Is it just my kids who come home from the school fair with the biggest second-hand soft toy they can find?
This week I spent a couple of days at a conference at the ExCel Centre in the London Docklands.
It’s about a two hour tube journey each way from our house, and I really wasn’t looking forward to the 8 hours of travelling over the two days.
But then someone suggested I think about staying the night in a nearby hotel, instead of schlepping back and forth during rush hour, so I did. DH worked from home and ran around after the kids for a couple of days while I had 36 hours off from parenting.
I stayed in the nearby Novotel, caught up with a friend who lives in the area for dinner and enjoyed having a room all to myself. And I got to see this lovely sunset, over the O2 and the Emirates Skyline.
Did I mention the peace and quiet? It was almost deafening.
This is an orchid I got for Mother’s day in 2015. It had blue flowers then, obviously dyed, and I knew if it ever flowered again the blooms would be white.
The flowers lasted for ages, but eventually died and the plant lost the stem and leaves and looked like it was dead. I tried a few different things to get it growing again, and in desperation moved it to the very sunny kitchen windowsill, chucked some water at it occasionally and left it alone.
Of course, because it was being neglected it grew two new leaves, and when I got back from holiday I found it had flowered. This is one of the flowers but it now has five. My kids think the centre looks like a Pokemon.
It’s a year ago today that we lost our lovely Lurcher, Willow. If you want to hear the full story, you can read about it here.
If you don’t have time, all you really need to know is it involved a fox, a van and specialist vet care that cost over £8K. After which she died anyhow.
We had some insurance, but not enough. At least we know we did everything we could for her.
A year on, I have dreaded the run up to this day but now it’s here, it’s not so bad. We’ve looked at photos and told stories about her and earlier this week I spent some time making a little Lurcher feltie that is supposed to look like her.
The dog-shaped hole she left has been filled by a rescue dog who has fitted in to our family well, but of course there is never any filling the Willow-shaped hole.
We still miss her pointy nose, hairy butt and mad zoomies last thing at night.
I just can’t believe a whole year has passed since we last saw her.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like most things in life, practice makes – well not perfect, but hopefully you can see I have improved a little.
There are a lot of very helpful How-To videos on YouTube, as well as some very friendly Facebook groups devoted to Needle Felting.
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.
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?
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.
My aim now is to make a few things every week and try to sell them at our school’s summer fair.
Do you have a favourite?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Parenting involves a lot of sharing. It can be a learning curve.
When you have a baby, you share your time and the attention of your partner/family with them. It can be odd going from the ‘precious vessel’ status of your first pregnancy to suddenly playing second fiddle to a demanding bundle who effortlessly hogs the limelight instead.
When they are toddlers, you share your food, your phone/iPad and sometimes your bed with them. Your house stops being an adult space and fills up with the detritus of children.
This moves on to other screens including, but not limited to, your TV and your computer. They take over your sofa or favourite chair. Then they discover the kitchen. At this stage , do try and encourage them to share the dishwasher and hoover too.
But now I have a 12 year old and an almost 14 year old and sharing has entered a more intimate stage.
Not only do they ‘share’ any food I may have been careless enough not to lock away or expressly forbid them to touch but anything else is fair game too.
Pens from my desk, my SLS free shampoo and conditioner ( I buy them plenty of their own but they seem to prefer to use mine), my towel in the bathroom, my headphones go to school with them.
Certain sanitary supplies disappear ‘mysteriously’ on a regular basis and lastly, and most annoyingly, my shoes are often borrowed.
The irony of this is that I only own a few pairs of shoes and my feet are slightly bigger than DD1’s and DD2’s. This doesn’t stop them; if I can’t find my trainers or converse shoes, I know where they will be. The girls have their own shoes, by the way. It’s just that mine will have been closer to hand (foot).
Luckily I am a completely different clothing size to my eldest two, so at least I don’t have to deal with that scenario but know plenty of my friends who do. Thank goodness I don’t wear make up!
The worst thing is that I know this won’t improve soon. In fact, in 3 years time I will be facing having to share my car.
What do you have to share with your children that you’d really rather not?