Friday, 30 September 2016

Monthly Munch: September 2016

I have surprisingly few photos for this month, probably because Graham was busy several weekends (two Saturdays volunteering and one weekend away).  When he's not around I a) don't take the boys anywhere interesting and b) forget to take any photos even if we do go somewhere.  We've been getting back into the school routine with Toby, and Theo has started one morning of preschool a week.  It doesn't seem like five minutes since I was showing him off there as a new baby!

Toby

 

 - is now mostly cycling to school, and insists on wearing a high-vis vest to do so (not a bad thing!)

This is racing, with me as pit crew

- wanted to transform his room into an arts and crafts den, like in the TV program Dengineers (kind of like Changing Rooms for kids).  He got a new bed when Theo moved out of his cot, so we'd already moved some stuff around.

Not quite as tidy as it started out!


- can do some pretty good tricks on the trampoline.

- made a lovely cup and saucer with help from a friend who is a potter.  She kindly fired and glazed them for us.



- is doing well in Year 1 but sometimes being challenging at home.  Apparently this is quite normal.

Theo



- is a little tearful when left at preschool but generally happy after that.  It helps that he already knows several other younger siblings who go there.

- moved into his "big bed" without problems.



- likes drawing circles, lining up cars and building tall towers out of Megabloks.

- has enjoyed the blackberry season!  (He calls them black berries, with the emphasis on the ber.)

Theo "black berry" White

Thankful for:

- finally getting rid of most of the baby stuff!  I sold some at an NCT sale, donated some, and took some to the tip.  Finally I have empty boxes (it's only taken a year...)

- a fairly substantial tax refund

- enough blackberries to make jam.  It doesn't feel like summer if I haven't made some jam.

Recipe of the Month: Middle-Eastern rice with feta and harissa courgette




So I bought some harissa paste for one recipe, and then of course had to find several more recipes to use it all up.  Apparently harissa was all the rage last summer, because it featured heavily in the June and July 2015 Tesco magazines.  This is an adapted version of one of their recipes; it's not too complicated but looks fancy once you've piled it all on the plates.

Rice, measured to 200ml mark in a measuring jug
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely sliced
knob of butter
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 can green lentils, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp harissa paste
2 largish courgettes (zucchini)
100g feta cheese
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped

Put the rice in a pan and add 400ml boiling water.  Put the lid on, return to the boil, then turn down to low and cook for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan and add the onions.  Cook fairly gently for 15 minutes or so until golden.  Add the butter, then the cumin and paprika.  Cook for one more minute.  Remove a third of the onions from the pan and set aside.

Add the rice and lentils with a splash of water.  Cover and cook for a few more minutes, to warm through.

Slice the courgettes thickly on the diagonal.  Mix together the harissa paste and remaining oil.  Brush over the courgettes and grill or griddle until done.

Pile the rice mixture onto plates.  Crumble the feta over, add the courgettes and reserved onions, and scatter some parsley on top.  Serves 4.

Variations: a bit of tzatziki (yoghurt with cucumber and mint) goes nicely if you don't fancy feta, and some pitta on the side would be good too.  Aubergine or chicken would work as alternatives to the courgettes.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Living with other people

On a recent trip to the library, I picked up a book called A Place of Refuge, by Tobias Jones.  It turned out to be the story of Windsor Hill Wood, the community that he and his wife set up in Somerset - a house in an abandoned quarry, surrounded by woods, welcoming to all who came.  They cleared trees, planted vegetables, raised pigs, carved wood.  Their three children grew used to having different people around the dinner table every night.  And over the first five years of failure and success, they gradually learned how to make a working community with hurting, messed-up people.


It was fascinating on several different levels, but I realised it resonated with me for one particular reason.  It reminded me of Yeldall Manor.

For many of my growing-up years, my dad worked at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.  At that time, staff were encouraged to "live in" with their families, in self-contained flats on site, and we did so for three years.  Yeldall had been started by one couple who invited an addict into their home, and the family feel was still there.  Everyone ate evening meals together in the wood-panelled dining room, Father Christmas appeared by the enormous tree every year, and us kids played pool and watched TV alongside men who came from lives we could never have dreamed of.

That's me at the bottom right, aged 6.


The worry and rewards of having their young children living with so many troubled adults is a key theme in A Place of Refuge.  Tobias Jones talks about how easily the kids accepted everyone, and the benefits for the adults of being able to play again.  They wanted their community to be, at heart, a family home, and so it was.  But there were also worries about the children's safety, and whether they were getting enough attention.

As a child, you live in a different world.  I knew what Yeldall was for, of course, but I had no concept of what kind of issues people were struggling with.  For me, living at Yeldall Manor meant making dens in the woods with my friend Anna, or playing hide and seek in the huge Victorian house, wondering what it had been like a century ago.  It wasn't until many years later that I realised my parents could have had the slightest worry about bringing their family to live there.

I also identified with the strict routine that the Jones' built up at Windsor Hill Wood.  They quickly found that it was necessary to have defined times for cleaning, cooking and other work, to make the community run smoothly and ensure that everyone was doing their bit.  Like any family, extended or not, there were still arguments about washing up!  But they found that people responded better if they had to take on responsibility for certain tasks, and were a functioning part of the whole.

Yeldall had a similar routine.  It was marked out by the clanging of a bell, which happened to be situated on the wall just outside our bathroom.  When my grandma came to visit, she was convinced that someone would ring the bell every time she went to the toilet!  I went through a phase of watching Neighbours every day; the programme finished at two minutes to six, and I became an expert at sprinting up the hall from the TV room to the dining room, sliding into my seat at the table just before the 6:00 bell announced the prayer for dinner.

My bedroom window is top centre
 And finally, Tobias talks about the pain of having to ask people to leave.  Or a person would just disappear, never to be heard from again.  There were always questions about whether they could have done something differently.  But they had to come to terms with never being able to help everybody.  Sometimes the community made a noticeable difference to someone's life, sometimes not.  Nobody stayed forever, and the goodbyes were often hard.

Even as oblivious children, we knew when someone had been asked to leave.  Everyone knew.  It changed the atmosphere for a day or two.  Yeldall had a defined rehabilitation programme, unlike Windsor Hill Wood, and most residents worked their way through to the end, but there were always a few who left early.  I imagine it wasn't any easier for the staff there, than it was for the Joneses at their community.

I have to say, the description of community life in A Place of Refuge did not make me want to jump back into it as an adult!  It sounded like the frustrations of family life multiplied by about a million.  But it also sounded like a very special place.  They're currently advertising for a new warden to take over from the Joneses, should you happen to feel a calling to that kind of thing.

Or if not, Yeldall Manor is also a very special place.  It's still changing lives and would welcome any support you can give.  And no, you don't have to take your children to live there.  But I'll always be glad that my parents did.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Stuck on a ship

Sometimes it's fascinating to muse on how interconnected everything is.  Sometimes it's scary.  Sometimes a bit of both.

I first found out about the South Korean shipping company Hanjin's bankruptcy through this story, about a British artist who is stuck on board one of the ships.  The focus was narrowed down to this single person, who was remarkable mostly because she wouldn't normally expect to be on a cargo ship at all.  And suddenly a business bankruptcy, which would normally be an obscure piece of news to her, is having a big impact on her life.

The next story I read covered a captain and crew of a different Hanjin ship, moored off of Singapore.  Unlike the artist, they had every reason to be on board a cargo ship; they work there.  Except suddenly, they don't.  Now they're featuring on world news.

Moving on from the people involved, the main concern for many companies is the cargo on board.  Shoppers in the USA probably don't spend much time wondering whether their Thanksgiving goodies will be on the shelves or not.  They just kind of - appear, don't they?  This year, they might still be on a container ship in the Pacific somewhere.  Or seized by Hanjin's creditors to scrape some money out of the doomed company.

And now that almost 100 ships are out of operation, the cost of moving goods goes up.  Which means that prices get more expensive, which means customers spend less, which means the all-important economy wobbles a little bit...

Sometimes it's interesting to muse on how interconnected everything is.  Sometimes it's worrying.  And sometimes, you're just sitting on a ship, wondering when you'll get to go home.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Dee-lightful!

Really this post should be a Monthly Munch, but I feel like my last few posts have covered most of the things I'd usually put in my regular roundup.  So I thought I'd concentrate on the interesting part: the last three days of August.

We set out on the Monday morning and drove west, to the area where England meets Wales and all the road signs suddenly become bilingual.  A couple of hours later, we arrived at the lush green beauty of Ty Mawr Country Park, just outside of Wrexham/Wrecsam (yes, many of the places have two names, or at least two spellings, too).  What a view to eat lunch by!

That bridge arching across the valley is the Cefn viaduct, a close relative of the bridge we had really come to see.  The viaduct carries a train line across the River Dee; it's actually taller and a lot more visible than its cousin along the valley, the Pontcysyllte aqueduct.  The canal-carrying aqueduct is the famous one, but it hides itself well.  I thought we might be able to see it from the park, but we didn't get a glimpse.  That had to wait till the next day.


Meanwhile we walked down the hill and gazed up in awe at the gigantic pillars of the viaduct.  We followed a pleasant path along the Dee and found a gravelly beach, where the cool rippling water looked very inviting.  Back at the top, Toby had great fun riding his scooter around a BMX course, and we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream.



 Graham had found an AirBnB property to stay in, and it was excellent.  We had four large bedrooms, lots of toys, a beautiful location, lovely hosts, and even the use of a sauna!  That first evening we sauntered along the road to the local pub, a community-owned venture called the Tyn-y-Capel Inn.   We couldn't really object to the view at dinner either!

 
"Cheeeeeese!"

Next day we set off to discover the Pontcysyllte (say pont-k-suth-teh) aqueduct.  We parked at Trevor Basin, a pretty little canal basin with an informative visitor centre and some cafes.  Even from there the aqueduct is not particularly easy to see, until you walk to one end and suddenly realise there is an awful lot of empty space in front of you!  Crossing the aqueduct was not as vertiginous as I thought it might be.  On the towpath you have a sturdy railing on one side and a boat-width of canal on the other, so although it's high, it feels pretty safe.


 

We couldn't leave without crossing it by boat as well.  Theo was NOT keen on the idea; I think he imagined it would be like going on a train.  Once he realised that, unlike a train, a canal boat is fairly quiet and extremely slow, he relaxed a bit.  I'm not sure you get a tremendously different experience of the aqueduct, but it was a nice ride.

Hanging on tight


OK, this isn't too bad...
For dinner that night, the magic of TripAdvisor led us to the Cross Keys, which is really not somewhere you would just happen to be driving past.  We were glad we'd found it; the food was excellent and the owner and chef (who happened to have studied in Derby) made us feel very welcome.  When we mentioned that we'd share one children's meal between the two boys, it came out ready divided on two plates, which has never happened anywhere else.

Buckets of ice cream!
 And it was the final day already!  Theo had a tantrum because he didn't want to leave the guest house, which is most unlike him.  Once we'd peeled him off the doorstep for the fifth time we managed to get everyone in the car, and we drove over the Horseshoe Pass and down to the Horseshoe Falls.  There is no connection between the two, as far as I know, except a certain similarity in shape.  The Horseshoe Falls was designed by Thomas Telford to draw water off the River Dee and into the Llangollen Canal.  The genius of the plan is that the Llangollen Canal is the same one that soars over the Dee on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, several miles downstream.  Somehow that water ends up 120 feet above the river it came from - with no pumps or locks involved!




We then drove into Llangollen itself, picked up a sandwich and let the boys loose on the playground.  After a while Graham and I thought we might actually be dying of boredom, so we packed them into the car again and we took a rather roundabout route to the bottom of a path up to Dinas Bran Castle.  This ruined fort is perched on a hill above Llangollen, with simply outstanding views.  For some reason the boys have to be coaxed along a flat walk, but if you put them at the bottom of a steep climb they will scamper up like little rabbits.  Graham and I enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs, too - but exchanged boredom for fear at the top, as we were convinced someone would fall over a sheer drop at any minute.  Fortunately catastrophe was averted for another day, and we all lived to wave goodbye to Wales.