Thursday, 28 August 2008

Menu planning & the first of school

Menu planning
I cannot believe I've only just discovered menu planning, it's like a revelation. I seem to have spent the last year (since having a baby) running round like a headless chicken at 4.30pm wondering what the hell I'm going to cook for tea. Oh there's been the odd day where I've got it together and put the slow cooker on but this has only been the odd day. Then because I'm not organised, dinner is thrown together last minute and I have to admit not all that appetising. Now I consider myself to be a good cook and I was beginning to wonder what had happened to me and my apparent lost skill in the kitchen. Also, I seemed to be going to the supermarket at least 3 or 4 times a week, spending a fortune on what I don't know and still not having anything in to cook. So in order to rectify the situation and gain back my culinary flair, I've been doing some research on the web on menu planning and was actually surprised to find whole websites dedicated to inspiring and helping with the "What's for dinner" question. I decided that before I start planning allsorts of lovely dishes and going shopping for the stuff, I must make use of what I've got. I wrote a list of all the things I've got in my fridge, freezer and cupboard and wrote a weeks worth of dinners based on this. I was literally amazed that just by sitting down and doing this easy little exercise making the tea this week has been a doddle. I've known exactly what to get out the freezer every day, what little bits of prep I need to do and what odd bits of shopping I need to get while I'm out and about. Be prepared I am going to go menu planning mad..

List of stuff in freezer:
Chicken fillets
Lamb cutlets
Minced beef

List of stuff in cupboard (this is just the main stuff obviously I have loads of staple ingredients):
Pitta bread
Tinned tomatoes
Tinned chickpeas
Tinned tuna
Red pesto

List of stuff in fridge (again just the main stuff listed I have loads of jars, veg, beers in there):

So here's what I came up with for this weeks tea:
Tuesday: Falafels with salad in pitta bread with flavoured yoghurt(garlic, coriander, tabasco, lime juice)
Wednesday: Chicken in a pesto sauce with rice and vegetables
Thursday: Moroccan lamb cutlets with jewelled couscous(spring onions, sweetcorn, peppers & pomegranate seeds) & salad
Friday: Homemade pizza dough (made with beer) with chicken & sweetcorn topping for kids & chicken & gorgonzola topping for us.
Saturday: I've designated this fun tea night. They can have what they want within reason. Party food, frozen kids food. Whatever.. it's the one night I chill out about them eating a proper dinner.
Sunday: Chicken Pot pie, roast potatoes, veg & gravy. We usually have a roast dinner but as I say I'm determined to use up what I've got so I can get serious with the menu planning and being frugal with the food shopping (thus saving precious pennies for other things like books, nice lunches out & make up!!)

First day at school
It is my godson and nephew's first day at school in 2 weeks time. He has never been to nursery (neither have mine) but as his mum & grandparents were all teachers he couldn't have had a better preschool education. I can't believe it's here already, where have those five years gone... His mum is finding the letting go very hard indeed and I am crying right alongside her. Luckily I have another year before my little girl has to go to school however we do have to start applying in a few weeks time. I am not looking forward to that whole business I can tell you. Getting your kids into the good schools here is a real cut throat business, with every man and his dog volunteering to mop the church floors in order to secure a place. But I digress... I'll cover that when I get to it myself. On the subject of my nephew... I have been trying to think of a nice way to mark this important event. I've spent that last few months picking up bit and bobs for him
  • a first picture dictionary
  • a lovely collection of playground games such as hopscotch, scullies, sidewalk salom and grand prix complete with chalk
  • some magnetic reception year words (all the words they are expected to recognise by the end of the first year) to put on his fridge at home
  • a book called the "The Incredible Book Eating Boy" by Oliver Jeffers which is just gorgeous. It's all about this boy who ate books, got smart, ended up being unable to digest all the input he was taking in but in the end discovering that the best thing to do with books is to read them. I love the last page which says "Now Henry reads all the time although every now and then" and there's a big bite mark cut out of the last page.
  • 3 ready to read books of bible stories: The Good Samaritan, Noah & Jonah the moaner which combine reading with fun activities and lots of lovely stickers.

I plan to make him a fantastic pencil cake which I saw on the family fun website which looks just perfect and I'll present it to him the night before. I also think I'll write him a letter " To my godson on your first day at school" and just talk about the past five years, how privileged I feel to have been an active part up to this point, the fun we've had together and what my hopes are for him for the future: enjoyment from learning, good friends etc.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Making coke can lanterns photo (see camping magic post)

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Campfire wishing powder photo (see camping magic post)

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Mum's movie night, camping magic & immunisations

Mum's movie night
My husband plays rugby so is out on a Tuesday night training, he plays all day Saturday & drinks with the boys in the club on a Saturday night and he meets with his school mates for drinks on a wednesday night. For ages, I didn't have a weekly night out at all. Then I thought what the hell am I doing... I need a night out too. Nothing too crazy as I am still breastfeeding so I know I'm going to have to get up in the night. However, a few hours to myself away from home is sorely needed. So Mum's movie night was born. I go every Thursday to the movies with my sister in law. She is also a stay at home mum with 2 kids so totally understands the need for a weekly activity that is cheap (we're both surviving off one wage after having had two for a long time!!) and guarantees a good time is had by all (those few hours are too precious to waste). It is brilliant. We take turns picking each other up, go via the drive thru to get a nice latte to take in and go to see all the cheesy girlie movies that you'd never get to see if you went with your husband or of course the ones with really nice lookin fellas that you can swoon over for a few hours. Last week we went to see Mamma Mia for the second time. I loved it. It's such a feel good movie. The whole cinema actually started clapping and cheering when it finished. I spend the whole film crying ( I don't know why really because I felt good watching it... I think it was all the stuff about friendship and mums & daughters). I'd recommend movie night to anyone. It's perfect for losing yourself for a few hours. However, you will be put striaght back in charge the moment you walk through that door. The only way for a complete break is to have a night away in a B & B. This is something else that I occasionally do for myself. Not very often because it takes so much organising (expressing and freezing breast milk etc). But every now and then I book myself in a little luxury B & B in the country somewhere and take off for the night. Sometimes I take a friend, sometimes I go on my own. I have a lovely dinner somewhere, take a walk in the country, read without interruption, have a long hot bubble bath and dry with fluffy white towels, sleep in crisp white cotton sheets, wake refreshed for a breakfast cooked for me and go home totally missing them like mad. Anyway, the point of this post is to remind myself that when it all gets too much, when I'm feeling totally stressed, unappreciated and lost - I must take a break. A break is good for the soul and helps to remind you to be grateful for what you have. As soon as you're away.. you miss them.
Camping Magic
We recently went on a camping trip to North Wales. We try to go at least once a year with my sister in law, her husband and their 2 kids. It's always difficult to match up a free weekend with them and the weather has not been great. However, we managed to set a date and agreed we'd go whatever the weather. I always try to make the camping trip as special as possible and it was my husbands birthday so I had to double my efforts. I spent the weeks before surfing the web for camping ideas. Here's what I came up with:

For the kids:
  • Campfire wishing powder (a mix of salt & sugar which when thrown onto the fire at the same time as making a wish gives off coloured sparks) - we've had this for the last few years and the kids love it.
  • Coke can lanterns: Coke cans were split using a penknife to create a sort of chinese lantern in which you place a tealight, attach to a scavenged stick with a little screw in hook (brought from home for this very purpose) and then the kids can hold them whilst sitting round the fire or for going on night time adventures.
  • Toasted marshmallows - another must have

For the grown ups:

  • I made a massive pot of chilli which I had to carry for 3 hours on my knee as the car was so jam packed with our kit there was no room anywhere else for it. I also took my bargain find old fashioned jam preseving pan (a gigantic pan with a cauldron style handle) which was suspended by rope (my brother in law is our very own Ray Mears and always come prepared with numerous knifes, ropes, tarpaulin etc) over the campfire. The chilli warmed on the fire perfectly and we all ate like kings (why is it food tastes so good outdoors?).
  • I bought my husband a hammock for his birthday which we attached between 2 trees next to the river near where we pitched our camp. We spent some lovely lazy hours just swinging watching the wildlife & boats. The kids also had great fun all getting in it together and playing magic carpets (they have great imaginations).

We had a lovely time playing about in boats, swimming in the freezing cold river, playing tug of war (my brother in law brought a rope especially for this purpose, learning to tie survival knots and singing round the campfire (my husband plays guitar). The only downside was we got told off by the camp warden for laughing too loudly ( can you even believe that!!!!!)


It's been a week for immunisations. My little boy had to have one. He is a brave little soldier. His bottom lip came out but he didn't cry. This time I didn't cry either. All the other immunisations I've welled up myself. My daughter has to have her preschool booster anytime soon. I haven't told her yet. I'm still trying to decide whether to tell her and prepare her or just turn up at the doctors and then spring it on her. I'm thinking the former but then again I don't want her to worry unnecessarily and she is a worrier. On the other hand she is so intelligent and I feel maybe I should tell her what is happening so she can deal with it in her own way. I've got to work that one out in the next few weeks.

She's been back to the dentist and had her filling and she was a star.....

Friday, 22 August 2008

Ahoy me hearties

It was my little boys 1st birthday a few days ago and I did a pirate party for him and his cousins. We all dressed up in pirate outfits even the adults including grandparents. It was a lovely day. I put a pirate tent and a blow up pirate boat paddling pool in my dining room which I then filled with black pirate balloons. This would be where the fun and games would be held. I decorated the house with homemade pirate flags (cut up binbags with cut out skull & crossbones sewn on sellotaped to a garden cane), bought a talking skull that told pirate jokes and made a pirate ship cake with sails and cannonballs. I organised a treasure hunt complete with tea stained clues that came together to form a map at the end, with X marking the spot where my husband had buried a homemade treasure chest with the party bags. I organised a load of games for the kids from pass the parcel to long john silver says (a take on Simon says) and had bubble swords bought from the £1 shop to play with. All in all it was a fantastic day. Another one for the memory box.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Pink wigs, pumpkin growing competitions & the human dummy

Pink Wigs
A few weeks ago I took my daughter to see Lazy Town Live for a special treat and bonding activity for us. I was always so close to my little girl. But since my son was born I just haven't been able to do all the things we used to do because he's so demanding at this stage with the breastfeeding etc. Things we had always done fell by the wayside such as playing tea parties under the covers in the morning. I know she feels resentful about it but she has never showed it to her brother she is always so loving towards him. I do feel guilty about it but I guess it's just life. I have to tell myself that at least she had those years alone with me.
Anyway, she is mad about Stephanie, the main girl character from Lazy Town and loves the songs from the show so when I heard they were coming to town I thought it would be something really special she and I could do together. If you don't know, Stephanie has pink hair and wears pink clothes. As always I like to go the whole hog whenever I do something so I went out and bought us a pink wig each to wear. I searched in the depths of my wardobe for my best pink outfit. This was more difficult than it sounds as I tend to wear black and brown these days to cover up the baby flab (can it still be called that a year on?). Eventually, I managed to find an very old pink T-shirt and a 'tiny bit too short than I was really comfortable with' skirt with pinkish stripes. However, all in the name of good fun I was prepared to don these items and risk the fashion police!! All my daughters clothes are pink so we had no problem finding her something adorable. She was delighted "we can pretend to be two Stephanies together" she said. So off we went. My husband dropped us off outside the theatre, we grabbed hands and went inside. As you might imagine I was the only grown up dressed like Stephanie but I didn't care. We skipped past as people stared at us, we bought lemonade to drink out of the bottle with a straw, we messed about on the tippy up seats and we ooohed and aaahed in all the right places. It was just a beautiful, magical day. She couldn't stop smiling and looked at me with that ' I'm so glad you're my mummy' look. I was just so glad I'd made the effort.
Pumpkin growing competition
I have a niece and nephew who live very close to me and are a similar age to my kids. So I decided to suggest a pumpkin growing competition. I bought giant pumpkin seeds and got the kids round to plant them up. I wrote their names on the plant pots and said you'll have to take good care of them and see who can grow the biggest pumpkin. My sister in law who obviously didn't fancy scruffy pumpkin plants growing in her porch said we'll leave them here.... so I was left in charge. I am sorry to say I forgot to water them and they desperately need re-potting and I just haven't got round to it. I am now having to do a super duper rescue job to try and save them and I don't know that I'll achieve it. They are looking in a very bad 'scorched brown leaves and droopy stems' way. One of them even had a flower on it so I hope I can save them. I'm just hoping the kids have forgotten about it......
The Human Dummy
I am having a very hard time at the moment sleepwise. I am being woken at least 5 times a night by my gorgeous little boy who is still breastfeeding and won't have a dummy. He is weaned and so is not really having the boob for milk except morning and bedtime. The rest of the time he uses me like a human dummy. So when others would wake in the night for a dummy he wants me. Believe me I have tried to get him to have a dummy. My daughter always had one till she was 3.5. However, this little boy refuses. I give him the dummy and he looks at it as if to say " What do you want me to do with that?" I've tried different shaped teats, different materials of dummy (latex or silicone), different brands of dummy, dipping it in sugar (what would my dentist say!!)... he won't have any of it. I've tried not letting him have the boob and he gets beside himself. I just can't do that to him plus it wakes my daughter and then we have both of them in with us. We're both walking round like a couple of zombies with the lack of sleep and I've got no idea what to do about it.