Jul 26

Back to work, neglected blog

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It’s been over a month since I last posted, largely because had little brain time to think about blogging.

I’m enjoying my return to work but due to a massive new project and extra responsibilities my job has taken a larger chunk of my life than the allotted 3 days a week. Fair dos, it’s interesting and exciting and I’m not complaining, but I am looking forward to the day when things have settled down.

So here’s a catch up, starting with No. 3 with my June mosaic meaning I’ve completed half the PAD project for 2011.

I’ve also kept to no. 4 and managed at least one PAD challenge every month. This is my June Scavenger Hunt. Check out the link if you want an explanation of what each photo represents. I doubt I’d have completed over 200 days of photos without the monthly hunt and other challenges, they are great inspiration for dull days. I also learnt about a photography trick this month called cross processing.

What else? Let’s see.

The June mosaic has evidence of No. 28, we’re working on a plan for October for No. 19, and I have started on the sling for No. 31, although this has rather stalled with lack of time. Must complete this task, especially as Rachel has completed her pregnancy challenge and produced the beautiful Polly Delphine.

The June PAD mosaic also has two shots for No. 51. Matt took Rhys to see Titchy Tiny Science at the Cheltenham Science Festival, a children’s show all about vibration and sound, while Meredith and I ate cake and drank tea in the cafe tent. The weather was truly atrocious. We then had a break for Rhys to attend a birthday party before we raced back to Cheltenham Town Hall to visit the stalls and learn about magnets, the heart at the Blood Bar, nuclear power, heat sensors, Jenner’s fight against small pox, and a bicycling skeleton. I can’t recommend the festival strongly enough and I hope that next year, when I am no longer attached at the hip to a small baby, I’ll be able to attend a few more of the events myself.

I’m yet to complete No. 78 but Matt has taken up bread challenge again, this time using fresh yeast. Every time I eat home made bread I question why I continue to buy crappy sliced stuff from supermarkets. I think we should return to having an emergency toast/toasted cheese loaf in the freezer and proper stuff for the rest of the time.

Oh and if I can track down my Gran’s old recipe once more, I’ll steal some of the yeast to spread on toast and make some more of her ginger beer…

I spent some of the weekend working on the dull No. 80 and now my hands are dry and sore. Sigh.

Meredith has started having a banana for breakfast every morning so No. 85 is no longer much of a challenge. Indeed, Rhys has been seen with a banana in his hand on a few occasions recently, there is hope for that child yet.

And finally, I got a call up from the National Blood Service this week so I’m sure that No. 94 won’t be too long, iron levels permitting.

And that’s my round up for June and for half way through July. I promise not to leave it so long, not least because I have a list of nonMission related things I want to blog about in my head….

Jun 11

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 28-30

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So this is the end of the Challenge and I’m finishing it a day late. What can I say, it’s been a busy month and I got a bit frustrated at the last few Days because the order doesn’t really work and the choices are a bit dull.

I wish I’d spotted that earlier in the month and done a bit of creative re-writing of the list – where’s the Day for book that makes you fear for the future? Or the book that you wish to give your worst enemy? The book you think would help your best friend?

The book you think should be compulsory reading at school? The book that every bride should read and every groom should fear? The book that mothers should be given a copy of by the NHS at their first midwife appointment and the book your partner should hold open as you try to feed your baby for the first time? The book that will stop your child’s tantrums and the book that they will choose a university from?

The book you want to press into the hands of strangers on the train? The book with the “chick-lit pink” cover that makes me grind my teeth? The book that’s left on a table in the pub because no one wants to be lumbered taking it home? Or the badly written twee-fest book that book club makes us draw lots for from Mrs Jess’s cleavage?

I’ve completed the 30-Day Challenge below but I’d love to know which Days you think are missing? What book do you need to tell all about?

Day 28 – Last book you read

I’ve already covered this – See Day 22

Day 29 – Book you’re currently reading

This is a real treat – a new Lord Peter Wimsey tale, The Attenbury Emeralds.  But of course Sayers died in 1957 so this one is by Jill Paton Walsh, and is her third Wimsey novel. I was very nervous on opening her first attempt at continuing where Sayers laid off – Thrones, Dominations - but she stayed true to the characters and the writing. Her second – A Presumption of Death - was even more enjoyable, expanding on the post-marriage Wimsey family life that Sayers had only briefly touched on.

I have the greatest admiration for Walsh because Sayers set a very high standard to follow, peppering her novels and short stories with classical and literary quotes and references. There can’t be many authors willing to pick up such beloved characters and risk the wrath of generations of devoted readers.

Day 30 – Favourite coffee table book

We don’t keep books on the coffee table – Rhys believes the coffee table is for sitting on to watch TV and Meredith thinks pretty books and magazines are a tasty snack. Instead, our books are lined up on book shelves, peek out from under the foot stool, lurk in bags, sit next to the loo, hide under our beds, prop up my desk, get shoved at visitors…

If the Challenge writers mean an aspirational picture book to display to visitors so they know you have a secret passion for something intellectual, then I’m not sure if my choice is an anti-establishment revolt or mundane middle-class-mother-tries-too-hard.

I love Banksy’s Wall and Piece . It has a photo of the”Hitchhiker to nowhere” that reminds me of my time in London. I passed the Hitchhiker in Archway everyday for years but rarely actually saw the image because  of its position; it was always a smile moment when I walked down Highgate Hill and spotted the figure lurking at the bottom.

It also reminds me of my first time abroad when we hitchhiked to Paris as part of a University of St Andrews charity fundraiser stunt. Stopping a mad illegal immigrant Estonian, driving – in the loosest sense of the word – an ancient Volvo and a prehistoric caravan, from reversing back onto the autoroute to avoid paying a toll is about as wild as my life has got.

Jun 5

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 25-27

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Day 25 – Favourite book you read in school

This has to be To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. A book that leaves a very deep impression on most of its readers, I would think. It is a perfect story, making difficult subjects accessible to young readers without patronising or protecting.

It is just as good as an adult read – I was shocked that Matt was never made to read this at school and after much badgering, he picked up my copy. “It’s quite good, isn’t it?” he said, surprised. Yes, dear, it is.

Day 26 – Favourite nonfiction book

Tricky – there are lots of books I like to read that aren’t fiction – cook books by Leon, Nigella or Nigel, or text books (I’ve got a fondness for my old Ritter, Rang and Dale Pharmacology text book).

I’ve chosen this book as it’s nice to have something contemplative around and because it’s a book that I associate with good people I know both personally and as the progressive movement that has shaped British society.  Quaker Faith and Practice is a religious book written for the Society of Friends by members of the Society of Friends.

The red book covers the procedures and practices of British Quakers, how Meetings are organised and so on, which is a bit dull if you’re not a Friend or at least a regular attender. So unless you have a particular interest in these things, I recommend heading to the chapter entitled Advices and Queries. It gives a strong insight into what drives Quakers individually and as a religious organisation.

I also like the chapter Faithful Lives which gives testament regarding Society members over the years and others that discuss caring for one another, relationships and so on. Anyway, if your curiosity has been pricked and you’d like some thought provoking reading, much of the book is available free online.

Day 27 – Favourite fiction book

This is the same as Day 1. Odd that.

Jun 5

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 22-24

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And back to books…

Day 22 – Book you plan to read next

My friend Natalie bought me three books by Laurie R King for Christmas and they are divine, quite the nicest new author discovery I’ve had for a good few years. I was even more delighted when I realised there’s actually more than three of them, they are such a treat to read.

The basic premise of the first book in the series, The Bee Keeper’s Apprentice, seems so unlikely – that after Sherlock Holmes retired to Sussex, he meets an orphaned teenager called Mary Russell and trains her as a consulting detective. Later they marry and continue their detective work as a partnership.

Somehow King brings it off beautifully. Because the style is very different from Conan Doyle’s stories and time has passed on to the Georgian era, you don’t find yourself comparing the writers; you just enjoy having the characters expanded and embellished in intriguing plots.

The next book on my reading pile is the last of my Christmas books from Natalie and is  The Book . If it’s half as good as the first few by King, it’ll be brilliant.

Day 23 – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)

Without a doubt, that’s Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I know it’s a classic, I can see why. I own it, I’ve tried several times to finish it and no, I can’t get to the end of it. I do admit this though, no deception here.

Day 24 – Book that contains your favorite scene

Back to Day 1 and The Crow Road. Iain Banks opening scene in this novel is just delicious. Macabre, funny, tragic, it sets the tone for the rest of the novel. I’m saying nowt more, just go and read it yourself.

Jun 3

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 19-21

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And I keep going…

Day 19 – A book that turned you on

Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus is sitting at the end of the book shelf so I guess that is the obvious choice. It’s a classic, innit?

Day 20 – Book you’ve read the most number of times

I’ve not kept a spreadsheet on this either but it’s a toss between Dororthy L Sayer’s Busman’s Honeymoon or perhaps Gaudy Night and Iain Banks Crow Road. Sorry for the repetition but it’s not exactly surprising that my favourite books and characters are the ones I revisit regularly.

Day 21 – Favourite picture book from childhood

Webfoot by Jim Slater and Christoper Slater.

There was a trend in the 1980s for publishing children’s stories that were written and illustrated by children, resulting in series such as the Garden Gang and the Munch Bunch. The drawings were done with crayons or felt tips and the stories tended to be rather worthy and well, dull.

The A. Mazing Monster series by the father and son Slater team were in this line, and if a little preachy (keep your possessions or they’ll get eaten up!), the monsters are certainly more interesting than vegetables.

Webfoot was one of my favourite books as a child – I loved the silly tale of a benign monster that could disguise itself as anything it wanted, recognisable only by its ever-present webfoot. The book is still on my parents’ bookshelf and I’ve loved introducing it to Rhys every time we visit Aberdeen. The illustrations are dated but the appeal remains.

Webfoot was the only book I had in the A. Mazing Monster series but I remember looking longingly on the back of the book at all the other titles. So I was absolutely thrilled when my mum found the box set was now available for the whole series. If you’ve not met Mr A. Mazing, monster hunter extraordinaire, I suggest you introduce him and his monster zoo to some children near you asap.

Jun 3

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 16-18

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Been on holiday so catching up again and then hopefully I’ll stick to one a day for the rest of the challenge!

Day 16 – Longest book you’ve read

I’ve not a clue – I mean, I don’t know how many pages each book has. I think the biggest book I’ve ploughed through is possibly Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders though. Of which I can find little to actually say anything about except I’d recommend that anyone new to his Jack Ryan tales should stick to his earlier writing.

The thickest book I’ve had to read was either Alberts or Darnell - both of them are tombstones of text books on molecular and cellular biology that I scoured while studying at St Andrews. I still have one of them on my book shelf, just in case I ever need to remind myself how chromosomes are wound up or some such titbit….

Day 17 – Shortest book I’ve read

Again, I don’t have a spreadsheet of page numbers but the one that comes to mind is Daphne De Maurier’s The Birds. It’s a short story – the basis for Hitchcock horror film – so of course it’s sinister and it is one of my favourite examples of her writing. She is a pleasure to read, a champion yarn spinner.

Day 18 – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like

Honestly, I don’t think I am ashamed to admit I like any book – I’m quite happy to read trashy stuff when my brain is overloaded or in a pre- or post-birth hormonal fug. There’s a lot of snobbery about vampire fiction though and I’ll happily admit to saying I enjoyed the Stephanie Meyer Twilight series.

It’s fun, it’s easy to read, it’s got some strong characters, a few twists from the standard vampire mythology and it’s easy to pick up the follow-up books from charity shops. What’s not to like?

I also like the Sookie Stackhouse  True Blood books by Charlaine Harris. The first is Dead Until Dark and again it’s fun, it’s got great characters, fab locations. Fun to read. It’s not Tolstoy but then I don’t actually like reading Tolstoy and I don’t have enough time for reading to waste it on things I don’t enjoy.

Interestingly, Matt loves the True Blood TV series too but so far has refused to watch the Twilight films so I’m awaiting that pleasure still. I’m putting this discrepancy down to the inspired casting of Anna Paquin as Sookie. I did wonder why he was suddenly so interested in watching vampires….


May 24

30-Day Book Challenge catch-up

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Due to not particularly extenuating circumstances, I’ve got behind on the Challenge so here’s the catch-up post.

Day 12 – Book that is most like your life

And

Day 13 – Book whose main character is most like me

Well, obviously I’m a 21st century version of Harriet Vane.

*waits for laughter to stop*

Ok, I suspect our life at present is pretty much summed up in any of the  Calvin and Hobbes strips and the character most like me is probably Calvin’s Mom. She’s so ubiquitous to her son she doesn’t even have a name in the cartoon strip, you only get glimpses of the woman behind the mom. She’s a stay at home US mom and I’m a working from home UK mum but there are more similarities than differences in our homes. You can see her trying to create time for her own interests in the chaos of her family life and how her temper is stretched too thin by Calvin’s antics.

It was when we caught Rhys crashing his cars that it really hit how accurate Bill Watterston’s portrayal of a small boy and his stuffed tiger is. We can only hope that his reception class teacher is as formidable as Miss Wormwood.

Day 14 – Book whose main character you want to marry

Back to being Harriet Vane.

Obviously the only fictional man I would want to marry is Lord Peter Wimsey, the gentleman detective created by Dorothy L Sayers. He is considerate, intelligent, rational and has views on the role of women in society years ahead of his early 20th century roots. He is rich and generous with his money, he can afford enough staff to allow Harriet’s career to continue after they have children. He is perfect, never more so when he escapes to the countryside with his new wife in Busman’s Honeymoon.

For all that, I’d happily ignore the fact that actually I don’t fancy tall thin blond blokes who talk as if they have a mouth full of marbles. Any passing resemblance between Matt and Wolverine is entirely coincidental.

Day 15 – First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child

I don’t remember which was my first chapter book but it was almost certainly an Enid Blyton story. I remember my Dad’s passion for gold ingots in Five On A Treasure Island and looking forward to finding out what happened next. I know we read the Famous Five series often enough that by the time he started to read it to my sister I was able to quote whole chunks of the text.

It’s hard to imagine being able to create a series of books now where children solve mysteries in apparently ordinary settings, like the Famous Five or the Secret Seven. Children have so little autonomy and independence that people are now criticised for letting their child walk to school unaccompanied, let alone camping and hiking alone for days. The likelihood of uncovering treasure or a spy ring in a soft play centre seems fairly small.

May 19

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 10 – A book that changed your life

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Matt would probably argue that Nigel Slater’s Real Food changed his life more than mine but that’s ok.

Matt doesn’t have an enormous appetite but does like good quality food. When we first met he said he couldn’t cook anything other than fried eggs, burgers and student spag bol. That’s ok, me and the friend who I shared a flat with were both enthusiastic cooks so it wasn’t such a big deal.

We got married and moved to our own flat, I did the cooking. I like cooking, I like baking, but it does get a bit tedious when you are the sole provider for the meal at the end of the day. You end up turning to fast solutions and repeating safe recipes; the joy of cooking can be lost among a sea of pasta and pesto.

When I fell pregnant in January 2006, I couldn’t think about food. If you put a meal in front of me, I would happily nosh it down but if I tried to think about choosing or cooking food, I was immediately couking. And then there was the phobia I developed about opening the bottom of the fridge, which combined with an inability to make decisions and cancel the veg box order, meant that we had a growing pile of rotting root veg that needed using up.

The Christmas before, in a hope I could encourage Matt to share the cooking even occasionally, I bought him Real Food. I think it was on the the third day of me suggesting potato waffles for dinner that Matt opened up the book. After fetching a toaster from Woolworths – our grill wasn’t up to the job of producing urgent quantities of buttery toast for a grouchy upduffed woman with carb cravings – he went shopping.

I don’t know if what he cooked that day actually came from Good Food or whether Nigel Slater was just the inspiration but the Thai fishcakes and green curry, cooked from scratch, were certainly a revelation. And I mean scratch, there was Matt making green curry paste in the food processor. Hell, I didn’t know he knew we had a food processor.

It proved to me that Matt can do whatever he sets his mind to and do it well. And that this ability to apply his skills to new tasks could no doubt be transferred to cleaning the bathroom…

By the following Christmas, Matt had two new roles – Daddy and Chef, cooking roast turkey for 12.  Matt is now the roast chicken dinner maestro – his roast potatoes are divine (thanks Nigel!) –  the one who rummages through the cupboard and freezer when I’m weary of being a mummy and comes up with noodles and stir fry shellfish or Tom Yum soup.

Not being responsible for every meal means that when I do cook, I mostly enjoy it. And if we’re doing something slightly more complicated we can share the task. I still do the meal planning and Matt still pops his head around the corner and asks if we have any of the one item we don’t have any of, but generally it feels like the burden of meal provision has been lifted.

So, there you are, Nigel Slater changed my life.

May 18

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 9 – A book that makes you sick

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I have a fairly strong stomach so it takes a bit of effort to make me nauseous.

I don’t think any book has had the instant vomit-into-popcorn affect that the eye plucking scene in Kill Bill produced. Most won’t even induce the shuddering that my daughter’s fad for grinding her new teeth together has.

But the flaying scene in Haruki Murakami’s beautiful book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle made a very good attempt at making me sick. I’ve even skipped reading it when I’ve returned to the book.

I think the impact of the words are strong because the book isn’t a horror novel, it’s not full of gruesome scenes. It’s a beautiful tale of different tales linked together by a narrator Toru Nakada,whose cat has run away. It’s probably one of my favourite books, it’s probably one of the longest books I’ve ever read but unlike some, it never felt unduly long or in need of a good editor to trim it down to size. Go read it.

May 17

30-Day Book Challenge – Day 8 – A book that scares you

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A book that scares me is tricky, I don’t tend to feel afraid while reading. Lots of books on health and disease make me feel very nervous but not actually afraid.

I’ve decided on the Official Highway Code. An odd choice perhaps – the book itself is not scary – it hasn’t  got claws and teeth like the aggressive text book in Harry Potter – and its content is dull. But the weight of responsibility on drivers and cyclists and other road users to use the information correctly is enormous and the penalties of going wrong are frankly terrifying.