Knitted Unicorn
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Motherhood Achievement Alert or Tales of Knitting a Unicorn!

So I’ve done it – I’ve reached the pinnacle of my motherhood career – I have achieved the ultimate, I can do no better  – and my daughter is only 7!  Where do I go from here ?Because on holiday, I …knitted…a …unicorn!!!

On the extraordinary journey that has been motherhood I have so far failed on all counts even from the point of conception, which was more challenging than it needed to be. Pregnancy was complicated.. birth too! Breastfeeding I eventually managed, but not without some struggles along the way, and mainly because I couldn’t be bothered sterilising things. Sleep scheduling – a total washout!  My baby hasn’t slept in 7 years! Didn’t even get past the starting gates. Weaning…or Annabel Karmel Hell as I like to call it – not possible when you have given birth to a koala who insists on being strapped to your chest, and  anyway, do babies really need a bayleaf and a peppercorn in the bechamel sauce for their fish pie! Give me strength!

Passing her into the hands of others for a substantial part of her day was the best thing I ever did! Nursery was also a nightmare in the beginning, screaming child left daily, but in the end she thrived, as she has done at school.  I, on the other hand, have struggled to keep on top of life – the things that you have to remember, the school uniform labelling, the days that they have sausage and mash on the menu and a packed lunch is required!  I haven’t kept up with her reading, and I haven’t felt like I’m really in control.

I’ve done better at birthday parties, but have learned the hard way to keep it simple and delegate where you can, but from her first birthday I decided I had to create a cakey masterpiece to mark the occasion, and I went 3D from the start!  Not being a baker, it was all about the icing, so we’ve had a duck, three little pigs (including house of straw) and a 3D Rapunzel including icing hair.  Frozen was an inevitable theme and then my favourites, The Singing Mermaid and Miss Moon, all featuring  icing figures resembling Bet Lynch after her most recent break up! But they prompted the odd ooh and aaah!

Fancy dress costumes have also been on my hit list of ‘things I must do as a mother’! I was determined not to resort to Tesco’s for nativities, and have created a donkey, a star and a camel from scratch, all to much stress, late nights and usually functional issues. But I’ve tried! The camel drove me to buy a sewing machine which I was then too panicked to work out how to thread, but a year later I did manage to thread it go create a cow girl waist coat for her very last nativity! That may not see the light of day for a while!

The irony of all this is that people think I can actually do this stuff!  They think I am a talented baker and seamstress, when the reality is I am a pretender – I have a go and and pray! My cakes are inedible for a start, and my costumes will only stand one wear before they disintegrate! Not that I didn’t do needlework at school – I did, like every other schoolgirl of the 70s, forced to master a pedal powered Singer, while the boys did more interesting things like woodwork! But it served me well when I wanted to shorten my school skirt, or create the ra-ra that my mother refused to buy me!

But knitting has long been on my horizon as something I wanted to re-acquaint myself with – I used to love knitting as a kid, and by all accounts it’s quite trendy to knit these days!  Yes, even youngsters do it! Plus  you can watch the telly at the same time! Last year I took some knitting needles on holiday and managed a teddy bear jumper for one of Ella’s pool mates! It was unskilled and very rough around the edges but it clothed a bear. I was pleased with my efforts.

This year, having grabbed a knitting magazine from Tesco’s on my final pre-holiday shop, I decided the time was right – I needed to create something proper and actually follow a knitting pattern….deciper those unguessable letters and work out how to cast on, knit back and front and all that jazz – I like a plan after all!  Thanks to YouTube I did it! And despite not having the appropriate equipment, ie. DP needles, which to the uninitiated I should point out are ‘double point’ knitting needles – ooh get me – I managed it!  A little resourcefulness on the part of the children saw them presenting me with 4 satay sticks and a pencil sharpener, and home made DP needles were born!

Of course, Ella was delighted with her mummy’s talents, which has always been the point, no matter how rough the results, but knitting really is very easy after all.  And best of all, she decided that she wanted her new best friend on holiday, Gracie, to receive the fruits of her mummy’s labours, which can only make me very proud. It also meant I had to knit Gracie’s little brother a fish pretty darned quick, but once you’ve got the unicorn basics, a fish is simple stuff!

 

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CAKE – A BITE SIZE THEORY

So as the nation stands poised in anticipation of yet another Bake Off Final this week, I can’t help but wonder how this has happened.  As a builder, a graphic designer and a Nancy hold our undivided attention I again ask myself how cake has become such a prominent part of our lives..how it has transcended so many dietary and nutritional taboos to become hip, cool and socially acceptable.  And I’m pretty sure it’s not just Mary Berry’s skinny jeans and bomber jackets!

As the mother of a nearly 5 year old, cake in so many ways represents every single dietary contradiction in the book.  And yet as a mother, you find cake becoming a very important part of your life.  Any mum in today’s society will tell you of the constant dilemmas you face on a daily basis in deciding what to let your little one consume.  Peer and social pressure to only to feed your children ‘the good stuff’ and that means no salt, no sugar and only reasonable amounts of fat, means you have to be vigilant, read the labels and try to become knowledgable about what is in particular products…because if you don’t, you can be sure some well meaning other mother is going to put you right!  As an amalgamation of at least 2 of those forbidden substances, it always seems strange to me that the blind eye is cast when the flour, eggs and butter cream comes out at the weekly coffee dates, and that a large part of the charitable sector is funded purely by feeding cakes and biscuits to children.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s great.  It’s all about balance, family values and fun and I think that cake and baking represent all of those things. It just fascinates me to see so many contradictions!

Perhaps it is because I have never been a cakey or a bakey person and yet, like the rest of the nation, am gripped by the weekly goings on in the tent.  It is the highlight of my televisual week and I can’t wait to see what delights are produced.   As a working woman cake seldom if ever graced my life.  Now that is not because I lived a healthy and wholesome existence.  It is purely because my diet consisted of skipping breakfast, a Sainsbury’s sarnie for lunch and cheese and toast and a bottle of Sav Blanc for tea.  I neither craved nor desired cake.  But from the moment those hormones start racing around your body in anticipation of motherhood, all of that changes.  Your life is crazy busy with little time to eat, and playdates and coffee mornings become the new reality.  Lovely as that sounds, for about the first 5 years these are extremely stressful.  Chasing small children around cafes and other people’s houses on a damage limitation operation does not make for a relaxing experience.  And the only thing that seems to reduce that stress at times is a big mouthful of something chocolatey and butter creamy.  Unfortunately what inevitably happens in these situations is that that pile of chocolate and butter cream usually also ends up in small child, making for more stress, chaos and tantrums!  So wouldn’t it be better to avoid the combination of the two in the first place I often wonder.

Personally, coming from German extraction, where Kaffee und Kuchen is still enjoyed as a deliciously guilt free daily experience, the combination of a nice doughy base, with plums, apples or cherries, topped in a nutty streusel is my idea of heaven.  And surely a little more healthy too.  As a child that really was my only experience of cake bar the Sunday swiss roll accompanying The Antiques Roadshow.  My mother was never a baker, and nor am I.  Despite the yearly attempt to produce a suitable 3-D construction to grace my daughter’s birthday party table, the supporting cake is often bordering on inedible, as the aforementioned mother has often pointed out to me.  Cannon balls was the word she once used to describe my home made hot crossed buns.

So caking and baking is something that has definitely come to me through motherhood.  During those long and sometimes tedious pre-school years, the foolish and the brave inevitably often find themselves embarking on various baking projects with their small person.  I think Ella was only about 2 the first time I decided in desperation to give it a go.  Anyone who does this will know that the amount of time spent on the baking is directly proportional to the amount of time you will spend clearing up the mess.  I think by my calculations, the clearing up takes at least 4 times as long as the actual baking itself, and that includes sweeping up the ocean of sprinkles on the kitchen floor.   The sound of sprinkles hitting the deck still evokes in me the same feeling as when somebody runs their fingers down a blackboard – it is like breaking glass.  Slightly sinister and patience eroding!   But delighted faces licking pink icing off their little fingers is all worthwhile, and since my baking efforts are pretty much all inedible, we then don’t face the dilemma of having to eat the fruits of our labour in any case.

So as I plan birthday cake number 5, hoping to be inspired by television’s new ‘cocaine’ this week, I will be doing so with a smile. That smile will represent the knowledge that every other mother of a child of similar age will be going through the same process at some point in the year.  Because we all feel that we must produce some sort of birthday creation to delight and surprise.  And let’s face it even those of us that are rubbish bakers can’t deny the array of products in the supermarkets these days offering us absolutely  no excuses at all not to give it a go!  It’s easy.  It’s child’s play and it still puzzles the hell out of me!