My Sunday Photo

View from Mondrian

This isn’t the best photo in the world, but it is the view DH and I had last weekend from a room in the Mondrian London.

Last Saturday night we actually managed to have our third child-free night away in over 14 years. Our two older daughters were away at winter camp with Guides, and my sister and her new husband kindly took the little two so we could have 24 blissful, child-free hours.

We drank too much and ate too much and slept in without one of us having to get out of bed and referee.

The hotel, the dinner ( Omino Steakhouse) and the late breakfast ( The Breakfast Club at Spittalfields) the next day were all fantastic. I’d recommend the hotel for the view alone.  I love a water view and kept having to look out the window to see what was going on. There always seemed to be a boat or two going past, except for in this photo, which was taken at dawn. Yes, I got up especially.

Of course, we probably won’t get away again for another 4.5 years. Actually, by that time our eldest  will be 18 and probably quite capable of looking after a 12 year old, a 14 year old and a 16 year old for a bit, don’t you think?

*hopeful face*

My Sunday Photo

I Have The Needle Felting Bug

I first ‘discovered’ needle felting through Instagram and Pinterest. I saw some photos of some really lifelike little woollen animals and found myself wondering how they had been made. Felt was mentioned in the description which confused me as I knew felt to be a type of material.

Felt mushroom 1

Soon after I saw a stall of needle felting at a local craft market and a couple of months after that, a lady came to my older two girls’ guide group and did a needle felt activity with them.

I turned the resulting gingerbread men over and over in my hands as I asked my daughters how they were made.

‘You get some wool and poke it with a needle’, I was told. I didn’t understand how it could work but I liked the shape and the feel of the ornaments and thought I’d like a have a go ‘sometime’.

I don’t consider myself a very creative person, although I do sometimes feel an urge to make things. A couple of years I had a brief flirtation with crochet, but it took too long for my liking ( DH calls me instant gratification woman) and I found it difficult to read the patterns.

Felt Tardis 1

When I was doing a wishlist on Amazon for my birthday in July, I found a Heidifeathers felting kit and impulsively popped it on my list. I had never mentioned that I wanted one to another living soul before, so it got ignored and I forgot all about it.

feltfox 1

But then it was still there when I revisited my wishlist for Christmas, and this time Santa took pity on me and I was given one on December the 25th.

Felt bear with cupcake

By Boxing Day, I had it open and with the help of the little booklet included, I had soon made my first model; a little robin ( below right). It wasn’t very good but once I’d finished, I had the general idea and had learnt not to poke small models too enthusiastically when you are holding them with your bare fingers.

felt robin1 and penguin1

Next came a little penguin ( above left), which wasn’t much better, but then I decided I didn’t really like following patterns so started to try and recreate things from Pinterest and photos.

Felt pengy2

Like most things in life, practice makes – well not perfect, but hopefully you can see I have improved a little.

Felt pengchick
There are a lot of very helpful How-To videos on YouTube, as well as some very friendly Facebook groups devoted to Needle Felting.

Little felt cupcake

This is a really satisfying and easy craft where you don’t need a lot of kit to get started, so if you’ve ever fancied trying your hand at a form of sculpture you should give it a go. Making something recognisable doesn’t take long and isn’t hard.

Felt Kiwi

The main problem is it is a bit addictive and my wool stash has now outgrown the original box the kit came in. And what do you do with the finished products?

felt black lab

The kids tend to claim their favourites and I give away as many as I can. I still have a bunch left over though, but it’s okay- I have a plan.

Wonky donkey 1

My aim now is to make a few things every week and try to sell them at our school’s summer fair.

Felt Owl
With any luck I might make enough to buy some more wool and needles and start all over again.

Felt poop emoji

Do you have a favourite?

 

The One Where All The Plumbing Goes Wrong

So, about 10 days before Christmas, this happened to us.

Water damaged ceiling
This is our kitchen ceiling. Right above it is our hot water cupboard with two pumps attached to the tank. One goes to the shower room, one goes to the bathroom. and when one started leaking the contents of our tank suddenly appeared in our kitchen.

My husband managed to turn off the relevant taps and stop the flow, but by that time there were litres of water swilling about above our heads and it would be several days before we could do away with the bucket needed to contain the leak. A kind friend lent us a dehumidifier which has really helped.

It took a day for a plumber to get to us so for a while we had no water, including no flushing toilets. Anyone who has been in this situation will know it’s truly grim, and will understand why I spent a lot of my time encouraging the kids to ‘go’ at school instead of saving it all up for home!

Then for a few days we had no water in the bath, and only boiling hot water from the shower. We were diluting that down to a reasonable temperature in a trug then having bucket baths in the shower cubicle. The kids absolutely hated this and the little ones wanted to sit in the bucket and bathe that way.

Anyhow the plumber eventually replaced one pump  so our shower had both hot and cold water, but then  he discovered the second pump was also leaking. So we’ve been without a bath for almost six weeks. It’s not a biggy, we’ve coped, but life is easier with a shower and a bath when you have four kids!

Finally, last Saturday, the plumber showed up with our second pump. Everyone was very excited about the prospect of a bath but no sooner had he fitted the pump, than he noticed another leak. This time at the top of the tank.

The part involved had to be ordered so he turned off ALL the hot water, told us it ‘should’ be in by Monday and waved good bye a little too cheerily for my liking.

It’s really hard to keep 6 people clean when you have no hot water. We started off  by boiling the kettle for hot water for a bath, but after we’d done that 17 times and only had an inch or two in the bottom of the tub, we decided it wasn’t a viable option. We considered all visiting the local pool and showering there, but wouldn’t you believe it, their showers are out of action this week too!

In the end we have imposed on some very kind neighbours who have put up with our brood parading through their house and messing up their bathroom every evening. DH is okay, he has a shower at work, and I’ve resorted to cold bucket baths!

Monday arrived, and so did the plumber with the part in hand. I hoped he wouldn’t take too long because I was hanging out for a hot shower.

Five minutes later he was downstairs and confessing he had ordered the wrong part. He thought he could get the right part by Wednesday…

So here we are, 5 days into having no running hot water. I know it’s not essential to but it does make modern life much easier and more pleasant. I’ve had a text from the plumber sayinging part is expected ‘late pm’ today. I have replied saying that I don’t care when it arrives, I want it fitted ASAP!

I have everything crossed that today will be the first day in 2016 that someone can bathe, while someone else showers but I’m probably kidding myself, aren’t I

And of course once the plumbing is sorted, I can start ringing around plasterers to get quotes for the ceiling. I suspect that will be a whole different blog post.

 

My Sunday Photo

On Sunday, we had the best kind of snow.

You wake up to it and there is enough for the kids to play in but it’s the weekend so it doesn’t keep them off school.

There is enough for a nice crisp dog walk, and then it melts without inconveniencing anyone.

It wasn’t slippery to drive in, the trains were still running and best of all, there was no ice.

Will we get more? Who knows?

I think it was more than we got last year anyhow, so I’m concentrating on being thankful for what we got.

Snow day Jan 2016

My Sunday Photo

My Sunday Photo

Today I want to say ‘Thank goodness for the NHS.’

This morning I woke up around 2 with my heart bouncing around in my chest. It was very odd, no pain, just pressure and when I sat up I was a bit dizzy/breathless. I woke DH, told him I felt unwell and sent him down for my stethoscope which confirmed that something odd was going on.

I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me; I didn’t think I was having a heart attack but my heart was beating really fast and irregularly so I rang 111, hoping they could help.

The first lady  I spoke to kept trying to get me to say whether I had chest pain, and I didn’t – just some muscular upper back soreness. I was more concerned about my heart beat being all over the place.Then a clinician got on the phone. She listened to me properly, then said she didn’t think it was serious but I should go to A&E within the next hour just in case. She mentioned I might be having a panic attack, but I have  had these before and this seemed very different.

She wasn’t happy about me taking a cab but said she didn’t think I needed an ambulance. DH couldn’t take me, he had to stay home and look after the kids.

The taxi got me to our nearest hospital, Northwick Park, but I felt really breathless on the way, and when I got to A&E, they took one look at me and sent me straight to triage. I had to sit down at this point and the next thing I knew they were getting bloods and an ECG. I don’t think it was too busy in the waiting room but I really  didn’t get to find out.

The ECG confirmed Atrial Fibrillation and they put me in a HDU room while they waited for a space in Resus. I was on oxygen by this time, so was feeling a bit better but thanks to the machines that go beep that I was hooked up to, I could see my HR was going up over 160 at times! At that point I did start feeling anxious.

Thankfully, my bloods came back normal, so when I got moved again they gave me some blood thinner (apparently strokes can be an issue with AF) then an anti-arrhythmia drug to get my heart to behave.

For an hour it didn’t seem like it was doing anything but quite suddenly the pressure in my chest eased and my HR was normal again! Such a relief. I had to stay and take up a bed for a couple of hours to make sure that everything was okay, but then I was allowed to go home.

I don’t seem to have any of the nasty problems ( high blood pressure or other heart disease) that can cause Atrial Fibrillation, but I will go back quite soon and have 24 hour monitoring and an ultrasound just to check.

It may just be a one off, but I do get palpitations now and again anyhow, so if it happens again I do need to go back to A&E. The doctor did advise me to take an ambulance next time if I am having breathing issues.

I am totally shattered after 2 hours of sleep and hours of a heart beating too fast so it’ll be an early night for me tonight. But first I want to say thank you to all the lovely  Northwick Park hospital staff who helped me today. I could not fault them. They were friendly, reassuring, competent and caring – even the cleaner was up for a chat!

It’s when you find yourself suddenly unwell in the middle of the night, surrounded by strangers and monitors and wondering if you might actually be going to die that you realise how lucky we are to not have to worry about the cost of healthcare in this country.

AF on Monitor

My Sunday Photo

 

Things That No One Else In This House Ever Seems To Do

There are six people in this house. Me and five others. So I refuse to do everything, just because I’m not working full time out of the house.

Don’t get me wrong.  Other members of the family do do stuff. They wash, cook, feed and clean out animals and usually keep their rooms tidy.

DH does his fair share considering he works long hours and the kids do stuff when asked. Usually. This is not a rant about anyone specifically.

But there are some things that no one else in this damn house ever seems to see, or do anything about, unless I get on their case.

These are, in no particular order:

1/ The post. Our mail slot is in our front door so any mail just ends up in the hall way. No matter how many people get into the house before me, it gets left there. Sometimes when I finally pick it up, it has footprints on it.

2/Sofa cushions. The kids always throw our sofa cushions on the floor rather than just moving them to the other end or sitting on them. And it seems they would rather step over or on them than pick them up and put them back.

3/ The table. Apparently ‘Clean up after your tea’ does not mean ‘wipe the table free of crumbs and spilled ribena’ to my offspring.  Can I just say that no one in this house seems to know how to clean up ribena properly.

4/ Towels in general. Bath towels, hand towels, tea towels, it doesn’t matter. Apparently they dry just as well when left in a heap on the floor.

5/ Coats. Coats are for throwing in the direction of the coat rack or kitchen chair. Who cares if they end up on the floor?

6/ Rubbish.  This belongs in the bin, not on the table, the floors, the windowsills, the bookshelves or down the back of the sofa. And of course if I ask someone to sort this out, then they always say ‘It wasn’t me’. I ignore this and ask them to bin it anyway.

7/ Dirty socks.  Six pairs of feet can add up to a lot of abandoned socks. These get left where they are taken off. In the hall, on the sofa, on the bottom step, in the toilet!!! I want them ssafely delivered to the dirty washing basket or utility room. Is this unreasonable?

I am not a martyr, I do not suffer in silence.

I am forever asking people to sort these things out, but it’s like Groundhog day. The next time the post comes or there is a pile of towels on the floor, no one does anything about it unless I ask/tell them to.

I am determined that one day, someone will pick the damn sofa cushions off the floor without prompting.

And I can’t wait until the kids are old enough to have houses of their own to look after. I’m going to go and visit and drop my coat on the floor all the bloody time.

mail in hall

My Sunday Photo

My kids have always wanted a trampoline. I always thought it might be a good thing to have in the garden for about a week, but after that I suspected it would become infested by spiders and no one would ever use it again. My children have what I consider an over the top fear of anything with eight legs.

DH doesn’t want a trampoline in our garden either but his objection is more practical; he just worries that one of our offspring might break something.

It’s hard getting the everyone out to exercise when the weather is like this . Just look outside  to see what I mean if you live in the UK. The days of being able to force everyone into wet weather gear and wellies and taking them out puddle jumping are over for us,  so when I hear about something they can do indoors that doesn’t involve a controller and a screen, I’m all ears.

I bought them a rebounder.  It’s a little trampoline, built for purely for exercising. They love it, and often queue to have a bounce but they don’t like having to share it with others. That’s alright, because the feeling is most definitely mutual.

The cat isn’t so keen on sharing his new bed with the kids either.

Cat on the rebound
BTW,  my smugness at discovering a screen-and-console free activity turned out to be unjustified. It seems it is entirely possible to play Plants vs Zombies while bouncing on a rebounder.

My Sunday Photo

Introducing My Instant Pot

Let’s just get one thing straight, I am NEVER going to be a food blogger. I have no desire to go down that route so this isn’t the start of a new blog direction.

But I have to tell people about this machine because it’s a life changer.

I don’t like cooking, I’m not good at it and I hate having to find something that the kids will eat every night. It seems that the more effort I put into it, the more fuss they make about the meal that’s in front of them. One doesn’t eat tomatoes, one doesn’t like sauce, one won’t touch eggs and the 14 year old has now decided to go vegetarian. Meal times can be complicated.

Our meal choices had been reduced to an endless round of chicken nuggets, fish fingers, pizza and pasta when I started using a slow cooker to make stews and cook meat. Obviously not everyone would eat the end product, I had to remember to put the meal on hours before and a slow cooker can reduce veggies to mush if you aren’t careful. But I found cooking with a slow cooker pretty easy, and was using it to make slightly more interesting meals. It was also very good for baked potatoes which are a useful standby in our house.

Then just before Christmas, on Amazon’s Black Friday, I was scrolling through the offers and noticed that something called an Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 was half price. It was advertised as an electronic pressure cooker that can also be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, yoghurt maker, steamer and it also allowed you to saute and brown in the pot. I read the reviews and thought that it could be very handy, even if it just replaced my aging slow cooker. I added it to my Christmas wishlist, let my husband know about the reduction in price and waited to see if Santa would be kind to me.

He was!

When I first opened the box, I was a little worried because it does look slightly scary. Also I have memories of my mother using a pressure cooker and there was a lot of hissing and faffing involved.
When I took the  Instant Pot out, it had a European plug attached, but there was also a UK plug in the packaging.

This is the size of the pot; it’s a bit taller and a bit narrower than a 4 slice toaster. I use it so much that I don’t bother putting it away but it’s not so big that I couldn’t find cupboard space for it.

Instant pot size
It is not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen and there is a bit of a learning curve, but if you persist , you will find a use for it every day.

I have only used the saute and the high pressure setting so far, as it cooks things quickly and I’m always short on time. Everything has been very tasty and vegetables have held their shape and flavour well.

So far I have cooked porridge, a whole chicken ( and made bone broth with the carcass), a top roast ( took longer than I expected in the end but very nice), lots of vegetables ( really quick) and macaroni cheese ( will always do pasta like this from now on).

I haven’t used the rice function yet but it’s supposed to work well, a friend of mine uses it to boil loads of eggs and I plan to use it for stews, soups and meat sauces as well.  A lot of people make cheese cakes in theirs. This is something I plan to investigate!

The thing you must bear in mind is that if you want to use it as a pressure cooker, it needs some water in it to allow steam to form to cook the food inside. So there always needs to be at least a cup of steam in the bottom of the inner pot. The pot comes with a trivet that sits in the bottom and holds bowls or meat out of the water while your food cooks.

Trivet and water in bottom of instant pot

Forgetting to add water to the pot seems to be a common mistake made by beginner ‘potheads’.

The other common source of confusion when starting out is how to tell when your IP ( Instant Pot) is at the right pressure, and what to do with the vent at the back of the lid.

Instant pot valve

See the hole on left with a little white button at the bottom of it? As the pressure inside the pot builds up, this rises until it’s level with the top. When this button is up, there is lots of steam inside your pot. Sometimes, as the pot is heating up, you do see a little steam coming from this button. This is totally normal. Wait until the button has dropped before taking the lid off yours. I think there is actually a safety mechanism that stops you from opening a fully pressurised IP, but it’s always worth checking.

The thing that looks like a tap, to the right, is actually a valve you can use to control the pressure inside the IP. It has two settings; sealing and venting. Here it is set to sealing, and this closes the valve and allows the pressure inside to build up so that your food will cook. If you leave it switched to venting, then the pressure takes longer to build up and the cooking process takes longer. I have found this out myself, when I’ve forgotten to set it to sealing.

The main purpose of this vent is to be able to decide whether to vent naturally or use quick release after your food has been cooked. If you want to get into your IP quickly, then switch it to venting until the steam stops hissing out and the button drops down. Then open the IP with the lid facing away from you- just in case. In my experience, by the time button drops, there isn’t a lot of steam left in the pot at all.

Recipes will often tell you how to vent after cooking a particular recipe, but it’s worthwhile experimenting. Lots of people keep diaries of what has and hasn’t worked for them.

Other things you will need, if you are going to use a IP are recipes, accessories and a community.

The pot comes with a little book included, and there are plenty of Pressure Cooker cookery books out there, but to be honest, the internet is your best source of recipes. Just Google ‘Instant Pot whatever food you are cooking here’ and if someone else has tried it, you’ll find it. A lot of the recipes are quite Americanised, so it’s worth asking on the IP Facebook group if you don’t understand anything.

I have already bought a few different things to use in my IP. You will need some pyrex bowls if you are going to use the bowl in bowl method for things like porridge and lasagna. This is how I cook my breakfast. I have a glass slow cooker lid, but ironically I’m unsure how often I am going to use the slow cooker function and I also have a basket insert for steaming veggies.Then I bought a spare inner pot because they were half price, along with a silicon lid.

Finally if you are on Facebook, I’d urge you to join the group mentioned above. You can use it to tell people about what you have cooked, or ask questions or use the search function for inspiration.

So there you go. The Instant Pot is one of my current obsessions and I’m not a foodie kind of person at all. So far it’s had lots of use, and I don’t expect that to change. I’m so glad I spotted it on special, but I’d still buy it at the price it is now because it’s such a brilliant appliance.

If you have been thinking about getting an IP and do end up getting one or have one already, then please comment below and tell me what you use it for.  I love getting new ideas for this thing.

The IP hasn’t solved my cooking problems, but it’s certainly made meal times that little bit quicker and easier. You won’t have seen the last of it.

 

Eight Is Great.

Today DS, my youngest, has turned eight.

He was born just after 6am, so he’s the only one of my kids who wakes up on their birthday the age they are going to be. The girls were all born in the early evening.

DS arrived 4 days after his EDD and was the only non induced baby I had. Ironically, my waters broke at midnight as I lay in hospital waiting to be induced. I wanted an epidural, but there wasn’t time and I had to make do with diamorphine and gas and air. The midwife didn’t believe me when I said I wanted to push and DS was born in a such a rush that she had her back turned, and DH had to catch his son. Luckily he was standing in just the right place.

newborn boy
DS weighed 10lbs 13oz, so was the second biggest of my brood. You can see he had a very noticeable stork mark on his forehead when he was born. These are also known as salmon patches and all of my babies had one. They usually fade by the time the child is fours years old, but DS’s is still visible if he is emotional or active. Most of the time it’s completely invisible.

My baby has had a few issues. He had Verbal Dyspraxia and didn’t start speaking until he was three. He’s had a lot of speech therapy and most people can now understand most of what he says.

Now his speech delay has been dealt with, and he’s getting on well academically, it seems that he has some other issues. We’ve always known he has hypermobility  and hypotonia, but it looks he is also dyspraxic as well. He is terribly accident prone and is always losing and forgetting things. One of my priorities this year is to get him assessed and access any help available for him as I know from experience that these problems only get worse.

As he’s our only boy, there is always the temptation to point to various aspects of his personality and label them ‘boy things’. We try not to do this, but he is a lot more active than his sisters. He always seems to be rolling around, bouncing, climbing and or fidgeting with something. He likes lego and star wars and minecraft. He likes to kick or throw a ball around.

DS doesn’t have an easy life, having three older sisters. He is alternatively mothered and bullied, depending on who he is in the vicinity of and what kind of mood they are in. He’s very in touch with his emotions and likes music. At school he seems to prefer the company of girls, although he does hang around with boys too. He’s bright, but doesn’t like to apply himself too seriously. Homework is a huge issue.

I look at him now and can see that he is no longer a little boy. He’s getting taller and I get glimpses of the adult he is going to be. We have only a couple of years until he reaches double figures and we’ll be thinking about secondary schools.

These years go by so quickly. Happy Birthday to You.

8 years old

 

My Sunday Photo

My kids are always so exhausted after the first term of the school year that I’ve learnt not to book too much for the Christmas holidays.

I’d like to take them to all the lovely things that are on over the holidays, but bitter experience has taught me to stick to one biggish thing and a few little outings on the side. They do have to be got out of the house every day for the good of all concerned, but mainly they just want to sit in and chill.  If I drag them out and about to too many things, it does not end well for anyone.

Our ‘big’ outing this year was to go and see Christmas at Kew. I’m not sure what I expected but it was really beautiful and got us all into the holiday mood.

Kew peacock
We booked in for 7:30 and didn’t leave until almost 9, so it was really dark and entry was staggered so it wasn’t too crowded.

Kew Christmas Tree

There was a lot of walking, and some sort of map of where all the food could be found would have been helpful, but apart from a very small bit of complaining about puddles and sore feet every one really enjoyed it.

Kew Squid Soup
We loved the choreographed light show projected onto The Palmhouse.

Snowflakes on the Palmhouse, Kew
The kids were especially impressed with the hundreds of oil lamps set to burn around a fiery phoenix. We saw someone walking around refilling the lamps; it must have been a full time job.

Key firey phoenix

My favourite were these colourful stylised tree-shaped tents. I quite fancied some for our front garden but alas, they weren’t selling them in the gift shop.

Christmas tree tents kew

Christmas at Kew is all over for this season, but it seems to be different every year so we would definitely consider a return visit.

My Sunday Photo