Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Different Dream of Life

Hello webby friends.

This weekend I did Fearlessly Attempt something. Well, not fearlessly, precisely. I was extremely nervous and fretful about it but I managed it in the end.

I applied for something. It isn't a job, it's something that might eventually lead to a slight possibility of some work. But I would LOVE to do it. It's very me.

To apply I needed a CV (which I do not have), a proposal and an audition clip. 11 1/2 hours later I submitted them.
A picture totally unrelated to the topic
 but added because this entry was looking dull

 I had tried to get the work done much earlier in the week, but I kept finding other things to do than knuckle down to it. So there I was, on the final day for applications, still with most of it to do. Suddenly the reddish hard water stains on the grouting on the base of my shower seemed really offensive. I found myself on my knees, bleaching and scrubbing them furiously as it was obviously essential they be removed that very minute.

That is waaaay more intense than my usual "let's sort out all the unmatched socks" routine. I may have created a new benchmark in procrastination madness.

I sat down  to start, then panicked at the thought of it all. I checked with Mark and my Very Excellent Mates that they would all still love me if I bottled it and didn't apply. They made reassuring noises, but pointed out I'd be furious with myself if I didn't at least try.  My Most Excellent Friend Rachel - she of knitted moustache fame - asked me the crucial question - WWJD?

What would Jenni Do? Jenni Murray, Queen of Radio and all 'round total heroine.The main character in that 50 Shades bunkum might have an Inner Goddess; I have an Inner Kick-Ass Feminist.  She is remarkably like my Outer Kick-Ass Feminist but with fewer fears and less comfort eating.  Jenni would apply, obviously. And so would I. I knuckled down to work.

The easy bit was the proposal. I researched, wrote, edited, sent it to the Very Excellent Mates to look through, and my VEM Ali, who edits stuff for actually money,  suggested a few tweaks. So far so good.

The recording took many hours. Listening back to the first one shocked me.

I would like to state publicly to all the people I talk with that I am *so* sorry about my voice. I know I talk all the damned time but I had no idea my accent was so weird! I've lived in the UK for 27 years now, you'd think the Canadian bit would have vanished completely, wouldn't you. Actually, it would have been fine if it had stayed, too. But this mixed up, meandering accent is a bit odd. I'd not realised quite how much of a hybrid it is. It rather freaked me out.

Anyway, I worked and fretted. I wrote, recorded, deleted, started again. After 30 attempts I had to take a half hour break because my voice was getting hoarse. When I finally decided I had something workable I tried to open the CV Mark had cobbled together for me. It wouldn't download. I couldn't believe it.

Because Mark is a total hero, he typed one out again while I lay sprawled on the bed too tired to think straight. It was 23:24. The deadline was 23:59.

We sent the whole lot off with a whole 35 minutes to spare. Phew.

So even though the odds of getting a place are slim to none, and even though it drove me crazy trying to do it, I am chuffed with myself this week. Jenni would be proud.
J xx

Friday, 25 October 2013

Getting Down with Da Kidz

Hello my webby buddies

I'm feeling all Hallowe'en-ish today. It's grey and rainy outside, I've got the lights on at midday and my feet are freezing. I want to think about nice things like bright orange pumpkins, spicy ginger cake and costumed kids on a sugar rush. Well, maybe not that last bit.

Yesterday I spent the morning decorating tiny Hallowe'en themed cakes with Year 3 at our local primary school. There were 62 kids in all, across two classes. I don't know if you've ever been around that many 7 year olds, but it gets pretty loud. Very funny but at a high volume.

The most important class was the one Miss B was in, obviously. She'd begged me to do volunteering with them and was bouncing on her toes with the excitement of it all as she helped me set up. It was lovely.

I'd decided on two mini cupcakes per child - one with a spider made of sweets, the other a mummy. The mummy was a twofer - both seasonal and linking thematically to the Ancient Egyptians unit the class is doing right now. (I know, there is nothing Egyptian about a small cake iced to look like a cartoon mummy, but if it gives the class a curriculum tick I'm all for it.) The kids were very chuffed with both.

The previous evening had been a frenzy of baking the 130 cakes, cutting up strips of jelly sweets for spider legs because the supermarket was sold out of strawberry laces, dipping half the cakes in an orange glace icing and assembling all the things we'd need. I was flagging by the end of it all, and got less and less tolerant of my kids' repeated requests to eat 'any leftover Minstrels I might have. 1) I won't know how many Minstrels are left over until after the workshop and 2) If anyone deserves to scoff them, it's me.
I'm such a mean mum.

I set up lovely little workstations on the table, complete with a sample cake so they could see how the cake could look. Everything was counted out carefully. The was primarily to stop the first group from surreptitiously eating the Minstrel bodies and jelly legs I would need for the later groups, but also because it pleased me to have everything ready so  neatly. The neatness lasted under a minute.

My first error was judging what the class could do by what my daughter can do. She's been messing about with icing and baking in the kitchen with me since she was a toddler. I hadn't realised how adept she'd become compared with some of her peers. Confronted with a rolling pin, some icing and icing sugar she gets on with rolling it out. Some of the kids couldn't use a rolling pin and others were too worried about touching icing sugar with their bare hands.

Another complication was the open window the teacher wanted to keep the room cool. My tables were right next to it, and the cold air caused my bowl of melted chocolate to keep setting. The only way to heat it up was by putting it in microwave in the kitchen at the end of the corridor. The utterly lovely Teaching Assistant, Ms Lamb, did a few quick dashes down there for me.

A surprising number of the kids had difficulty following instructions. I had already iced the spider cakes. I put a blob of (mostly) melted chocolate on each one and the kids were to use it as the glue holding the (vegetarian and Halal) jelly legs in place and pop a Minstrel body on top. I thought this was a pretty easy one, but there were about 6 kids that needed to be shown what to do 4 or 5 times. On the plus side, no one stuck his fist in the big bowl of chocolate, although we had a near miss!

Added to all this, of course there were the high spirits and excitement of doing something out of the ordinary and the chance to mess about with sweets. This was VERY exciting and cool. We also needed to talk about who had won the Great British Bake Off final, who they had hoped for, who their mums and siblings had wanted to win, whether they themselves had every baked, or helped someone bake, or knew someone who could bake, or had ever entered a bakery. I had to laugh at a loads of the things the just *had* to tell me. Shyness is not much of an issue in Year 3.

All this meant that my time in the first class was extremely chaotic. I spent 75 minutes standing, bent over 3 tables at knee height trying to help 6 kids simultaneously.  The kids had a super time but I know the teacher was aware of the time slipping by and I kept trying to speed up. By the time I came to straighten up I knew I'd done myself no good at all. This morning just walking down the stairs hurt. Silly me.

The kids' cakes did look super. They were so proud, it was lovely.

By the time I went through to the second class I'd had a complete rethink.Prior to calling for each group of 6, I rolled all the sugarpaste out and cut it into little 'mummy bandage' strips, then made the little eye strips too. Rolling little balls of icing between their fingers to make eyeballs had proved a challenge for the first group. I laid out a 'spider kit' for each one - iced cake, jelly legs and chocolate body - to collect from the end of the table so I could sit down and help rather than bob about so much. I asked the teacher to give me 2 minutes between each group to set up the next one.

It worked like a dream. Those children experienced or confident with baking made their own things and those who weren't had all they needed to hand. They were still excited, chatty and full of anecdotes, but I had the time to listen more and be less pressured. I also wasn't in such a cramped space, which made things more comfortable. I'll know for next time.

And yes, there will be a next time. I've promised to do five more sessions this year.
Happy Hallowe'en
Jay x

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Ta Da!

I finished the rug! Hurray! It's about 3 feet across and I am very chuffed with it indeed.

Remember when I said the only way I could be more On Trend was to have a knitted moustache and hum What Does The Fox Say? Then admitted that merely typing the title out caused me to hum it anyway?

I am now as trendy as a human being can be without actually perishing under the weight of the zeitgeist. My ace pal Rachel has knitted me a handlebar moustache. I look like Colonel Mustard. But in a good way.  

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Presents From Nothing - except for a Yarndale purchase

Hello webby world!

I hope you're all well and happy today. I am struggling to feel upbeat in the face of grim, dark skies and a chilling fog. However, I do have a metaphorical ray of sunshine to brighten my morning - I've made a birthday present for Miss B out of stuff we were throwing away.

Yes, I am the zeitgeist-y-est woman imaginable today. Hand made stuff, upcycling, money saving etc etc. The only way I could be more On Trend (hideous phrase) would be if I was wearing a knitted moustache and humming What Does The Fox Say as I type.*

Miss B and I were tackling her overstuffed wardrobe the other weekend, pulling out the things that no longer fit and adding the latest hand me down batch that are the right size for her. Amongst the many items were heaps of T-shirts and long sleeved jersey tops that were a bit grubby, stained or faded. I didn't think they were the sort of thing anyone else would be particularly grateful for. The charity shops at the end of our road have big bins of slightly scruffy T-shirts and baby-grows at 25p each, so it wasn't likely they'd be too interested in the tops either.

I decided to have a go at something I've long fancied doing - making a rag rug.

At Yarndale I'd bought enormous knitting needles, some yarn made from old cotton sheets and a giant crochet hook. I knitted the yarn up into a blue and white bath mat - entirely unnecessary but splendid fun to do.Look at those great broom handles! Aren't they ridiculous?  I don't have a bathroom that has blue in it; the finished product clashes hopelessly. But I did enjoy doing it, despite them being a bit awkward to hold.
I thought I could cut up B's T-shirts into continuous strips and crochet them into an oval bedside rug for her room. She loves nice things for her room, so it could be part of her birthday present.

I won't lie to you, it was a labour of love.  The crocheting was fantastically quick and easy, but cutting the shirts up took about 10 hours across 3 days.  By the time I reached the end of the shirt stash my thumb was numb where the scissors pressed in and I had pins and needles in my hand. Mostly I did it in front of the TV of an evening. However, I did spend 2 hours chatting on a park bench with my friend Julie, her holding the T-shirt taut for me as I zipped along it with the scissors. We got some pretty funny looks, I admit.

 I got pretty good at it, almost no wastage at all except for the odd bits of trim or buttons. I cut in a spiral around the body of the T, then zigzagged back and forth to use up the sleeve fabric too. I got a good few metres from each shirt - not bad when you think they were a child's size 6.

As I went along I joined many of the strips together to make gigantic balls of jersey yarn. In retrospect that was a mistake, although their ridiculous oversized appearance did amuse me. I should have kept them separate so I could chose which colour to work in next as the rug progressed. The photo of the partially completed rug below shows the problem.  See that dark purple? It unbalances the rug, doesn't it. I didn't notice so much while I was working on it but once it was on the floor that dark strip really stood out as being out of place.

By that time I'd done another six rows of crochet and had thought the rug complete.  But no, that dark strip bothered me.  I put the rug away for a few days to look at it with fresh eyes.

Yep, still annoying.

So this week I unravelled it back past the purple and changed colours a bit.This was mostly to correct the colours but a tiny bit so I could play with the GIGANTIC crochet hook a little longer. My next project is going to take me weeks and be much harder, so I think I'm trying to extend my easy project a little. Like rearranging your sock drawer when an essay is due, only in gift-making terms.

I can't avoid the tricky project any longer so today I've promised myself I will complete the last couple of rows of the rug and move on.

I'm also baking up a storm today and need to clean the place up before one of my very best mates comes to stay, so finishing off the rug will probably be done in little snatches every time I sit down for a cuppa. I'll show you a picture as soon as it's done. So far I am delighted with it. I hope you'll like it too.

Happy Saturday!
J x

* After typing "What Does The Fox Say" I got the tune stuck in my head. so now I am humming it. Drat.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The cutest pie in the world

Hello webby mates!

I love Pintrest, don't you?. Yes, it's full of crazy people making mood boards for weddings they won't have, mansions they will never live in, and some really intimidating tattoos but so what? A little dreaming is no bad thing. I have a board for fantasy book shelves, for heaven's sake. To each her own.

However, for me the best thing about Pintrest is the stuff I will actually use. I've made recipes I've pinned, found ideas for kids' costumes, followed knitting patterns and made up sewing projects inspired by pictures I've pinned. It's ace.

A long while ago I pinned an image of a little pastry heart on a stick. Having spent weeks making jam, I was in the mood for making jam tarts and thought it would be the perfect time to try the little pie lollies as well. It was a roaring success!

I used my favourite sweet pastry recipe  - 600g plain flour, 400g fat, 200g caster sugar and 1 large egg in the food processor. To avoid adding extra flour when I roll the pastry out I roll it between two double layers of cling film, then pop it in the fridge to rest for a while.

After 20 minutes or so I cut out large hearts from the cold pastry, pressed a lolly stick gently into them, added a dollop of my jam and topped with another pastry heart. I pressed the edges down with the tines of a fork to prevent jam leaking out and poked a couple of little holes in the centre to let any steam escape. Then I brushed each with egg (or use milk as you prefer) and sprinkled with granulated sugar. 10 to 12 minutes in a 190 degree oven and - ta da! Lovely, delicious and rather unfairly cute pies on sticks.
Pounced on as soon as they were cool
Delicious, if short lived!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A mighty sort out

Hello webby pals!

A ridiculously complicated set of events led to Miss B choosing a large stack of books from her brother's shelf. They were mostly non-fiction books about animals, science and the environment, and they were slightly too tall and significantly too numerous to fit on her book case.

A sane person would have removed a few titles she'd moved beyond or stacked the books elsewhere. I hope you know me well enough by now to realise I am not that person. I took it as a chance to work with Miss B and stage a sort out of massive proportions. One that took 7 hours and counting.

Every single book came off the shelves. B sorted them into Keep and Give Away. I sifted again, removing the ones laden with memories to go in the keepsake box and dividing the rest into charity shop and those to pass on to others.

Books sifted, we moved on to the clothes. Every item of clothing in the wardrobe, cupboards and drawers joined the pile on the bed. From coats to knickers we looked at every single item. Did it fit? Did she like it? Did she wear it? Being a lucky recipient of many hand-me-downs, Miss B has an extensive wardrobe. It took AGES to sort. We had items to keep, items to bin, clothes I could use for my craft projects (more of that later...) clothes to sell at the Nearly New Sale next week, things to give to friends and many bags of charity stuff.

Then we tackled the soft toys, dolls and fancy dress boxes. I washed all the outgrown costumes ready to take to the Nearly New Sale, which is why my washing line looked rather fabulous today. The black and green witch dress in the middle will be B's Hallowe'en costume this year but the rest can go. B wanted to keep the animal, pirate and the doctor outfits. Old school feminist that I am, I love that the pirate and doctor stayed when she discarded the princess dresses."It's always handy to have some costumes to hand, in case you want to do acting," said my wise 7 year old.

To be honest the room looks worse now than when we started. I think it will take another 3 hours at least to get everything sorted and labelled. However, there is space on the book shelves for new acquisitions, a crate of craft kits sorted and easily accessible and some space in the formerly bulging wardrobe.

It's not the end, but I can see it from here!
J x