Dear ancestors your naming choices were hit and miss

I have become trying to build a my family tree on the Ancestry website and it’s sucked me in somewhat. It’s a two-week free membership so that’s probably how long my interest will last but it’s been quite entertaining so far.

I started with a basic tree that my Nana drew for my Mum (most first and last names plus year of birth for a few generations) and using that I’ve already managed to go back one or two more generations in a few places as well. I’ve also been working with a basic tree that R’s Gran drew for him from memory and that’s been a lot harder simply by virtue of his family originating in Scotland and lots of common names but very few dates.

So, if I were able to give my ancestors (and R’s) a bit of advice to help me (because of course it’s all about me…) find and catalogue them it would definitely include:

  • use middle names, the more the better – this especially applies when you are naming your child something like ‘Ann Brown’, she won’t be the only one! Unusual middle names are great too – ‘Christmas’ as one of two middle names certainly narrows the field;
  • have loads of children who themselves have lots of children, this will ensure lots of people looking for information on the same ancestors so more chance of finding something out;
  • don’t live in Scotland – so much harder to find people in the records, or maybe it’s just that R’s relatives didn’t follow either step above…
  • why not give your children the name you plan to call them as a first name rather than a middle name (my Mum’s only just found out through me that her aunt was known by her middle name and had a first name she’s not even sure her cousins know about as did her husband!);
  • living in the same place for generations is helpful – calling that place by three different names in the census returns is a little more confusing.

So I’ve got back to the 1700s in some cases but still no famous or royal relatives – I suppose somebody has to have a bog standard family tree.

Yummy fruity muffins

Eli’s not the easiest baby to have around when you’re trying to cook or bake something – he’s quite annoyed at not being able to see what is going on and then tries to grab everything if you’re cuddling him. So if I want to make anything it really needs to be quick and easy and that’s why I love these muffins. They satiate my need to bake but unlike cakes don’t need to be iced so a few steps and 30ish minutes and I’m eating yummy food. The base recipe I use is by John Burton Race and I found it in a kids cookbook called ‘Star Cooks’ that Lex was given as a gift some years ago.

So far I’ve made a variety of flavours and they’ve all been yummy – blueberry, blueberry and raspberry; raspberry and white choc chip; apricot; peach and choc chip; cranberry, white choc chip and poppy-seed; cranberry and white choc chip; and blueberry and banana. The only problem with making them is I then end up eating them all within a few days…

Equipment

  • 12 hole muffin tray
  • silicon or paper muffin cups or a little bit of butter for greasing the muffin tray
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • measuring jug
  • whisk
  • mixing spoon
  • scales
  • measuring spoons

Ingredients

  • 500g plain flour
  • 250g castor sugar
  • 2 tsp custard powder
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 150g – 200g chopped fruit (fresh, frozen or dried)/nuts/seeds/choc chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 185ml sunflower oil
  • 185ml milk

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Place the muffin cups in the tray or lightly grease the tray if not using muffin cups (I use a set of silicon muffin cups because I can’t really be bothered with the effort of greasing or the waste of paper).
  3. Whisk the milk, oil and eggs together.
  4. In another bowl place the remaining ingredients.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until all the flour is incorporated (can take a little bit of elbow grease).
  6. Portion the batter into the muffin cups – the muffins don’t rise excessively so don’t worry if they are quite full.
  7. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 20-35 minutes until the muffins are golden and springy when touched.
  8. Once cooked remove the muffins from the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes and then place on a wire cooling rack (I take mine out of the silicon cups at this point).
  9. Eat at least one muffin warm from the oven.

The battle between the things that need doing and the desire to sit on the sofa

My view from the sofa – can’t quite motivate myself to tidy it up.

There are a few things that I really should have done (or be doing) this evening:

  • sorting out the nappies from the wash I did today (and the one from 4 days ago too, oops);
  • tidying the lounge;
  • tidying the playroom;
  • tidying the kitchen (sensing a tidying theme yet?)…

So far I have crossed, well nothing off the to do list. I have eaten biscuits, drunk tea, read blog posts, read forum posts, not moved unless absolutely necessary.

Since Eli continues to teeth (oh when will the hurting stop – both his and mine!) the time between the kids’ bedtime and my own is now a time to collapse before the inevitable multiple night wakings. There’s always tomorrow, a day during which I have no obligations save the school run. Perhaps I’ll turn intentions into deeds (but probably not). I will bake muffins though, need to keep my energy up…

I thought I’d have more time…

When I became a SAHM I thought I would be freeing up some time, especially as the change coincided nicely with Tilly starting school. I mean, when Tilly was at pre-school and I was on maternity leave I never seemed to have any time to do much cooking, cleaning etc. but surely that was because I was up and down all day with the school and nursery runs.

Tomorrow is my first week where both big kids will be in school full-time – only one drop-off and one pick-up, bliss! I would like to say that I will be ensuring that my house is sparkling (and not just because someone has tipped glitter all over the floor) and that the piles of clean clothes (I got that far last week!) will actually be put away but I can’t really. So far the week is shaping up to be a social whirr of lunch, groups, more lunch and then on Friday, a day off (which I’ll probably spend slumped in a heap)… Work would be a break at this point (although lunch there wasn’t half as good as the Turkish place I’m going tomorrow).

Tales from the toy library

Eli playing with a great toy library borrow.

We have a local toy library. It’s a great idea – for a small fee each year you can borrow up to 5 games and toys each month. There’s a good selection, lots of baby toys as well as games and puzzles for older children.

It’s especially good for borrowing the types of toys – rocking horses, walkers, baby swings – that are expensive but aren’t really used by kids for long enough to justify the expense if you’re watching the pennies. Plus you get to see if your child actually likes a particular toy that you perhaps were thinking of buying to save yourself a costly mistake when it turns out they hate it.

Today was our monthly visit (with some baby group friends). The volunteers were on good form as usual – I’m not sure about other toy libraries but ours is primarily staffed by well-meaning middle-class women of a certain age (and apparently at least one man but I’ve not met him). When you arrive someone eventually notices you are there and demands your name and marks you in the register. All records are paper based and index cards contain all the details of the items you have borrowed along with your contact details. If there are more than one or two people borrowing/returning items chaos begins to descend. At least one volunteer will begin to flap as index cards are sought and names are muddled. I have learnt to stand back and wait because eventually calm will return and once items are returned new items can be sought.

A non-competitive game…

I particularly like to borrow games for the big kids – there’s a handful of Orchard Toys games available and these have generally been good fun (at least the first few times, perhaps not the hundredth). The one month return rule benefits me here as I can return games before they become too annoying to play again and get something new. Today I spotted something that I had to bring home – Snail’s Pace Race bills itself as a ‘non-competitive game. My kids are somewhat competitive – I wanted to see if they would thwart the worthy aims of this game.

The basic idea is that you shake the dice and move the appropriately coloured snails forward depending on the colours you roll. You try to work out which will win and the participating children cannot win nor lose themselves. Lex thought this was fun. Tilly had a tantrum because the pink snail was not winning. I suppose at least they weren’t competing against each other, only Tilly competing against the other snails… Perhaps next time I’ll borrow ‘Pop to the Shops’ again as, despite being competitive, the only tantrums were thrown when I refused to play again (and again and again).

The toys I borrowed for Eli are more successful. He enjoys the ring stacker and a good-sized bead frame. Despite owing a lot of baby toys already, Eli’s interests are slightly different to his older siblings’ and this resource means a range of toys he will love at next to no cost to me – win, win.

So, another month and we’ll be back to the toy library, I wonder what we’ll find then?

I enjoyed my job, it’s a pity it cost me more than I earned

I had my desk all personalised and everything (picking the stickers off the monitor took ages)…

When I left university I worked for a temp agency doing a bit of data entry and then, in the November (about a month after I had been offered the job) I started work full-time as a web developer within local government. I worked there, within the web team (eventually as the senior developer), for almost 11 years. On the last day of August, my last day of maternity leave, my notice period ended and my resignation was complete. I’m now a stay-at-home-parent for the forseeable future.

Choosing to resign was a difficult decision, on the plus side I:

  • liked my colleagues (except for the evil cow who tried to have me disciplined for doing my job because she was unhappy at her incompetence being highlighted in any way – yes I’m still a bit bitter, does it show?), Eli’s middle name is in remembrance of a fellow team member who passed away far too young;
  • loved the work.

However, when it came to the negatives:

  • I had to travel, by car, for at least 2 hours each day (a journey of 50 miles each way) – on a bad day, the journey could take 3 hours one way;
  • the above evil cow colleague – picking up her slack was quite irritating (I did try to support her for years but she had no intention of gaining skills and preferred getting others to do her work for her) and the grievance procedure she brought against me whilst I was very pregnant was particularly unpleasant (yes really, still a bit bitter I bet you didn’t notice);
  • local government is bureaucratic and slow – old servers, old software, no investment…
  • I didn’t actually earn anything by going to work – I effectively had to pay to go to work.

It’s the last point that swung the decision – before I had children I was in a decently paid job, after children it started costing me to go to work. I was not entitled to any help towards childcare costs and by the time I had two children my childcare costs were equivalent to my salary – and I still had to pay for petrol and car parking whilst at work!

For a while it seemed important that I maintain my career – after all when the kids were all at school childcare costs would reduce and I could start to earn again. After Eli though it just didn’t seem worth it any more, especially with the government freezing my pay for years… I really enjoyed my maternity leave and not having the stress of travel and working was lovely. So I quit. We may now be entitled to some tax credits – I may actually have more disposable income by not working!

The current situation is silly – why should it make more sense for me to stay home than to go to work? Why should I have to give up a good position with generally good pay and conditions just because childcare in the UK is so expensive?

Organisation is not my middle name

School starts tomorrow and I think we’re ready (just). I was somewhat smug earlier in the summer as I had 90% of the kids uniform bought, I’d ordered name tags and was quickly gathering the remaining uniform we needed. Unfortunately my natural tendencies towards procrastination took over and, well, today I actually did the hard work.

I’m currently nursing a mild repetitive strain injury from ironing labels onto two piles of uniform. That’s two hours of my life that I won’t be getting back and which I spent standing, moving an iron on and off of items of clothing, holding it 10-15 seconds at a time and repeating the action three times for each item. Perhaps I’ll go back to scribbling the kids’ names in biro on the labels – less resilient but much, much easier.

Having actually labelled the clothes I then needed to put it away. This sounds like a simple task but, if you’d ever seen either of my big kids’ rooms you would know that this first required me to clear a path to wardrobes and chest of drawers and the chance of me standing on a small, painful piece of Lego was still guaranteed. At least I had enough hangers – always a positive to be found.

I also found Lex’s PE bag (hidden under a pile of clothes in his wardrobe) and his recorder. The PE bag would have been easy to replace if it had stayed lost but since his plimsolls – the only size 12s we could find in town on the one day we had between him notifying us that his were too small and his next PE session – were hideously expensive (for plimsolls) and had. to. be. found. The recorder has been hidden all summer because I am a bad parent who thinks the sound of recorder practice is a form of parental torture.

So, it’s been a slightly chaotic, stressful day but we’re ready and I did have a couple of moments of school readiness brilliance over the summer:

  • most of the uniform was bought at the start of the summer (before the previous term had even ended!) and was on sale and all required sizes were in stock;
  • I ordered name tags (for the first time ever) in plenty of time (always waited too long before) and in the right quantity;
  • we went to try on shoes the week before school was due back and had enough time to order in the shoes the kids wanted (actual store selection was rubbish) and I ordered in the right alternative sizes (Tilly’s fit fine but Lex needed a half-size smaller than he was ‘measured’ as).

Roll on the new school year and I promise next year to not leave everything to the day before (ha, ha).

Crappy day presents – chocolate is medicine

One of my friends (M) is having a fairly crappy time at the moment. Her once ‘good sleeper’ has, at 7 months, decided that sleep is, in fact, for the weak and the sleep deprivation on top of life’s other challenges is taking its toll. Having seen the relief with which she collapsed when R took her (gorgeous, bouncy) little boy for a cuddle at the beach a couple of days ago and the dedication she showed to mainlining chocolate mini rolls it was clear she was in need of a little pick-me-up.

A crappy day present seemed in order. I remembered reading about crappy day presents a while ago and thought it sounded like a great idea. I only had 30 minutes in which to sort mine – the time I had between leaving the house and heading to M’s house for coffee/lunch/general mirth (fortuitously arranged the week before) – so it was more an immediate gift rather than anything too brilliantly thought out. Thankfully the shopping gods were smiling on me – nice chocolate? save 1/3, yummy biscuits? 50% off – it’s almost as if they knew what would be needed. I, after staring at the shelves for some time as I have no clue what would be her preferred caffeine hit (am not a regular coffee drinker myself), also picked up a packet of coffee and if prettiness of packaging is any guide it should hopefully hit the spot. I hope that M’s crappy time passes quickly and that she’ll be back to enjoying chocolate for its tasty qualities rather than its medicinal ones soon.

As a parent I think there are plenty of days where a crappy day present would be in order and I love the idea of having a few gifts, graded for the kind of day to which they would be most suited (Swistle’s follow-up post shows a few more of the gifts she received). Having a present waiting just to enhance a rubbish day is very appealing (especially when it’s chocolate)… What would you want to find in your box of crappy day presents?

Sometimes the seaside is lovely and sometimes it’s cold and windy (but the kids had a good time)

We went to the beach today. It seemed like a good idea at the time – the children’s centre were renting a beach hut, there’d be activities for the kids and friends for me to chat to, in theory a lovely day. In reality it turned into a day from which each participant emerged with a different story.

Eli would tell you that he had a good time (mostly). He sat on a picnic blanket near the beach and played with shells, spades and pebbles. He had a box of snacks (but would have preferred the snacks his siblings had). At the café he chatted to the other babies and was most put out at not being allowed to crawl about on the, frankly, very grubby floor. He then enjoyed a lovely cuddly sleep in the sling as we walked down the beach before heading home and singing and chatting to Lex in the car.

Tilly and Lex would also tell you how much fun they had. They dug in the pebbles and collected as many shells as possible (although were somewhat disappointed to be limited to taking home two each). Tilly enjoyed the opportunity for some sticking and drawing in the beach hut. They had hot chocolate with both cream and marshmallows in the café and were allowed to chill out with the iPhones whilst the adults chatted and relaxed out of the wind. They then had a chance to run down the beach and explore the exposed rock pools which was fun even if there weren’t any crabs or fish to be seen. All the fresh air meant heading home, cuddled under coats in the car, was a nice time to rest rather than an end to all joy and fun (as it often is).

I had a reasonably good time, sitting with Eli on the beach, chatting to my friends and watching the big kids have a good time. The wind was annoying but on a pebbly, muddy beach at least there was no sand flying into my eyes (except when toddlers digging in front of us threw it in the air but I blame the parents for that). The most entertaining part was on the drive in when, on a narrow stretch of road on which we had priority, an older woman coming the other direction decided to try to push through. There was nowhere for her to go and no amount of her gesturing and driving at the car in front of us made it possible for her to pass us or us to pass her. The stalemate was only ended by R getting out of the car and pointing out to her the priority sign showing she was in the wrong. At that point, with much unhappiness, she made a complete hash of reversing back through the bollards that marked the start of the narrowing, to allow us to pass. She acknowledged R’s cheery wave with what I can only imagine were words not meant for young ears. The incident is still making me chortle hours later.

R did not have a great time. I don’t think watching the big kids whilst I socialise is his idea of a great time. Tilly spilling his drink and Lex dropping his phone on the floor weren’t happy moments either. He was especially narked when, trying to type in his pin code to pay for drinks, Tilly’s constant chatter flummoxed him and caused him to freeze his card through incorrect pin entry. His only happy moment (aside from unable to read signs lady on the way in) was probably when we left and just missed being soaked by rain. The drive back even annoyed him when a learner driver was sent to try his remaining patience.

So, 9/10 for the kids, 7/10 for me (the wind knocked a few points off) and about 2/10 (if we count the old lady as 2) for R.

How often do you manage a family day out where everybody has a good time? We achieve it occasionally but it often seems that at least one person will have a miserable time despite the activities. I’m guessing as the kids get older and their interests diverge it will become even more tricky. Still, at least kids (unlike grown-ups) are relatively easy to entertain even if it is overcast and windy digging in pebbles is great fun!