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Sunday, 8 January 2017

A Mediterranean Diet


Turn on the news these days and nearly every week you'll find some advice on what you should or should not eat - much of it contradictory.  Fad diets - 5:2, superjuice, "you are what you eat" (I know a brilliant joke about that one),carb free, gluten free, red and green days and all the rest make me want to go and stick my head in an oven.  I really like food - tasty and delicious food.  Some foods I like are healthy, some are very unhealthy (chip shop chips, blackforest gateaux etc.).  

I don't want to feel guilty about any food.  I want to nosh it down whenever I feel like it... within reason.  

I also want to be healthy.  

I accidentally lost quite a bit of weight between the Summer and Christmas.  I just lost my appetite through some combination of Vasculitis or the drugs I'm on to treat it, and managed to shift some weight that I've been trying to get rid of for about ten years.  Now that the appetite has come back, I'm keen not to pile the weight all back on if possible.  Hubby is also conscious that he's approaching half a century at the end of this year, and is anxious to lose some weight and live a healthier lifestyle.

One type of eating that we keep hearing about in a positive light is the "Mediterranean Diet".  Nobody is quite sure what it is about this diet that appears to have health benefits and support longevity - whether it's the red wine, the olive oil, the abundance of tomatoes, fruits and vegetables, the sea food, the cheese, the nuts and pulses, the convivial shared eating experience of "picking at" dishes or whether its some combination of all the above (or more sunshine), we just don't know.  What we do agree on is that both Hubby (and usually the children) love the flavours.  Spanish, Provencal, Greek, Turkish, Moroccan, Italian - all are food cultures that we thoroughly enjoy. 

This January I've heard Hubby harping on about extolling the virtues of both smaller portion sizes and "a more Mediterranean diet" a lot so on a trip to Waterstones decided to see if I could find a suitable new cook book to support the crusade.

Enter...

It's always a good sign when reading the cookbook makes your mouth water and you can't wait to get to the shops and buy in some of the ingredients you need to get started.  In this family there will always be room for Pie and chips or Staffordshire Oatcakes, but maybe we'll insert a bit more pitta with houmous, prawns dripping with garlic and chilli, olives and delicious salads in between and just possibly be a little healthier for it.  Or we'll have friends queueing up to partake of a bit of convivial red wine, cheese and garlic, and we won't care how healthy we are!

What's your latest new cookbook and what will you be cooking from it?

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Making an annual wish list

We all know that writing New Year's Resolutions doesn't work.  We just don't stick to them, we fall off the band-wagon and then very quickly give up and forget about them.

This time I've followed the lead of somebody I know from the Vasculitis UK Support Group on Facebook.  She writes an annual "Wish List" and refers back to it through the year.

I like this - it's more like a Development Plan... firstly I can frame it and put it somewhere prominent to remind me of my plans and ideas (and let others know what I am wishing for), at the end of the year I can write another one for 2018, transferring some things across and developing new priorities.

Here's mine:
What are your plans for 2017?  Please share...




Monday, 26 December 2016

Family fun in... London

 In October half-term we spent a few days exploring London.  We took them a couple of years ago, and decided it was time for another trip following our successful city-break to Venice at Easter.  Here are my suggestions for great things to do as a family in London, based on our trip and trips in the past.



Accommodation
Depending on your budget there are lots of options for accommodation.  Last time we went to London we took the caravan and stayed in an excellent site near Maidenhead (Hurley Riverside Park) from where we could visit Windsor and Legoland as well as catch trains into London for daytrips.  The time we went to London before that we stayed at YHA London Thameside at Rotherhithe, which offered an en-suite family room at a very reasonably budget.  This time around we chose a serviced apartment on Commercial Road.  This allowed us a good base to stay with the children, allowing them some space and freedom, us the option to self-cater and space to sit up and chat later into the evening which we wouldn't have if we were all sharing a hotel or hostel room.

 Activities
Here are just some of the activities that we've got up to on our trips:

  • Bus trips - lots of them!  We've previously done one of the open-topped hop-on, hop-off bus trips, but found that the children weren't really in to listening to the tour guide, so it's a bit of a waste of money.  Instead we found the Number 15 bus from just outside our apartment on Commercial Road went right past Tower Hill, and St Pauls Cathedral to Trafalgar Square.
  • Boat trip - we went on a boat trip on the Thames from Tower Hill to the London Eye, which was pretty awesome!
  • The Emirates Airline Sky Ride over the Thames was also a great addition to our day.  We had been to Greenwich so it was a short hop to the sky-ride and then back on the DLR to Shadwell to get back to our apartment.
  • The London Eye is a favourite for our two.  Over three trips to London we have been during daylight, in the dark, and this time at twilight.  It's nice to get a broad overview of London.  I'm convinced that C and Bug spend more time looking at the touch-screen interpretation computer thingy than actually looking out of the window, but I quite enjoy the space to admire London from above.
  • Museums and Galleries - we have been to: the Natural History Museum - great for budding geologists and naturalists, and of course dinosaur and fossil enthusiasts.  We went on our last trip, but not this time, which was a disappointment for C who has been studying Mary Anning at school and was keen to see the Icthyosaur fossil that she unearthed on the Dorset coast; the Science Museum - we went here for a good look at the Space stuff and enjoyed an IMAX show about the view from the Space Station, and a moving theatre experience about the shuttle trip to the moon.  Disappointingly you have to pay extra to get into the interactive exhibits and the queue was phenomenal; the British Museum - it's such a huge place that it's a good idea to have a specific theme in mind.  We aimed for the areas that we knew would fit into the History Topics that C will be studying this year - namely Stone and Iron Age and the Ancient Egyptians.  The Audioguide picks out highlights and explains them; I visited the Horniman Museum when C and I were much smaller, there's an interesting collection of artefacts, and a small aquarium in the basement; the Docklands Museum - another one we did when they were toddlers, quite an interesting look at the history of this part of London with a great interactive gallery for the kids with plenty of things to play with; the National Gallery - we didn't spend long in here, having already been to St Pauls and the British Museum on this day, but we again had a specific plan - Bug wanted to see Picasso and C wanted to see Van Gogh.  We went for those areas, admired a few other paintings on the way in and out and then left.  The AMAZING thing about all these museums and galleries so far mentioned is that they are all FREE ENTRY - only asking for a donation.  Of course, they won't be able to stay free unless people donate - so please do.  Finally, Greenwich Observatory, where we went on this occasion with cousin Rachel - a great place to learn about clocks, navigation, longitude and latitude etc.  I don't think the kids got it all that much, but there were just about enough interactive bits to keep them busy while the grown-ups did some learning.
  • Other great buildings - St Paul's Cathedral - You'd think that a Cathedral wouldn't be a great place to go with children, but ours quite like the huge soaring spaces, the paintings and statues and especially the audio guide.  They were very taken with the crypts, where Bug was delighted to find the memorial to Edwin Landseer who sculpted the lions in Trafalgar Square where she had been sitting the previous day.
  • Camden Market, Covent Garden Market, Portabello Market, Spittalfields Market - Portabello Market is great for antiques but not for children, only go if you don't have them in tow.  Spittalfields Market and Covent Garden Market also not that great for little ones, though there are plenty of places to stop for coffee and cake.  Camden Market on the other hand is a wonderful place to lose track of time and spend lots of money.  I particularly like the clothes on sale here, and C and Bug both managed to spend a large proportion of their pocket money.
  • Other spots - we didn't go into the Cutty Sark, but walked around it admiring from the outside; Trafalgar Square - a place to climb on the lions of course!  I love the signs - not forbidding you to climb, but warning you not to fall off!
  • A Show!  This time around we thought that the children would be old enough to see a show,  We looked into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion King and Matilda, and eventually settled on The Railway Children at Kings Cross Theatre.  It was wonderful, with a real steam train playing a leading role and chuffing into the stage at several points in the performance.





Monday, 19 December 2016

Crafty Mum - crochet pyjama cases

I've been teaching myself crochet for two or three years now, and this has been my most ambitions project yet.

In the Bumper Book of Crochet (from Dorling Kindersley - no affiliation) they have a pattern for a turtle back pack.  A couple of years ago my big sis (Seaside Belle blogs here) mentioned that her children might like a hand-made pyjama case for Christmas, but at the time I had a backlog of craft projects and not enough time.  I did remember though, so this year started to make the turtles,  I just left off the straps to make them pyjama cases and not backpacks.

I have to confess that this has taken me a very long time.  To begin with I started learning to make the first hexagons for the turtles back when I was on a pretty high dose of steroids, so I had terrible cramps in my hands and found any kind of craft work hard-going.  I decided to make one in fresh jungle type colours for my nephew (age 4), and one in Frozen colours (turquoise, pinks and purples) for my niece (age 6).  
I was making pretty good progress with the Frozen one, and had made the front of the turtle, the head, tail and all the legs, but somehow they didn't seem right.  It was only as I looked much more closely at the individual stitch instructions while completing the back of the turtle around the edge of the hexagons (away on holiday in August) that I realised I'd been using entirely the wrong stitch for all the other pieces - doing them in treble instead of double.  That was why they looked like cones instead of disks!  Once I realised this it didn't take me long to undo them and re-use the wool to crochet correctly.  I then had a plan to get them completed by the end of October, but failed because I hadn't ordered the zips.  I wasn't far behind though, and I think I can safely reveal them before I pop some pyjamas in them and wrap them up for Christmas ready for niece and nephew.
What's your latest project?  What's your next one?

My next one is to put some scenery on C's model railway which is looking sadly unloved and empty.  I've set myself an ambitious deadline of Christmas (ahem, that's not very far away!) to create a hillside, cliff, railway tunnel, cave for the dragon, and ruined castle.  I'll post again on here very soon and let you know how I'm getting on with that!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

My Bake Off Challenge - Week 2 - Biscuit Week

 Everybody loves the wonderful Great British Bake Off, right?  I do, and I had a plan to spend ten weeks setting myself my own Bake-Off challenges based loosely on the challenges set in the marquee.  Week One was cake week.  Of course, I then immediately failed, because by setting myself a one per week timetable, I didn't stick to it.  Even if I did bake every week, I certainly didn't post about it!

So here we are with Week 2 (two months later).
I love the idea of cookies, particularly since one day an American pupil gave me a gift of hand-made cookies, including a recipe, for Christmas.  What a lovely gift!  I've occasionally repeated the gesture, and given cookies and a recipe, since then.

Anyway, here's this gloriously simple recipe:

1) Preheat the oven to 190C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
2) Beat 150g of softened butter with 80g light brown sugar and 80g granulated sugar until soft and creamy.
3) Beat in 1 egg and 2 tsp of vanilla extract.
4) Sift in 225g of plain flour, 1/2 tsp of bicarb of soda and a pinch of salt and then mix with a wooden spoon.
5) Stir in 200g of plain chocolate chips.
6) Put teaspoon sized blobs on the baking tray (leave plenty of space between them as they spread!)
7)  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes - they'll be golden brown but still soft in the middle.
8)  Leave on the tray for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Yum yum, they don't last long!

What's your favourite biscuit recipe?

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Swimming Lesson parents


When you become a parent you discover new places and situations that probably never entered your head before you welcomed your baby into the world.  

First there are the ante-natal classes, where you meet other bumps and their parents (we didn't bother with this one)

Next you've got the Doctor's Waiting Room on Health Visitor Clinic days... how's your little one?  Is he sleeping all night yet?  Have you not started him on solids yet?  Really?  Mine's been sleeping through since he was seven days old and is already humming along to Mozart.

You then brave the minefield otherwise known as Toddler Groups.  Some mum's love this and attend different toddler groups every day of the week - from story telling at the library to the one in this village and the next, and the breast-feeding support group and the rest.  My first experience of toddler group was terrible for various reasons, but I braved going back (eventually) and ended up running the one in our village.

Later you've got the school gate - many parents get stuck right in, joining one of the cliques, others will flit among a few groups, and still others will always be on the side-lines.  I don't need to write any more about this, because this article on netmums says it all.  

The soft-play and the playpark deserve special mention all of their own.  There are three possibilities - you either helicopter on your own children (depending on their age), playing with them, checking they are okay, or nursing their insecurity on your knee; or you go with a pal or few, you spend the time sipping coffee and chatting and occasionally check to make sure your children are not terrorising anybody else; or you go on your own, settle on a bench with a magazine or book and a hot chocolate and relish in some time all to yourself, looking up to make eye contact with your children in between pages.

The situation I've recently encountered is another category again.  Its the extra-curricular activity, and it seems to be a middle-class thing.  Some parents will never take their children to a ballet lesson or to Brownies, they just get them home from school and then playing out with their mates.  To other parents there is no such thing as an empty hour after school, as children are taxied to football, swimming lessons, Cubs and tae-kwon-do.  Asking for a playdate with these parents involves a frantic flick through the diary to find an empty slot.  My children currently both attend swimming lessons, and C is a Beaver Scout, and Hubby and I both also volunteer with the Scout Group.  Sitting in the humidity of the viewing area to the side of the swimming pool I glance around at the other parents and listen in on conversations.  Some are entertaining smaller children and using food to distract them from their boredom or the lure of climbing all over the crowded seats.  Others drape themselves over several rows of chairs, chatting about the latest school trip, the merits of the swimming teachers or their latest holidays.  It seems we've outgrown comparing our children and their skills and stages of development, and we are now on extended small-talk and complaining about school or social activities.  Others snatch the half-hour to catch up on Facebook, blogs or reading.  

I'm not sure where I sit in this mixture.  I don't do a lot of these activities, and at the swimming pool I'd say that I'm in the catching up with reading team usually.  But I am a social beast and I don't think that we are designed to sit in isolation in a crowded place.  I've tried joining in a conversation with the loud chatters, but was pretty quickly frozen out - I was clearly not in the clique!  

Since unfortunately, with the plethora of extra-curricular options, its unlikely that your schedule of taxi-worthy activities will match up with those of the friends you've built up on the parenting circuit, wouldn't it be great if we could  view these activities as opportunities to meet new potential friends for you and your children.  Why don't we put down the phones, look around, make eye contact, and introduce ourselves to new people.  Why don't we have real and fulfilling conversations while our little darlings are bobbing in the pool, learning how to kick box or pirouette?  I for one, would like to have actual social interactions much better than scanning my social media for some fragment of my friends' lives.

Who's with me?  Who would like to look up, smile and make conversation?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

My Bake-Off Challenge - Week One - Cake Week

Everybody loves the Great British Bake Off, right?

And, always up for a challenge, I'm going to endeavour, over the next ten weeks, to post my own Bake-Off Challenges based loosely on the challenges set in the Bake-off marquee.

Week One was cake week.

I was thinking about starting this challenge, and wondering what cake to make for my first challenge.  C helped me out:  "Mummy, there's not much in the sweet treat box" (they can have something from the sweet treat box in their packed lunch each day).  "No, I was thinking of making a cake in the next day or two."  Without a moment's hesitation he replied, "Yes, a pineapple upside-down cake please.  I've seen a tin of pineapple in the cupboard."  I couldn't argue with that now, could I?

Here's my recipe:

Set the oven at 180C.

Beat 50g butter and 50g soft brown sugar together and spread over the bottom and up the sides of the tin.

Lay out your pineapple slices over the bottom of the tin, filling any gaps with smaller pieces of pineapple or some glace cherries if you prefer.

Beat together 100g butter, 100g caster sugar, 100g self-raising flour, 2tbsp baking powder, 2 eggs, 1tsp vanilla extract, and 2 tbsp pineapple juice or syrup from the tin.  Spread this mixture evenly over the pineapples in the tin.  

Bake for 35 minutes.

Notes - if you have an awful oven (that heats from top and bottom rather than sides) then be prepared with some foil to cover the top once golden brown to prevent it burning.  Don't use a loose-bottomed tin as the sugar/butter topping will seep out.

Friday, 5 August 2016

When tenants don't pay rent - a cautionary tale.

We never intended to become landlords.  When we decided to move from Clackmannanshire in Scotland down to middle England so that we could be closer to family as our children grew up, we thought that we'd just sell the house, buy another one and move.  To make the overlap easier to manage, and to allow us to get C started at school at the beginning of the school year, we decided to rent for six months.


As it happened, the house sale never materialised.  We're not sure why, as it's a fantastic home in a lovely location, and people who have viewed have generally loved it - it just never translated into a sale.  At first the market was stagnant, then it was winter and "sales always slow down at this time of year", then it was the run up to the Scottish Referendum and nobody was buying, then it was winter again.  The first estate agents were not impressive, but we are confident the second lot we used were working hard for us... but still no sale. 

As the second winter approached and the house started to take on that empty house smell, and we were also paying 200% Council Tax for the privilege of having an empty house, we decided to try renting it out.  If it went well, then we'd look at getting a second mortgage to buy down in Herefordshire.  If it went very well, maybe the tenants would love the house so much they would want to buy it (I've seen this happen to two other houses in the village already!).  

In the meantime, we were (and still are) renting in Herefordshire.  The house is fine, but it's not in the location we wanted, and because it was always meant to be a short-term rental, we have never made it home.

We were delighted to get tenants moving into our house in February.  Even better, they seemed ideal, a young family with children the same ages as our own who attended the local primary school.  And as they had pets, their options for renting would have been fairly limited.  Ideal - they would love the house and would be anticipating staying.
Sadly, that's not how it has worked out.  For the first couple of months things were great.  They called the agency a few times as there were a couple of niggly issues from the house having been empty (dishwasher not working etc), which we promptly had fixed, and they paid the rent.  The last time that happened was back in March.  They even phoned and asked for permission to film "Couples Come Dine with Me" in the house (which we granted, not sure when it's on, sometime soon I think).  But then they  stopped paying rent.  We have had two communications since then.  The first one they came up with some story about the bank freezing their account but they'd pay next week - this didn't happen.  The second was when the agency wrote to tell them that we'd be terminating the rental at the end of the six month tenancy - they phoned to ask if we'd reconsider.  Hubby was incredulous - "but you haven't paid your rent!?".  Nothing has been heard from them since.  NO RENT - NOTHING.  The agency has phoned and written to them, but they don't respond.  The agency has carried out an inspection, but there was nobody home except the dog.  I hear that they've had a holiday in Venice since March, and I understand they keep horses - so they must have money from somewhere, but clearly paying their rent is not a priority.

So far I've kept this private.  I didn't want to spread their financial issues on social media - but as the time comes nearer for the end of their tenancy, Hubby and I are getting more and more anxious and angry that we have been so taken advantage of.  We entered into this rental in good faith and have done everything possible to look after our tenants.  They have not extended us the same courtesy and owe us nearly four thousand pounds. 

We are just hopeful now that they leave the house without any difficulty, and that they leave it in the same lovely condition that it was in when they  moved in.  Then we'll put it back on the market and hope against hope that this time somebody comes along, falls in love with it and snaps it up so they can love living there as much as we have done.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

What to do when you lose your wedding ring...

I lost my wedding ring last week.  I was swimming in the sea at Durdle Door in Dorset, where the undertow was strong, the water chilly and the pebbles unforgiving on the feet.  In between checking that the kids were okay in the breakers, swimming, and trying to find the dog's ball for her (floating just beneath the surface), I felt the change and looked down at my hand.  Cold, weight loss (mine) and moving water had combined, and the ring had just slipped off my finger.  I had to stop wearing my engagement ring a year and a half ago when the diamond went missing from it's setting - so now my left hand is naked.

So what do you do when you lose your wedding ring?


  1. Look for it - Search the area.  If you are indoors, search methodically EVERYWHERE.  These rings can roll and can travel a lot further than you could imagine.  If possible, enlist help, the more people looking the better.  In fact I've lost a wedding ring before, and had about fifty people combing the activity field at a Scout Campsite - but we did find it!  In this case, I dived under the waves numerous times, scanning the gravelly pebbles on the sea-bed for a glint of gold.  On a sandy beach you could mark the spot and come back with a metal detector.
  2. Reassure your 7 year old son that despite not wearing your wedding ring, you are in fact still married to daddy.  Check with husband that this is definitely the case.  Reassure yourself of same.
  3. Give up - At some point you need to leave the beach and go home.  Accept that the ring is gone.
  4. Hope - You can still post a plea to social media, tagging the location where you lost it and making your post public.  If somebody does come across a gold ring at Durdle Door, they may just scan through the Durdle Door posts to see if anybody has lost one... and they may just find my post... and ...
  5. Hint - maybe at some point in the future, maybe an anniversary of some type, we can replace the ring... both rings even...and re-pledge our love and all that.  He's still putting up with me eight years on, despite me being me... and losing one diamond and one ring, so I reckon he still loves me.
Have you lost something very precious to you?  What did you do?

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Interview with Bug - aged 5 1/2

Two years ago I interviewed my children C (almost 5) and Bug (3 1/2) for this blog.  Their answers were both entertaining and enlightening, so last week I repeated the interviews, and this year filmed them.  Last week I posted C's interview (aged almost 7), this week is the turn of his little sister, Bug.


I had no difficulty getting Bug to sit in front of the camera - she loves the lens!

Here we go:

Hello Isobel.
Hello.  
I'm going to do an interview with you, is that all right?
Yes
How old are you?
Five
Tell me about your school.
Well, it's fun, and we're just coming up to our school play.
Wow.  What are you doing in the school play?
I'm doing the girls' song, the whole song, and our class song.
And what do you have to wear?
You have to wear a red skirt, a white shirt and a blue headscarf for the class song, the girls do.  And the boys have to wear blue trousers, and I don't know what the other colour for the top is, I think it might be a red top.  And... and the girls have to wear a black for the girls song.  The boys have to wear... I can't remember what the boys have to wear.
That's all right.  Can you tell me about your friends at school?
Well, I want to tell you about the clothes we wear in the whole school song.
Go on, you tell me about those then.
We need to wear colourful clothes for that, and I wear my orange, green and blue shorts, and my blue Mickey Mouse top.
And what about your friends then.  What can you tell me about your friends?
My friend Sally is really kind to me, and my friend Lucy - she is really kind to me.  Sally and me sometimes pretend we're having holidays.  
That's nice.
And we dress up with the dressing up.  And as well we play in the aeroplane when we're pretending to go on holiday. 
That sounds fun.  What's your favourite thing to do at school?
My favourite thing to do at school is playing in the workshop area.
Are you looking forward to going into Year One?
Yes
Why.
Because Year One will be doing a little bit of playing.
Do you like it outside?
Yes.
What do you like to do outside?
I like to play outside in Year One to find fossils in the chalky stuff.
What do you like to do at home.  What's your favourite thing to do at home?
My favourite thing to do at home is to play with my toys and play outside.
Tell me what you think about your brother.
He's quite nice and only sometimes he hurts me.  
Does he hurt you?
Sometimes.
Do you hurt him?
No.
Are you sure?
I do sometimes.
What about the rest of the family?
Well, I love you.  And I love Daddy.
Thank you.  Do you love Charlie?
Yeah.
That's good.  What about Nana and Grandad and Grandma and Grandad?
I like them as well.
That's good.  Are you ready for some quick questions?  Favourite colour?
Pink
Favourite toy?  Unicorns and Barbies.
What about Teddy?
Oh yes and Teddy.  Just Teddy.
Favourite clothes. 
The clothes that I'm wearing. (shows)
Favourite story or book.  
My favourite story is Black Beauty.
Favourite thing on TV?
CBeebies and Blue Peter.
Favourite film?
The BFG and Peter Pan and The Lion King, and Matilda and Frozen and The Little Mermaid.
Wow!
Favourite food.
Spicy chicken, chorizo, chocolate and ice cream and even sweets.
And curry?  Yes curry and paella.
What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be a hotel owner. 
Wow.  Why?
So I can look after you when you're old.
Oh thanks!
Thankyou for being in my interview.  Have you got any questions for me?
Yes.  What's your favourite food.
That's a tricky one.  I think it has to be jelly.  Jelly still.
What's your favourite colour.
Green
I think yellow as well.  
Yes I do like yellow as well.
And, um...  what's your favourite clothes?
My rainbow coloured woollen jacket jumper thing.
I know where that is.  It's under my bed. 
No, that's another one.  It's on my hanging rail.
Thank you, are you ready to pop down?  Thank you very much.  See you later.

And that's where we are with her!  Bug in a large nutshell.  Loving my kids.