Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013- reflections

I remember vaguely writing my 13 in '13... and having just re-read it... well. Let's be swift:

1. Listen to more music: I did vaguely well on this, albeit I didn't keep up a monthly post. Instead I spent each month adding something old and something new to my phone. And my phone seems permanently connected to a earphones or the car speakers when travelling. I have loved falling back in love with My Chemical Romance, All American Rejects, Placebo, Counting Crows and Semisonic. I love Mumford & Sons on the 0655 to London. I have enjoyed new stuff from Stereophonics, Stooshe, The Lumineers, Ed Sheeran and, of course, Blue October.

2. Baking. Thanks to the wonderful Jenny and Helen I think I can definitely tick this one off.

3. The Advent Activity Calender. We tried this again, didn't manage it all again, but will do a round up post.

4. Routine. We've managed to keep the boys on track, although we've just started weaning them off afternoon naps. Seren remains her own boss and everytime I think we are getting somewhere a half term happens and throws everything off again.

5. Work-life balance. Didn't work at all. 2014 sees the start of 4-day weeks. We'll see.

6. Career plan. Really not happening.

7. Making the most of London. Didn't happen. Work and tiredness got in the way.

8. Photography. Didn't really happen.

9. Create a memory wall. Kept for 2014.

10. To create children's bedrooms for the little people. Kept for 2014.

11. To learn to crochet (without my mum knowing!). Failed.

12. The blog. Didn't really happen.

13. Keep the family happy and healthy. Oddly, I think this happened. Admittedly we're finishing the year with a pediatrician referral for Tom but that only happened in December. We can celebrate Seren getting through her first term without a day off sick. The children overcame chickenpox. Mr J got his operation and also managed to come off his medication. As for happy,  I couldn't ask for more laughter, cwtches and kisses. I love what the children are becoming. And yes, there's tears, tantrums and terrorising... but it always ends with "Sorry" and a cuddle every time. Because that's the law!

So, outside of what we set out to do.
Here are the best bits:

January is a month of birthdays- Mr J's, Tom & Seb's and Nana Windows'.
As the virus was still amongst us we spent the boys birthday makingthem a rainbow cake.

As a result of turning 2 the boys got to start playschool.
Excited was an understatement.

February was my mum's 60th and my parents ruby wedding anniversary. It didn't go unmentioned.
 With March, the children all upgraded their beds. From cots to toddler beds, from beds to cabin beds.
 And of course March saw Seren have her first 'proper' birthday party as she turned 4.
 And being a Butlin's Ambassador saw us enjoying a fantastic birthday week in Bognor Regis.
 Easter saw an adventure to seek out the Gruffalo at Dean Heritage Centre.
 As well as the hunt for an Easter Egg at Dyffryn Gardens.
 The end of April saw us return to Butlin's with my parents for another fantastic break.
Unfortunately it saw us return with some additions.... and May saw all three children fighting Chickenpox.

The end of May saw the begins of good weather as we started to explore our extended backyard.
The start of June welcomed Mr J's much anticipated, most feared operation.
Nothing says relief better than this drugged up loon.
 And we got to explore more of our surroundings as the weather held.
 And ended with some much needed 'girly' time.
July was a randomly busy month, for what should be the rundown for Summer.
July saw Seren 'graduating' all too soon from nursery.
 Lots of time at the beach, so much so the pushchair became the equivalent of the naughty step.
 And against my odds, the weather held for the children's Christening, as we fortunate to enjoy a wonderful day with family and friends.

 August saw lots of trips out as the summer fortunately held.

And before we knew it, September arrived. And the boys were excited to be back at playschool. And Seren got to make the trip across the playground, from nursery to reception. And my gorgeous girl began her amazing journey, as her reading and writing seems to grow every day.
September also saw my learning improve, as I finally became proud of my baking, and whilst my photographs of family need improving as I seem a little more fortunate where food is involved.
 October saw dreams come true as the boys got to go on a proper nee-naw.
 And the turning of weather did nothing to reduce the children's love of the beach.
 November saw some much needed family time, as I got to enjoy a week with the family at Center Parcs.
And before we knew it, it was December 25th.
And we had lived too fast, slept too little, and laughed enough but not enough.
Like all years before. I have worked too much and not had enough family time.
I have not switched off, nor wound down, and as a result frequently been distracted.

We have grown as a family, taking decisions to improve our family and lifestyle.
We have bickered too much, communicated too little, and spent too much time resolving problems.
We have watched our children grow into individuals we are proud of.
For every exasperation I have with Seren, I hold myself back as I see too much of myself in her.
For all the boisterous behaviour the boys bring, I cannot believe how well behaved, polite and loving they can be.
I adore their humour and their thought processes. Which can be read so easily in their expressions.
I love that every day I am fortunate enough to be loved by them.
I will make more of this in 2014, I will not cry for days not spent together but remember the fun we have had when together.

And so, the Johnson's have had the best of 2013. We have been fortunate. And we are thankful for that.

And so, we wave a fond goodbye to 2013.
Before taking a deep breath and reaching out to greet 2014.

Our Christmas - 2013

So, this year we had the most perfect Johnson family Christmas.
And, as has become customary, our plans changed throughout Christmas Eve.
We drew our line. We agreed, above all else, Christmas is about our children.

For reasons unknown, I forgot to book Christmas week off.
It turned out ok, a deadline meant I was working to the bitter end.
And I was glad to send the last email, attach the final versions of the excel spreadsheets which have plagued the last three months of my life, and switch off everything work related.

And walk next door to my most excited children.
Seren was getting over her disappointment.
She had miscalculated, and had spent Monday convinced it was Christmas Eve.
Her Christmas Day never materialised.

Carol Service saw her getting to carry the ornament of Mary, so all began to make sense.
The boys got to carry the Wise Men (with Seren on hand for supervision) and so Christmas took hold.

With much excitement the Johnson Babies went to sleep on Christmas Eve.
After leaving a carrot for Ruldoph, Black (cola) and a chocolate cupcake for Father Christmas (ever the radicals, the children left their favourite food).
And the boys added their dummies, understanding that if they left their favourite thing, maybe Father Christmas would reward them with something better.
"The Night Before Christmas" was read.
Lights were turned out.

Footprints appeared.
And Christmas Day dawned.
The boys had been rewarded for giving up their dummies with their joint gift- a fire station.

After the children eventually woke up at 9 (that's what too much excitement does to them!), one of my favourite moments of Christmas happened.
As the children raced downstairs, ahead of mummy and daddy shouting: "Wait for us", "Mummy and Daddy must go first", "Do not open the lounge door"...
The door opened a little (by whose hand we know not), and Jewelly strode out.
"Look mummy, I was good. Father Christmas let Jewelly stay."
The plan had worked.

And so Christmas saw mummy finally relent and gifts of princesses and dressing up costumes were found in Seren's stocking.
 And whilst Seb seemed the most wary of the gifts, once he got into it the paper was being ripped off.
And of course Mr J had to play his part:
 And provoked Seren into a smile for the camera.
Another favourite part of our Christmas Day was leaving Seren and Mr J to prepare Christmas dinner and take the boys across the road to enjoy their Christmas gifts.
And then as the children reunited, I got to unwrap my gifts from Mr J.
And, of course, I was treated to everything which will make 2014 a wonderful year.
 And as Mr J put the finishing touches to our meal, the table was prepared.
 And I got to sit next to the ever charming Tom.
And after our meal, and some down time. My parents descended. And we lived Christmas again.
This time with a light evening meal.

And yet, as 7pm hit the boys were ready for bed.

The first Christmas they had understood.
Thanks in no small part to their sister.
The excitement, the fun, the constant.

And as we read their new book "Room on a Broom", I was so grateful to their appreciation.
That they enjoyed and were thoroughly worn out by their day.

It really was "A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night".

Monday, 30 December 2013

Oh, if I used swear words

Is a rather bizarre title for what will follow as a religious post.
2014 sees me setting myself challenges.
2013 saw me begin a new journey, supporting a wonderful, changing group of young children at Sunday School.
I do not mind supporting children around and about Seren's age.
I know where about I can pitch the readings and activities.
I understand what I would like Seren to appreciate.
And I have enjoyed spending time with Seren and her peers.
And searching Pinterest (and my mind!) for activities and crafts.

And yet January 5th sees me moving to the older group.
The swear words come in.
I feel that fear.
That I fear them more than they will laugh at me.
That they will challenge me.
And my responses will not be enough to satisfy their thirst for understanding and knowledge.

I understand my own beliefs.
And accept them to be individual to me.
That whilst we are all under the same religion.
And to that extent have chosen this path.
We may have done this will different understandings, and callings.

In Church this week, as is my interpretation,
I heard the lyrics (paraphrased) of one of my favourite songs being questioned:
"There's only one way of life,
And that's your own,
Your own."
Is this prioritising yourself before all else?
Is this saying you are more important that anyone else?
Creating your own importance?

I don't know the answer.
I promised myself I would never regret.
That I would learn from everything to prevent it being a regret.
To be accountable for my actions.

And to me that makes it my life.
That these are the choices I have made.

That I will be guided.
That I have chosen my religion (and therein another song starts playing).
And that I will support my children in finding their own.
That I will exercise tolerance, support and understanding of all the choices they will make in their lives.
And so I hope this life I have chosen does more than demonstrate a selfishness.
That I hope I understand myself to know I cannot blame others, I cannot push things under the carpet, and repeat mistakes.
But that I can forgive and can seek forgiveness.

And this is where I am scared.
I will not stand in front of children as someone who has not made mistakes.
I have made many.
I will sit with them to talk about how we find our paths, and in finding them will follow a direction which will lead us to be the best that we can be.
Do I know our direction to be the only one.
I know others would challenge me.
I know that the direction I have found to be the one I believe in.
I know that my friends have different ones.

And so, this Sunday, I will talk with children about the Epiphany.
About what it means to us.
And about how it affects how lives.
And I hope, that it will mean something.
That they will walk away with a piece more to their understanding.
A direction.

PS Still thinking about a craft activity!

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Our Week That Was Week #51

I had no clue I was this far behind.
I've realised priorities last weekend were slightly skewed, so here was December 15th to 21st.

Sunday: We took the children to visit Father Christmas at Cardiff Castle. Whilst not the best photo it does manage to achieve my impossible- all three looking at the camera. Tom burst into tears after opening his gift. He thought this was the Father Christmas, and the visit he had been waiting for. He received a cuddly dog. He wanted a fire station. Pep talk was duly offered.

Monday: A first swimming certificate. And a proud child accompanied it.

Tuesday: I took the day off to bake. The boys have been weaning themselves off their naps. We popped out for more supplies. And this was their stance as mummy decided what to buy. It may look bad. Usually I'd associate this with sumo wrestling toddlers. Instead there was pretend snoring coming from their direction.

Wednesday and Thursday: were all about preparing the Christmas gifts for the children's teachers. These were the hampers we had been building up, from decorations, to food and drink. I think they were worth it, I was so proud of the effort and pride the children offered, understanding Christmas to be more about giving and receiving than favourite toys isn't an easy one, we will hopefully get there.

Friday: Finishing the Angel shakers for the Nativity ensured my idle hands were put to good use.

Saturday: the final rehearsal for the Nativity. I managed to persuade Seren, who has turned into a diva over the past weeks, to participate. I wasn't so lucky the following day.
 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

First day of potty training twin boys

The boys turn 3 in a fortnight. And whilst Seren didn't get the Easter intake at nursery, I'm hoping the boys will.
For the same motivation as potty training Seren... that children must be potty trained to start nursery, we are trying to make progress with the boys.

Of course we tried in the summer holidays, and the half term.
It wasn't to be, no-one really had the motivation, and trips out, family time, took priority.
In term time, with three mornings at playschool and two mornings with my parents it seemed wrong to inflict potty training my children on anyone else.

And so.
I go back to work on January 7th. So this is our time.
We got rid of dummies on Christmas Eve, four nights in and we're doing well.
On Friday the boys moved to their 'big boy bedroom'.
And so Saturday saw the next challenge.
Big Boy Pants.
First attempt (March 2013)
And because we've had so many earlier attempts, the boys were straight into the spirit of things.
As it was, the boys demonstrated whilst they have the same birth date they have completely different attitudes and behaviours.

Seb had the first accident.
Tom was first to use the potty.
And was rewarded with a chocolate coin.
Which meant Seb spent 10 minutes on the potty and managed to get the tiniest of wee's out.
He wasn't happy with the small coin.
Whilst Tom enjoyed the excitement and another tick in the journey to becoming 3.
Seb decided he'd rather wear nappies.

And so this is how we've ended the first day.
Tom is enjoying the challenge.
Seb would rather not.

And this is how I would have predicted it yesterday.
But as mum and I chatted it over last night.
About potty-training one at a time, I dismissed it.
Firstly I couldn't make the decision as to which I'd train first.
Secondly I thought they should both be given the chance.
And of course, usually Seb does everything first, and I knew Tom was more enthused.
And, of most relevant to me, I go back to work on Jan 7th, I didn't have the time to separate my energies.

So, here we are.
Children leading the way.
Me hoping Tom will be potty trained by the 7th.
Me wondering when Seb will decide to give up the nappies.

Day 1: a day of two halves.


Our festive Stollen

I was gutted to have run out of time before Christmas to make a gingerbread house, so on Boxing Day I decided to attempt Stollen, basically to pacify myself.

Having been so inspired by such wonderfully festive colours I decided to include cranberries and cherries into the recipe to make the colours stand out.

And, of course, we had no doubts this time over baking with marzipan. The berry, merry marzipan cakes were a huge hit.

So, this was our take on Stollen:
Ingredients
500g strong white flour (a little more for kneading)
100g caster sugar
10g fast action yeast
10g salt
150g unsalted butter, softened
250ml full fat milk
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½  tspground cloves
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 drops almond extract
55g blanched almonds, finely chopped
150g dried cranberries
50g glace cherries, roughly chopped
100g raisins
125g mixed peel
25g butter, melted
225g marzipan

Once baked
25g butter, melted
2 tbsp icing sugar

Preparation method
  • Put the flour and sugar in a large bowl. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other. Add the softened butter and 200ml of the milk and stir together.
  • Add the remaining milk and bring the mixture together to form a soft dough. Transfer to floured work surface and knead for 6-7 minutes, or until smooth and pliable.
  • Mix the nutmeg, cloves, vanilla and almond extract, almonds, fruit and mixed peel together in a large bowl. Put the dough on top and knead from the outside into the centre incorporating the dried fruit and spices as you go. 
  • When everything has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place, or until doubled in size.
  • Flatten the dough and roll out on a lightly floured work surface to a rectangle so the short side matches the longest side of your baking tray. Brush with the melted butter.
  • Roll out the marzipan so the long side is approximately the width of the dough. Place on top of the dough in the middle. Roll the dough up to enclose the marzipan and transfer to a baking tray lined with baking parchment. 
  • Cover and leave to rise for about an hour, or until risen and doubled in size.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 (fan 170C).
  • When the dough is risen, bake for an hour. Remove from the oven, brush with melted butter, and dust with icing sugar. 
  • Serve cold.

As always, I'm joining the Great Bloggers Bake Off team which is currently in full festive flow. Pop along to Jenny and Helen's blogs to see lots of fantastic recipes!
mummy mishaps
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