Monday, 28 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday

Well I really enjoyed last week's linkup with Mrs M and was pleased to get some comments! Sadly I didn't really get chance to pay much attention to meals and such as I was full of cold/lacking in energy and then we've been on a family break to the West Midlands since Friday, which is why I didn't plan the weekend meals as normal (food ranged from shockingly-bad-hotel-bar-meal to impressive West Midland Safari Park café lunch and, erm, lots of free chocolate at Cadbury World!!) Hopefully I'll pay more attention this week.

Monday: Pasta with Grilled Vegetable & Tomato Sauce (supermarket chiller cabinet) Again it's Meat Free Monday and this is one of our standards. It's the end of the month so sadly no parmesan or garlic bread to accompany the dish this time. But we will be trying a new pasta shape ;-)

Tuesday: Lamb Tagine with Cous Cous and Flatbread I'm trying out something new here, although I've made a similar dish in the past. A Nigel Slater recipe I have adds squash and carrots (which I have from the veg box as well as a red pepper) and there'll be a few dried apricots in there as well. Let's see how this one goes!

Wednesday: Wholewheat Spaghetti with Pesto Sauce (jar) and Roast Chicken. I was going to serve chicken and chips but then noticed we are having chips on Friday too, so I'll cook a chicken and stir pieces of it through with the pesto. For those of us who like our pasta and chicken plain (2ndSister, always) that will also be served.

Thursday: Roast Chicken Salad. I'll serve plain chicken with some crusty bread and whatever accompaniments we have available. At it's the end of the month, for example, we'll bulk the salad out with stuff from jars like sundried tomatoes and olives, & just get a few fresh bits from Abel and Cole (babyleaf salad, celery, cucumber and carrot.)

Friday: Frozen Scampi served with oven chips, frozen peas and ketchup

Saturday: Pizzas (supermarket bought) and salad

Sunday: Meatloaf as a Sunday lunch (another new thing I'm trying) & all the trimmings from the freezer

Hopefully we'll also have some Rocky Road for afters tonight which I never got around to making for our new neighbours until today....there should hopefully be enough for a Welcome gift for them and a piece each for us!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Meal Planning Monday

Well this is my first 'meal planning Monday', as hosted by Mrs M.

Strictly speaking, I don't tend to plan my menu on a Monday ~ I'll sketch out a fortnightly dinner plan when it seems time to, based around when my weekly vegetable, fruit, milk meat and fish order is delivered from Abel and Cole, and when my supermarket order, which I tend to schedule for the 1st and 15th of the month, is ready to plan. But come Monday, I sit down and check that whatever I had in mind for the week is still doable (for example I moved this week around based on the best before date on the accompaniments in the fridge), and whether I need to pick up any extras, or change things around due to extracurricular activities, or whatever.

As of this Monday, our weekly menu looks like:

Monday: Vegetable Soups, Crusty Loaf & Cheddar Cheese Slices. I generally do a Meat Free Monday - I used to be vegan then vegetarian, so we also try to eat free range animals and some sustainable fish. I'll be getting homemade butternut squash soup out of the freezer, and I managed to put together a minestrone yesterday despite being full of cold (with a few mushrooms and broccoli in there too as well as extra garlic)

Tuesday: Chicken Tortilla Wraps. I roast a whole chicken every week, which does for at least 2 meals and often a lunch or leftovers besides. 'Wraps' is 2ndSister's favourite dinner ~ she liberally spreads a wrap with soured cream and grated cheese and relishes it. The rest of us might put in some meat, salsa, or whatever other accompaniments I make/buy (veg with chilli, guacamole, refried beans, salsa.)

Wednesday: Gammon steaks served with oven chips, egg, pineapple and tinned tomatoes. Nothing really to say about this! I count this as a 'processed' type of meal, even though we're using organic gammon & eggs. It's something quick, easy & warming to serve up. (Good in the snowy weather!)

Thursday: Roast chicken dinner. Depending on the weather, I'll do a weekly chicken salad or roast dinner. The roast includes pre-bought roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings from the freezer, another kind of potato, and a couple of veg (it will be cabbage this week because that's what's in the veg box), oh and of course gravy, cranberry sauce and mint sauce. I never get tired of a roast dinner. And although the Sisters don't eat every piece of it, it gives them a selection of different bits to choose from.

Friday- Eating out which is a rarity (especially as we usually have fish on a Friday and absolutely no dessert!)

Weekend - to be confirmed.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

13 & 13 in 2013 - Paprika Pork and Tarragon Chicken

I'm starting a new Page on this blog, which I hope to regularly update with new recipes.

Our family can, like others out there, I suppose, get stuck in a rut when it comes to trying out new dinner ideas. I tend to have a rolling selection of meals that we eat from season to season, depending on the weather, activities, what veggies are available that week, and so on.

For 2013 I am determined to stick to trying a new dinner every fortnight, so a new thing at least every 2 weeks = 13 new dishes for the first half of the year, and 13 for the second. (So, ahem, this is nothing like yet exactly similar to Mrs M's idea which she had first, which you should also look at!)

Disclaimer: I'm having a baby in 9 weeks, so no idea how long this will last, but I said I was determined, didn't I?! Accordingly, I'll try and get as many new dishes in as possible before baby girl comes :-)

1) Paprika Pork ~ 8 Jan 2013

Preparation: I used a Good Food Magazine recipe for this, which is always a tried and trusted source. I had some diced pork in the freezer that I hadn't used in the usual way (Spanish Pork with onions, peppers and olives using a jar of £1 Chicken Tonight sauce, which we have as a 'tapas' dinner with cous cous, warm bread and whatever other bits and bobs happen to be hanging around or on offer.) I didn't use smoked paprika (and the paprika my husband bought me back from a stag trip to Budapest a weekend in Hungary is long gone, but it was still tasty and to me, anything with meat, onions, mushrooms and soured cream is generally a winner.

Verdict: The result was good, and we adults enjoyed it (although the children, who don't often go for foods in sauces, were reluctant. They did enjoy the rice and garlic and rosemary flatbread with which it was served, though.) I can't see me making it again, however, as 1) it didn't seem to make the most of the meat, which would have been much better simmered in a casserole for a longer time and b) surely paprika pork is just Beef Stroganoff is disguise?, and I would prefer to eat this type of dish with beef, whether stroganoff or goulash, just personal preference. The best thing about the dish was its simplicity, with veggies able to be pre-prepared, some cooking done with children milling about, and the soured cream added at the end, just prior to serving.

2) Tarragon Chicken ~ 16 Jan 2013

Preparation: I tweeted Lisa Faulker about where to buy Tarragon Vinegar for her mum's recipe, but ended up ordering some online where I could find it, when she didn't reply. (Does she not know Jamie Oliver follows me on Twitter? Silently, but my inanities make his timeline.) Again, this is saucey, so I'm not sure if the kids will touch it with a barge pole, so the rice & garlic bread option will resurface once more (I often serve 2ndSister protein filled carbs like brown rice, cous cous and wholewheat pasta, as she is almost phobic of protein in its neat form as far as I can tell.) I'd love to serve some creamy, herby chicken with mashed potato for pregnancy comfort food, another time....

Verdict: Well, I was correct about the children preferring plain chicken, and how the dish would have gone better (as its originator recommends) with potatoes. It went nicely enough spooned over pasta and served with garlic bread. The combination of the tarragon, tarragon vinegar and double cream made it overly sweet for our tastes, however, even though I'd added a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to try and cut through it. Due to my gallstones, we use a cream substitute in cooking (I avoid eating real cream in desserts!), and I think this may give a lighter, less sweet flavour when I cook this next time. Because I will be cooking it next time. However, I think I will approach it more as a country French casserole dish, rather than a pasta-sauce-with-chicken (I am also inspired here to revisit  a Chicken Alfredo recipe, so that we do get a pasta-sauce-with-chicken in our repertoire.)

May Contain Spoilers! ~ Some Thoughts on Les Miserables

Disclaimer: I should start this by saying that Les Miserable was my favourite musical of all time from the age of 19 when someone lent me the CD of the Original London Cast Recording (and I was going through some Eponine-type unrequited love thing, incidentally.) Given that this was 20 years ago, and I've also seen the stage show in the West End since then, I suspect my loyalty to this original CD, cheesy synths and all, biases me a little against the film. I think everybody should see the film, its impact is powerful, its music amazing, and it contains inspired performances. But obviously I have a few gripes. So what follows is not technically a review, but some musings.

Some thoughts on Les Miserables: The Movie

I should start by staying I am SO glad I went to see Les Miserables the weekend it came out!

Especially since we are now pretty much snowed in for the weekend. I would have been agonising that I was missing something I shouldn't go without missing, particularly for a Les Mis fan. As it was, I could have waited. As a piece of filmmaking, I'm sure its exemplary, and as a work in the Les Mis oeuvre, it is challenging, exhausting, yet fulfilling and uplifting. (And hugely emotional.) Yet, it doesn't convey my ideal of a Les Miserables movie (which is a good job, since it's Tom Hooper's vision.) There are aspects where the original stage version is improved upon ~ and areas where I feel it's been let down. And I know this doesn't lessen from the contribution the film makes overall, but I just had to put these down somewhere because they are jumping around my head.

Firstly, Gavroche. To me the cutting down of young people in their prime, and the wretched existence they occupy in poverty, is one of the central themes of the film. Yes, Gavroche maintains an important role (in fact there's a scene with him which is one of the most poignant and disturbing in the film) but also, his part is drastically cut. Both his youthful optimism about what 'Little People' can do, and the symbolism contained in this idea that something small can effect great change (even if it is not witnessed in a person's lifetime) is profound, and I would have loved more screen and singing time for Gavroche. It would also, I feel, have punctuated a heavy and challenging film with more comic relief.

Thankfully, we had the Thenardiers to provide a comedic breath of fresh air, as they do in the stage play. For the film, however, their roles seem to be especially hammed up (FirstSister loved the 'Cosette/Courgette' wordplay and nearly fell off her seat laughing) which I found a little startling, although I enjoyed the scenes. I read another 'tarnished gem' review of Les Mis which felt that the Thenardier scenes let the film down, which I think misses the point ~ poverty and strife and uncertain times can lead anyone to a dissolute life, which is enacted with relish in the film, but ultimately it is clear that a life of repentance, goodness, mercy, grace and refusal to judge others for their behaviour, as epitomised by Jean Valjean, wins out in the end, in Les Miserables, in life.

Please, please, don't get me started on The Ending. I feel my heartstrings were duplicitously pulled. A deliberate layer of saccharine sentiment spread over the top of a fine cake, unnecessarily. Due to the conventions of a stage show, if all the characters (some deceased) reappear and start singing, it makes sense. There seemed to be some nudge to the afterlife going on in the film, however, together with a huge, unsubtle "these people will live on for their sacrifices and its going to make you cry for hours" thing. (Not sure else it could have ended, mind you!)

The Sex....luckily 1stSister is both informed enough and naive enough to be unaffected by the sexual scenes in the film, even though she isn't yet 12, the minimum recommended age for the film. I wasn't happy, though. It's true that the medium of film can render things more intimately than the stage can, and so offers the ideal opportunity for close-up scenes of intimacy. But really, couldn't these have been reserved for Marius and Cosette? Yes, the prostitution aspect conveyed the desperation of the times and how redemption is not easily won, but I was shocked that Fantine's descent into this world was portrayed so graphically. I admit the sex was more implied than explicit, but I still felt it was more than necessary.

The Singing. OK, I can just about forgive and forget about that cod-Scottish accent Hugh Jackman seemed to be sporting early on. I've been a fan of him in musical theatre since I saw the 1999 film of Oklahoma!, and I think he makes an excellent Valjean, and sings amazingly. Yet, yet...this whole innovative thing of 'live' singing is raw and meaningful, but I think I would have preferred it recorded. Less operatic and stagey than the show, yes, but less messy. (This is probably just me, as I prefer to hear studio CDs rather than live music, despite being a huge alternative/punk/indie fan.) I enjoyed the dramatic interpretation through music by Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, but I thought Samantha Barks in particular was exceptional, possibly because her performance was the most polished and accomplished yet still conveying rawness and feeling. Again, possibly this is personal preference, coupled with the fact I've followed Samantha since her televised auditions for Oliver! the musical. And, as with most movie musicals, there's one actor who can sing in tune, yes, but nevertheless doesn't sound quite right ~ nasal and flat. This in itself I could overlook, but there's a reason movie musicals need to be populated with musical theatre actors, rather than merely actors ~ because they express so much through their performance. I think Russell Crowe was so focused on trying to sing he forgot to act, or so focused on trying to act he forgot how to sing well. He just couldn't do both at the same time. (There's another blog piece on Les Mis here which largely echoes my sentiments, but is more of a balanced review!)

Javert was the only role I felt was miscast, however. (I did think Anne Hathaway seemed a little young for the role, although, technically, she isn't.) Apart from the fact that I agonised throughout the entire movie that I'd seen Eddie Redmayne in a period drama before, but couldn't work out where*, I really enjoyed his performance of Marius. It was subtle and emotive; it had a journey to it, from naive lad to someone who understood the bigger picture. Had it not been for the complementary performance of Enjolras mind you (the actor who played him being more traditionally more Marius-like) I would have been hankering after Michael Ball, who, with or without synths, who was such a definitive Marius to me.

Good bits = The Opening! Fantastic! Grand scale and scenic - and I also enjoyed the cinematography over Paris. (But, I felt there was a lot of time devoted to close ups, and missed the stage view aspect.)

In closing, the Ensemble Numbers were what really made it for me. Although I moaned about close ups, the ability to sweep over the entire cast and zoom in on those who are singing the relevant part, when the music breaks into multiple parts in the ensemble numbers, was very impressive. I can forget all my gripes about individual performances, because the ensemble numbers were so very well done. In fact I think this sums up my feeling about the film overall - yes, it's flawed, but that can be so easily overlooked due to the amazing parts of it, and the fact that it coheres so well as a whole. My choir are going to see it one night next week, and if I weren't asleep by 8pm each night (= 29 weeks pregnant), I'd certainly go again. As it was, I found it long enough and exhausting enough to watch at a lunchtime, and very glad I didn't partake of any of the wine for sale in the auditorium!

Finally ~ everyone should go and see it, and form their own opinion ;-)

(*Tess of the D'Urbevilles, BBC TV, 2008, also featuring the divine Gemma Arterton.)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

I agree....but it's not just the NCT.

This post is written in response to a current 'debate' accidentally instigated by the mother and television personality Kirstie Allsop about the information and attitudes imparted by National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes. Having attended NCT classes, my experience of them was positive but they did contribute to my perception that there was a 'best' way to do pregnancy, birth and care for a newborn, and if I did less than that, I wouldn't be a good enough mother. In the post below I explain this in more detail, but also suggest that NHS (National Health Service) classes and other health professionals; celebrity and mother & baby magazines; more experienced mothers and new mothers; indeed, our entire social attitude towards how we look after our babies, has led to and reinforced this perception. It's not just the NCT! As Kirstie says, "Failure?! The only failure is not having a baby delivered safely into your arms."

I should have seen it coming.

Newly pregnant for the first time, equipped only with an Oxford degree, a good Masters degree in Social Anthropology, a PhD and a whole other raft of research skills, my quest to find the 'best' way to look after myself and my baby during pregnancy and beyond, began.

Reading around the subject, not only academically but perusing websites, well-meaning mother & baby magazines, 'advice' from celebrity mothers and attending 3 types of antenatal class, I came to a conclusion ~ there WAS indeed a best way to mother. It was the ONLY way. And if I didn't subscribe to it, my baby would suffer.

I would have a 'natural' birth, with no pain relief and CERTAINLY no Caesarean section - the thought of it! I would breastfeed, co-sleep (with a special cot that joined at the mattress, for safety), use washable nappies, purée organic food which never came from a jar, wear my baby in a sling and never let her cry herself to sleep.

These methods, you see, were demonstrated by various tomes of the literature and other cultures, to work wonderfully, whereas other ways of doing things - Gina Ford, formula feeding, disposable nappies, 'abandoning' baby in a cot to cry, putting baby in a buggy where she couldn't see you - were, quite literally, demonised. Dismissed as propaganda and heresy by many opinionated writers, bloggers and other newly pregnant mums (especially those attending NCT classes) who were shocked that such things could happen,  I felt actively discouraged by them. Attachment parenting material, by contrast, and literature and classes promoting breastfeeding and vaginal delivery as not just best for baby but the right way to do things (and I'm including my NHS antenatal classes here as well as NCT), also had their own agenda, of course (is it true that the NHS has a target quota of women it can get to breastfeed?*) but to me this was well-hidden amongst what is probably a whole host of well-meaning and kind intentions, but just set a person  like myself up for failure.

What nobody managed to convinced me then, as a first time mother, an overachiever who thought she could apply acquired rather than experiential knowledge to having a baby, was that age-old wisdom that the best way to look after yourself and baby is to find what works best for you both.

Funnily enough, having made a superhuman effort in all of the above areas, and ending up with (definitively) postnatal depression with acute anxiety and (possibly although never officially diagnosed) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including flashbacks from a traumatic birth, I eventually gave in and worked out what worked for my baby and me by learning about my baby and me, not about what other people said to do about what worked most effectively for them. (Obviously it's useful to have an array of others' experiences to draw from and be inspired by, but not if they're going to induce perpetual feelings of guilt and deficiency.)

There's still a part of me that feels a failure. I was comforted, for example, by delivering 3rdSister vaginally even though 1st and 2ndSister had been caesarean sections ~ it felt a bit like I COULD actually do it, and that I hadn't actually been a 'proper' mother until that point, despite the fact that I was medically recommended not to, and the birth nearly went to another emergency C-section. And how is that a good place to be in?! Similarly, breastfeeding - I was so focused on doing it, and doing it 'right', that by the time my daughter was 6 weeks old, coupled with a couple of other factors, every time I went to feed her both of us ended up in tears. Feeding 'on-demand', letting her suckle whenever she seemed to need it, meant that I barely slept, and when she slept, I was awake hyperventilating, waiting for her to wake up. She didn't like her sling, I struggled to wash her nappies, and the underlying feeling beneath all of this was that if women had done this for thousands of years without a whole host of information and equipment, why was I such a failure at motherhood?

In retrospect, a lot of this was my mindset and attitude which has thankfully largely changed for the better (there's nothing better than a large dose of children and God to make you realise you need to relinquish control over things.) But a lot of it is the way that things are presented by both the media (including pregnancy and baby magazines) and antenatal classes and other advisory content (NHS as well as NCT here.) They (I assume unintentionally) set mothers up for potential feelings of failure and guilt, as well as helping perpetuate (and possibly instigate) the horrendous competitive culture evident amongst parents ("You're not bottle feeding, are you?" "Well, MY daughter cut her first tooth at 2 months!" "Oh yes, she's been sleeping through the night since 6 weeks") which can make anyone feel insecure, so wide and varied are its topics of contention.

We fetishise babyhood in UK society. Celebrity and mother & baby magazines alike largely present 'having a baby' as a cute, lovely, fluffy experience with a lot less emphasis on realities and a whole lot more on matching accessories. Meanwhile mothers are needlessly suffering. Presenting ways of doing things as 'right', 'normal' or 'best' is understandable, but when these things may be unattainable for a variety of reasons, if they don't happen there can be at least mild psychological consequences for mothers, and possibly worse. No, I don't think caeaseareans should be available through choice and I suspect that hospitals may err too far on the side of caution when opting to take a woman down to surgery not only because of concern for mother and baby, but out of fear of our increasingly litigious culture. But I still speak to women today who delivered vaginally and look upon a caesarean section as the worst thing in the world...women who breastfed easily and in the long-term and who are insensitive to the problems others may have faced, and can't comprehend how anyone would try formula...women who used reusable nappies for all of their children, and see my failure to rinse, wash and dry buckets of them in the newborn days as exactly that. Mothers criticise, judge and undermine each other not only through the choices that they make, but because of situations that are out of their control. On the one hand, it's the human condition, but on the other hand, I feel it has a lot to do with the presentation of information by antenatal classes given by both the NCT and NHS and available literature ranging from academic analysis to baby magazines.

I've delivered by caesarean and vaginally, breastfed and formula fed, fed on-demand and used a routine, embraced Dr Sears but found a routine à la Gina Ford actually beneficial, feed my children largely organic food but don't frown on processed, regret my inability to 'cloth diaper' but try and help the environment in other ways, tried slings but found they didn't work for me, decided not to go down the route of baby-led weaning or elimination communication even though I am aware there are benefits to both ~ above all, I have been educated about, exposed to and experienced a variety of ways to raise my babies. And you know what? Over time I've 'settled' on what seems to work for me AND my babies. I try not to let the critique of others, wherever it may be found, influence what I'm doing. I expect this method could be widely applied and work well to other parents, too :-)

Assembling and assimilating information from a wide variety of sources is helpful in today's world. However, most of these sources will have an agenda. This may not be visible, and it may be well-intentioned, but it can have problematic ramifications for new mothers. I wish both the NHS and NCT would be more transparent about why they teach what they teach. I wish there was more honesty in the various media about how difficult the reality of parenthood is (although of course I wouldn't want to dissuade people from getting pregnant in the first place!). I wish other mothers supported each others' decisions and it is recognised when we are all trying to do our best, working out what is best for our babies, rather than tearing each other down over points of principle that may be extremely important to us, when what we need to be doing is helping each other out as humans.

* Don't get me wrong, I would actually be all for the NHS helping more mothers breastfeed if a) they didn't market it as something you must do or things will go terribly wrong, and b) they provided complete and effective breastfeeding assistance post-birth from sympathetic midwives with a continuity of care imperative.

Friday, 4 January 2013

7 Quick Takes: Christmas 2012

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 151)

Except that today we're over at Hallie Lord's place due to Jennifer's illness (please pray)


I already did a Christmas recap in pictures, although this doesn't sum up the change, the chaos and the sheer craziness of spending two weeks at home with one husband and 3 daughters, about to enter my 3rd trimester. So I thought I would reflect a little on the practical things we've experienced this holiday - what we did and didn't do, what worked well and didn't work so well. I know that spending minimal time at the computer has helped with family time, for example. However, this has been due more to a need to lie down on the sofa than any concerted effort merely to log in to read daily scripture, lock the screen and immediately connect with the world rather than stay online indefinitely....


I knew it would be exhausting, being permanently in the presence of 4 other people, and engaging in festive 'fun' (including time with extended family, hosting our annual drop-in for friends, getting our quota of fresh air in an entire chilly day at our local farm park - which had a nativity, on 30 December, so lovely!) I do wonder, however, whether I'm slightly anaemic, as even introverts who are 27 weeks pregnant needn't feel this tired from interacting with family for 2 weeks. Off-routine, I haven't been regularly popping my pre-natal vitamins , and I've been eating what I feel like eating, rather than eating healthily. I see the midwife in two days and also have my second round of blood tests, so this may confirm my self-diagnosis - meanwhile I'm focusing on my iron supplement, orange juice and healthy meals.


It could, of course, be none of this. Extreme fatigue could also be due to the bout of chickenpox experienced by 3rdSister, which included a night where we each got about 3 hours sleep, and has resulted in grizzliness all round. I'm glad I stocked up on painkillers, allergy relief and calamine earlier in 2012 when chickenpox was doing the rounds at pre-school. I have to say the illness was entirely unexpected on my part this Christmas holidays, and initially I thought it could be just acne, or impetigo, or hand foot & mouth - but she was so itchy, grumbly and blistery, it had to be the pox. It's been wearing. Yawn....

No sleep till...Bethlehem!


Oh, and did I mention that 3rd Sister also dropped her nap? I knew it was coming and was something I needed to get used to before 4thSister arrives, but OH, that time of day when I could use 20 minutes lying down with my eyes shut is now gone.....(and as we speak, she's still slumbering, meaning on a schoolday she'd be missing breakfast by now!) (EDITED to add that she awoke at 8am, shouting downstairs to me, complaining that "you are gone like in Veggie Tales!" - comparing my absence to that of the Little Drummer Boy thinking his parents had died when their farm was razed to the ground and he couldn't find them. Such feeling in one so young. By the way, Santa Claus gave her the DVD in her stocking, she's watched it on a loop, and it is fabulous and deserves its own Quick Take to be honest!)


Luckily we didn't get ourselves organised to book a mini-break for all in either week of the holidays - too much cost and too much energy and effort involved, we decided. But it's been scheduled in for the end of the month - 2 nights in a room for five at a hotel with a pool that welcomes kids, a day out at a safari park, and one at Cadbury World chocolate factory (where 1stSister has been desperate to go since her school project on chocolate last year.) OK, so it's not Disneyland, Paris but it's a little surprise break for them. We had no summer trip away in 2012 due to husband's work, our usual camping in May will be out due to the new arrival and our only other 2013 holiday will be a week in a cottage 2 hours away towards the coast in August, so I'm really pleased that as well as our musical London day out, we get a bonus break.


Speaking of musicals, we have had so many performances of Matilda by 2nd and 3rdSister this holiday, I am surprised I haven't been dreaming about it. (OK, I'm similarly obsessed, and have ordered the score.) 1stSister is also constantly singing (but not dancing anymore), and surprised me after her trip to The Hobbit yesterday that she really wanted to see a new film called 'Les Miserables' (I put this in quotes because she pronounced it in English rather than French, which tickled me.) Somehow it's passed her by that this is my favourite musical, that I've been devoted to for over 15 years, and I was thinking of ways to bribe persuade my husband to go and see it with me. Now it seems I have an enthusiast to accompany me and I'm almost getting excited!


I guess this post hasn't really been very Christmassy, but I think our Christmas holidays have been a good balance of the ordinary, the unexpected and family time, against the backdrop of welcoming our saviour and appreciating the love of others. I think this is how it should be, and as our wise men make it over from the microwave to the fish tank (where lieth the stable), and we prepare to wrap up this special time, I can begin to process 2013 as being the year of thirteen years of marriage, nine years as a mother, and the year I get to meet my fourth daughter. And - breathe!

4thSister in utero

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Christmas Round-Up, in pictures

Well, I think we got so busy with Advent and Christmas in the end that blogging has just fallen by the wayside. That's fine by me though, there were more important things to think about! Meanwhile I've just uploaded a random selection of photos I took on my phone that represent the season for us. Enjoy! (?)

Sophie's 'cowtapult' in the manger. We now have everyone in the manger apart from the 3 Wise Men who are expected on Sunday, but at this point of Advent, when 1stSister was home ill from school, she was still being her creative self. 

My Christmas cake mix. The baked article ended up falling apart, but as with most foodstuffs, I enjoyed the creation and anticipation and we served it at our annual open house and it was appreciated.

Some pretties that 2ndSister made at our Church's Advent Activities. Most of them are on our Jesse Tree....

....our main Christmas tree being a new, white, pre-lit, £125 beauty from Marks and Spencer. The last time my husband and I purchased a tree was before we were married, when we were renting a home in the North-East of England, I was studying for my PhD, he had his first corporate job in the 'dot com boom' years, and we had a small cheap artificial number which is now our Jesse Tree. We will celebrate our thirteenth wedding anniversary this year, so I think we were finally due a new one!

Advent traditionally involves rolling out, shaping and dipping marzipan in melted chocolate for our family...

....some of us (3rdSister) like to throw our work on the floor along with our reindeer antlers. Terrible twos. Sigh.

Our Advent wreath came packaged with the over-large candles you can see, which have hardly burned down much, despite being lit every suppertime! Please note on the kitchen door, some stuck on snowflakes from Lakeland Limited - they promise to keep year after year, and made our kitchen look more festive.

2ndSister and 3rdSister dressed up for the Church Nativity. They are pictured by the altar, which has a nativity scene underneath. (1stSister was in the pews, huddled in her coat, with a book. She's 8 now, y'know. Not too old to stand and sing the carols, though.)


More festive food! Braised red cabbage with apples, onions and red wine. Roasted parsnip, tomatoes and spices to be whizzed into a curried soup. And, of course, a magnificent KellyBronze turkey stuffed with clementine, red onion and rosemary.

And finally, the Pièce de résistance - Jesus birthday cake! Yes, he gets one made every year and we get to eat some for Christmas breakfast if we like, after singing Happy Birthday (and before opening gifts.)

Merry Christmas everyone, and wishing you moments of true peace and joy in 2013.