Thursday, 26 November 2015

What is a blog?

Well, what is a blog?  And why am I asking the question now, after seven years of writing one?  You'd think I might have worked out the answer already.  But there's nothing like meeting hundreds of other bloggers to start you wondering again...

Of course, the first shock is that there actually are hundreds of other bloggers.  And that they make so much NOISE!  As I descended the escalator to the venue for Mumsnet Blogfest 2015, the clamour of dozens of voices rose up to meet me.  There was no one in the crowded hall that I knew; but although many others had also come alone, you couldn't have told it from the level of conversation.

Panel session with live link to Margaret Atwood

It quietened down once we had drunk our coffee and entered the auditorium.  The speakers covered a wide range of the writing world; from authors to agents, columnists to comedians, and brand experts to bloggers.  Every discussion was very entertaining, with plenty of humour and some thoughtful comments.  But when it came to summing up what I'd actually learnt from the day, I found myself struggling.  Had anything changed the way I thought about blogging?

The Blogfest venue from Regent's Canal

Scanning my notes again, I realised that the different sessions reflected some very different ways of thinking about a blog.  For some, it was a creative outlet - an expression of themselves that may be influenced by parenthood, but isn't necessarily defined by it.  Others were driven by the delight of writing, and dreamed of translating their blogging into publishing contracts and full-length novels.

From a more mercenary viewpoint, you can regard your blog as a brand, and focus on harnessing the power of social media to provide valued content to your target market.  With all the buzzwords.  Blogging can be big business; companies are keen to get their products recommended, and the community provided by a blog can be the ideal way to make that happen.

Alternatively, several people I met had started a blog purely to provide information - often about nutrition, for some reason - or to campaign for change.  For them, a blog was less about the writing, and more of a platform to connect with others and raise awareness for their cause.

Finally, the cutting-edge bloggers are active on fifteen different types of social media and have jumped gleefully into vlogging; about which I know virtually nothing except that it is, basically, blogging by video.  When somebody mentioned Periscope I had to look it up later, but was somewhat reassured to discover that it's a video app that was only released in May this year.  So I'm not that out of date.  Well, I am.  But not in this case.

Two people talking and one person running away

You may have realised I am firmly in the creative outlet camp.  Moreover, I have an outstanding talent for doing my own thing and entirely ignoring the rest of the world, which accounts for me joining Twitter approximately five years after everyone else in civilisation.  So once in a while, I try to pull my head out of the sand and realise that there are a lot of other people out there doing very interesting things and asking very interesting questions.  (And to be fair, a whole lot of noise, too.)

What is a blog?  All of the above.  And then some.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Apple Treacle Tart

This is one of those scrappy puddings that I conjured up out of a bit of leftover pastry and whatever I could find to throw into it.  Traditional treacle tart is composed of golden syrup and breadcrumbs, which is precisely as sickly sweet as it sounds.  When I spotted a recipe which included grated apple, it sounded as if it might cut the sweetness quite nicely.  So I gave it a try.


Apple Treacle Tart

pastry made with 2 oz butter and 4 oz flour
1 large slice of bread, made into breadcrumbs
1 eating apple, peeled, cored and grated
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons of golden syrup

Roll out the pastry and use to line a flan dish or other shallow dish (I used a lid from one of my Pyrex casserole dishes).  Mix together the breadcrumbs, apple, lemon juice and golden syrup.  I had a whole lemon that needed using, but that did make it quite lemony; try half a lemon if you prefer.  Taste and see if you like the sweetness, and add a bit more syrup or lemon juice if it needs it.  Spread the crumb mixture in the pastry case and bake at 200C for about 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the crumbs look a little crunchy on top, but still nice and moist underneath.  Serve warm with ice cream or custard.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Way of Peace

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

These words are read every day in the Anglican service of Morning Prayer.  They speak of the coming of Jesus at Christmas, as foretold by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  They speak of the hope that we hold, that there can be light in the darkness, peace in troubled times.   And today, many times, they have been spoken by Christians around the world.

Yet there are times when to profess religion seems to make a mockery of life.  There are times when speaking of the tender compassion of our God sounds like a cruel joke.  There are times when each day dawns darker than the one before, the shadow of death overwhelms us, and the way of peace has vanished into quicksand.  What does it mean, in those times, to continue to say these words?

It means nothing if they are merely an incantation, as if by saying them we can make everything all right.  It means little if we throw them at those who are suffering, expecting them to find comfort.  It means more, perhaps, if we find comfort and strength ourselves, to carry on in difficult times. 

But it can mean everything if, through Jesus, we find ourselves showing tender compassion to those facing death.  If we commit ourselves to the way of peace, even when that means loving those who are completely other to ourselves.  If, somehow, we can hold the light of common humanity against the darkness of all the forces dividing us.

And the dawn from high shall break upon us.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Monthly Munch: October 2015

A mixed month.  We enjoyed visits from Graham's sister, Graham's parents, and my parents (not quite all at once!).  We suffered with lots of night-time waking, and sick boys during half-term.  We celebrated Toby's birthday.  I finished work, which made me happy and sad at the same time.  And we put the clocks back, which means it really does feel like winter.


Toby

Look at those cheeky grins!

- learned to ride his bike without stabilisers!

On the Tissington Trail


- is learning phonics with sign language at school.  He regularly gives us demonstrations.

- got a remote control car for his birthday, and got the hang of driving it straight away.


- loves to chat, but sometimes gets a bit stuck while he remembers what to say next: "Well... I mean... well... the thing is..."

Theo



- can sing "E-I-E-I-O" at the right time in "Old MacDonald had a farm".

- dances along to "Gangnam Style" (Oh yes!).

- loves aeroplanes.

Favourite book: 1001 Images of Aircraft
- is gradually starting to produce recognisable words, although "haaa" can mean hot, hand, hair or hole, depending on context.

Thankful for:


- a nice walk along the Tissington Trail


- a good place to work for the summer

- "Thanksgiving dinner" in October with all of our parents

Recipe of the Month - Blueberry Cheesecake Pots


I made these for dessert on Toby's birthday.  The recipe is slightly adapted from a raspberry version in Feelgood Family Food by Dean Edwards.  They're beautifully quick and easy, and because they're so small, you've probably got all the ingredients on hand without having to go and bulk-buy cream cheese.

Base
6 Nice or plain biscuits (1.5 oz)
1/2 oz butter
1/2 oz desiccated coconut

Topping
5 oz cream cheese
3 oz Greek yoghurt
1 1/2 oz honey
blueberries (I used frozen) or other berries

For the base, put the biscuits in a bag and bash them into crumbs.  Melt the butter and stir in the coconut and biscuit crumbs.  Press into the base of four small containers (mine were tealight holders in another life) and put into the fridge to set.

For the topping, whisk together the cream cheese, yoghurt and honey.  Taste to see if it's sweet enough, and add a bit more honey if you want.  Put 8 or 9 blueberries on top of each biscuit base - no need to defrost if they're frozen - then spoon the cream cheese mixture on top.  Finish off with a few more blueberries, and leave in the fridge until you want to eat them.