next-door and much less neurotic-snow-strumpet than Elsa.

MiniMunkie wants to be MoonMunkie. That’s it. She just wants to be her big sister. She trails around after her, wearing a tiny blue costume and singing “…’et it gooooooo…” It’s so adorable I could eat her with a spoon. She thinks the movie is called ” ‘nowman” and that Elsa is called Anna. We don’t correct her. She’s so happy with it all and it’s of no real consequence. Watching her twirl and sing is one of the pleasures of my life.

Of course, this fandom spills over into our other activities and this week we wanted to make play dough. So Frozen play dough was the order of the day. I took our basic play dough recipe and added silver glitter, blue and green food colouring to get that perfect “Frozen blue” and a dose of American peppermint flavouring to give it a scented element too. It looked and smelled heavenly and my Munkies played with it for about 3 hours. Next door’s little Munkie also popped in to play and was so overjoyed with it that we just had to give her some to take home.

There are a bazillion-trillion recipes out there for play dough. Cook, don’t cook, edible, scented, you name it, there’s a recipe. And this is ours. The basic dough is based on a 500g bag of flour and makes enough for 4 children to have a great big lump each. This recipe doubles and triples very easily. I don’t have  bowl big enough to test beyond that!

Ingredients for basic play dough

500g plain flour

1 tbs cream of tartar

1 tbs of oil

4 drops of glycerine

200g salt

hot water to bind.

Method

  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. If you have dry additions to add, this is the place to do it. We’ve tried all sorts of things in the past: tiny silver stars, sequins, glitter, seeds, dried lavender and sand all give different textures and characteristics.
  3. Add the oil, glycerine and a little hot water,  and mix.
  4. If you want to add colours or flavours now is the time. We’ve used natural oils like peppermint and lavender; food flavourings such as lemon, American peppermint, liquorice; and we’ve also added cocoa and coffee to the hot water in order to flavour the dough
  5. Continue to add hot water until the dough comes together.
  6. Knead on a floured counter top for 10 minutes until the dough comes together and is elastic and shiny.

20150926_110146240_iOSThe dough keeps in the fridge for a long time. It’s not edible, but a taste will not do anyone any harm. Leaving it out in the sun will dry it out – it becomes hard like
salt-dough if you leave it to dry for long enough.

MoonMunkie made herself a shrew. She’s been very interested in shrews since we found a dead one on our patio. MiniMunkie’s cat brought it to us as a gift, we think. The cat isn’t really MiniMunkie’s. But she desperately wants a cat and then big big tortoiseshell started to visit and it was as if her wish had been  granted. Ours too – a cat that visits daily, but we don’t have to feed it, clean up after it or worry about it when we’re not here. Perfect cat!

Rose-hips

20150909_152341308_iOSNear where I work, there are some massive beds of roses. I’m not great with botany, but I believe that they could be a strain of Japanese rose that is now completely naturalised in the UK. The used to grow behind my house as a child. During the summer they smell heavenly and I linger daily on my walk from the car park to the school entrance, just breathing in that scent. It fills me with happy from my head to my toes. I wish I could bottle it somehow as a natural perfume, but I haven’t found a way yet. If you know how – leave a comment, PLEASE!

After the summer holidays I returned to work to find the roses gone, but the rose hips in their place are so beautiful. They look so rosy and cheerful. Shining in the autumn sunshine and tempting me to pick them. But until I know how I can use them, I don’t want to collect any.

I hear that rose-hip syrup is a great way to get Vitamin C. There’s also recipes out there for rose-hip vinegar and rose-hip tea. I wonder if they will taste as heavenly as their flowers smell? If all else fails,  I could crack the open and use the little hairs inside as itching powder – that might wake my students up a bit!

Mermaid Bay [Sensory Play]

Mermaid Bay This summer was all about the mermaids here at Munkie Towers. My dear friend and her husband returned to live in town after being away for several years. In the meantime we had both managed to produce 2 small girls each, of surprisingly similar ages and temperaments. Her little ones were crackers for mermaids and so, Munkie-See-Munkie-Do (as the saying doesn’t quite go…) my little ones were crackers for mermaids too.

But we didn’t have any. And MamaMunkie was reluctant to spring for new dollies until we were sure this was a phase that was here to stay. Also, we have dollies. Our dollies have dollies. We are not short on dollies.

Instead, we converted some of our pocket-money dollies (£1 from Tesco) into mermaids with the cunning use of silver foil.

It actually worked quite well. By wrapping the foil around the dollies’ legs tinfoil tailsand then scrunching it tightly to the ankle, a pretty convincing tail was made. I then trimmed the fin shape with scissors below the feet, and voila – tinfoil tails.

The addition of some play sand, seashells collected at the beach, some slates that our turtles are no longer needing in their tank and some water that we dyed with blue food gel an a very nice sensory bin was complete. I also tossed in some Jelly Sea Life Creatures that I’d been dying to try out. They’re made from the same compound as water beads and grown to 8x their original size in water.

It was brilliant. MiniMunkie was entranced. The mermaids dived and swam and rode the turtles. The sand mixed into their hair and muddied up the water. The sensory bin looked like a scene from CSI Atlantis. In the future I’m going to exchange the sand and water for blue Water Crystals . I think it will be less of a disturbing clean up!

Warm and Spicy Autumn Soup [Recipe]

treelightAutumn colours overwhelm me. The vibrancy and depth coupled with the clarity of the light at this time of year regularly makes me stop in my tracks to breathe in the scene and admire the show. It’s so fleeting here in the UK. It will only be a few weeks before it’s dark from 3.30pm to 8.00am and the skies bleak and grey in between times. So this last burst of spectacular life holds such significance, the colours blazing as the summer dies.

One of the best things about autumn is the return to soup. Over the summer months it’s too hot to make or eat the hearty soups that I love. But as September turns to October and the leaves start to turn, I find myself reaching for the soup pan once more.

This recipe is as simple or complex as you’d care to make it. Beyond carrots and stock, the ingredients can be collected from whatever you have lurking in your spice cupboard: any of those warming Asian spices that you have to hand. Or keep it simple with just a little salt, garlic and chilli.

soup spice

MiniMunkie was helping with this particular batch. She’s also learning to count to ten. It’s totally adorable. So we got out ten spice jars so that the cooking became cross-curricular. Actually, I only had  nine, so we also counted the salt, but it worked out fine.

We also played a little bit of English folk music – I always feel folky as Autumn comes round. There are 2 albums we’re loving at the moment here in the Munkie house hold.

Seth Lakeman’s Word Of Mouth is not as trad as I usually go for, but the kids love to dance to it. Grandpa Munkie is less than impressed too, saying that he thinks “Seth Lakeman” is a made up name to appeal to folk-music lovers. I have no idea. But I’m enjoying it, even though it’s more of an electric sound that I usually choose in folk music. Seth is coming to play locally at the end of October. I’m considering going, but you know how it is with going out. It sounds nice until you actually have to wash your face and put on clothes without snot stains or play doh marks. It all just becomes too much trouble when there is the whole of Pinterest to explore. I digress…

The other album is Fifty Verses from Melrose Quartet. I had never heard of them until this week, when this album appeared in my recommended music space on Amazon Prime Music. It’s much more traditional and Nancy Kerr is both a talented lyricist and amazing singer. She’ll have the hair standing up on your arms. If you’re popping in from Handmade Monday, I can recommend this as make-along music too!

soup veg and spice

So, we’re listening to music and chopping up the carrots and counting the jars to our hearts content. If you want to join in, the recipe is below.

Ingredients 

1kg carrots.

Chicken stock to cover (use vegetable for a veggie-friendly soup)

Your own selection of spices

Salt to taste

 

  1. Chop up the carrots, add oil, and gently fry in a large stock pan until they begin to soften. Don’t let them brown or the soup will be bitter
  2. Shake your spices over and continue to fry for a minute, to get the aromas going. For the record, we used: 2tsps each of ginger, coriander and garlic; 1tsp each of chilli flakes, cumin and garam masala; and then a really generous shake each of yellow mustard seeds, black onion seeds and turmeric. But experiment with what you have around – you’ll find something that works for sure.
  3. Cover with stock and simmer gently until the carrots are soft.
  4. Blend with a stick blender – or alternatively put it through a food processor.
  5. Check the seasoning and adjust to taste
  6. Serve with chunky bread and a swirl or yoghurt or cream
  7. Or alternatively pour it all over the car park, your car, legs and shoes outside your church.

soup legs Soup everywhere

 

 

 

Why won’t my child go to sleep? [Suspicious Asparagus]

IMG_2680.JPGMiniMunkie is not the world’s best sleeper. She’s far too curious and busy to waste time with her eyes closed. She’s also very clever and comes up with a lot of cunning reasons why she should be allowed to stay up.

  • She needs a drink. But not from THAT cup. Or that one!
  • Her foot is sad.
  • There’s a bee. Somewhere.
  • Her pink fluffy turtle is thirsty.
  • She needs her blanket. Not touching her. But closer than THAT.
  • There are blackberries in the fridge.
  • MoonMunkie is there.
  • MoonMunkie isn’t there.
  • She needs her baby doll. The other one. With the dress that got lost a month ago.
  • Mummy is naughty.
  • The chair isn’t in quite the right place. Now it’s in the right place but at the wrong angle. Bit more to the left. Back again. Left a bit more. There. Just right.
  • There’s an unidentifiable noise which can only be heard by bats and MiniMunkie but it’s very annoying.
  • She needs someone to hold her hand.
  • She doesn’t want anyone to hold her hand.
  • MamaMunkie is not wearing her glasses.
  • She she’s not tired. Munkies don’t get tired. She’s never been tired. We can’t prove she’s tired so … Zzzzzz Zzzzzzz Zzzzzzz Zzzzzzzz