Thursday, 11 December 2014

Matinee Idle

I tell my children regularly that I only had babies so they would grow up into people I could take to watch films. One high point of my parenting journey was the first time I found myself in a cinema at 10.30am, drinking coffee, and watching my two little angels staring up at the huge glowing screen.

Time was we could just go to a Kids AM £1.75 screening and it would be the perfect morning. (These screenings are the film equivalent of The Works - films that are a few months old and you might have already seen, or very slight animated films you never see anywhere else.) We didn't do it a lot, but it was always the Right Thing, and everyone would be happy. They're getting a bit older, now - we have to choose films a bit carefully. Films that work for younger children, but have characters and jokes that appeal to all ages. The Lego Movie. A Monster in Paris (fantastic film).

I got the chance to review two films at home this week - the first, The Snow Queen 2, was pitched to me as a film that ''all Frozen fans would love!" I don't quite know how they worked this out. The thing with Frozen is the princesses and the singing and the love story. The Snow Queen 2 is about a troll and his grandma. Also, no singing. Sean Bean is in it - miserably briefly - and he doesn't even die.

The film had Kids AM written all over it, in my head. The Lattes enjoyed it - though I thought you laboured under a distinct disadvantage if you hadn't seen The Snow Queen 1. Still, if you had children younger than mine and you wanted a couple of hours in the dark on a tired morning, I think The Snow Queen 2, a cup of coffee and a bag of Minstrels would do it.

We liked The Nut Job much better (it's coming out on DVD about now) The colours were lovely! If I was a purple squirrel, I'm telling you, I'd find myself a mint green rat friend because they go so well together. Really! And it has Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson in it, and they're definitely worth having around. The Lattes loved this, especially Littlest. A definite favourite for an afternoon of cuddling under quilts.

Truth is, we're just getting too old. All good things come to an end, they say, and one day very soon we won't find ourselves at the Kids AM films at all. Those Little Lattes are growing too Big. Littlest is nearly 10; Eldest is 14. Choosing a film and pleasing everyone is getting much, much harder.

A while ago I lurked on the periphery of the madness that is organised Parent Blogging. I realised I had left it far behind this week when I went to a blog event - the first in at least two years - and was presented with a goody bag which contained a sippy cup and a cuddly toy. Trolls and sippy cups - they're just like Sean Bean in a way. A really gorgeous memory, but in truth, they just don't look the same any more.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Santa's a flake. And he certainly didn't get me any headphones.

I apologise right now - there will be no correspondence with Santa in the Coffee House this year. I've enjoyed his letters, but the bitter truth is he's not coming here any more and we all just have to LIVE WITH IT.

It's fine. I mean it's fine.  Yes, it means it's all on me now, and yes, it means that the child who wrote letters to the fairies asking Santa to pass them on is now a girl in a denim jacket and sparkly nail varnish brandishing a long list of incredibly expensive and sexist Lego, and the child who once screamed in joy because Santa had brought fleece baby wipes for her doll is now a teenager who may or may not have a Christmas list but certainly can't take her earphones out of her ears for long enough to share it with me.

Did someone say earphones? I got sent some to review - Kinovo BTH220 Bluetooth headphones. And I went from someone who couldn't really see why I'd need anything other than the assorted shower of earphones left over from old phones which are scattered round the house to someone who constantly needs her new headphones because they are amazing.

I wear them when running. (I'm not going to write a running post, for the following reasons:

Like the middle-aged cliche that I am, I'm doing the Couch to 5k, and my new headphones are fantastic, connecting instantly to my phone without any faff, and crucially not shifting at all as I shuffle along. Running without using one hand  to continually shove in my inferior little earbuds is a much lovelier experience, and no wires bounce up and down. And I can answer the phone - if I can still breathe, that is.

They fold up in a little bag! And they stay charged for hours. And they don't get all tangled up.

Those people who sew whilst listening to podcasts? I bet they all have these headphones. How many times have I sat down to sew with the intention of half-watching television or listening to the radio on the tablet, and then been presented with the terrible reality - as soon as you start the machine up, all you can hear is DRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Sometimes, when the children are engaged in some worthy activity such as watching YouTube videos or playing with sexist Lego, I stick some grown-up TV on the laptop and listen whilst I'm cooking, not caring at all about any swearing or murder because I'm the only one who can hear it. The sound is very good, for all I know about sound quality. (I don't know anything about sound quality). And if a child falls over or chops off its fingers, I can still hear what's going on (Mr Coffee has some fancy noise-cancelling headphones, which means once he has them on his head he may as well be in New Zealand for all the good he is to us).

Anyway, it's quarter to eleven, I've had a brandy, so now is the traditional time for me to start looking at Christmas presents online and think of everything I need to get and have a little brandy-soaked weep. Tomorrow I have a day off, and though that would be a better day to look at the shopping, I've chosen that day to make a summer dress. Don't look at me.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Cancel the search party. Nothing to see here.

Oh, I'm so sorry. Did you think I'd turned off the Internet for A MONTH? No-one is that strong.

Our week-long screen-fast went brilliantly, though. Eldest read half a book. (This is a record). I read a whole one (a record this year). Children drew with actual pencils. Littlest only threw herself on the floor and whined once.

I didn't achieve a great deal. I'd love to say I sewed an entire wardrobe and became proficient at the saxophone (or even the mandolin, which I actually am learning), but what I did do was tidy up a bit more and read a bit more and waste less time fiddling around.

After a while, Eldest found a lo-fi way to tune the rest of us out, with the discovery of an ancient Sony CD Walkman which she plugged herself into for much of the week. You can take away the smartphone, but you can't cure a teenager of being, well, teenaged. She was allowed one birthday visit to the library to check her Facebook messages, during which she took the opportunity to leave a small online cry for help, like a message in a bottle sent from a desert island - "My mum has turned off the Internet..."

Since then, we've been playing at being a little bit stricter. We turn the screens off at 6 during the week, except Fridays and Saturdays, which are a bit of a free-for all. Sundays is completely off limits. The kids think we're evil. We don't care. Steve Jobs was super-strict about screen time. We're not even close to that.

I'm not preaching. I don't suggest you do this. If anything, it adds another layer of stress - can Eldest get her online homework done before 6? How can we possibly keep up with Strictly Come Dancing? How can I quietly pay bills online in the house on a Sunday when there are tiny angry eyes watching around every corner? It hasn't cured the children's addiction to their favourite poisons - Facebook, the Emmerdale website, Minecraft, Littlest Pet Shop videos - just given a definite shut-off time. It's easier to say 'No' than 'Just another ten minutes'. It takes less thought.

And less thought is about where I am right now. Less thought all round. That's just what I need.

Friday, 24 October 2014

T minus 30 minutes

In half an hour, I'm turning the Internet off for a week.

(Just in this house. Don't worry. I don't have power over the whole Internet. Though the Littlest Latte did ask.)

It's all the fault of this book - Susan Maushart's The Winter of our Disconnect - which I borrowed from the library. In it, a single mother of three teenagers turns off all the screens for six months, backed up by Henry David Thoreau and a shedload of academic studies. During the six months, one of her children bakes cakes, one becomes a fantastic saxophone player and the other one rings people up a lot.

I was entranced. And despite the fact that we don't even own a saxophone, I am confident that a screen-free half term will change my entire family for the REST OF THEIR LIVES, and that we will all become spiritually and emotionally balanced individuals, discovering the pleasures of intelligent conversation, literature, handicrafts and Deep Thought.

In a few moments I shall unplug the TV, the PC, and the little black box thing that connects us to the Internet. I shall make a little pile of switched-off mobile phones. I texted friends this week to tell them they would have to use the landline to call me.

I got a number of texts back, most using the word 'brave'. Feel free to leave a comment along the same lines. I won't see it for a week, mind. I'll be over here in Deep Thought, and not thinking about wanting to watch Netflix at all.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Zen and the art of coat-making

I can't tell you how delighted I was the last time I posted - after months and months of silence - to find out that people were STILL HERE. The Internet, we're told, is an up-to-the-minute, fast-paced environment, which certainly doesn't wait around for half-assed bloggers to make good on promises they can't keep.

It seems we have all been misled, and the Internet is actually full of lovely, Zen-like people, quite happy to wave and smile whenever we briefly bob up on the horizon.

And in honour of all that, here's a picture of me holding a finished quilt in a Japanese garden.

Part English Paper Pieced, part machined, the quilt was a retirement gift - a very well-received one, thankfully - for a professional who has worked tirelessly (no kidding - I think the word was coined for her) with Eldest since she was very small. I'll miss her a great deal.

Tess took the picture. (In addition to helping me lay out and pin all the layers together, and coming up with a shortcut to binding the thing.)  I finished it during our craft weekend with Emma, Monica and Ali last month.

For ages I've been envious of some of the Australian bloggers I read, nicking off to Sewjourn for the weekend, having a fine old time with lovely people, and coming back with umpteen finished skirts. I wanted to do the same; and having stayed so many times at the Scargill Movement with my family I knew they'd be more than welcoming to us. For two nights and two days I sewed and sewed and sewed - occasionally stopping to eat cake, or laugh, or chat, or admire progress, or squish lovely new balls of yarn, or drink coffee, or make a stiff hot toddy (Eldest kindly gave me her stinking cold to take away with me) - until the quilt was finished and I'd made rather a lot of headway into sewing a coat.

It was amazing. It really brought home to me what those sewing blogs mean when they say 'the pattern came together in a weekend'. They mean an actual, whole weekend. They don't mean 'the pattern came together in half an hour after breakfast on Saturday, a snatched hour on Saturday night after loading the dishwasher, and twenty minutes after church on Sunday when everyone else is watching YouTube'.

Given time and the headspace to think, you can attempt something new without getting so tired it becomes impossible. Your brain actually works. You can get a big giddy and obsessive - and you can even, whilst hugging a friend to say goodbye, find yourself ripping her jacket off her shoulders to see how the facing is sewn in.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about time - or my lack of it - and the experience of the craft weekend has made me more forgiving of myself. Ten o'clock on a school-night is no time to get out the sewing machine. Craft becomes another chore to be fitted in, rather than a space for enjoyment, which on this occasion it truly was.

It was a lovely weekend in very good company. I hope we do it again.

Monday, 15 September 2014


Mudmaid in the Lost Gardens of Heligan

Where have I been? What can I tell you? I'd love to say I've been lying in a forest letting moss grow over me.

I haven't. I have no moss. If I did lie still for longer than a moment (I do try: flinging myself on the bed under the guise of putting away ironing, I often get as long as 17 seconds) it's unlikely I would be covered in greenery - more likely I'd be subsumed in bits of laundry, or toast crusts, or a plastic medal for an event no-one can remember attending, or a cardboard box inexplicably painted a lurid green that must Never Be Thrown Away. It's an educated guess, based on the contents of the floor around me.

It was my understanding that as children got older, they stopped being quite so all-consuming. It was toddlers, I thought, that didn't give you two minutes space to go to the loo. Once you had a teenager and a child in KS2 (or Juniors, as it still exists in my elderly head) you'd be able to sustain a meaningful thought process; you'd be able to get through a Saturday morning without feeling that your brain had been violently stirred with a spoon.

Not so. And having searched all summer for a blog post that suggested some kind of personal growth, I gave up. I made a collage. Personal growth; a sense of achievement; clarity on the meaning of life - these things may never come. I best stop waiting, and just start filling the space.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The alchemy is complete

Last time I was here, I invited you to laugh at my profligate behaviour in a health food shop, and to mock my chia seeds.

I return to you a maturer woman; someone who has found their own path in life. And by the power of Aldi, I have conquered the Office Bomb recipe of Susan Jane White.

(I do think that to cook properly from the book, you would either have to live in a tent (not a yurt. Yurts cost money) or be on the Rich List to be able to afford to eat. But still, I find myself renewing the library book; find myself energised by her enthusiasm and her writing, and though I won't be boarding her Train of Extreme Health, I will be waving at it, like a poor Railway Child who can't honestly afford Chia Seeds, and couldn't buy them in the quaint Yorkshire village where she is forced to live. (I am from Yorkshire, originally. And I can confirm that Chia Seeds, and fresh vegetables, and Chai Lattes are all available in God's Own County.))

Okay. It's late. I've overdosed on good intentions and the use of brackets. Here is my cheap, unapologetic version of Office Bombs, which takes no time at all to make, and has completely replaced my mid-morning Creme Egg or bar of Milka or Galaxy or whatever massive cookie happens to fall into my hands in the petrol station. My children clamour for them and believe me, my children clamour for NOTHING that can't be bought in Home Bargains.

(The original recipe makes 30 balls, but I'm sure Susan is grown-up enough to own a proper food processor. I own an Aldi mini-chopper, so I only make 16.)

Susan Jane White's Office Bombs, only altered a leetle bit
  • 1 cup Aldi milled seeds; the Goji Berries or the Raspberry ones. (About two quid a pack! For realz! I throw them in Eldest's food at every opportunity.)
  • Half a cup raisins, plus a small scattering of whatever other dried fruit you have around, to replace the 'raw cacao nibs' which I have never bothered sourcing.
  • Quarter of a cup tahini
  • Quarter of a cup ground almonds
  • Quarter of a cup honey (Mine comes from Aldi or Home Bargains or is on An Offer.)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt (not"pink Himalayan salt" though. Sorry.)
  • Some dessicated coconut, to coat
Throw everything bar the coconut in your mini-chopper, or food processor, if you are grown-up. 

Whizz till it clumps into an unlikely. sticky brown mess.

Roll into balls and coat in dessicated coconut. You can freeze it! You can put it in the fridge! You can pack it in your children's lunchboxes, and NONE OF IT WILL COME BACK!! (My children are miraculously able to survive on a miniature Fromage Frais all day, if the only alternative is sandwiches and fruit.)