Imagine, Imagine…

Albert Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”….so why is it we know more and imagine less as we get older? The scope and strength of a small child’s imagination – despite their relatively small amount of “knowledge” never ceases to amaze me.

In the past week my house has been populated by the following cast of characters ….

Monday – a doctor tending a ward of serious accident victims.
Hello Kitty appeared dressed in her nurses outfit (but she always informs everyone very strongly when she’s wearing this “NO, I’m a Doctor!” – the girl has aspirations) I helped her find the medical bag from the playroom and then had to provide bandages – an old sheet cut up satisfied her – and we found a bottle from the play-kitchen which seemed to be a good substitute for medicine. I could then hear her ordering her two older sisters to stay in bed and rest and take their medicine. They both appeared later wrapped in bandages!

Tuesday – Peter Pan and Astro-Boy teaming up to fight a whole armada of pirates….and a spaceship. They tore around the garden before transforming into tutu-wearing ballerinas and asking me to put on some dance music – they then performed a dance to a Vivaldi piece from the Shine soundtrack

Wednesday – I am writing this whilst two leotard clad figures dance around me to “Better Best Forgotten” by Steps looking like the cast of Fame!

Two weeks ago the three girls and I attended Lighthouse, a holiday club run by the local churches. I volunteered as a helper and the girls were enrolled in the club. It is held on the playing field of The Bratz’ school in huge marquees and the kids do craft, sports, games…..on the Monday The Mouth got up and got herself dressed in shorts and t-shirt…and then put on her Knights costume over the top. This is a tabard top made to look like a tunic with armour over it which we bought on our trip to Warwick castle the Friday before. She wore the costume all day.

On the Tuesday she came down to breakfast wearing her Pirate Queen dress….and Hello Kitty was dressed as Peter Pan….when we arrived the other helpers all said ‘Oh, what are you dressed as today?” and whilst we were clearing up at the end of the day they all asked “So, what are you wearing tomorrow?”

Wednesday was a fairy day – we have about 5 fairy costumes in our dressing up box so this one took a little bit of choosing but she eventually settled for a pink sparkly skirt and matching wings worn over her official Lighthouse t-shirt. The leaders were suitably amused and intrigued as to what she would wear on the Thursday which was our last day …it would have to be something big….

After an extensive search through the dressing up clothes (and persuading her that a mermaid tail wasn’t practical) she arrived for a full day of playing outside dressed in a Belle princess dress with full hooped skirt! She also took this dress on holiday with us last week and wore it out to the pub for a meal one evening to the intense amusement of her grandfather who kept joking he hadn’t realised it was formal and he hadn’t brought his suit!

By the way, the Fame rehearsals have broken up now and there are now two little girls, still dressed in leotards, both with wellies, one with a knights tabard and both wielding swords chasing “baddies” around the garden on bicycles….

Watching my children dressing up and going out in public dressed up with no sense of embarassment or self-conciousness I wonder where and when we lose that ability to so totally immerse ourselves in a world of our own imagination? And it is total – a child of a friend habitually pretends to be either Superman, Spiderman or Ben 10. A few years ago the nursery he attended with Hello Kitty was being inspected and the inspector was talking to some of the children. “Hello, what’s your name?” she asked (he was dressed as Spiderman) “Spiderman” was the obvious reply. “Oh, of course” she said “but what’s your real name?” …… “Peter Parker”

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Lemon Meringue Memories

I remember being told that of the senses, smell is the most closely linked with memory which is why a faint whiff of a particular perfume or flower or food can trigger such strong memories. However, in my experience, it’s the taste of some familiar food which can send me back years….which brings me to the lemon meringue…. one mouthful and I think of my Grandad Holly.

This afternoon the girls were out picking redcurrants from our garden – the bushes were planted a couple of years ago but this is the first year we’ve had anything worth the effort of picking – about 1lb of fruit in the end.

“What are you going to do with them mum?”

Hmmm, what indeed? A quick search on Google for “redcurrant recipes” and the first site I looked at produced a recipe for Wheat Free Redcurrant and Lime Meringue Tarts. With a glut of redcurrants and a coeliac in the house this seemed tailor made for us and after consulting with The Bratz (the coeliac in question) we decided these would be the perfect cakes for us to take to the school picnic tomorrow afternoon.

This evening, once the girls had gone to bed, I set about making the tarts. I realised that I have never made meringue although I have eaten hundreds of lemon meringue pies made by my grandmother. As soon as I started beating the egg whites I started to think about my grandfather…….

When I started university I was at Middlesex Polytechnic on the Hendon site in North London. I couldn’t get any accommodation near the college and as it was only 3 or 4 stops along the railway line from my grandparents house in Borehamwood it was decided that I should lodge with them until such time as I found somewhere to live….as it turned out I spent my entire first year living with them before I transferred to Bristol to finish my degree.

My grandmother was a wonderful cook but my grandfather was the fussiest eater ever and so as soon as I moved in she was overjoyed to have someone to cook for. The one thing my grandfather really loved was lemon meringue pie and my grandmother would bake him one every week on a Tuesday. The first Tuesday after I began living with them the pie was ready to be served and my grandfather turned and asked me “You don’t like lemon meringue pie do you?” he looked very dismayed when I replied that I loved it and he realised he was going to have to share that pie every week.

We must have shared at least 30 lemon meringue pies over the time I lived with them and now I can’t eat one without thinking of him.

My Grandfather was a remarkable man – he spent his entire working life as an accountant working for the same firm. He was articled with them as a teenager and stayed there until he retired aged nearly 70. He never took a day off sick and rarely even took any holidays. This despite the fact he never wanted to be an accountant – he came from generations of cabinet makers and this is what he wanted to do. In his later years he made dolls houses and furniture for them – my daughters now have the dolls house he presented me with for christmas when I was about 6.
He married my grandmother on the day the blitz began in London and after the wedding they all had to take shelter in the Underground. He was born at the start of WW1 and never knew his own father as he was killed in the last few days of the War when my grandfather was only 4. He was sent to serve in Burma in WW2 shortly after the birth of his first son, my dad, and believed that history was about to repeat itself and so sent my dad regular letters full of fatherly advice. He illustrated these letters with wonderful cartoons and whilst he was serving in the war he produced a magazine to entertain his regiment with more of these cartoons. When he returned after the war he submitted these cartoons to newspapers and magazines and had over a hundred published in Punch magazine. He loved Jazz music, Tolkein and George Bernard Shaw.
I remember him as clever, articulate, grumpy, funny, the man who made me love JRR Tolkein, the man I was proud saw me graduate with a degree in accountancy but sad never saw me qualify as a chartered accountant or get married. The man who had the oddest shaped toes I’ve ever seen – until we realised my little brothers were the same……

…..the man who loved Lemon Meringue Pie.

Stepping out into the world

When you’re raising kids you realise that growing up consists of hundreds of little victories – new challenges mastered that form us as a person. Some of these challenges are big and take a long time to master – learning to ride a bike or read a book – whilst others to us as adults seem very small – putting your shoes on the right feet or threading a bead on a string. But to a child everyone of these is a major accomplishment on the way to becoming an adult.
Today The Mouth had one such experience – a small step for man, a giant leap for The Mouth!! We heard yesterday from their Nanny that my nephew had fallen from a climbing frame at school and broken his arm quite badly. He had been kept in hospital overnight to have wires put in place and was feeling very sorry for himself. The Mouth is the same age as her cousin and when I told her what had happened she immediately wanted to go visit. This wasn’t possible as they live a little way from us and we have school to go to but I suggested she make him a Get Well card and we post it.
She duly got out the paper and colouring pencils and busied herself drawing a picture and writing a Get Well message. I found an envelope and a stamp and we addressed it.
“Can I post it in the box” she asked
“Of course – I’ll watch from the gate and you run to the post box”
“All on my own?” came the incredulous reply
“If you want to…”
“I’ll get my shoes…..Guys! (this to her sisters) I’m going to post this all on myself”

Now, I should point out that we live in the corner of a green with a play park in the middle. The road in front of our house is a narrow access road around this green and the post box is in the next corner. From our driveway she had only to walk along the pavement to the next corner, cross the very quiet road to the box and return the same way – a distance of about 150 metres…..but to a 6 year old an expedition of epic proportions.
She found her shoes and set out…I walked to the end of our driveway to watch her as she strode along looking very important holding very tightly to her letter. I have to admit I was feeling a little apprehensive and wondering if I was right to let her go alone.

When she reached the corner she stopped, looked both ways and then turned to see I was looking

“There’s nothing coming mum” she shouted back at me – I waved to her to cross.

She crossed to the post box, stood on tiptoe to reach, crossed the road again and began to walk back. This is when I realised what a sense of achievement she felt – as she walked towards me she began to skip!

What is it about a skipping child that just screams “I’m happy! I’m proud! I’m pleased with myself” ?

The grin on her face made the apprehension I had in letting her go completely disappear! Mission Accomplished Mum!!

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Ok, so it’s been so long I’m not even going to try and explain, or apologise or anything – suffice to say, 3 girls=busy life and no time for anything, however youngest now at school full-time so I find myself with a teeny bit of spare time and hope to spend some of it getting back to blogging.

So most recently my life has been full of Hello Kitty – my youngest just turned 5 and decided she wanted a Hello Kitty party so this was the result

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Whilst we’re on the subject of cakes – a quick round-up of my various efforts since my last post

Eldest daughter’s 9th birthday – Spongebob Squarepants

Middle daughter’s 5th birthday – a farm

Bratz, Baking and Battling Hats

So – another round-up of what I’ve been up to since my last communication….I actually started writing this nearly 2 weeks ago, around the time of my eldest daughter’s birthday and the kick off for Hat Attack but then someone came and asked me to switch the tv on/tell their sister to stop it/get them a drink please (choose any one of these or a combination), the post got kicked into draft and has remained there.

So first, Bratz. Now, anyone out there who does not have children (or more specifically girls) may not be aware of these evil voodoo dolls (think Barbie with a serious Paris Hilton fixation) but my eldest thinks they are the best thing since sliced bread so we have them everywhere….I find them and their “accessories” under the sofa, in the kitchen, on the bathroom floor…so when her birthday was approaching and we asked what sort of party she wanted the answer was inevitably “Bratz!”

After a few days of thinking she came back to amend this to “a Bratz makeover party” – oooookkaaaay……..after questioning a few other parents and toying (very briefly) with the idea of painting nails and applying lip gloss to a group of 8 year olds myself I found a wonderful beauty therapist who organises such parties for little girls. All I had to do was provide them with some food, put up some decorations …. oh yes, and bake a cake.

My eldest has coeliac disease so no chance of just walking into Tesco and buying a Bratz cake – oh no – mum has to make a gluten free sponge then ice and decorate it. So for a week this is what I was doing –

here is the cake fresh from the oven

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and here is Yasmin (her favourite Bratz) in construction

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This was all cut from regal ice in various colours (after a trial run with the kids play-doh!!!). I then covered the cake with white regal ice and decorated it with spray-on food colouring in blue, purple and gold lustre to get this –

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– I was quite pleased with the overall effect and the party and the cake were a big hit!

Right in the middle of this week of Bratz Baking, blowing up balloons, wrapping presents etc etc Hat Attack kicked off. Having done no swaps/competitions/kal’s in about a year I was doing a very rare spot of browsing around on the net a month or so ago and came across Hat Attack….a bit like Sock Wars except your weapon of choice in this particular battle is a hat…so in a moment of madness I signed up….to then discover the pattern was coming out a couple of days before the Big Party…oh well, I thought, at least I’ll get a nice hat.

I actually managed to get a fair bit of knitting in that week and found the pattern fairly easy so got the hat completed in about 3 days and it was posted off by the weekend.

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One kill in at least I thought. I then waited for either a WIP from my target or a bullet through the head from my assassin….both of which arrived on the same day. Which is probably why I realised there was something a bit off about the weapon fired at me.

This is the two hats together, bear in mind that all the way through the game, and for several weeks before, the organisers have been banging on and on about gauge and how important it is and how we are only allowed to be off by, at most, an inch either way in size….

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The smaller one was the WIP (yes, I know it’s a finished hat – it was agreed to be a misfire on account of one row of pattern being missing) the larger is the hat destined for me….a little large? Well, this is me wearing it and I didn’t pull it down hard or anything

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and this is my hubby wearing it….

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now, he’s 6’4″ and has a notoriously large head. We never find hats that fit him. His head is so large that when he was born the doctors thought he had encephalitis and told his mum that he might not live, they performed tests for a week – including a spinal tap – before his granny came to see him and just mentioned to one of the nurses “Of course I had the same problem when his dad was born, his head was really big, we couldn’t get baby hats to fit him” at which point they decided there was nothing wrong with him….apart from the freakishly large head of course. Actually, this fact is the one thing that I console myself with when thinking about not being able to give birth to my own children…at least by adopting I avoided having those large headed babies……ouuuchhh!

So, to get back to Hat Attack – the powers that be agreed it was a misfire so it ricochets right back to my assassin and I live some more. I unpicked and reworked the other hat and sent that off last weekend. Kill no 2 done.

I am now awaiting the arrival of hat no 3 which should be here tomorrow however I know that my new assassin is working on my hat as we speak….I don’t know what stage it is at but I do know the hat I’m getting is already at the decreases near the top so has only a few rows left to do. I then discovered that my new assassin (Ravelry name purps) goes to the same knitting group in Birmingham as RooKnits so if you see her there could you just accidentally unravel the hat or stab her in the hand with your needles or something? Ta!!!

You have learned well my young Padawan

I have an apprentice and pleased as Yoda am I…..

One of the things I have always imagined when I looked to the future of myself with children was sitting teaching them to knit and this afternoon that dream was realised. My eldest , who is about 2 weeks away from being 8, was watching me sew name labels into her younger sisters school uniform and asked if she could help “I’d really like to do some sewing…..or knitting…yeah, that’s what I really, REALLY want to do…..”

So, I found some suitably sized needles, large size so they are easy to hold and knit up quickly but fairly short so they are not unmanageable – I finally dug out some old wooden needles that were my grandmas (she used to call them her “string vest” needles) they are 10mm needles but only about 11″ long and being wooden they are nice to the touch. Then I dug out some wool – I decided on Twilleys Freedom. It’s 100% wool and very soft to the touch, it’s fairly chunky so the knitting grows pretty quick and the couple of balls I dug out were in a variegated blue so the fabric would knit up a little more interesting than a plain yarn.

I cast on 15 stitches for her and showed her how to make a knit stitch and she was off…

First Try

with very little input from me aside from the odd screamed “Help, mum…it’s all gone wrong” as the stitches slipped off the needles or she wrapped the yarn the wrong way! She sat working away happily shouting out excitedly every time she finished another row and, after about an hour of knitting she had produced this –

First Knitting

It may only be 6 rows of garter stitch but to her it’s a real achievement and (so okay, I may just be a proud mum) I think that’s pretty good for a not-quite-8-year-old who has never knit a stitch before! She has informed me it is going to be the longest scarf in the world, EVER! and that she is going to knit every day.

My husband walked in as she was knitting and said, “oh no – a convert. What have you started?” I prefer to think of her as an apprentice and I’m rather proud of myself as well as I’ve never taught anyone to knit before.

The Return of the Creative Outlet

Well, as things begin to settle down and life is beginning to feel “normal” (whatever that is) so hopefully this is the return of blogging. I’ve not stopped knitting, although these days quite a bit of my creative & artistic energy gets used up in helping small children make junk models or beaded jewellery or finger paintings or fairy cakes……

First, with the hope that this is not going to turn into a “mommy blog” I have to share a story. When I told my best friend her reaction, after she stopped laughing, was “Well, now you are definitely a mum – you’ve got one of ‘those’ stories!”

So, yesterday morning my youngest is following me around upstairs whilst I’m putting away laundry, tidying bedrooms etc. I leave her stamping around in her bedroom to go into the bathroom. Whilst I’m in the bathroom I notice, as you do, that the sink needs a clean and that, of course, leads to the bath etc and so I’m in there quite a while and haven’t noticed it’s gone ominously quiet outside.

As I open the bathroom door and look out onto the landing I see my youngest freeze in one of those “freeze, I’ve been caught” poses. She is standing in the middle of the landing clutching a large container of baby powder (now empty), she is white from head to foot, there is a trail of white leading in and out of both her bedroom and mine. There is white powder up the walls, on the doors…..everywhere….and she just looks at me and says “oh!”.

Later on the same daughter somehow (we are not certain whether this was accidental or on purpose) emptied a large quantity of bubble solution over our cat….we didn’t find this out until after the kids were all in bed and the cat came in looking very bedraggled and sorry for himself….picture me trying to clean soap solution from a long-haired cat who really doesn’t like being washed, what a fun evening.

On the knitting front though I’m currently working on Gigi from http://www.knitty.com for me. The yarn was bought on eBay and comes from china so I have little idea what it is. It seems to be a sock weight or similar and is in a deep, scarlet red (which doesn’t photograph well) and black.

When I bought this I had no idea what I was going to make with it I just thought it was interesting and it was a bargain. I also bought a pack of the same yarn in a green/yellow/orange/white combination because I can’t resist a bargain.

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So, when I checked out the latest edition of knitty.com and saw this –

I immediately thought of my chinese yarn…and knitting with yarn from china whilst watching the Olympics in Beijing (wooooo! Go Team GB! Congratulations to my heroes Chris Hoy & Bradley Wiggins) seemed very appropriate.

Gigi Kimono Top

So far I’ve completed the back and am halfway up the left front, the patterning on the back looked great but with the shorter rows on the front I don’t know whether I like the pooling…..

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I’m also not sure if it’s going to be too small. I’m knitting the smallest size, XS, as the sizing given seemed right for my new shape (6 months into having 3 kids, giving up an office job for a job where I NEVER sit down I’ve lost over a stone…..and I was only a touch over 9 stone to start with!!!) it’s knitting up rather small. Let you know how it turns out.

I’ve also got out my sewing machine and dusted it off to make this gorgeous little sundress for my middle daughter –

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I can’t even remember where I got this rather pretty gingham with embroidered butterflies but I came across it whilst clearing out some cupboards a few months ago and it was just crying out to be a sundress. Whilst walking past the sewing shop in town this weekend they had this on a roll outside the shop door

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It was incredibly cheap so I’ve bought enough to make a second dress for the youngest daughter so she can have one as well…her favourite saying at present being “how..how…how ’bout me?” whenever anyone else is given anything.

To round off this creative outpouring my eldest daughter and I made apple pies this weekend. The deep dish apple and blackberry pie looked so delicious that we ate it straight out of the oven so I’m afraid I only have photos of the remains….it did look fantastic though! This was our first try with gluten free pastry for pies and it came out quite well. As gluten free is always more crumbly the shortcrust had a lovely crumbly, crunchy texture…quite pleased…..oh yes, and the apples and blackberries were picked from our garden. Apple pies always make me think of my grandma who loved to make them and taught me a lot about making pastry – the secret is cold hands and don’t mess it around!

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My house has been swallowed by a rising tide of pink….

I tried to resist but inevitably, with the arrival of 3 little girls, a tide of pink has engulfed my house – toys, clothes, bedding, walls. I have to admit I was never averse to a little pink myself and have a sizeable quantity of pink items in my own wardrobe but now my washing line resembles an explosion in a candy floss factory!

Washing Line Boots

Coats Toys

And by the end of an afternoon this is what our lounge looks like (and this was on a fairly quiet day!!!)

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The pink has now reached my knitting and, unable to resist, I have made them something pink. Admittedly it’s a very pale shade of pink and in fact it is not knitted but crocheted. Summer has arrived with a bang here in England and my girls are in need of summer clothes so I searched through my stash and found 4 balls of Rowan All Seasons Cotton which was my free gift with my Rowan subscription this year. The pale pink colour and the cotton content seemed perfect for a little lacy cotton number and from 4 balls I could probably manage something for both the younger two.

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A quick search on Ravelry for a pattern (I love being able to do that!) came up with the Spring Fling Halter by Jaybird Designs. Since teaching myself to crochet last year I have (excuse the pun) become hooked but have yet to crochet an actual garment, just granny squares, lace edgings and amigurumi.

This little halter top is fantastic, it took less than 3 balls to make the size 2T and 3T so I still have a ball and a bit left and it took me only an evening to make each one. So after 3 hours in the company of my 3 favourite men (that’s Gil Grissom, Horatio Cain and Dr Gregory House) I had a finished top.

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(check out the model pose from my 3 year old!!)

And here’s a close up of the shell pattern at the bottom.

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It’s very satisfying making things this small – you get a very fast return on your efforts and (thankfully) at the moment the girls love wearing things I’ve made for them so I’m making the most of it.

Cheeky Monkey

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As promised, some knitting! This is a hooded sweater I’ve just finished for my youngest – the cheeky monkey in question.

I knew exactly what I wanted to knit but after exhaustive searching online and through all my pattern books I couldn’t find it. Now, I’ve knit hundreds of sweaters over the years and I’ve often tweaked or adapted patterns so – why couldn’t I design something myself?

I found some bright DK yarn (Sirdar Salsa in orange and yellow) in my stash, worked up a few tension squares to decide on needle size and work out how many stitches I needed then I cast on….. basically I just started knitting and made up the parts I wanted as I went.

I’m pretty happy with the results – as is my cheeky monkey. The neck shaping probably needs a little tweaking, and I think I picked up a few too many stitches around the hood but as my first design I’m quite proud.

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Long Time No Blog

Just to reassure any readers who may not be aware why I’ve been absent for so long. Everything in the Beckett household is fine, we’ve just been a little busy. Our little family has expanded from 2 to 5 as we are in the process of adopting 3 little children aged between 3 and 7.
As you can imagine this means I have less time for knitting, blogging or anything other than being a full time mum! I have done some knitting – all little things!! – and hope to be back to blogging on a fairly regular basis very soon. I’m beginning to get used to the idea of being a full time, stay at home mum and the job is getting a little easier every day so I find more time to spend on myself.
I’ve just completed a hooded jumper for my youngest which I designed myself (I knew exactly what I wanted but couldn’t find it) and I’ll get the pattern up here as soon as I can.