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One week, five Christmas parties

It was the week before Christmas,

and all through the city,

toddler groups partied with festive songs,

wearing outfits that were oh so pretty.

Well I think my poetry leaves a lot to be desired, but this certainly sums up the week Andrew and I (and Daddy) have just had. It started last Monday morning, when we went to our usual group at Chesterton Children’s Centre. We eased ourselves in gently to the party week, as this was not so much an organised party, but rather the refreshments had a Christmassy feel to them, some of the toddlers wore Christmassy outfits, and we sang Christmas songs at the end. Back home for some lunch and a power nap (Andrew that is), we then headed out to Rhyme time at Barnwell Road library for a proper Christmas singing session. But when we arrived, complete with a tub of oat and banana muffins to share, it came to my attention that the Christmas party was in fact the following Monday! Thankfully I wasn’t the only baby-brained mum who’d got mixed up. Oh well, not to worry, we joined in with the usual, all-seasonal songs.

Playing with (jingle) bells (jingle) bells on Monday morning

Tuesday’s party fun is reported here second hand, because that’s when Daddy and Andrew time happens each week. My two boys toddle off together to Little Music Makers, a music (obviously!) group run by Chesterton Parents’ group. According to my music group correspondent / photographer (aka Tom), great fun was had by all at the Christmas special. There were toys and party food (including some oat and banana muffins – they get everywhere!), as well as the usual singing and dancing (I’ll say more about that in another post sometime). Father Christmas even turned up, with presents for all the little ones. Andrew didn’t seem too fussed either way about this strange man with a white beard in a red cloak, and proceeded to use the nicely wrapped up book he was given as a teething toy!

Meeting Father Christmas - Andrew didn't seem too bothered either way!
Playing in the tent

Wednesday arrived and I woke up feeling excited because I had the afternoon off work so that we could go to the much-anticipated Little Sheep Christmas party. (Before I went back to work, Little Sheep was our regular Wednesday afternoon group – it takes place at Holy Trinity Church (Cambridge), and is a little different from most baby/toddler groups, because as a mum (or dad) you get to do an activity each week like craft, wine tasting, Zumba, hearing a talk, learning infant first aid etc, while your baby has fun with the other babies in the creche provided.) We clearly weren’t the only ones who had heard about how amazing the party would be. When we arrived 10 minutes before the advertised start time, the church hall was already filling up, and I heard later from a friend that the queue to get in just 10 minutes later snaked back into the busy shopping street on which the church is located. As more and more babies and parents/carers/family/friends piled into the hall, the singing began, led by a very enthusiastic lady called Rebecca. There were all sorts of songs – Christmas classics as well as the usual favourites, some of which were adapted to make them more seasonal (I thought ‘Father Christmas had a sack, ho ho ho ho ho… and in that sack he had a cow, ho ho ho ho ho… with a moo moo here and a moo moo there…’ was quite ingenious!). After a couple of quieter songs to finish off with, my friend Cat (who organises Little Sheep) gave a short ‘thought for the day’. She shared with us the lyrics of the song ‘What if God was one of us’ – here are a few lines…

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face? …

If God had a face
What would it look like? …

We (Cat and I, and other Christians) believe that answers to these questions were given over 2000 years ago, when Jesus was born – God’s name is Jesus, and God’s face looked like that of a human baby boy, who grew into a man. That’s the reason for all this celebration at Christmas – all the parties are for Jesus’ birthday! No party is complete without special food and drink, and the Little Sheep party was no exception. There were all sorts of yummy cakes, biscuits and mince pies, as well as some mulled cranberry juice, which we tucked into while the little ones played and the big ones chatted. Father Christmas managed to turn up again; he must be so tired with all this travelling round to different parties every day. Andrew was less impressed this time as I sat him on the big red man’s knee (oh dear!)

Andrew shakering to and me singing 'Away in a manger' (click picture to play video)
Andrew fascinated by Rebecca as she danced around and led the singing (photo courtesy of Hannah Duffy Photography)
More shy on this occasion with Father Christmas - Mummy had to sit in on the photo too (photo courtesy of Hannah Duffy Photography)

Come Thursday we needed a rest from our packed Christmas social schedule, but by Friday we were raring to go again. Andrew and I joined the Cambridge babysigning group a couple of months ago for 5 weeks, but then I went back to work and we couldn’t commit to every week before our routine settled down. (I’ll definitely do a whole post sometime on babysigning.) But Bethan, the tutor, kindly invited us back for the Christmas special. We learnt some seasonal signs like reindeer, sleigh, Father Christmas, angel and Jesus, and had lots of fun singing and signing to Christmassy songs.

Eating Father Christmas' hat at babysigning (I had just offered him some pastry from a mince pie!)

The weekend arrived, along with time for some rest at home. Monday saw the last of our Christmas parties; this week really was the Rhyme time Christmas special. As we entered, damp and soggy from the rain, we were greeted by cheerful Bobby and Ruth, who were dressed up in costume and tinsel. The songs we sang were specially selected for their Christmas theme, and then we heard a story about a pirate (not so Christmassy). After all the musical and rhyming fun, there was plenty of food to share, and Andrew had his usual excitement looking at all the books, which he absolutely loves (clearly my son), and pulling himself up on the perfectly-sized mini cat-face chairs!

Looking at the books after the Barnwell library Rhyme time Christmas special

One week, five parties, many songs, lots of food and stockingfuls of fun! Have you had fun at Christmas parties that you’ve been to? Did Father Christmas turn up at yours too?! (He gets around, you know.) I think it’s fantastic that there are so many parties we can go to in celebration of Jesus’ birthday, because he was a special little baby who went on to do amazing things. This is Andrew’s first Christmas, and he’s certainly had a great introduction to what a fun time of year this is. As he grows up, I’m going to make sure he learns about the reason why he has so much fun at Christmas.

Stollen – another taste of Christmas (this one’s for babies too)

Another one of my favourite foods at Christmas is stollen (being German it should be spelled with a capital S, but I guess it’s become anglicised enough now to lower case it). This bread-like cake with dried fruit and marzipan has all the good bits of a traditional English Christmas cake, but without the sickly sweet white royal icing, and is generally much lighter (in colour and stodginess). Once again, German trumps British Christmas food. I’ve eaten a fair few stollen in my time (and been through, several times, the inevitable family joke of being a thief – stollen/stolen – it’s all the same to those who don’t sprechen Deutsch; incidentally it’s pronounced something more like ‘shto-luhn’ – ‘o’ as in ‘pot’), but this is the first time I’ve ventured into producing a homemade one. As there is very little sugar in the dough, it’s great for Andrew too, though I left out the nuts, and only put a small amount of sugar-laden marzipan into his ‘stollen bites’.

This recipe is based on one from Delia Smith online. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read previous baking posts on this blog that I adapted the recipe – no almonds (not great for Andrew), mixed dried fruit instead of separate amounts of raisins, currants, apricots, cherries and dried fruit peel (why bother when Mr Sainsbury can do it for you?), plain flour instead of strong white bread flour (other recipes I have seen for stollen don’t insist on bread flour, though see comments below), and simply dusted with icing sugar to finish instead of a glaze with lemon juice (I’m not overly fussed about lemon and all the stollen I’ve had from Germany just had icing sugar on top).

Ingredients

Ingredients for stollen

This recipe is enough to make 1 large one. I made double this, because you can’t buy smaller packs of marzipan, and stollen is great to freeze, so I made 2 bigger ones and about a dozen small ‘bites’ for Andrew; half of all this went in the freezer.

  •  150 ml milk
  •  50 g caster sugar
  • 2 level teaspoons dried yeast (not easy-blend)
  •  400 g plain flour
  • 110 g softened butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 200 g mixed dried fruit
  • 200 g marzipan
  • icing sugar, sifted, to dust on top

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Warm the milk, until you can just still dip your little finger in it.

    Milk warming up gently by short blasts in microwave
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar along with the dried yeast and leave it until it forms a frothy head of about 1 inch.
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 0 minutes
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 30 minutes

    Frothy milk, lovely yeasty smell
  4. Meanwhile sift 350 g of the flour together with the remaining sugar into a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre.

    Flour and sugar with well in centre
  5. Pour the milk and yeast mixture into this, then add the softened butter and beaten egg.

    Milk mixture, eggs and butter added to well in flour
  6. Mix everything together either with your hands or with a wooden spoon – until the mixture is well blended and leaves the side of the bowl cleanly.

    Wet and dry ingredients mixed together to form dough, still quite wet and sticky
  7. Then work in the fruit, distributing it as evenly as possible. Knead the dough on a work surface for 5 minutes until it is springy and elastic.
    Dough ready for first round of kneading

    Wet dough from bowl after kneading on a very well floured board
  8. Now leave the dough in a warm place, covered with clingfilm, until it has doubled in size (the time this takes can vary depending on the temperature – it could take up to 2 hours).
    Dough covered in cling film ready to prove
    Dough in oven on minimum temperature, just right to prove

    Dough after proving in warm place for about 1 1/2 hours
  9. Turn the risen dough out on to a board floured with the reserved 50 g of flour, and knock the air out of it and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

    Kneading the dough (thanks to Tom for photography!)
  10. At this stage roll or press out the dough to an oblong 10 x 8 inches. Using your hands, roll out the marzipan to form a sausage shape and place this along the centre of the dough, finishing just short of the edges.
    Flatened dough with marzipan 'sausage' (bit of a flat one!) on top

    Small circle of dough with small blob of marzipan - I then folded the edge of the dough into the centre over the marzipan, and placed it down on the baking sheet to hold the dough edge in
  11. Fold the dough over the marzipan and carefully place the whole thing on a baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for expansion.

    Two bigger stollen and several baby stollen bites, ready for second round of proving
  12. Leave it to prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size again, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

    Daddy stollen, Mummy stollen, and baby stollens ready to go into oven after second round of proving
  13. Allow it to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before lifting it on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

    Stollen and baby bites looking golden brown, just out of the oven (they only took 20 minutes to cook in our fan oven)
  14. Dust the top with the icing sugar to finish.
    Finished Stollen, complete with snowman
    Marzipan snowman - I had a small chunk of marzipan left, so I made a decoration to go with the snowy look of the icing sugar dusting

    Andrew's stollen bites - no icing sugar added 😉

You can probably tell from the photos that the stollen turned out quite flat. I suspect this is because I didn’t use strong white bread flour (its ‘strength’ holds the air bubbles from the yeast better). But they taste delicious, and Andrew loves his little baby bites too. Plus we’ve got another loaf and some bites in the freezer to enjoy in the New Year.

Do you have special foods that you like to bake/eat at Christmas? Are there cakes/biscuits/other sweet things that remind you of childhood or being with family for Christmas? Do you prefer Christmas foods traditional in other cultures more than those in your own? I’d love to hear about other foody traditions at this time of year. It’s special occasions like this that really inspire me to bake and try out new recipes. I hope you’re enjoying reading about my Christmas baking adventures!

Lebkuchen – a taste of Christmas

One of my favourite foods at Christmas is Lebkuchen [pronounced something like layb-koo-chuhn (ch as in Scottish ‘loch’) for those who don’t sprechen any Deutsch]. These soft and chewy biscuits spiced with flavours like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg remind me of Christmas as a child, as Mum would always buy a few bags for us to eat over the Christmas period. It wasn’t until I went to Germany just before Christmas as an adult that I realised that the small Lebkuchen bought from supermarkets here in England were not the same as the much bigger, flatter and (let’s face it) better ones found over there, where they originated. Ever since I tasted the real German ones, I’ve wanted to have a go at baking my own, but I’ve only just got round to it this year, probably because I came across a recipe in a chocolate recipe book that I’ve used a lot recently.

As usual, I adapted the recipe slightly (I don’t think I ever follow a recipe exactly!): raisins instead of candied fruit peel (which I don’t really like), and I halved the chocolate glaze, because the biscuits were quite fragile even when cool, so I didn’t think they would ‘dip’ well to coat them as the recipe said, and I made a thicker glaze to ice just one side as they lay on a flat surface. Anyway, that’s enough of an intro…. on with the important stuff!

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 100g unsalted almonds (brown skins left on)
  • 25g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large egg whites (I used 3 medium)
  • 115g icing sugar

Glaze

  • 50g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 50g icing sugar

Method

  1. Finely grind the almonds and chocolate in a food processor, then mix with the raisins and spices.
  2. Put the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, greasefree bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until soft peaks form.

    Egg whites at the stiff peak stage
  3. Gradually beat in the icing sugar to make a thick, glossy meringue.
  4. Add the chocolate mixture and carefully fold in with a large metal spoon.

    Lebkuchen mixture
  5. Put tablespoon-sized mounds of the mixture on several baking trays lined with non-stick greaseproof paper, setting them well apart, then spread each into a circle about 3 inches in diameter.

    Trays with blobs of biscuit mixture, ready for the oven
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 160°c for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are pale gold. Let cool, then peel off the greaseproof paper.

    Close up of a biscuit just out of the oven - a lovely pale golden colour
  7. To make the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate gently (I use these cool microwaveable pans and do it in short bursts at a time so the chocolate doesn’t burn). Then let it cool.
  8. Mix the icing sugar with 2 tablespoons of hot water to make a smooth glaze, then stir in the chocolate to make a fairly runny mixture – if necessary, stir in a little more warm water (I ended up putting in a few more splashes from the kettle).
  9. Ice each biscuit with the glaze – I found that they were fragile, so I iced them on the bottom where they had come away from the greaseproof paper, as this helped to keep them together. This isn’t quite as traditional as dipping in a thin glaze, but it tastes the same and it meant I didn’t risk ending up with a chocolatey broken biscuit mess!
    Waiting for the iced lebkuchen to set

    A plate of lebkuchen good enough to eat

As an aside, I decided to whip up a quick sponge mixture with the egg yolks, because I can’t stand wasting the other half of the eggs when a recipe calls for only whites or yolks. It’s basically 110g of plain flour, 110g of butter, 110g of sugar and 2 eggs (but I used 3 egg yolks and a generous splash of milk instead). You beat the sugar and butter together, then add the eggs (and in this case the milk) and then the flour.

I decided to use the sponge mixture to make cupcakes. I wasn’t sure whether the exchange of milk for egg whites would make a difference to how they turned out, but I’m always up for experimental baking, and most of the time it’s edible, even if slightly odd looking or a strange texture! In this case they came out quite crispy on top, softer inside, though slightly denser than the usual light sponge, and still yummy to taste.

After I tried one fresh from the oven (just to make sure it was worth icing them, you understand), I decided to add some simple melted chocolate on the top to finish them off.

Chocolate-topped cupcakes (note that only 5 made it to the chocolate stage - I had to try one to make sure they tasted good enough to keep 😉 )

So there you go, two recipes for the price of one! Both delicious as a snack with a cuppa, and one as a lovely taste of Christmas which reminds me of childhood.

Balancing act

My day starts when our alarm clock (aka Andrew) goes off at about 6am. I get up, play with Andrew for a while before giving him a milk feed around 6.30am, and then it’s family breakfast time at 7am. After that, it’s time to get washed and dressed. When we’re ready, it’s at that point that things have to be done differently depending on the day of the week. My brain is (usually) conscious of the next step:

  • it’s Monday/Friday = no rush, play with Andrew some more before putting him down for a morning nap, then do some things around the flat and get ready to go out for the rest of the morning;
  • it’s Wednesday/Thursday = pack up some lunch for Andrew and myself, put nappies in the change bag, wrap us both up warm in coats/gloves/hats etc., and walk round the corner to Tracy’s (our childminder) to arrive as she’s leaving for the school run at 8.25am, then cycle to the office;
  • it’s Tuesday = leave Andrew in Daddy’s capable hands and head straight off to the office for the morning;
  • it’s Saturday/Sunday = have some family time, then do some housework or go to church.

We’ve been in this routine for over a month now, since I started back at work half-time after 9 months of maternity leave, and it seems to be working. Two and a half days a week I work as a post-doctoral research associate (fancy name for the fact that I do research and have a PhD). I’m based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as the resident phonetician in a lab of psychologists and neuroscientists. The project that I’m working on is looking at how children with a language impairment perceive rhythm and pitch in language and music. I should go into that in detail in another post, but for now I’ll stick to the balancing act of being mum and going out to work.

Before I went on maternity leave, I loved my job and felt very privileged to have been offered it, given the competition for academic jobs when funding is relatively limited. I planned to go back part-time after 9 months, though I found it hard to return once those months were up, because I enjoyed spending so much time with Andrew when on leave. There was a feeling of being torn between two jobs I loved doing, and there still is most days. Being with Andrew all day really makes me happy, but I do see advantages to going out to work too. I thought I’d share some of the things I like and don’t like about splitting my week in half.

At the office I get to drink hot cups of tea, eat my lunch when I like, and there’s not a nappy in sight. As I work in town, it’s very handy to pop out at lunchtime and go shopping for a few bits without the buggy. I have such lovely work colleagues who are great friends and make the office environment a happy, sociable and productive one. It feels good to know that I’m taking part in research that ultimately aims to get to the bottom of something that affects many kids, and one day may make a positive difference in individual lives.

My computer is easy to spot if you know what Praat looks like on screen 😉

People talk about being able to ‘use your brain’ again and get ‘mental stimulation’ at work after having a baby, and that is true to the extent that I get to put to use my ‘training’, i.e. the skills for research that I gained by doing a PhD and continuing in an academic job. But I would say my brain gets put to good use looking after Andrew too. I mean there’s no training for being a mum, so you figure things out as you go along, and that uses a fair amount of brain power I find. All the things that I’ve started to think about and get interested in since having him certainly keep me mentally stimulated. An example is doing my own ‘research’ on baby-related matters, by reading up and talking to other parents about issues like breastfeeding. I can do this either at groups when Andrew is with me and happy to play with the toys and other kids there, or at home when he’s asleep and I need to put my feet up. So I feel like I get enough brain usage on both Andrew days and office days.

Big boy on a trike - at a group where there is a great outdoor play area so Andrew can unleash all his energy

My Andrew days are fantastic because I get to see him develop and start doing things he couldn’t do the week before. He is such a good-natured baby, so I get lots of smiles and cuddles. There’s never a dull moment as he’s so active too, making me and himself laugh at the latest thing he’s managed to find/do/get stuck in or under. We go to fun groups where he can toddle around, play with different toys, sing, hear stories, make things and get messy, whilst I get a cup of tea made for me (which might go cold admittedly) and can chat with other mums (and dads) about the joys and woes of parenthood. I get lots of fresh air and exercise, which comes naturally in our routine because we walk everywhere.

Wrapped up warm for a ride out in the buggy to get to a group

So that’s a lot of good stuff so far. The hard part is having to split my time between the two jobs. I worry that I’ll miss out on one of Andrew’s ‘firsts’, that I’ll be impatient with him because I’m too tired after a day or two in the office, that he’ll miss me either lots or not at all when I’m gone (the former being detrimental to him and the latter to me and my identity as his mum). I also worry that my heart might not stay in my research like it was, that I’ll be too tired to function properly, that I’ll not do my research to the highest standard I set myself. These worries on both sides basically come down to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, and by splitting my resources it might not be possible to do either job at 100%. So far I’m pleased to say that none of these worries have actually been an issue, but they are always in my mind.

Look at me, I'm so good at standing. Mummy loves watching me grow up and do things like this for the first time.

When I think about it, I’m not splitting my week exactly in half. In fact I’m a full-time mum, and always will be, as I do my mum thing before and after going out to the office (including in the middle of the night if he wakes up – what am I supposed to say? ‘sorry Andrew, work tomorrow, no soothing back to sleep for you tonight’); walking out the door to go to work doesn’t stop me being mum. I just do interesting research for about 19 hours a week on top of that. I’m happy with the way things are for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the future, especially as my contract ends in December 2012 (the research one that is – I don’t think Andrew will terminate my contract as mum anytime soon 🙂 )

Andrew loves 'helping' me hang the washing up to dry

Baby-(and adult-)friendly oat and banana muffins

I was looking for a recipe for some muffins or little cakes that Andrew would enjoy. I’m not against him having some sugar, because I think if I completely deprive him of treats now, he’ll only rebel and go for it when he’s older anyway. And that’s what cakes are – treats – to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle (I sound like something off the back of a crisp packet or chocolate bar!) Tom and I like our cakes and puddings, but we also eat a varied diet with plenty of fruit and veg, and we can’t go for a day without some exercise. So that’s what Andrew is becoming accustomed to as well. That’s enough of an intro – I could probably write a whole post it seems on this topic. On with the recipe….

It’s based on one I found on the Sainsbury’s Little Ones website. This is a great collection of recipes suitable for babies, toddlers and adults. More of these recipes will no doubt feature in future posts, as I’ve tried several of them already and would love to share more. I adapted it slightly (basically less sugar and half oil / half milk instead of all the oil) to suit Andrew better. So, here we go.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats, plus extra for decoration
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 100g sugar
  • 125ml oil- I used olive as that’s what we have in
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 medium-ripe bananas, chopped small

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC, gas 4. Prepare a muffin tin with paper cases (I used a big muffin tin for Mummy/Daddy-sized treats and a fairy cake tin for Andrew-sized treats).
  2. Sift the flour, oats and baking powder together (I didn’t sift the oats – how is that possible?!)
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and milk together until pale and fluffy.
  4. Fold this mixture, and bananas, into the flour and oat mixture.
  5. Spoon the combined mixture into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the extra oats over and bake for 15 minutes until the muffins have risen and are golden. (I found that the bigger muffins needed more like 20 minutes, whereas the small ones were fine with 15 minutes).
  6. When cooked through, transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for three days (if they stay uneaten for that long!) or freeze.

Andrew approved – he ate one for a snack on not long after I baked them on Sunday. Tom was also impressed, so I’ll definitely be baking some more of these, and it’s handy that they go in the freezer to have a stock for when I don’t have time to bake them fresh.

Christmas is coming

It’s that time of year again. For several weeks now, especially after Hallowe’en was over, the shops have gradually been increasing the amount of red, gold and sparkly-packaged products they have on sale. Special foods adorn the aisles of supermarkets, whilst toy shops are crammed with the latest ‘in’ things for kids; in fact it seems there is no kind of shop which escapes a noticeable change in stock at this time of year. Decorations hang both inside and out, with twinkly lights illuminating even the most dull of concretised city centres (I know this, I was brought up in Coventry!) Of course, it’s the run-up to Christmas, or, as it’s more traditionally known, Advent.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the word ‘Advent’ is still used these days, but mainly in conjunction with ‘calendar’. An Advent calendar is a tradition which I believe started in Germany quite a while ago, and is obviously going strong in the UK today (just walk into any supermarket and you can’t fail to notice the offers like ‘3 for 2’ on the chocolate ones). In our family, we had a couple of traditions as my brother (Matt) and I were growing up – one pair of grandparents always bought us a chocolate Advent calendar each, and as a family we had a ‘Peanuts’ one (of Charlie Brown and Snoopy ilk), in which the story of the first Christmas was told a little bit each day, as we opened each door to reveal a short rhyming verse. The next generation of Advent fun has now begun, as Mum passed the remarkably resilient Peanuts calendar down to me, and Andrew can start being part of the tradition. Oh and I can’t forget the famous (in our family) video clip of Matt and I arguing about whether there were 17 or 18 doors open on the particular day in Advent that we were being filmed. (Incidentally I was right, but Matt was generally good at arguing that black was white… “18, see!” – this won’t mean much to most readers I’m sure.)

Snoopy dressed as a shepherd is getting ready to help tell the Christmas story
In days of old by royal decree, news was sent to Galilee....a message was sent to every home, to pay the taxes owed to Rome....Joseph and Mary were told that they, must go to Bethlehem far away....

So here comes a linguistic bit (2 paragraphs into the post isn’t bad going for me)…. Advent comes from the Latin word ‘adventus’, which means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Christmas is what’s coming, right? Of course, but I like to think of it as Jesus is coming, because for me, that’s who Christmas is about. It’s a time of year that I (along with other Christians of course) prepare to celebrate the arrival of Jesus who was born over 2000 years ago. His wasn’t a grand entrance to the world – his mum gave birth in an animal shelter because all the accommodation in the town they were visiting was full, and she wasn’t a ‘celebrity’, so no 1st century equivalent of the paparazzi were clambering to scoop an exclusive story. But as he grew up, those who lived around him saw that he was an amazing person, who did some amazing things. I’ll go further into that in future posts; for now I’d like to stick with the topic of Advent. Opening a door on a calendar each day from 1st to 24th December (a 25th door seems to be a modern addition, at least since the time of Charlie Brown) helps me to remember why I’m looking forward to Christmas. It’ll be great to spend time with family and have some time off work, yes, but the most important part is doing all this whilst celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Writing this has made me realise just how close Christmas is now. Living in Cambridge, we’re already experiencing Christmas events that have been going on for the past week at least, as the undergrads go home soon so they squeeze these in at the end of November. I’ve just put up our Christmas tree (‘up’ being a common theme this year – up on a table, out of the reach of little hands), which will be a nice surprise for my boys when they get home. So, roll on 25th December!

Up on the table out of the way of little hands!

Starting as I mean to blog on…

I’m not quite sure how to start a blog really, but I’m thinking it would be good to say a bit about why I decided to start one, and a bit about what this mixed bag of all sorts will include.

So, why start a blog? In some ways this seems like one of the least practical times of my life to embark on such a project. Between looking after 10-month old Andrew two and a half days a week, working as a university researcher two and a half days a week, and fitting in housework, swimming and editing a magazine (amongst other things including sleeping and eating), you’d have thought I’d have no time. Well I’d have thought that too, but somehow I’ve managed to carve out pockets of time for writing recently, and I’ve noticed how much I enjoy it. This writing has been in the form of articles, for both academic journals (papers based on chapters of my PhD) and mothering/parenting magazines (based on my experiences of birth and breastfeeding), as well as a sort of mini blog about my Channel swim. The writing ‘bug’ must have got to me! But the reason for my writing is not just about me, rather it’s double-sided. I like to write, so I get something out of it personally, and I like to see others read it and get something out of it – maybe it encourages them, makes them laugh (hmm maybe… if they share my slightly odd sense of humour), gives them a different perspective on something, or introduces them to something they’ve never heard of before. I thought t’internet would be a good way to share my writing with others. Hence this blog. Handy that I have a techie brother who can help me set it up (thanks Matt!)

In the world of blogging, I’m completely new – I’m vaguely aware that this makes me a ‘newbie’ or something like that. Am I also right in thinking that blogs tend to be on a particular theme? Well I’m not sure what I would pick as one theme, because I’m interested in writing about various things (more details to follow…). I guess over time a theme might emerge as the most dominant in the mixed bag, but for starters I’ll have a bit of all sorts and see how it goes (sounds like my kind of meal)!

In the short bio on the ‘About this blog’ page, I’ve listed five things in my life that I’d to write about for now: mum-hood (I try to avoid the word ‘mother’ as it makes me feel old for some reason), my faith, craft and baking, languages and linguistics, swimming to keep fit. These may evolve over time, who knows. A few ideas for posts are already springing to mind as I type, and I hope I can get them written over the coming weeks. A note (more to self than to readers) on regularity is probably in order here: I’m not sure until I start how often it’ll be possible/practical to blog (oooh I love using nouns as verbs like this, also ‘to google’, ‘to skype’, but I digress, that can wait for a linguistic post…), so I won’t commit to a particular time scale for posts. No point in time pressure that would take the enjoyment out of it.

So ta-dah, voilà and there we have it, the first post on my squeaky, shiny, brand new blog. Bye for now and hope you come back for more soon!