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?

 

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.

 

Self-Indulgent Waffly NYE Post

So 2015, it’s time to say goodbye.

I’m not that sorry to see the back of you. You have been a bit of a crappy year.

I appreciate that we haven’t had any human disasters in our family; we are all healthy enough and we still have a roof over our head. The kids are doing well at school and  DH and I have survived our first year of parenting a teenager.

However we did lose a much-loved canine and the money has been flowing out rather than in, this year. Our injured dog required specialist treatment before she died unexpectedly and the pet insurance only covered half the costs, we discovered our house needs rewiring and new windows and pretty much every appliance that we own decided to die this year. Except the microwave; this is now 15 years old and still working perfectly.

And then a week before Christmas both our shower pumps decided to fail, leading to a crack in our kitchen ceiling and a veritable waterfall into our breadbin. At least we have electricity downstairs and a working shower now. We are hoping the bath will be back in operation very soon.

On a personal level, it’s been a year of ups and downs. I still have very little idea of what direction I should be heading when it comes to work, I’ve felt truly helpless more than once watching friends suffer horribly and I’ve learned some hard hitting lessons about friendship in general, and who and who I can not trust.

I have been unable to decide whether I want to head home for a couple of weeks next year. I haven’t been back since 2009  and I’d dearly love to show the kids around New Zealand, but the cost of a holiday down-under for six is truly mind-blowing.

But on the upside, we have had a privilege of welcoming a new rescue dog into the fold. He has been amazing and has made the loss of our darling pointy girl so much easier to bear.

So it’s not all bad. Just a bit of a roller coaster as it has been for most people, I suspect.

I don’t do New Years Resolutions as I think they just make me feel bad when I don’t keep them, but I do hope for a few different things from 2016.

I’d like to increase my workload now the kids are older, but in a way that I can still be around for them after school. I have a few different ideas about how I can do this-hopefully one of them will work out for me.

I’d like to swim more. I haven’t swum regularly for ages and would like to get back to it. Actually, finding an exercise I enjoy that would increase my fitness in general would be good.

And I’d like to make an effort to spend more 121 time with each of my children separately, and also go out with DH regularly.  I think DH and I managed to go out by ourselves three times last year, so if we can improve on that it’ll be a good thing.

Right, 2015 is only here for another 13 hours, and the sun is shining so I guess I should get out there and walk the dogs and kids. We haven’t got anything special planned for New Year’s Eve, it’s just us all staying up to see the New Year in, watching movies and playing games.

I hope everyone out there has a good one. Tomorrow is another year!

Sunrise

Why You Should Always Have A Current CV

Curriculum vitae written on typewriter

It’s been over 12 years since I worked for someone else. What have I been doing in that time? That’s a good question, I sometimes wonder myself.

But the truth is I’ve been raising and managing a family. DH helps of course, but he works full time, so during the day when the kids were young, or now when they are sick, or go to activities or need ferrying around, then it’s usually up to me. We have four children, and no family support, so working for someone else hasn’t really been an option. The childcare issues have just been too costly and have seemed insurmountable. I am a vet by profession, and it’s not a very family friendly job if you are a woman. The hours often go beyond the remit of most childminders and there are not many nannies who want to take on a household as busy as ours. We have looked into it on occasion, but once we’ve done the maths it just doesn’t seem worth the worry and stress.

So I’ve worked for myself,  doing bits and pieces, as and when. I haven’t earned a lot and I’m forever working around the school run and after school activities. But I’m hoping it won’t always be like this.

DD1 is nearly 14 and  DD2 is 12. In a few more years the younger two will also be at secondary school and I will be free to explore more employment options. But in the mean time I’m trying to find a bit more non-clinic work and a couple of weeks ago I saw a link to a job that I could do from home, during hours that could suit me.

I pulled up the application form and began filling it in, feeling excited and optimistic. Then I came to the last ‘question’. ‘Please attach a current CV’, it said.

My heart sunk. My CV was anything but current.  In fact, I believe the word I was looking for is ‘defunct’. I didn’t even have a copy of it, as it was last seen on the computer before the one I had before the one I have now.

In desperation, I turned to DH who showed me his CV but he works with computers so that was no help at all. Some of my friends have been in the same boat as me, returning to work after years off, and one directed me to this site. It gave me detailed instructions on how to put together a CV after over a decade out of work, and outlined ways to minimise the gap in my employment history, explained how to put together a personal statement and suggested alternatives to standard employer referees.

I won’t lie, it took me days to piece together my long-ago employment history. I wish I had had a copy of my old CV for this purpose alone. But I got there in the end.

So now I have a CV. I’ve sent off the application but it’s been a couple of weeks now, so I guess this time it’s a no. *Sad face* as my kids would say.

But all is not lost. I still have the work I do for myself, so I’ll soldier on with that and keep an eye out for anything else that could suit. But this time I will have a CV ready to go. I am prepared.

So if you are at home, and are not working for anyone else while looking after children, then see if you can take a moment to put together the bare bones of a CV. Type up your previous employment history at least.

Because you never know when it might come in handy.

 

Happy Birthday To Me

Today I am 45.

In my head I still feel twenty-something and it’s hard  to believe that it’s very likely that I’ve already lived more than half my life already. How can this be? It’s all gone past so quickly and although I don’t regret a thing, I sometimes wish I’d been in less of a rush to get to the next stage of life. Of course now the crest of the hill is behind me, I find that I’m no longer in a hurry.

I don’t want to seem greedy when there are so many people out there who will not even make it to their 40s, but I don’t feel like I’m nearly done yet. I want as much time as I can get.

I still have places to visit , things to do and adventures that I intend to have. I want to work more, bring some more money into the house, grow old with my husband and see my children find a place in the world. I worry a lot about will happen to my kids as they grow up. All we can ever do as parents is our best but as your children grow , you start to realise how little control you have over them. Your best may be all you have, but what if it’s not enough?

Kids on the beach at sunset

I decided a long time ago that I would never apologise for my age or try and disguise it. Growing old is a privilege, never a burden, when you think about the alternative. I think our society has things around the wrong way sometimes.

But is 45 old? I suspect the answer to that depends on the age of the person answering the question.

So I’m going to sign off now and enjoy what’s left of the day. I’ve already cheated slightly as I was born in NZ, so got an extra few hours of Birthday Wishes on social media before midnight arrived on the UK, but when you get to my age you take your thrills where you find them.

Happy Birthday to anyone else celebrating today.

Review: Flair Plasticine

When you have kids of a certain age, there are a number of arts and crafts materials that you learn to keep in the cupboard for a rainy day.

Pens and paper, sticker books, coloured card, googly eyes, foam shapes and plasticine live in ours. These items have been incorporated into many a school project and craft session, but to be honest our plasticine had seen better days.

We no longer had blocks of different coloured modelling clay, instead we had a rather hairy lump of grey green stuff that lived in a plastic container at the back of our craft cupboard. I didn’t blame the kids for not wanting to play with it and when we were offered a selection of bright and colourful plasticine sets from Flair I  accepted gratefully on their behalf.

Plasticine by Flair
DD3 and DS were pretty happy to see these packs; I think they’d forgotten that plasticine actually came in different colours!

My two youngest had a day off school on Election Day, and spent a happy hour at our kitchen table making different models. DS has hypermobility in his hands so playing with modelling clay is especially good for the muscles around his fingers.

This was his creation. It’s a Minecraft inspired farm block- or something. DS is 7, so I’m just happy to see him away from a screen. But maybe someone needs to bring out a Minecraft themed plasticine pack to inspire him further?

Plasticine Minecraft
DD3 is 9 and she loves animals. She made these two little creatures by herself. I especially like the Penguin.

Penguin and tiger plasticine

Since these packs were opened, they have been played with pretty much every day. The two older girls have had a go too, although they wouldn’t let me photograph them or their creations, and even I have sat down and had a quick creative moment.

Flair’s packs of plasticine range in price from RRP £1.46-£6.99 and are suitable for children ( and adults) from age 3+

Flair sent us some Plasticine pack s in return for this post, but all thoughts above are my own. The models are my children’s.

The Last Nativity

Eight years ago I was sitting in our primary school hall, watching my eldest take part in the school Nativity Play. She was an innkeeper, wore a tea towel on her head and had a single line. She remembered it and the words came from her loud and clear. I was the proudest Mum ever as I watched her up on that stage but for some reason I found myself welling up.

I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember what I did with DD3 that day, who was just under a year old. Perhaps a friend looked after her? I can’t remember. But I know that DD2 was at nursery; I remember thinking that the next year I’d have two girls in the Nativity, up on the stage.

That second year I realised that our school Nativity changed very little from year to year. Each Y1 class does a little play then the Y2’s provide the choir, while the Reception children act out the Nativity. It’s very sweet and over the years, as I’ve watched my children on stage as bells, stars, turkeys, donkey sellers and soldiers, DH and I have gradually learnt all the words to all the songs.

Today we went to watch our ninth Nativity play. There was some trepidation as the school now has a new head teacher, and we thought maybe he might have changed it all. We needn’t have worried. It was all exactly as it should be.

DS is now in Y2 and he was in the choir today, singing his little heart out and stopping only to pick his nose now and again. I got to the school a whole hour before the play started in order to get a decent seat. It was worth it as DS was able to see us straight away and he grinned and waved.

It was a lovely play and although DS was ‘only’ in the choir, DH and I watched every move he made. I found myself remembering the first time his eldest sister had been up on that stage;  at that point DS didn’t even exist. That thought made me feel weird and as usual, my eyes leaked a little.

But today I had a reason, as today’s play was also our Last Nativity. Next year DS will be in Y3 and the Upper School does something different for Christmas. We will never again hear those songs or watch very young children trip up over their costumes, or forget their words. Part of me feels relieved but another part feels sad. That’s a bit of school life that we can now put behind us as a family.

But if you are lucky enough to be going to watch your child’s Nativity play this year, pay attention, listen carefully and take some photos if you are allowed. Because time passes, children grow. Life happens. And sooner or later you  too will be sitting in a school hall, holding the tears back, watching your own Last Nativity Ever .

star

Calm Down! It’s Only November.

It’s not hard to tell Christmas is galloping over the horizon.

In case we need reminding, the TV is blaring out Christmas adverts between programmes, the high street festive lights have been on for a couple of weeks and the stores are fully stocked with all the chocolate goodies you expect from Christmas. I’ve even seen photos of Christmas trees on my FaceBook  timeline.

But today is the 25th of NOVEMBER, so we have over 4 weeks to go. Isn’t it too early for trees and carols?

I’m not saying people shouldn’t be getting organised with presentsand supermarket deliveries, but surely it’s too soon for all the decorations and advertising? It seems to get earlier each year, doesn’t it?

I was Googling to see if I could find any proof that we do indeed have Christmas foisted upon us earlier each year, and I couldn’t find any dates; just a description of something called the ‘Christmas Creep’. It tells of stores around the world stocking Christmas products in October, or even September and assured me that I’m not just imagining the whole thing.

There should be a law against it. The beginning of December is early enough, otherwise the countdown until Christmas just gets boring. Can’t we just put it all off until December, then declare it open season?

In our house, our eldest was born a week before Christmas, so a lot of the focus is on her birthday until that’s done and dusted. We do try and get the tree up before her special day though, and I can remember her asking, when she was very young, if all the decorations in a huge shopping mall were for her birthday. One year we left getting a tree quite late, and she was upset by its absence. So the tree usually  goes up around the 15th in our house.

However I have been informed that the tree is arriving on the 4th this year, so it seems Christmas Creep is a definite issue here. I’m a little worried the poor thing will be a mere twig by the 25th! Oh well, bring on the mulled wine and Christmas songs.

When do you think the Christmas Kerfuffle should start? When does the tree go up in your house?

grumpy cat

 

Sore Neck Paranoia

Despite my children never having been seriously ill, I am overly anxious about my children’s health and safety.

Look at this photo of  DS when he was two. You probably just see a small sleeping boy, with his foot on a Thomas plate. Maybe you might notice he looks a bit flushed? I look at that photo and remember he had a temperature of  39.something, wouldn’t eat and kept falling asleep. I woke him up every 90 minutes for a couple of days,  to make sure he wasn’t in a coma!

sleeping ill boy
Of course it was just a virus, and he was much better after a couple of days.

Every time my children are sick, or have a fever, I worry about brain tumours or meningitis. And part of me is always slightly on edge when my kids are not home with me. Our school is around the corner from our house and if I ever hear sirens coming from that direction, I have an internal freak out.

I think the irrational side of me thinks that if I worry about it, then it won’t happen. Of course I know this simply isn’t true; life isn’t fair and shit happens to families no matter how much they have someone fretting over what may or may not happen. I tell myself that at least I worry quietly; I don’t fuss around the kids when they are sick and I never stop them from going out and living life. I know that I am overreacting but I just can’t seem to help it.

Take this morning. DS got up slowly today, he’s really tired , and took far too long in the bathroom. When he appeared with his toothbrush, he told me that his neck really hurt. The Paranoid Mother in my head screamed ‘MENINGITIS!’ at me and I immediately started checking him for rashes.

He didn’t have a temperature and his skin was blemish free so I started getting him to turn his neck to each side, and to look up and down. He complained it hurt everywhere, but more on his right hand side.  I poked and prodded a bit; could I feel a lump, I wondered? Should I take him to the doctor? A and E? I found myself wondering if a sore neck was an emergency? A little knowledge is a dangerous thing …

Finally, I asked him if he’d done anything yesterday where he could remember hurting his neck and straight away he said yes. Apparently they were playing with hula hoops in school yesterday and they had been trying to get them rotating around their necks! Yep, that would do it!

So I’ve put his sore neck down to Hula Hoop mismanagement and packed him off to school suggesting he gives the rhythmic gymnastics a miss for today. I’ve also insisted that my Paranoid Mother has a little nap today; the kids will be home for the weekend in a few hours and no doubt she’ll be needed at some point.