Friday, 27 May 2011

Weekend away for three

My feet were twice as heavy as usual, with a pound of mud stuck to each shoe, and my hair was plastered across my forehead in the warm humid air. I had splashes of dirt up to my knees and sweat was dripping off my nose. Graham paused a little further up the rocky path and turned to see how we were doing. In his carrier on my front, Toby gave a little wriggle and a big gummy smile to his dad. Well, one of us was happy, anyway - the one who wasn't getting his feet mucky!


Our Texas State Parks pass was withering away from lack of use when we planned this weekend away, but now it didn't know what had hit it. Its first outing was at Ray Roberts State Park, barely 45 minutes from home. We stopped for a snack on our journey north and stayed a little longer when we discovered a 2-mile buggy-friendly trail. So often the paved paths are tiny quarter-mile loops, and anyone who knows me knows I don't consider quarter of a mile any kind of walk! This one wound through trees dressed in their spring green, past peaceful ponds and bright wildflowers. A couple of deer peered around the tree trunks, moving their heads side-to-side to keep us in view. Although wary, they decided we weren't enough of a threat to make a bolt for it.


Actually, he's about 6 feet off a paved path.

Back at Ray Roberts Lake, the silence was broken by what sounded like repeated trumpet blasts. Following the sound, we spotted a group of people being baptised in the shallows. At every dunking two men lifted rams' horns and gave them a good blow. Ta-daaah! That's the first time I've seen anyone play actual rams' horns, and I wished I could have had a closer look.

Giant toadstool.

On the road again, we followed Highway 377 through the horse country of Texas - a region I hadn't previously known existed. "Do you need to insure 200 horses?" asked a sign outside one business. Not a need I'd ever thought about, but looking from side to side at the white fences and well-cropped pastures, I could see it might come in handy for some.

Lake Texoma.

An hour or so later, we arrived at our second state park of the day - Eisenhower S.P., on the shores of Lake Texoma. And it was here that we met the mud. Texas trails are usually so dry that, despite the thunderstorm the night before, we hadn't even considered the possibility that the ground might still be soggy. Within the first few steps our shoes acquired thick clay soles which remained for the rest of the walk. Only Toby, his bare feet swinging, was happily above it all. The views over the vast green-blue reservoir were worth getting dirty for, though. We finished at a swimming beach for a refreshing paddle.




All around the shore, huge chunks of rock were falling off the edge.

Our little boy, who had been so cheerful all day, was aghast when he realised that he wasn't going home to sleep in his own familiar crib. A hotel room was just too strange and alarming. He wailed plaintively every time we stepped out of his field of vision. And that hard travel cot wouldn't do at all. No, if we got to luxuriate on a king size bed he was jolly well going to luxuriate too. Fine, we sighed, have it your own way. We wedged him in with some pillows and retreated to the sofa to play Uno. Of course, once he was finally asleep he was right back in the despised travel cot. Poor kid.

First time my bedroom's had an illuminated ice cream cone outside.

We should know better by now, I guess, but somehow we still get hopeful when we read that a town has a "thriving downtown". Denison was pretty much like the rest, especially on a Sunday morning. No one around, and the most striking-looking building turned out to be a funeral directors. We felt that said it all, really.

Mural in Denison.

Also in Denison. The Katy is the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, or MKT.

However, just a few blocks away we discovered Nick's Family Restaurant, which actually did appear to be thriving. I bloated myself with chicken and dressing - that's stuffing for you Brits, before you start getting pictures of chicken doused in vinaigrette. Graham attempted to be healthy with a taco salad, and Toby ate applesauce like it was going out of fashion. He's still a bit small for the standard wooden highchairs but did a good job.


Then it was just a matter of staying awake for the drive home...

It's important to stay hydrated in these conditions, you know.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

On the shores of Eagle Mountain Lake

After spending a number of weekends on house- and baby-care, we decided it was high time we had a proper day out. So we packed up the baby and locked up the house, and set off for Eagle Mountain Lake. Our first stop was Fort Worth Boat Club, which was having its annual Wood, Waves and Wheels event. This started life as an antique boat show but has gradually moved more towards land-based vehicles. The sun sparkled on an array of polished curves and shiny chrome, lighting up a 1920s Model T here, a sleek Porsche there, and the giant clockwork key on a quirky bubble car.


One of the more exotic attendees was a Cunningham C-3, of which there are apparently only a couple of dozen in existence. In impeccable condition, it came complete with a matching suitcase in tasteful cream leather, fitted into its own little nook in the rear. I was rather taken with the pop-up seat on the back of a Ford Model T - it folded down to become a luggage rack. The Cadillac with longhorns definitely had the Texas touch, but Graham preferred the very English AJS bike.


Toby was keen on the Cobra GT500 but said he'd take the bright yellow truck as his second choice. We also rather liked the mammoth Fairlane with the roof folding gracefully into the boot, but decided the fuel might get a bit expensive. We bought burgers instead.


After lunch we decided we needed a walk, so we made enquiries and were recommended to try Eagle Mountain Park, just up the road. We'd never heard of it before; it looks relatively new but has miles of trails and some lake views. Toby and his pushchair got some off-road experience on a not-too-bumpy (but definitely not paved) track. Graham made friends with a cactus and I did a bit of flower photography.



The land seemed to have been a farm in a previous life, and some of the equipment was still around. Water-pumping windmills like this were once a common feature of the dry Texas landscape.

All in all, it was a good day out. Toby thought so, too.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Speedy Steamed Pudding


One of the highlights of being in catered halls for a couple of years at university was the sponge puddings. Great big sheets of chocolate or vanilla sponge, carved into hefty blocks and doused with thick custard. The main courses were edible at best, but those puddings would fill you up for a week.

Good solid puddings, whether baked, steamed or boiled, have been a mainstay of English cooking for centuries. Something about the cold, damp, dark winters inspired British cooks to endless variations on suet, jam, currants, custard and other comforting ingredients. Once I left the nurturing environs of my parents' house and university halls, pudding stopped being an everyday affair and became a more haphazard, if-I-feel-like-making-any event. And steamed puddings especially, with their two hours over simmering water, don't really lend themselves to spur of the moment dessert-making.

However, technology has moved on since those first days of puddings. I'd been vaguely aware that you could cook a steamed pudding in the microwave, but only recently tried it. The perfect instant pudding! Two minutes for the pudding, two minutes for custard, and there you have dessert for two.



Microwave sponge pudding

2 oz butter or margarine
2 oz sugar
1 egg
2 oz self-raising flour
2 tbsp milk

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg. Stir in flour and milk. Put into a 2-pint pudding basin and cover. Cook on high power 2-5 minutes. Serve hot with custard.

I used a 1-pint basin because that was what I had, and it worked fine. Or a Pyrex bowl would work too. I also put 2 tbsp golden syrup at the bottom of the basin, and you can put jam at the bottom or mix in raisins or chocolate chips or ginger - endless variations.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

CD

Compact Disc? Certificate of Deposit? Change Directory?

No, in the brave new world of babies' bottoms, CD stands for Cloth Diaper. And that's not the last piece of jargon you'll encounter on the subject by any means. It took me a good few hours of reading to get my head around all the different types, and I've come across several parents who have toyed with the idea and got put off. Which is a shame, because there are all sorts of good reasons not to use disposables, and the actual practice of cloth diapering is not hard at all. So I wanted to share some of my experience so far. Come delve with me into the mysterious underworld (or should that be underwear?) that is cloth diapering.

Me? Messy? Never!

OK. Where to start? Most stuff you read tells you that prefolds are the basics, the ones every cloth diapering mum has. So we got some prefolds. These sound like they ought to be shaped ready to fit around your baby's darling derriere, right? Actually they're the updated version of those terry squares - basically a rectangle of cotton which is folded and sewn so as to be thicker in the middle for better absorbency. To add to a novice's confusion, they have to be washed and dried multiple times before you can use them, and there are half a dozen different ways to fold the dratted things. Armed with this amazing folding guide and a Snappi (the modern mum's equivalent to nappy pins) we removed Toby from his super-absorbent, never-feel-wet disposable nappy and equipped him with his beautiful eco-friendly prefold. An hour later our dear little boy was sitting in a mass of soggy material screaming his head off. Yes, cotton gets wet when you pee on it. Rather obvious, really, but a bit of a shock after all those disposables.

Toby modeling a prefold fastened with a Snappi (no cover on yet)

You will be getting the idea that I don't recommend starting out with prefolds. You will be right. Actually now that we've figured them out, prefolds actually are one of the mainstays of our collection (or stash, in true CD lingo). Two square feet of cotton plus a waterproof cover is pretty much bombproof, and we are both slick with a Snappi these days. Also, they're dirt cheap. But for ease of use and lack of sogginess, there are other options.
They make good toys, too!

This is where the jargon comes in. There are all-in-ones, abbreviated to AIOs, which are about the most self-explanatory. Absorbent bit plus waterproof cover all in one, just like a disposable but made of cloth. Wrap it round your baby, secure with velcro, wash the whole thing. Easy. We don't have any. This is mostly because we started with cloth diapers when Toby was too small for most brands of AIOs, so I got into other things and never used them. Also they are about $20 apiece, which adds up quick when you're using 8 nappies a day.

Then there are all-in-twos (AI2s) which are something like all-in-ones but different. Don't ask me, I never did quite work out what they were. I'm sure some people use them.

Also, there are fitteds, which is what you think a prefold ought to be. That is, it's a piece of fabric which is shaped to fit around a bottom, and may also have velcro or similar to keep it there. But you need a waterproof cover to go over the top. I would rather like to try fitted diapers, but they're a lot more expensive than prefolds and basically do the same thing. Apparently they're very easy to make for people who are gifted with sewing skills. I'm not, so I stick to buying them.

Toby in a Rumparooz pocket diaper

And then there are pockets, which we do use. We started with Rumparooz brand, which are good at fitting tiny babies, and then branched out into Kawaii, which are nice and cheap and look good too. Basically pocket diapers are a waterproof cover sewed to a stay-dry lining. They have an opening at the back so you can stuff strips of cloth between the cover and the lining, which provide the absorbency. The beauty of them is that you can stuff them with as much as you need to keep the baby dry, and they wash and dry quickly because you wash the cover and the inserts separately. Most of them are one-size, too, so they adjust to fit all the way from baby right up to (theoretically) toddler. Having only got up to six months, I can't guarantee the toddler part - it'll be interesting to see how they do.

Big spotty Kawaii diaper!

That just about covers the diapers. But what about the washing??? I read about all sorts of complicated methods of washing diapers, but so far I've kept it simple. We have *counts on fingers* 12 prefolds with 3 covers, 5 Rumparooz and 8 Kawaiis right now, so a couple of dozen nappies altogether. I find myself washing them about every three days, and I just do a cold pre-wash with no soap, hot wash with one of those green, no-additive detergents, and extra rinse. Then I hang them out in the Texas sun, which bleaches any stains out wonderfully. I have to admit, having near-constant sunshine does make life easier; everything dries in under three hours rather than three days. But on the whole, the washing hasn't been much extra stress at all.

Diapers drying in the Texas sunshine

What else do you need to know? Disposable diapers clog up landfill, contain nasty chemicals and cost a lot of money over two-three years. Cloth diapers cost less overall, are better for the environment and nicer to your baby's skin. Also they look cute. And they work. We've had some leaks, but we spent a month in England with Toby in disposables, and he leaked out of those sometimes too. And finally, it's not an all-or-nothing event. Several stores do trial packs so you can try different sorts for a month, or you can just buy a couple to start with and work them into your routine. I have been accused of bravery, but it doesn't really take much - no one's going to make you vow never to touch a disposable again! We've always had a packet in the house, just as backup or for babysitters.

Oops. I will get off my hobbyhorse now and stop trying to convince all you people who a) already use cloth; b) got your babies out of diapers years ago or c) wish parenthood wouldn't make perfectly sensible people wax lyrical about babies' bottoms. If you want to know more, my go-to site is All About Cloth Diapers. And that's my last word on the subject.