Tag Archives: happiness

Paved with good intentions…

It may have been me that inadvertently put paid to the sunshine by purchasing barbecue charcoal. I genuinely cannot remember lighting a grill at this house in sunshine. Sorry.

It really was a lovely splash of pre-summer at the weekend. We spent most of it at the park watching Zeph cycle laps and Ida try to bully strangers in the playground into playing her games.

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The garden is starting to respond to the warmth. Once again I’m marvelling in my overblown peony, and can anyone tell me why it’s always covered in ants? They march up and down the bud – busy and officious. I can’t see any aphids to milk…maybe they’re expected. I have blown Ida’s mind describing ants milking aphids and she is scouring the place with her magnifying glass for evidence.

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The clematis that has scrambled up my alarmingly tall eucalyptus tree is covered in pink flowers all following the sun through the sky. I love it and a passer-by knocked on the door last week intrigued by what she thought was an unknown exotic species.

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I have to avert my eyes during strong winds. I keep waking up sweating from nightmares about it crashing through the roof of the Ukrainian church next door. Amiable as they are I don’t think they’ll be pleased.  A tree surgeon is on my list of things to save up for. Along with the desperately needed rewire. In my blogging interlude our electrics have been condemned as dangerous and a fire risk.

Gulp.

On the bright side the ever-present damp may slow most sparks…  We’ve been doing our best to save but a recent redundancy development hanging over us means a finance rethink. Bah.

Always something to spend not-enough-money on. I have been slowly chipping out my studio space by the kitchen by removing cupboards and mouldy plaster and smothering everything with cheap white paint. Soon I will be able to leave my sewing machine out and not have to keep heaving it off the table for meals. I lull myself off to sleep at night imagining arranging all my fabric, buttons and jam jars of bits and bobs on walls of empty shelves.

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This is us barbecuing our tea. We’re not the sort to be put off by rain. Good thing too in this climate. I’m particularly loving the happy happy joy joy on the kids face. Also the fact my mum spotted a bit of blue sky

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How to make lemoncurd

There’s just something so comforting about lemoncurd. Creamy yet sharp it cheers up even the most basic toasted cheap bread. I have quite clear early- childhood memories of my mum whipping up a batch at weekends for Sunday teas in the winter. Lemon curd on crumpets in front of the Muppets. Bliss.

I’ve always thought it might be a bit hard. Because of the egg curdling possibilities but with the aid of my beautiful shiny new double boiler my dad bought me it is easy. Even easy peasy.

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You’ll need;

Zest and juice of 4 un-waxed lemons

200g sugar

100g cubed butter

3 eggs and one egg yolk

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Put lemon juice, zest, sugar and butter into a double boiler and stir with a whisk from time to time until the butter has melted.

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Stir the eggs together with a fork and add to the pan cautiously. Whisk regularly over medium heat for about ten minutes until the mixture is thick and custardy.

Remove from the heat and whisk a little every now and again as it cools. Spoon while still warm into sterilized jars.

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It will keep a couple of weeks in the fridge. Although chance would be a fine thing around here…

It tastes amazing on anything toasted. Also stirred into whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed meringue (perfect to use up those extra whites) for a citrusy Eton mess. Or if you mix that up then freeze for a parfait. We like it a lot in little pastry cases as lemon curd tarts. Or as a filling in a split lemon cake with mascarpone instead of cream.

The very, very best way is on a teaspoon straight from the jar, hidden behind the fridge door at fraught moments.

May

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How amazing is the sunshine? Admittedly I’m quite enjoying sitting in the cool of my house after a hard hour smashing china under the rays.

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Don’t get me wrong I love, LOVE the bright glorious light. I genuinely sprang out of bed this morning with an appropriately cheery song on my lips.

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I just like looking at it from the shade. With an icy clinking drink in my hand.

This weekend Zeph learnt to ride a bike. At 10 I feel bad for letting it get so late before enabling this ritual but we’re not really bike riders. He’s wanted one for ages so when passing the Raleigh shop on Barton street we amazed him by actually going in and purchasing a second hand bike and a brand new helmet.

Of course his joy was short-lived when he got on and couldn’t ride it instantly but he’s a stoic optimist my boy which fills me with pride and half an hours googling and some remedial first aid led to us getting up at six on Sunday morning. We made our way to a very quiet park with a small hill to put in a bit of coasting practise before graduating to pedalling then turning and finally, by the end of the day cycling from a standing start. Brilliant.

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Saturday night after a shower we counted sixty one distinct bruises, three big grazes and a fine set of hand blisters but one incredibly content boy. I feel swollen with pride at his perseverance.

It turns out cycling, balancing on a bicycle, is one of those things that is near impossible to explain. You just kind of do it I offered feebly, realising how unhelpful it was.  Your body makes thousands of miniscule adjustments to keep you upright and all you need is the time and space to let it get on with it. With lashings of patience and encouragement – balancing the “that’s amazing!” cheering with the book reading indifference is a parenting tightrope I’m getting better at. I will take a leaf from someone else’s book and persevere.

Also – take that Homer Simpson mug…

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Making easy Baklava with children (helping, not IN them)

I loved this post from Round the World in Eighty Bakes and am still in awe at Lauren for making filo pastry from SCRATCH.  We’ve made this cheatin’baklava before and it’s the closest to actual mud pie cooking with kids I’ve come across.

There were a few barriers to the smooth running I was hoping for but we soldiered on, dripping in butter, stuck up with syrup, pistachios adorning our eyebrows.

I could have sworn I had a bag of shelled pistachio nuts… well I didn’t so Zeph kindly set to shelling. My poor old (about 15 yrs) food processor choked at the grinding. A bit of experimentation showed it could manage about 10 nuts a time…so some of the prep took slightly longer than I expected.

We took about 400 g of nuts. We chose walnuts, almonds and pistachios. We left some out, whole and some chopped for decoration and to vary the texture.  

75g of sugar

25g butter

couple of cardamom seeds, crushed.

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

I usually put half the nuts and all the rest and whizz until it’s really really fine then add the rest of the nuts and grind until they’re rubble. This is much easier when your processor works. We also did just the walnuts and almonds first and made the flat baklava then did the pistachios after and added them to the rest of the mix so we could get different tastes. This is the mud pie element as you can mix it up and experiment to your heart content. I usually put out the big bowl of nut mix then some smaller plastic bowls for the addition of; rose syrup, orange oil, citrus zest dried cranberries, whole nuts, vanilla extract, stem ginger, ginger wine,rum – the moon’s your limit…

 We used two packets of ready rolled filo pastry with six sheets in each packet. The first packet got entirely used up in the flat cakes. I simply cut the six sheets in half which fitted my square tin and put six layers on the bottom – all liberally daubed with a mixture of melted butter and sunflower oil by my willing helper, I did put a square of substantial parchment paper on the bottom, mainly to aid with extraction

 

Then we pressed a generous layer of the walnut and almond mixture all over it and topped with another six layers of filo.  I carefully cut into squares before popping into a medium oven for  30/40 minutes. (Until golden brown)

 Secure in the knowledge that there was a tray of delicious cakes already cooking the next pastry packet was given over to experimentation. Much butter was spread, drops added, shapes rolled, pinched and packaged then sliced and adorned with nuts and fruit. Some methods work better than others – the very best I think was the cylinder/sausage roll approach but everything was ultimately edible… 

 

When this tray went into the oven I put the syrup on to cook. To make the dark syrup that looks best you need to caramelise some sugar first. For my own peace of mind this bit is utterly child free. Hot sugar is  a fearsome thing but not particularly difficult.

I put 100g of white sugar and 50ml of water in my very best thick bottomed pan and put it on high heat. DO NOT STIR (I have no reason for this but my granny’s advice…I think it makes it grainy) Do not do anything else, surrender a few minutes for this, it doesn’t take long but does need your attention. It will boil ferociously, wait for it to turn a gorgeous reddish brown and to smell of fairgrounds then add CAREFULLY 300ml of cold water (make some of the 300ml up with some lemon juice for a citrusy twist) and another 100 ml of sugar and a generous swirl of honey. Again do NOT stir and wait for the lump of caramel to dissolve into the boiling mass.

As the pastries come out of the oven spoon the hot syrup over and leave to soak up.

Serve with strong coffee and an insulin producing pancreas.

Wild garden

 Well all this lying around and being sorry for myself has had quite serious garden consequences…

It’s hard to mind too much when it looks so very lovely and the jungliness makes the kids so very happy. Still I feel  there is a happier balance to be achieved though possibly I’ve missed the window this year…

I can’t get over how fecund the plum-tree is

 

Can you say fecund about trees? Bearing in mind last year we had ONE solitary plum. I realise they’ll be a drop but even so we should get into double figures at least.

My valiant little apple tree is covered in fruit as well. Ida and I spent half an hour crouched in the waist-high couch grass surrounding  it yesterday. The amount of humming, buzzing hoverfly and bee life was astounding.

I am particularly fond of the vividly striped hoverflies who vibrate pugnaciously just in front of your face then dart off, satisfied you’ve been suitably quelled. There are so many different kinds we try to count them and Zeph’s collins gem proves utterly inadequate.

Lying on our backs we see bumble bees with white and red bottoms as well as a huge yellow, black and gingery striped one. Watching it ponderously investigate the opening foxgloves I genuinely wonder how it is flying. This is exactly the kind of bee Arrietty dreamed about flying on with plenty of bristly fur to hold onto. Ida amuses herself mightily by saying “No teeth Mrs Tittlemouse, no teeth!” and making spitting sounds holding her sides as she dissolves into mirthful chuckles. She is in just knickers with grass seeds in her hair. We’re trying not to attract the attention of the nice Ukrainians in the churchyard next door who have spent more than the usual amount of time leaning between their immaculate manicured conifers and shaking their heads at the chaos over here. It’s taken me half an hour to persuade her to keep her knickers on and I have no strength for anything else.

When she heaves with laughter I can still see all her ribs but she has a definite tummy now and her legs don’t go out at the knees anymore so I feel better. Down here we have a perfect view of ants and ladybirds going about their business. A tiny yellow spotted beauty sits on the end of her finger for at least a minute before shaking out crumpled silk wings from under it’s spotty overcoat and circling up into the sky.

There are sparrows nesting in our eaves and their fledglings hop all over the rubbish stacked up in the courtyard. Brash and noisy they skim over our heads and tumble from fence to rosebush. I have triple belled the cat and she sits on a branch of the laurel tree pretending their high jinks are of no interest to her whatsoever. She punishes me with a taloned paw unexpectedly in my face as I run up the stairs at bedtime. Thrumming with malicious triumph from behind the banister she stalks off tail lashing meaningfully.  

When we venture down to the compost heap there are three gleaming slow worms twined lordlike on the top of the heap. Fat and gleaming their black unforked tongues taste the air and they blink placidly at us. None of them have tails. They are surviving victims of Mittens joyful tossing of them into the air. Here they are safe from her juggling endeavors and supplied by a never-ending all you can eat smorgasboard of insect delight.

They must be breeding as we constantly find little elver like baby ones, squirming their golden way over the path and through the grass. Bare foot and delighted Ida makes an early joke -” They should be called fast worms!” Delighted she chortles and repeats it  until it descends into a squabble with her exasperated brother.

There is a tiny frog in the washbowl pond. Smooth skinned and lightning fast he crouches under the watermint which has vastly outgrown the space. It needs thinning. I add it to the list.

Here is a bud on the peony. There were more but they rotted in the wet and neglect. This one is at the top of the bush and I feel hopeful.  My wisteria is not dead as I feared, just a little overwhelmed. I clear it some space and add some compost to the base. As well as some volcanic ash my mum assures me will make a big difference. I suspect her of muttering a desperate blessing over it. The plants need all the help they can get…

Drops in the desert and depression awareness week *waves pom-poms*

I really, really must break my blogging drought.

I’d like to break it with something pithy, witty or maybe a useful tute or recipe.

I fear this is unlikely…

I would like to share this link the wonderful Rachel from Growing Things and Making Things left in a comment. I genuinely think watching Henri has got me through recently – I regard it as medicinal. We’ve all started soundtracking any gloomy moments, I caught Zeph doing it while regarding his toothbrush this morning. Brilliant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q34z5dCmC4M

It was  a brilliant week away – new foods were tried, museums and galleries visited. Plenty of bus and tube travel racked up – a fair amount of mooching. Nitro ice-cream was eaten. Zeph and I saw this;

http://www.auroraorchestra.com/event/peter-and-the-wolf-live-2/

Steve, J and Ida got to hang around on the Southbank in the rain waiting for us. Ida and Zeph threw tantrums. Ida sat down a lot.

I had some amazing cakes made for my birthday;

Lemon,strawberry and peppermint. Together – fantabulous. Honestly – you’re going to hear Heston chatting about them pretty soon I think…

In other news – did you know it’s depression week? – well more accurately, depression awareness week. For once I’m way ahead of the game. In case you’re not and you’d like to be more so this is a great link:

http://www.depressionalliance.org/

Depression touches all of us, I mean – you know more than five people right? – it is serious yet not the end of the world. There is help if you need it, as usual there could be more. Worst of all is the shame associated with all mental illness.

Speaking out and sharing is what scares the shame spectre away.

I live with depression, I suspect I will all my life. I am capable, strong and resourceful, my life has moments of immense joy and frequent flashes of happiness which I treasure.

I medicate and apply structures and routines that help me. I am grateful to still have my life, I value it. Depression is one part of me, it is not all that I am but I see no reason to be ashamed of it or hide that aspect of me.

The garden is looking beautiful, lots of fresh green and blossom. The showers mean everything is gleaming. The clematis that has clambered up the eucalyptus is turning its palest pink flowers to face the brief shards of sunshine. It twines serenely through the wind thrashed branches. My washed out bunting flaps wildly, we’re all waiting for sunnier days.

I’m sure they’ll be here soon.

 

 

Packing mayhem

Oh my life, I’m taking a break from packing.

Things should get easier now Ida’s gone to bed as I won’t have to keep fishing her additions out of the bags. So far this evening I’ve retrieved a rollerskate, a wooden spoon, the box of paints and Zeph’s wetsuit that no longer fits him. All useful items in some other scenario I’m sure but unwanted for five days in London with Julianne.

We’re all highly excited and I’m sure there’ll be tears at some point. I’ve tried not to over think stuff which is something I do a little. Maybe I went too far the other way as today has felt a little hectic.

Hectic but full of brilliant stuff and so many Beautiful Things it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Mum and Dad came for pickled fish lunch today to plant out the potatoes and distribute easter and birthday presents like very Boho easter bunnies. It was a hugely happy afternoon and the sun shone bountifully on some very focused potato planting.

The potato race between the kids is becoming an established ritual. They each get a bag and the same amount of chitted treasure. When the plants are ready we harvest each bag with forensic carefulness and count up the bounty. The bag with the most tubers (regardless of size) wins.

We have ready, set and gone – only a few months to wait. Zeph believes he has this years edge with a sprinkle of ground volcanic rock mixed in with the compost. I reserve all judgement.

My mum dressed up in the gardening apron with the string pocket I made her last year and Ida spent a long while eyeing it up covetously. I’m thinking of running some up for the summer craft stalls.  String dispensing pockets are actually very useful.

Our lizard has been unwell so we’re glad to see him looking a bit more sprightly and eating more. I feel happier about leaving him for a while and Zeph has stopped checking he’s still breathing every hour or so. He shot into the bedroom earlier in the week at about 6.30 am shrieking he thought Sticky was dead. I leapt to my feet, raced downstairs half asleep, missed the last few steps and knocked my arm out of its socket on the door jamb. I was sick on the floor from the pain and Steve had to come down, avoid the sick, push it back into its socket, ice me up and clear up. All under the watchful gaze of a bemused lizard who’d been enjoying a nice nap.

I’ve been on full strength drugs all week and quite enjoyed the cotton wool cloud feeling. I know I can’t let it go on too long though so have brought my dosages down which has resulted in a bit of evening snappiness.

I think the kids were quite glad to go to bed tonight and I’m sure Steve would’ve liked to have joined them. Too bad beardie – we’ve got rucksacks to fill…

I think the blossom will be over by the time we’re home again. The plum-tree was frothy with white flower frills today but the liquid green leaves are overtaking it. There’s very little on the apple tree this year but the crab apple is covered in deep pink buds. I hope there’s some left on Thursday these crimson lake edged petals are thrilling.

The peony’s first bud is showing as well – I can NOT wait! I do love my  blowsy ephemeral peonies so much.

I’ve bought a phone to go away with as well. The cheapest I can find which is ten pounds.

TEN POUNDS. Honestly – I feel ludicrously old. How can a mobile phone – okay it’s hardly flashy – but it’s perfectly functional – be £10 and a stamp  is now 60p. Or a Snickers bar which is, in my mind, about 27p be 89p!! I nearly drop my purse everytime I’m conned into chocolate bar purchasing in our corner shop BUT a phone – a mobile, walking around, put it in my pocket, startrek future, phone is TEN POUNDS.

It all seems wrong. Is this because I’m old?

Anyway I’ve finally mastered how to answer it and we’ve uncovered our oyster cards. I’ve tracked down enough clean socks and hole less pants in case of road accidents for us all. We have toothbrushes and new paste. I’m having a minty fresh break from the salty stuff. Ida is over her horror at being presented with a tube of Hungry Caterpillar stuff. I thought she’d be pleased, she thought I was a monsterous, caterpillar grinding ogre. Surely this is all we need?

Look out Big City…

End of term and a pep talk

Easter is nearly upon us, how the hell did that come round so quickly?

Today is the last day of term which means a 2pm pick up. Now I have never actually forgotten to pick him up. Although I’ve had a couple of oh christ – I nearly forgot – quick!  out the door and run moments. For some reason these memories make me jumpy and I keep checking my watch and skipping from task to task making more muddles.

This morning we watched the screening of the Bollywood film Zeph and his year group have been working on all term. All their teachers had dressed up, they had chairs set out like a cinema and cups of popcorn. At the end they gave out Oscars. It was not without technical hitches but loud, exciting and joyful. Exactly how I think school should be. I came away hugely cheered and Ida hopped and jigged all the way home.

She can’t wait to go to school and I have to retrieve her from the going in line in the mornings. Very different to my school experience and long may it last.

Unsurprisingly the morning back here has been a bit flat – especially since I’ve tried to impose a little order. Not something you would glean from a quick glance. I’ve been reading a friends flylady progress and feeling the need to return to some of those structures. I’ve talked about my attitude to chores and tidying many times before and without being picky I can see the need for a bit of decluttering and imposing some system scaffolds in my jumbled corners.

I need to stop procrastinating and start a bit of doing. I managed to pull my arm out of its socket recently so am waiting for a bit of healing and keep telling myself that after that I’m going to GET DOWN TO IT!

Steve’s got some time off over easter so you’d think it’d be the perfect time but it’s so tempting to play hooky. We’re going to see a friend as well and do some big city stuff and that’s all MUCH more appealing. Although I know some DIYing and order solutions would have a much bigger day-to-day impact on my life.

It’s too easy to let the small inner voice tell you you’re lazy. Often I feel like an observer in my life instead of actually inhabiting my body. In these gray leaden days I anchor myself with the children. Playing, reading to them, cuddling in bed – singing songs and idly spinning stories. Everything else loses focus and importance.

As I feel less miserable and more hopeful I think I’m too quick to write all that stuff off. It seems like time-wasting when I could have done work that left a physical mark. Finally feeling clear-sighted enough to look around at what needs doing – it’s far too easy to slip back into the habit of castigating myself for doing nothing.

Bolstered my Rachel (my therapist and she has a certificate so is surely worth listening to?) I decide to be a bit kinder to myself.

Getting through the days is hard work. Remaining emotionally connected is hard work. Well done Laura, bloody well done to all of us who get to school, cook tea, do bathtime and bedtime or even leave the house whilst wrapped in a soul numbing blanket of misery. Fecking brilliant people who manage everyday fighting a rushing tide of physical pain. Two fingers up to anyone who thinks you haven’t accomplished much in your day. You’re still breathing at the end of the day aren’t you? Then it’s a SUCCESS. Whoop whoop and maracas, flash of gold and a big flourish. Well done all of us broken vessels.

Just the easy stuff to do now.

Things to do with spaghetti and sausages

I refuse to slope off to bed yet again without managing a post.

There’s lots of stuff jumbling around in my head but it never seems to make it to the blank white screen. And, just as in the morning you’re left with a few tattered fragments of a hard nights dreaming,  now I’m here – the pithy and witty thoughts have fled.

It matters not as I’ve something really special to share from a lunchtime adventure. Weeks ago on a vomiting tour of Bristol I bought Ida a magazine from the Arnolfini bookshop. It’s called Okido and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It has held her attention much longer than many other things and I was charmed by the style and quality of it. Each edition is themed and this particular one was habitat – a word which I presently hear quite a lot of. Don’t get me wrong – I am glad, just a little weary…

Anyway one of the pages had this suggestion for construction play and I have been nagged to the edge of my, already perilous, sanity. Today I succumbed.

 

Try not to notice the playdough fingernails. We did wash our hands, honest to Mab.

Yes  – what we’re looking at here is building things with frankfurters and raw spaghetti. You can use vege sausages, they need to be hotdog style ones, whichever you pick.

 

 

I mean, I knew she’d enjoy it but who knew I’d get such a kick out of it as well?  

 They did end up more like odd DNA models than anything an architect would recognise..unless they’d trained at the Dr Seuss academy.

 It was the most joyful hour I can remember for a while. Turns out Ida knows what a tripod is and can construct one, how did that happen?

Then, once our creating thirst was quenched, we tipped the lot into a pan of boiling water.

 Do avert your eyes from the squalor. My kitchen floor is a flylady hotspot of ginormous proportions.

A scant eight minutes in the pan and DA DAAAAA

 I really feel I can’t fully convey the satisfaction in eating the deconstructed structures. I’m laughing to myself again at how much I enjoyed that bowlful. I can only urge you, with the zeal of a new convert, to go forth and build then eat your own sausage spaghetti wonder.

 

Sunshine

The sun is shining – I am ridiculously grateful. Even though it exposes the air in my home as thick with dust, the lift to my spirits is immeasurable.

Fickle and shallow as it may be, the BT’s are much easier to see in the open dazzle of sunlight. Ida and I did some park mooching yesterday afternoon, me reading a book while she clambered up the climbing nets and mountaineered up the slide (what’s wrong with going up the ladder?) I had a real whiff of long summer evenings which put heart into me.

Right now I’m taking a break from fashioning some giant gamekeeper style keys for Steve’s dressing up Saturday in the shop. Inevitably he is Hagrid – it would be a shame to waste the beard. Zeph begged him to be Edward Lear with his beard full of birds but he shied away from having an owl under his chin all day. Also he does gruff and uncouth much better than twinkly and genial. He may look like Manny but his soul is Bernard through and through.*  Which suits me.

The lighter days are encouraging me to put my head up from the path in front of me… and I’ve joined Twitter. Always on the cutting edge me.

I like it a lot but not sure it completely suits my skill set. I feel slightly struck dumb. There’s a feeling you’re shoving your way into things – I feel awkward but there’s so much to enjoy as well. Not least a sense of connection.

Reflecting on how brilliantly blogging has turned out for me I’m determined to try more new stuff. Zeph has clearly caught my internal resolution from the air. He’s just done a few climbing sessions which he really liked and joined football club. Tonight before bed he has chilled the blood of both Steve and I by casually asking if just anyone can do taxidermy.

The mind boggles. I am afraid to google.

*Black Books 🙂