Thursday, 30 April 2015

Monthly Munch: April 2015

We've had some beautiful weather this month, so have spent lots of time out in the garden, or out and about.  Graham took voluntary redundancy from his job at the end of March, so the boys have enjoyed having their dad around to play with them while he works out what to do next!

Toby


- has had two visits to "big school" and appears to have enjoyed every minute of them.  He and his fellow preschoolers are going most Friday afternoons this term, so they should be very familiar with the primary school by September.

Sitting on a sheep at Beacon Hill

- is becoming a bit more adventurous about climbing things.  He recruited Dad to come up this steep slope with him.

Up we go...
Made it!
- enjoyed a day watching car racing with Graham at the Donington racetrack

A contemplative moment
 - prefers drawing to colouring in

"I want to draw my plate."

Theo


- is into everything.  Seriously.  Anywhere you don't want a curious baby is exactly where his little face will pop up.

- has the best laugh.  Sometimes he will just sit there cackling to himself at some private joke.

And when you get the two of them together...
- enjoys being outside, and will sometimes crawl off on his own journey of exploration (closely followed of course!)


- had his first haircut!  He was very good.


Thankful for:


- a great ladies' weekend away with some old school friends (and one new friend).

If you're ever in Chester, go find Hanky Panky pancakes.
- a few weeks of beautiful warm sunny weather - summer in April!

We even managed a barbeque!
- some friends who gave us their trampoline!  It isn't up yet, but Toby will really enjoy it when it is.


Recipe of the Month: Blackcurrant Cornmeal Cake



This is one of the most delicious cakes I have made in a long time.  I baked it when Graham and Toby were out for the day, and Theo and I had to restrain ourselves from eating the entire thing before they got back!  It's a blatant rip-off of Nigella Lawson's rhubarb cornmeal cake, and rhubarb is actually more seasonal this time of year, but I had some of last year's blackcurrants in the freezer and thought they would work.  They did.  Brilliantly.

350-500g blackcurrants (I had 330g in the freezer but the original recipe called for 500g rhubarb)
250g sugar
150g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
155g fine cornmeal
125g butter or margarine
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g natural yoghurt (I had Greek-style, so thinned it with a bit of milk)

Grease and line a 23cm Springform cake tin.  Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.

Well, the original recipe says to put the fruit in a bowl and cover with 100g of the sugar, but if you have frozen blackcurrants this achieves precisely nothing, so you probably might as well just mix in the sugar with the rest of it.  Anyway.

Stir together the flour, bicarb, cinnamon and cornmeal in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then add the flour mixture alternately with the yoghurt, stirring just to mix.  Stir in the blackcurrants, with the sugar and juices if you took that step.

Spread in the tin and bake for about an hour until springy.  Let cool in the tin for a bit before trying to get it out.  Serve warm or cold, but don't eat the whole thing at once!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Facial recognition

I once mortally offended a girl in my chemistry class at university.

It was Freshers Week.  We had been standing next to each other in the queue to register for our classes, and exchanged a reasonable amount of conversation.  It was a long line; we had time for more than the first three questions that everyone asks during that first week. (What's your name; where are you from; what are you studying.  In case you were wondering.)

Later that day, I was in the bar at my halls of residence when I noticed a girl waving.  Not recognising her, I assumed she was looking at someone behind me.  Finally she confronted me and said, "I was talking to you just this afternoon!"

Unsurprisingly, we didn't become best friends.


I have since realised that those are classic conditions for my facial recognition difficulties to kick in.  Give me (a) a situation where I am meeting lots of new people, let me (b) meet you only one time, even if we are chatting for ten minutes or so, and then (c) turn up in a different or unexpected context, and it's quite possible I will not remember your face at all.

It's the kind of problem where you end up second-guessing yourself a lot.  Is it just laziness?  Am I so uninterested in other people that they make no impression?  Do I conduct entire conversations without actually looking at the other person?

Gradually I've come to see that it's a little more than this.  When I worked at a cafe and knew I would have to find a particular customer in the crowd, I would make deliberate mental notes: short blonde hair, pink cardigan.  And still, often, hope that she would spot me looking for her.  Then I got married and had a husband to pick up on me.  We've had several occasions where someone has approached us, we've chatted for a few minutes, and when they've left, Graham has turned to me and said, "You didn't know who that was, did you?"  And I've had to admit that no, I didn't.  Sometimes I didn't even know that I should have known them.  Of course, it doesn't help that we have twice moved to places where I knew no one, thus providing me with situation (a) in bucketloads.

It's certainly not full-blown face blindness.  This goes by the resounding name of prosopagnosia and means that people may not be able to recognise even family or close friends, which must be incredibly hard to cope with.  Usually two or three encounters is enough to fix a face in my mind, although I can still be momentarily thrown if a casual acquaintance wears a hat or changes their hairstyle.  And a polite smile and a bit of light conversation goes a long way; people prefer to be puzzled by an unusually friendly stranger than to meet a blank gaze from someone they thought they knew.

This is probably the point at which you're starting to think, "How will I ever know if she remembers who I am?"  Well, you can always wear a name badge!  And actually, if you know me well enough to ask the question, I'm sure I will know who you are.  But this is the kind of problem that far more people struggle with than ever talk about, so you may be thinking, "I thought I was the only one who did that!"  So now you can smile politely at me as we try to work out where we know each other from.  And I'll know there's at least one other person in the world whom I won't mortally offend.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Easter 2015: Fun and Faith

Remember Easter?  Once you get back into the regular routine, it quickly seems like a long time ago.  Just in case you need a reminder, here's a quick recap of what we got up to this Easter holidays.  Toby was keen to write down what we were going to do on the whiteboard, like we did last summer.  His writing has improved so much!
 
Easter Holidays.  Tesco, biscuits, boat, Maisie and Poppy [friends]

The weather was variable, to put it mildly:
We floated paper boats in a puddle in the pouring rain.

I learnt how to fold a paper boat!
We made bunting (which was originally going to be flags to fly outside) on a day when it was too windy even to fly a kite.

Not a great picture, I know.  It was an old burp cloth, decorated in pen.
We planted pansies on a lovely warm sunny day.  Theo helped so enthusiastically that he had to be bathed afterwards!

On a more Easter-y note:
We invited the girls next door round to help cut out, bake and decorate Easter cookies.


We sent Toby on two egg hunts - a teddy-bears'-picnic-themed one at Sudbury Hall, and a flower-themed one at Carsington Water.  Don't worry, both finished with a chocolate prize!



We made giant egg decorations for the mantlepiece.



We baked an Easter cake with chocolate nest topping and plenty of mini eggs!

And just in case that all sounds a bit too pagan:

We read Haffertee's First Easter, in which Haffertee, a toy hamster, learns all about Mr Jesus King.

We went to a Good Friday service where Toby enthusiastically flicked red paint at a painting of a cross, Theo played with green balloons, Graham reflected on Jesus' final words and I ripped a piece of cloth in two to remember the tearing of the Temple curtain.  Our church had done an amazing job of creating different experiences relating to aspects of the Easter story.

That's actually Lichfield Cathedral, but it kind of sums up the experience!

We ate hot cross buns for breakfast.

We sang our hearts out on Easter Sunday!


Friday, 10 April 2015

Monthly Munch: March 2015

Snow.  Solar eclipse.  Spring flowers.  Spotty baby.  Seeds.  Simnel cake.  Showers and sunshine.  Star charts.  Soup.

Toby

Watching the solar eclipse at his preschool
 - likes telling jokes, although they are mostly complete non sequiturs.  And I can't quite tell if he gets the punch line, when I tell him one back!

Admiring aero engines
- announces what he is planning to dream about every night.

- reads every sign we walk past.  We are trying to persuade him that "Caution" is not pronounced "Cuttin".
My booky boys!

- achieved some toilet goals he's been resisting for ages with the help of a star chart.  If I'd known it would only take five stickers and a piece of chocolate, I would have done it months ago!

Quotes

Graham: "What are you thinking about?"

Toby: "I'm thinking dot dot dot.  That's when you're not really thinking about anything."

He fell over and was howling: "Oh!  Oh!  Mummy!"  Then he paused: "Why aren't any tears coming out of my eyes?"  Because that's complete fake crying, little one!

Toby: "I'm sitting here like a lemon."
Me: "Why are you like a lemon?"
Toby: "Because I'm all shivery."
Well, they do live in the fridge, I suppose.

Theo

Fenced in at Elvaston Castle
 - loves sitting by the front door waving at people.

- is a complete toilet fanatic.  He makes a beeline for the bathroom every time you put him down upstairs!  The lid is staying closed rather a lot, now.

- has unfortunately now realised that he doesn't have to lie still when you put him on his changing mat, but can flip over and make a break for it.  To be fair, it did take him a long time, so I'm not complaining (much)!

Mmm, coffee!

- got spots, although not any of the usual diseases involving spots.  The doctor took one look and said, "Antibiotics" - and sure enough, they worked.

- occasionally stands up without holding onto anything, but usually when he's concentrating on something else, so we're not quite sure he realises he can do it!

With a goal in mind.

Thankful for:


- a brief visit from my brother, whom I don't get to see very often.

With Uncle John

- getting to go to a very interesting and informative conference about refugees and asylum seekers.

- a Bollywood film night with friends.  My first Bollywood experience, so I was glad I was watching with people who could fill in some of the references!

- a fun and successful Easter party at the playgroup I help at.  I had recklessly agreed to make chocolate nests, which, amazingly, didn't result in chocolate over a five-metre radius.

Recipe of the Month - Parsnip, Apple and Coconut Soup



I'm sitting here writing this in a sleeveless top, with the patio door wide open to let the sweet springtime air in.  However, most of March was still definitely soup weather.  The coconut milk adds a nice flavour and a velvety creaminess.

1 lb parsnips
1 large apple
vegetable stock
1/2 can (about 200 ml) coconut milk
Desiccated coconut, to serve

Peel and chop the parsnips.  Peel, core and chop the apple.  Put in a large pan and add just enough stock to cover.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the parsnips are soft.
Puree in a blender, adding the coconut milk and seasoning.  Sprinkle a little desiccated coconut over each bowl of soup.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 8: The Resurrection




The guards recover


"What was that??"

"Owwww... my head hurts."

"I'm not surprised, Dan!  You went down like a felled tree - I saw you!"

"You weren't much better, Matt.  You were shaking like a whole bush full of leaves."

"Well at least I didn't faint, did I?  I could have sworn we'd been struck by lightning - but it was a man..."

"Yes, just as we were about to tell those women to get out of here - and where did they go, anyway?"

"That way, I think, in a hurry.  They must have been as scared as we were."

"No, that's not right, that shining guy talked to them!"

"Oh come on, Saul, you must have imagined that."

"No, he did!  He said something like, you're looking for Jesus, but he's risen from the dead."

"Risen?  You mean..."

"Uh-oh..."

"Oh, we are in for it now."

"We are dead.  We are so dead."

"But where did it go?  Where did the body go?"

"The shining man must have taken it!  It's the only explanation."

"But we saw him!  OK, you didn't, Dan, you were out cold, but me and Matt here did... he didn't have a body, did he Matt?"

"No, and look, it's not like someone just grabbed it and ran.  All the wrappings are still there, just as if..."

"... the body went right through them.  Oh, I don't like this, I don't like this at all..."

"Look!  There's more people coming.  We've got to get out of here, guys."

"We'll have to tell the boss."

"Tell him what?  We were on duty the whole time, but now the tomb's open and the body's gone?"

"We'll have to say about the shining man.  And what he said."

"What, Jesus is risen?"

"That's right, we'll say, Sir, an angel came and now Jesus has risen from the dead!"

"Sir, the dead body you sent us to guard has come to life again!"

"Sir, the power of the Almighty removed him from the tomb!"


"...no, but seriously.  What are we going to say?"

Matthew 28:1-10

Other Conversations from the Cross
1: The Donkey
2: The Commotion
3: The Authority
4: The Anointing
5: The Betrayal
6: The Burial
7: The Precaution

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 7: The Precaution




The chief priests approach Pilate


"But the man's dead, dammit!  What possible trouble can he cause now?"

"Undoubtedly he is dead, sir.  Your judgement was most... satisfactory.  But we are concerned..."

"He's dead, he's buried, and that's not enough?  What do you want from me?"

"Well you see, Mr Governor, this impostor had the bad manners to predict that he would come back to life, three days after he was killed.  Which, naturally enough, is impossible - "

"Although there were those rumours about that man Lazarus... "

"Nothing but superstition, Nicodemus!  As I say, the thing is impossible.  But I wouldn't put it past some of his friends to decide that it would be a nice publicity stunt.  All it takes is for the body to disappear, a few rumours to start..."

"...and we go from dead charismatic rabbi to immortal Messiah.  Not a good idea, I'm sure you'll agree, Mr Governor."

"You'll be wanting a guard for the tomb, then."

"Precisely, sir.  Just for a few days, you understand, until the danger has passed."

"And his friends?  Are they likely to mount an attack?"

"They are under observation, but their leader's death seems to have knocked the spirit out of them.  I think the presence of an armed guard will provide sufficient deterrence."

"Right then.  See to it that the miracle-worker stays in his tomb. You know what to do.

"And I don't want to hear one more word about Jesus of Nazareth!"

Matthew 27:62-66

Other Conversations from the Cross
1: The Donkey
2: The Commotion
3: The Authority
4: The Anointing
5: The Betrayal
6: The Burial

8: The Resurrection

Friday, 3 April 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 6: The Burial



Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus



"Joseph of Arimathea to see you, sir."


"Oh yes?  And what do you want?"

"I apologize for disturbing you, sir.  I request your permission to remove and bury the body of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified at Golgotha this morning."

"Jesus of Nazareth?  Don't be a fool, man!  He's hardly been up there nine hours.  There's no way he can be dead yet!"

"I have reason to believe that he is, sir."

"Oh, you do, do you?  Let me get to the bottom of this.  Sestus!  Sestus!  Get me the centurion on crucifixion duty at Golgotha this morning!  And you, Mr Joseph, stay right there.  I'm not releasing any body until I know a bit more."

"Centurion Flavius of the Ninth Cohort, Mr Governor, sir!"

"Centurion Flavius.  You were on crucifixion duty today?"

"Yessir.  Three prisoners executed, sir."

"The one known as Jesus of Nazareth - is he dead yet?"

"Dead as a doornail, sir.  Stabbed him in the side with my own sword, sir."

"Remarkably quick, wasn't it?  You're certain?"

"These ain't my first crucifixions, Mr Pilate, sir.  I make sure they're dead, sir."

"Well, Mr Joseph, looks like you were correct.  Thank you, centur..."

"You were his friend, Mr Joseph?  You knew this Jesus guy?  I've gotta tell you, I ain't never seen one go the way he did.  That was something else, that was.  Were you there?  That creepy darkness, and the stillness, like the whole world was holding its breath... felt like I couldn't hardly breathe meself, watching him.  The calm on his face!  He were in agony, just like the rest, you could tell, but he had such a look on him, just like he was doing exactly what he meant to.  And then that final breath - you could almost see the spirit leaving him, fluttering off like a bird or summat... I said to myself, I said, 'This ain't no regular criminal, Flavius.  This is like... I dunno, the son of God himself!'"

Mark 15: 33-47

Other Conversations from the Cross
1: The Donkey
2: The Commotion
3: The Authority
4: The Anointing
5: The Betrayal

7: The Precaution 
8: The Resurrection

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 5: The Betrayal



 The disciples discuss Jesus' comments at the Passover meal


"What did he just say?"

"One of us will betray him?  He can't mean it!"

"Why, we're his closest friends, we've been with him for years.  We'd hardly turn on him now, would we?"

"It's not me, is it Lord?  It's not me?"

"Well, it won't be me.  I'll stick to him till death!"

"Yes, Peter, no one could imagine you being a betrayer!  But if he's right, it must be somebody in this room."

"What did he mean, 'the Son of Man goes as it has been written'?  Written where?"

"Don't ask me, Andrew.  I bet Bartholomew'll know.  Barty?  Did you hear what Jesus just said?"

"Eh?  Sorry?  Oh yes, it just reminded me of something.  Here it is, Psalm 41: 'Even my best friend, that I trusted and shared my food with, has kicked me in the teeth.'"

"That's just horrible!  I wouldn't do that!  Would I, Jesus?  What a thing to say at the Passover meal, too.  It's meant to be a celebration!"

"This one's not been much of a celebration though, has it, John?  Jesus has had something bothering him ever since we got to Jerusalem.  Look at him now - we might as well not be here.  He's got his mind on something else entirely."

"And Judas Iscariot has been acting funny the last couple of days, too.  Didn't you notice?"

"That's right, he really didn't like that woman at Simon's house, did he?  With the perfume.  And he did seem a bit jumpy this morning.  He's just young, though, he'll get over it."

"I don't know, I think this whole Jerusalem trip hasn't quite worked out as he was hoping for.  And disappointment hurts pretty bad at that age.  Poor kid."

"Yeah.  Jesus was the nearest thing to a father he ever had, I reckon.  Complete hero-worship."


"Where did Judas go, anyway?  Did you see, Andrew?  I didn't notice him slip out."

"No, I didn't either.  Judas?  Judas?  Where could he have gone?"

Luke 22:14-23

Other Conversations from the Cross
1: The Donkey
2: The Commotion
3: The Authority
4: The Anointing

6: The Burial
7: The Precaution 
8: The Resurrection

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Conversations on the way to the Cross 4: The Anointing


Judas goes to the High Priest

"My name's Judas Iscariot, my lord.  Zach.. Zach here said you might... you might be interested in some, um, some information about Jesus.  Jesus of Nazareth."

"Jesus of Nazareth!  Yes, indeed!  And tell me, young man, what kind of information might you have?"

"Well, I'm... I was one of his friends.  His disciples.  The Twelve, he called us.  I know where he's staying, what he's doing.  He trusts us.  Me.  It would be easy."

"He trusts you.  I see.  And why, Mr Judas Iscariot, should I trust you?  What makes a trusted disciple of Jesus come running like a rat to his enemies?"

"He... I told him!  He could have had this city in the palm of his hand, and he knew it!  I saw his eyes light up, and I knew.  And then there was that dumb donkey, and then tonight... tonight there was that woman... no better than a common whore..."

"Your revered teacher has been consorting with prostitutes?  I didn't think he was that type."

"No!!  Yes!  Well, no, not consorting with, not like that, but she poured perfume on him!  Nard!  Pure nard, can you imagine?  Three hundred denarii down the drain, and oh yes, she can afford it, but the rest of us have been living hand to mouth these three years, giving up everything to follow Jesus, believing.. trusting him when he says he's going to bring in a kingdom, and what does he do?"

"I take it he didn't ask for a receipt."

"A what?  No.  No, he sat there, expensive perfume dripping down his beard, and said he'd been anointed for his burial.  His burial.  He's given up.  He was the only person in this whole damn world... the only one... he could have changed everything, and now... now he's given up.  I should never even have hoped in the first place."

"Well, Mr Iscariot, there's no use crying about it.  All our idols fall in the end.  And you've earned yourself a little pocket money in coming to us, anyway.  Not quite three hundred denarii, but I think we can run to... hmm, thirty pieces of silver.  There you go.

"Now, dry your eyes and let's talk details.  I think you will be very useful to us..."

Mark 14: 3-11

Other Conversations from the Cross
1: The Donkey
2: The Commotion
3: The Authority

5: The Betrayal
6: The Burial
7: The Precaution 
8: The Resurrection