Success

So, it seems that all I have to do to improve my cooking skills is write a series of blog posts saying how much I dislike the task and how bad I am at it (see Not a domestic goddess and The making of an incompetent cook). Not that I am now claiming to be competent and skillful. I will leave those accolades to my amazing friend Mrs Gillybird who can produce creations such as this: A Cake Fit For Angels. Still, this afternoon I was feeling in a positive mood and decided to make bread. I am rather pleased with the result.

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This is a loaf of Irish wheaten bread, made using my mother’s recipe with a few adjustments to allow for the fact that not all ingredients are readily available in this part of England. I used to make this bread regularly, until I had a run of unpalatable failures and lost heart. I was inspired to try again recently by a blog post written by Vernacularisms titled Well Raised. I asked for advice and tried his suggestions with great results.

Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? Interactions with strangers get such a bad press but, just as in the outernet, the people that I encounter are mostly decent, thoughtful, supportive and willing to help out when they can.

Buoyed by my recent successes in a few areas of food production, last week I tried out a recipe that I came across on a fabulous blog written by A Girl Called Jack: Carrot, Cumin & Kidney Bean Burger. These went down very well with my fussy little family, were easy to make in advance and quick to cook when required.

I will be searching for more recipes on this blog. Jack cooks on a tight budget so does not use the sort of ingredients that are hard to come by (unless you are willing to pay Waitrose prices or have access to the sort of upmarket deli or street market that seem to exist in the posher parts of London where many of the popular food writers seem to live). Maybe I just order my shopping from the wrong places, but my store cupboard is pretty basic and I like it that way.

I made a curry for dinner this evening and there were no complaints, not even from my spice averse youngest. I really am on a roll. Perhaps my children were distracted by the prospect of pudding as my younger son had made a cake and a batch of cookies when he got in from school. Whatever the reason, producing food is much more rewarding when the results turn out as they should and are then eaten without complaint. I will be interested to see how long I can maintain this run of good results.

Celebration

It has been quite a week. Celebratory cakes and champagne have been consumed in abundance; special dinners have been enjoyed with much glass clinking and happy smiles. It has been a joyful, family time as we have shared in each other’s events and achievements. I feel exhausted by it all, but in a good way.

My children did well in their exams. There is quite a fanfare around collecting GCSE results from school and my daughter did not wish to be a part of this. She opted to attend late morning in order to miss the rush and avoid the need to open her results envelope in front of friends. She was happy to share once she had absorbed the impact of grades given. After the nervous anticipation she needed that initial space.

Schools are under a great deal of pressure to produce a slew of top grades each year. Teachers must be so relieved when their charges put in the work and fulfil their potential. Although the overall marks can, year on year, impact a teacher’s professional progression, it is the pupils whose lives are affected by the individual outcomes. It is a relief to get beyond results day, and a joy that we did so with the satisfaction of success.

I am very proud of my children’s achievement. I am also aware that it is theirs, not mine. The way I have mothered them may have set the groundwork for future success, but it is their ability and the work that they put in that resulted in their attainment. As I bask in the shadow of their happiness I will not try to take any of their credit.

For them, the next stage is higher level coursework and the preparation for more exams. As a parent there will be many more results days to anticipate and deal with. These good grades will make my children’s lives easier, but I do not wish exams to be the focus of their development. Their learning and preparation for adult life and independence should not be confined to the classroom.

As my elder two children relax in the knowledge of their success, my youngest son’s belief in himself has been knocked. Where my elder son takes his sister’s successes as a challenge to emulate, my younger son allows himself to feel pressurised and inadequate. His self doubt and fear of failure will need to be overcome if he is to achieve his potential. I can understand that his siblings are a hard act to follow; convincing him that he should be doing what is best for him rather than attempting to imitate is tough.

However, I do not wish to bring negativity into a period of our lives when things have gone well; it would be sad indeed if we could not fully enjoy these times. Whatever may or may not happen in the future, it is important to retain the ability to take pleasure in the here and now.

Another milestone has been passed, but we still have much to look forward to. I have our imminent trip to Berlin to prepare for as well as catching up on more mundane activities, neglected in the excitement of this week. I will enjoy my time away so much more if I know that those left at home will not have to deal with the tasks that I can complete in advance.

It has been a good week. I will cache the experiences for future times when life is harder to cope with. For now though, I will simply enjoy.

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Living my life

For most people, life is a series of days lived in much the same way with the occasional challenge or highlight. We do our jobs, sleep, eat and fill those precious leisure hours with whatever distraction appeals. Some enjoy watching television or reading a book, others will partake in a sport or go shopping for pleasure, if we are lucky we will have the opportunity to meet up with friends from time to time and enjoy special events – outings, dinners, parties. Each of us will have different interests and most will enjoy a variety of pursuits or relaxations. We will choose to spend time with those whose company we enjoy, who share our interests and who make us feel good about ourselves. If only we could avoid those who bring us down.

We all have times when we are required to do something that we would not choose to do. When I have an event such as this in my diary I catch myself dreading it and wishing it over. I am wishing my life away and I do not want to do that. Life is such a precious thing.

Pleasure can be gained from so many little things, from the repetitive and mundane as well as the highlights and special. It can be too easy to take for granted the things that make life good. There have been too many times in my life when I have tried to be something that I am not, and this has inevitably lead to me feeling bad about myself. I can try to learn new skills, I can practice in an attempt to improve, but I cannot be a different person. When I have tried to fit into a mould that I think another expects of me then I end up feeling that I have failed. Better to admire achievements without feeling the need to try to emulate them.

Accepting what we are, gaining pleasure from the little things we encounter from day to day and not allowing the events that we dread to bring us down are so much easier if we can cultivate a positive attitude to life. I have much to be thankful for but this can still be hard.  It sometimes feels as if others are determined to pull me down, which is why I try to live my life in the here and now. What has gone before cannot be changed and what is to come may never happen. We only have now.

If I can spend my day making life for those around me just a little bit easier or more pleasurable then that will be a good day. If I can enjoy a few moments of quiet contemplation; smile at the funny antics of my little flock of hens or appreciate the beauty of the countryside that stretches out from the windows of my home, then that will be a good day. I do not need to bake the perfect cake, or turn my messy house into a shining example of good housekeeping. I do not need to be different just because someone else cannot accept me for what I am.

Coping with others expectations can be a challenge but fulfilment can only be reached if we are achieving our own goals. I have my dreams and hopes like anyone else but they are mine, not others, and I know that only I can make them happen; one step at a time, one day at a time. Along the way I will appreciate the life I am leading, I will do my best to enjoy the journey, I will live my life.

Countryside