Brownie Bites

Hello! Did you miss me? I know I missed  blogging, writing, tweeting and facebook-ing over the past couple of weeks. One of those times where life just completely takes over. Underneath the chaos caused by decorating, cleaning, and de-cluttering I could sense the laptop sitting there all alone and unloved, calling me. But I’m back (hugging laptop then realising that actually that’s quite weird).

One of the side effects of having some time away from writing is I’m all fired up again now, champing at the bit to get going again, which feels great. Even better is the feeling that I want to get back to my novel – at this stage in previous novels I’ve given up by now and moved on. It’s really satisfying, knowing that this time I want to see this through, and that I really think I can. I also have ideas firing off for both short stories and the next novel, and I’m getting a second lease of life for my picture books so I’m raring to go! My blog challenge is also still standing (see here if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and another post, on The Passion of Football, will be coming soon. Finally, in the whirlwind guide to my writing so-called life, I’ve recently been introduced to 6 Minute Story by @rebeccaemin. Basically, you sign up (using your Twitter name if you like, so if you check it out look out for me – rebeccaebrown) and on being given a prompt you start writing, with a timer counting you down for six minutes. Yes, it’s that complicated. Very challenging though, and I recommend anyone give it a go! My very first attempt is here – be kind!

Anyhoo, the reason I called this blog post “Brownie Bites” is because I have discovered a new passion. Economy Gastronomy (click here for the Amazon

listing) is a fabulous cookery book giving easy to cook meals that look fabulous but are really economical to do. Hence the title. And my favourite recipe, which I’ve made about 4 times in the last week or so, is Chocolate Brownie Biscuits. Except I prefer to call them Brownie Bites because, well, it just suits them better. Anyway, try ’em and see. You won’t regret it.

And why have I, of all people, taken up cooking? When the phrase ‘Can’t cook, won’t cook’ pretty much summed me up? Well, I guess I’ve grown up a bit. I used to resent cooking. I didn’t have any particular talent or enjoyment from it, and no interest really in learning. Recently though, having two children has matured me in more ways than one. I’ve felt responsible for providing a good home for my family, and that includes food. I let my son down a lot when he was weaning by almost completely relying on jars and pre-prepared baby foods. Now he is an incredibly fussy eater with virtually no inclination to try anything new, and regularly going off the things he did like. I know toddlers go through these phases, and I can’t be sure 100% that it’s because of how I approached his first foods, but I know I didn’t give diet and nutrition the importance it should have had. Now I’ve reconciled myself to the idea that cooking is just one of the things I need to do so I’d better get on with it, I’ve invested in a few kitchen tools and got some help off my mum and this book to do some decent food.

And you know what? I’m loving it. I’m enjoying cooking, I’m enjoying providing good meals and seeing my husband’s face when he tastes what I make him. I’m loving baking biscuits instead of buying them. I’m usually a fad person – I’ve had loads of interests that have burned fiercely then died away to nothing, so there’s a chance this will too. Except that it’s too important to let drop completely. Emily started eating solids today, and before I know it she will be eating proper food, and I owe it to her and to myself to do the best I can to provide her with decent stuff.

So, I’m off for a cup of tea, and a fresh-baked Brownie Bite. Any takers?

Moving On

I wasn’t intending to do a Friday Flash this week but there you go! Hope you like it.

Moving On

I turned and looked at the hospice I had just left. A family were also leaving, huddled together. The women were openly sobbing, the men had tears coursing down cheeks that were as tense and hard as rock. I heard their cries, but the sound all around me was muted and faint. I left them behind and walked down the road.

The buildings here were old, craggy, moss-covered. They showed their history and age in every crack and every dusty window pane. Foliage ran a little wild, and there was a smell around here of damp and mildew, mixed in with a faint memory of old wood polish and Brasso. In one, I saw an old lady cradling a newborn baby with the care she would show to a precious ornament, trembling with age and worry in case she dropped him. An empty seat beside her had a worn and faded dent, where a shadow played instead of the man who should have been there. I moved on, and the old, tumbledown buildings began to give way to more modern ones.

These also showed their age, though. Doubtless the architects had called them ‘modern’ at the time, but now they looked as dated as faded colour photographs, down to the grey uniform materials they wore. A wedding party was leaving a church here, and I saw the mother of the bride standing to one side, watching her daughter over the distance that separated them; a proud father frantically photographed and chroniclled every minute. The woman was smiling through her tears, as a video tape of memories played in front of her eyes. I knew she wasn’t seeing a bride but a little girl in her mum’s shoes, with a net curtain fastened on her head. I smiled, and moved on again.

A small row of shops reflected the sunlight merrily. The street was deserted, but the shops were full, as if I was the only living person out and the others were trapped behind the glass facades, looking out. Except they weren’t interested in what lay on the other side of the glass, they were too busy filling their shopping baskets. A woman had a trolley with two small children in. The boy turned his face up for a kiss, the girl reached for her mum’s hand. An instant later they both screwed up their faces and began to cry for some niffy-naffy thing. I shook my head at the same time as their mother, and we both moved on.

At the end of the shops a set of park gates stood open, beckoning passers-by to stop and rest in its shade. A heavily pregnant girl sat on a bench, resting her hand on her stomach and reading a book. She looked so tired, but her face was smooth, unlined, still an empty slate ready for life to write on. The sunlight winked off a brand new, shiny ring and she put her book down and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. I copied her, drinking in the cut grass, the roses, the traces of cigarettes. I could have watched her all day, poised at the threshold of her life, but I moved on.

The houses now were newer, solid brick residences with smoking chimneys. One front door opened, and a young man came out, leaving a girl who, tearstained, slammed the door behind him. He stood a moment, head bowed, then turned and ran to the door as she opened it. They clung together, apologies and forgiveness and love tied up in one wordless embrace. I looked away from their private moment and moved on.

Towards the end of the street a girl and boy were standing together, shuffling feet and shifting heavy schoolbags from one shoulder to another. They swapped a book, fingers lingering a split second. They turned to part, then the girl dropped everything and planted a kiss on the boy’s cheek. He stared, touched his cheek, and I mimicked every gesture reverently, reliving the moment as if it were yesterday. He turned and ran, and I moved on.

On the pavement a small girl pranced along the path behind her mother, in too-big shoes and a piece of netting pinned to her head. Lost in her daydream, she tripped over a pothole and stumbled to her knees. Her cries drifted towards me like a whisper in the breeze, clear but weak, other-worldly, and as she revealed a graze on her knee her mother scooped her up and kissed away her hurts. My eyes stung as much as my knee. I moved on.

In the last house of the road, a comforting, cosy house built of bricks that looked as though they had just been freshly laid, a faintly familiar woman cradled a newborn baby, cooing and beaming. I stopped a moment and savoured the warmth stealing over me, then looked ahead to a figure standing, waiting. And I moved on for the last time.

Finding Me, Now

So, our daughter has been with us for over seven weeks now, and seems to have fitted into our family so well it is difficult to remember life BE (Before Emily). Our son is nearly three and is becoming a happier, cleverer, more confident little boy day by day. He’s also more challenging day by day, but that’s part of him and we love him too much to quibble at the odd quarrel. My husband is settled into a new job that finally seems to stretch him in all the right ways, matching his talents to challenges, and he’s thriving on it. We’ve had some tough times over the last few months, but things are looking up and we look set to be a happy, secure little family.

Except I’m not, quite. I can’t put my finger on anything specific, but it’s like I haven’t quite found my groove. In lots of ways I’m happier than I was, say, six months ago. I was pregnant, uncomfortable, and suffering from hormones (although probably not as much as my husband was suffering from them), and felt very conscious of all my shortcomings as a wife and mother. Lately I’ve started to get over lots of these. I get the odd moment when I feel like I’m losing the plot, and get a bit freaked out by the state our home gets into. But overall, I’m getting a grip. I’ve started to cook properly much more often, I’m keeping more or less on top of the mess and laundry, and thanks a great deal to a book I’ve been reading lately I’m feeling far more chilled about my parenting skills (This is The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee, I will probably put a review up when I’ve finished).

Trying to focus a bit more precisely on the problem, it’s me. I have the usual issues – I need a hair cut, I could do with new clothes, I need to lose weight. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Girls reading this know what I’m talking about, guys reading it also should as they have OBVIOUSLY been listening attentively to their partners and reassuring them appropriately. Those things I can deal with fairly easily, little by little. The issues run a little deeper and are probably a sign of some mid-life crisis (ok, mid-life-ish, I’m only 29).

I’ve always had self-esteem issues, right from my early childhood. It helped, having a plan at school. I was going to be a top-class Interpreter, walking straight into a job at Strasbourg or Brussels for some obscene salary. That plan kind of went off the rails after the first year of university when real life entered the equation. A few years down the road, and I am lacking a goal, a focus, and my confidence issues are flooding back. I am aware of every one of my shortcomings, my lack of achievement. There’s kind of a hazy figure where a defined Becca shape should be. So I made a list in my journal the other day of things I needed to do to get control of my life back and that’s kind of helped. Now I need to decide what that life needs to look like.

So here’s a few things I think should go into the Becca-shape, things that I know are part of me, and hopefully these things can act like a kind of road map for finding me.

I am:

  • A wife and mother. Maybe those two things should be separate? After all, as a wife I am still Becca. As a mother I am Mummy, and there should be parts of me that should be separate from Mummy or I will lose myself completely. I know a lot of mothers worry about losing their identity when they have children, and I sort of envy the ones with a career, as there is a separate life there that is only them. I know they probably envy me, being able to spend as much time as I like with my children. I guess the grass is always greener.
  • A writer. Yes, I am not published (although I have a children’s book out doing the rounds at the minute, keep everything crossed for me!) and I don’t write as often as I would like but I am gaining the confidence in myself to call myself a writer. This is the closest thing I have to a career goal, although I’m not sure it counts as I will keep writing even if I never get published. Not that it’s a ‘hobby’ but it’s something more than a career too. Goodness me, this is a whole blog post in itself so I’ll cut it short here.
  • A Christian. Atheists reading this, feel free to skip ahead. I am still struggling with my faith, it will be a life-long process to put God as firmly at the centre of my life as I know He needs to be, but when I do I feel so much happier and more settled. There is a song by a group called Addison Road that I try to remember as it was written for situations like mine:

My life comes from the one who made the stars and brought the sun

He loves me more than these, so I don’t need another identity

I do believe that I am given some specific gifts by God, as well as some specific ministries. I think my writing is a gift, and I know my family and my life with them is a gift. I am still wondering what my ministries are, yet not spending enough time praying or thinking about them to get any answers.

Ok, Atheists, welcome back. I am also:

  • A person with hobbies and interests. This might sound obvious or even irrelevant, but a) some people genuinely don’t have any particular hobbies or interests and b) I have lots, which I always feel a bit guilty about when I move on. I need to realise, I think, that it’s fine to have an interest in various different things and to keep coming back to them. A hobby doesn’t mean a vocation, and I sometimes have trouble remembering this.
  • A bit of a hypocrite. I talk a lot at home about the injustice in the world, I have several large soap-boxes which I stand on at regular intervals. But I do very little about it. I need to practice what I preach a little more and focus on one or two causes that I really care about passionately and can espouse wholeheartedly, to the extent of taking action and spreading the word about them. It takes 2 minutes to send an email to an MP or Tweet about a campaign.
  • I am very definitely in need of a challenge. This may seem absurd when I am still getting to grips with caring for two young children etc. I mean more of a mental challenge. I like puzzles, I like using my brain, and while writing feeds that to a certain extent, I need to stretch myself more. I want to do a degree. I want to expand my horizons – I guess that’s one reason for me having so many hobbies and fads, at various points I’ve looked into astronomy, mandarin chinese, aromatherapy, history, amateur dramatics, the list goes on.

There’s a start. I think it’ll take a while. But it’s time for finding me, now.

Our Daughters’ Daughters

More Life Lessons from Mary Poppins

Anyone who read my post Sand Through A Sieve and thought it was inspired genius (well, who can blame you?) may realise that I am quickly coming to regard Mary Poppins as a Parenting Bible.

Today I put the DVD in and went about my business, tidying up and generally being housewifely (in other words, quite unlike myself) and heard the Suffragette Song come on. You know the moment – and if you don’t I suggest you watch  Mary Poppins urgently, there are valuable lessons to be learnt. Mrs Banks comes home after a day’s campaigning for votes for women, and launches into song. Among the many wonderful lyrics (I particularly like ‘Though we adore men individually / We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid…’) the chorus goes like this:

“Cast off the shackles of yesterday

Shoulder to shoulder into the fray

Our  daughters’ daughters will adore us

And they’ll sing in grateful chorus

‘Well done, Sister Suffragettes!'”

This set me off thinking. If my last scan was right, I am expecting my first daughter in approximately 57 days and 7 hours, and it would be nice to think that she will have daughters of her own some day and so on and so forth.

I have had all sorts of nice little fantasies about having a daughter. We’ll go shopping together – she’ll probably teach me more than I will teach her in that department – we’ll have girly moments, painting toenails etc like in Mamma Mia! We’ll finish the dollhouse I started when I was a teenager. She’ll have the voice of an angel and the grace of a ballet dancer. I’ll buy her girly dresses and dolls and she’ll ignore them all and go for the monsters and aliens. I’ll introduce her to Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and she’ll devour Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. She’ll adore her big brother and be a real Daddy’s girl and the four of us will go out and eat ice cream on the sea front at Whitby in October.

I haven’t really stopped to think about the more profound things I want to teach her. I want her to be strong and assertive, two things I have failed at miserably so far. I want to pass on my faith, but leave her the freedom and conviction to figure out her own beliefs. I want her to think about the world and how she can make it better, so that her daughters’ daughters can look back at her and her generation and think “Wow, what can we do to build upon that?”

I don’t know about you, but I, to my shame, very rarely think about what our ancestors had to fight for to get to where we are now. The whole movement for women’s suffrage in England, for example, fought against the tide of popular opinion and went through arrest, force-feeding, torture, ridicule and even death because they believed it was wrong to deny women an equal say in how their country was run. Do we ever think about those women, and ‘adore them’? As we would like our daughters’ daughters to adore us?

They are, of course, a tiny representation of the people throughout time who have fought for what they believed in. Our own lifetimes throw up a handful of names – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela. Mother Teresa, fighting against the poverty and injustice she saw every day in India’s poorest. Nameless campaigners out right now, protesting against war and injustice and human rights.

I want my daughter to grow up with a social conscience and awareness. I want her to not be afraid to fight for what she thinks is right. Our ancestresses have left us a legacy of being able to vote, to speak out and be heard. They have given us a platform to speak from, on behalf of women, men and children all over the world who are still being oppressed, and I know I don’t do their efforts justice.

Mary Poppins has reminded me that we also have a chance to leave a legacy, that we will have descendants who will look back at our generation. They can ignore us, despise us or adore us. I would like to think that I and my daughter can still do things that will make our daughters’ daughters adore us after all.

The Year I Turn Thirty

2010 is the year I turn thirty. Yes, it’s not until October, but it’s a big milestone!

I know a lot of people have hang-ups about milestone birthdays, and I’m probably due some kind of early-mid-life-crisis, but to be honest I’m actually pretty excited about it. I love birthdays anyway – every year since I turned fifteen I’ve had a sort of awed feeling that I actually made it to another one (nothing morbid, I’m just easily pleased). Thirty feels like a respectable, grown-up age. Your twenties are in-between times, you’ve got neither the optimism and energy of adolescence (or the excuse!) nor the maturity and hindsight that nothing but a bit of life experience can bring. It’s a time where you find out that your preconceptions that you grew up with are wrong, and you haven’t yet figured out new ideas to replace them. Whereas thirty is, to me, the time when you pull your socks up (figuratively speaking, of course!) and say ‘Right, this is who I am, this is what the last three decades have turned me into,’ and look ahead to the future as a new, mature adult. In theory anyway. I realise that I will almost certainly be not much different in a year’s time to now, but there’s always hope.

There are of course lots of targets I won’t have met by the time I’m thirty. I won’t have had a book published, although I’m going to keep (start?) plugging away at the short stories and competitions. I won’t have learned grace and poise and polish – I’m afraid that I am and always will be a bit of a shy, bumbling mess. But perhaps I will have learned to come to terms with it. I probably won’t have won the lottery or made millions. But I can come to terms with that too. What I will have done is gained a comfortable home and life, a wonderful husband and two adorable children (although one of them won’t be born until April. I’m assuming she will be adorable too). I have formed world-views and faith that I am pretty comfortable with, although these will keep being refined and tested.

When I’m thirty, I will also find my experience of motherhood changing, and this is so scary. Instead of the mother of a baby boy, which is how I’ve come to think of myself over the last two and half years, I will be the mother of a son who goes to nursery and a daughter. I cannot even begin to think how this will change me, but it will be the most exciting year finding out.

When I’m thirty, I will hopefully be a little wiser than I am now at twenty nine. I hope I will have learned how to save, and how to deal with difficult life events. I’ve had a few in my life already, that have definitely left their mark, and the year I turn thirty seems like a good time to deal with these and try to put them behind me. I’m hoping this year can also give me the strength to help my husband do this too, and that this year sees us having some better times as a family, able to put the challenging times of the past year or two behind us.

When I’m thirty I hope I will be further along my path as a writer. I keep setting a lot of goals, and they keep changing or being missed, but I hope that by the time my birthday comes round I will be better at keeping to my goals and more disciplined, seeing writing more as a job than a hobby and improving myself.

I know I am putting a lot of expectation into this year. I imagine there are people reading this and thinking ‘Don’t be daft, none of that is realistic,’ but I don’t care. I am, despite things that are going on at the moment, starting this year thinking that 2010 is a landmark year for me, and that things are going to go well for us. I am going to try and start this year being optimistic and full of hope.

What milestones do you have for your landmark birthdays? Or for 2010? I would love to know, and see if other people share my new-found optimism. After all, it’s not every year you turn thirty.