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Monthly Archives: February 2013

flowers2Somehow austerity measures have sunk in and the last two weeks of ‘Buy Nothing New’ weren’t too difficult. Not buying stuff reminds me of when I first arrived in England straight after my studies and lived with two friends – all of us as poor as church mice due to the unfavourable currency exchange with South Africa. We would spend £10 each a week on all groceries including cleaning equipment. And when we went to a pub, the three of us would share a coke as it was all we could afford! I still only use the tiniest amount of toothpaste and little dabs of face cream due to the ingrained habits of scrimping and saving in 1996.

I have found it difficult not to have flowers in the house but found some beautiful paper flowers that the children had made and with some bright red tins, it all looks rather cheerful. We had friends over for supper and they brought lemon yellow tulips which I am enjoying so much – much more than if I had just bought them myself.

I know that some stuff we would have bought has just been postponed but I’m sure we made savings on gifts and by not pouring money on entertainment and easy treats. I did cheat once this week and bought some glue for my daughter who needed to stick sequins.

The challenges over the month were entertaining the children during half term, gifts for others and no flowers in the grim month of February. But it also made me reflect and realise that 100 years ago, people couldn’t buy cut flowers so easily and I have really appreciated the first signs of spring and greenery outside.

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marmalade2The bleak midwinter is the season for Seville oranges and there is nothing more satisfying on an icy day than working in a steamy kitchen making marmalade to be eaten on hot buttered toast. I had always thought making jam was up there with icing wedding cakes – but it isn’t that hard so go on and give it a go while you can still buy Seville oranges in the shops. You peel and soak the skins overnight hence it is a two-day operation but only needs focussed time for about an hour. You will need a preserving pan or a very deep stew pot. Below is my favourite recipe that I have used for the last 5 years with no disasters.maralade1Seville Orange Marmalade
makes about 2 kgs (or 9 pots)

1 kg Seville oranges
1 lemon
2 litres water
2 kg preserving sugar
200 g dark muscovado sugar
75 ml whisky

•    Wash and dry the fruit, and cut in halves or quarters.
•    Set a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin. Over the sieve, juice the fruit, scouring the peels as you go, and dropping the pips, squeezed flesh and membranes into the cloth. Use a teaspoon to pick up a strip of membrane large enough to grip, then tear out the rest with your fingers.
•    Reserve the juice squeezed from the fruit.
•    Tie all the residue into a loose bag and put it into the preserving pan with the water.
•    Shred the skin as finely as you like and add the peel to the pan. Leave it to soak overnight.
•    Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the peel is tender and the liquid has reduced by half – about 2 hours. Cover the pan if too much evaporation is occurring before the peel is tender.
•    Remove the bag of pips and squeeze the liquid out and into the pan. Discard the residue.
•    Add the sugar to the pan, plus the reserved juice.
•    Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely. Raise the heat and boil hard until setting point is reached.
•    Skim off any froth, allow it to cool and thicken a little, then stir to redistribute the peel, before potting.
•    Add the whisky just before potting to increase the flavour but don’t worry about consuming spirits at breakfast time – the heat of the marmalade evaporates the alcohol, leaving the flavour.

A bit of technique
•    When the sugar goes in, stir the mixture over a low heat until every grain has melted before turning up the heat. Take your time – undissolved sugar means crystallizing marmalade.
•    Judging setting point takes attention and skill so don’t hurry. Chill a stack of plates in the freezer and heat a tray of scrupulously clean jars in a low oven. Bring the marmalade to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Let it boil for about 10 minutes then take the pan off the heat and drop a teaspoon of the marmalade on a chilled plate. Leave it for a minute then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it will set. If it stays runny, return the pan to the boil for another two minutes then test again. It should not be more than 20 minutes in total.
•    Ladle the cooled marmalade into the warm jars and cover with wax paper discs. Add lids only once completely cold to avoid condensation which encourages mould to form.

Recipe from Country Living February 2009

den buildingIt is a bit of a challenge if you are ‘buying nothing new’ but we had a great time during half-term and seeing that it falls on different weeks in the UK, I thought I would share some ideas if you needed inspiration.

  • Baking is always a good activity even with three mini chefs. Have a go at chocolate brownies – we use the Usbourne children’s book recipe with delicious results.
  • Make family pizza. Keep it simple by buying the bases, whack on some passata and then everyone can add their own pre-chopped ingredients – salami, ham, cheese, red pepper, pineapple, egg and mushrooms.
  • Wrap up warm and go outside to tramp in the countryside or a park as fresh air revives everyone. Build a den in which to eat your chocolate brownies.
  • Have holiday projects for your children, you can read more about this on this link. This holiday I introduced origami for my 9-year-old and we made a new model each day. My 6-year-old was desperate to learn to knit so I am teaching her although she is on the young side. If you teach your child to knit, I can  recommend thick children’s needles of 5mm or 6mm and multi coloured wool. If the wool is changing colour it inspires children to keep knitting. Visit the site Hulu to buy these items. My son was so interested in knitting that I ended up teaching him too and he is really doing well.
  • Bike rides and picnics can happen even if February.
  • Hire a few DVDs and cheat and watch television in the afternoon.
  • Best of all can I suggest ‘The great family sleep over’! The entire family drags their mattresses into one room and all sleep together on the floor. I probably shouldn’t add that Ella (age 4) wet the airbed that she was sharing with me or that when we woke up we felt exhausted, as if we had been camping but least we could sit in a comfy sofa and drink coffee. Why would a family with perfectly decent beds do this? Because it is fun and it was so exciting for the children, creating magical memories.

I am half way through the ‘Buy Nothing New Month’ challenge and it is going well although I have a sneaking suspicion that some things I would have bought have just been postponed until March. I haven’t replaced the holey flannel nor bought new kitchen scissors after melting the handles – they still cut. I am REALLY missing flowers as the garden is barren so I can’t pick any and I want daffodils to cheer up the house – any bright ideas? I still feel panicky in case I want to buy a coffee while I am out and know I can’t.

Another challenge is gifts for others – are you ‘allowed’ to buy gifts from charity shops? I didn’t know what to do for my niece’s birthday but a rummage through my gift box revealed a pair of binoculars (free from National Trust). She will be delighted as she lives in a flat in Singapore and loves animals so two perfect uses for binoculars. A girlfriend received a home-made cake and my husband will enjoy his Valentine voucher for a back tickle. Sometimes just saying ‘I love you’ has to be enough, especially in ‘Buy Nothing New Month’.

It was half term this week and we had to find ‘free entertainment’ but baking, playing in the woods and building dens and visiting The Village Cupboard was perfect. The Village Cupboard is a brilliant concept where once a week two pals commandeer the hall and serve tea in quirky mismatching cups and saucers accompanied by delicious cake. Any one can pop in to enjoy a chat and browse amongst unwanted donated items. The price – whatever you think the item is worth and all the money is ploughed back into village projects whether it is to buy pre-school equipment or bulbs to beautify the verges. It is also a perfect way to recycle clothing, books and gifts you no longer want. Well done Lisa and Jenni!village cupboard

balloonDuring a family crisis a few years ago, I very much wanted to help my mother with the difficulties that arose. However, with two young children in tow it became impossible to be of proper assistance and in jest I referred to the children as my millstones. Although it was a light-hearted comment, I was becoming increasingly frustrated and asking many questions about my role as a mother. At a church service we were invited to blow up a balloon until it burst if we wanted to see a breakthrough in our lives. It sounded crazy and I wouldn’t recommend ‘trying this at home’, but sometimes a practical, tangible action can help us to recognise what can be achieved in the immaterial world. I plucked up the courage to do this mad thing and I blew up a balloon. At the point of most resistance when I felt so tired of blowing, the breakthrough came and the balloon burst. As my head shot backwards with the force, I felt release and had an epiphany.

I had viewed my children as a hindrance to my personal fulfilment and to my work, but they were my work. I shouldn’t be growing them up so that I could get on with my own life, I should be enjoying the process. Children are not an interruption but a development and can enrich life immeasurably. Even though I had been joking when I called my children millstones, the connotations were negative. A millstone around your neck prevents you from doing what you want to do and drags you down until you sink into a mire of despair. My children were to be my hot air balloons. I would inflate them and together we would rise to new heights and fresh adventures. Because of them, I will see horizons that would otherwise be impossible. With a positive attitude and a renewed mind, your child will give you the ride of your life!

This is part of a series of considering the positive and negative aspects of being at home. Choose the category ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum?’ to read more in this series.

mazeThe challenges of being a stay-at-home mum and combating them – your choices

One friend of mine returned to part-time work when her baby was two months old and was working full-time by the time Zara was four months. I couldn’t help feeling, “If she can do it, why aren’t I able to? It is hard enough to meet all that is demanded of me and yet I am at home all day. How does she manage a full-time job and to be a mum?” Melba has a dynamic career and I admire her enormously. But there is a high price to pay: Melba does not see as much of her daughter as her husband or her own mother. She has had to deal with lack of understanding from work colleagues and the tension between her demanding job and the desire to be with her daughter. Melba is drained and tired at the end of each week and even her recovery from pregnancy seemed to take longer than most women.

You may feel envious of friends who go back to work and it can be hard to see others working and managing to be mothers. I think the reality is that we all have choices, and you would be able to work and be a mum if that is what you choose to do. However we need to make our own choices based on our own situation and priorities. If you decide not to return to work even if your friends make different choices, stick with what you believe is right for your family.

Going back to my friend Melba, although her lifestyle appears alluring, I have stopped envying her, as the reality is gritty hard work with a high price tag. I didn’t want to be exhausted or leave my tiny baby five days a week. Friends like Melba need my support and I need not to feel undermined but rejoice in my own decision to be at home.

Just because mothers have the right to work and no longer automatically remain at home does not mean that society should frown on those who choose to stay at home. I am not against mothers being in the workplace, but rather it is about having a real choice. The feminist revolution has achieved so much for women, but don’t allow it to remove your right to mother your own children if you wish to. It used to be a traditional role, but now it feels more rebellious to stay at home with your child. If you are pouring time and energy into the next generation, it is just as valuable as working outside the home. Hold your head up high stay-at-home mums!

This is part of a series of considering the positive and negative aspects of being at home. Choose the category ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum?’ to read more in this series.

Image credit: efffective.com