Sunday, 30 November 2014

Penguins and Flamingos at Christmas ?

Checking out the winter wonderland
As you will already know we love doing outdoor activities with our boy and we also love the run up to Christmas so that it isn't all just about one day. Last year we went to Birdworld in Hampshire to see Santa Claus and we enjoyed it so much we decided to do it again this year. So this weekend we packed a picnic lunch and made our way to Farnham for a day of outdoor fun.

The elf is the one on the left
First up we went to see Santa and as we had a pre-booked visit we wandered round the winter grotto first saying hello to the reindeer - that was real - and checking out the skiing penguins - not so real. The twinkly lights of the model town were very pretty and we were greeted by a very helpful elf. She asked our boy what his name was and we watched open-mouthed as he spelled his name for her. We had no idea he could do that !
Feeding the (disinterested) ducks
After our meeting with the big man we had a quick stop for our picnic lunch. The Christmas experience includes a mince pie and mulled fruit punch for adults, but as I don't do mulled anything Hubbie got two helpings. Sustenance taken we decided to go and see what Birdworld was all about. As we were going in some lovely folks who were leaving donated us their leftover bird food and meal worm pots. I have to admit I wasn't too keen to hold the worms so Hubbie got that job instead.

Careful climbing

The birds didn't seem too bothered about being fed - maybe they get so much from visitors that they can be pretty nonchalant about it ? There were some exciting things to look forward to such as the safari train and the penguin feeding so we took a map and not even part way through exploring our boy spotted a playground and made a stop to play.

Love's young dream

He also made friends with an older girl who was playing on the climbing frame and they appeared to have a very short-lived (and entirely chaste) romance during our visit.
Girl: "Do you want to come for dinner ?"
My Boy: "Yeah, ok."
Hubbie: "Get yer bear son, you've pulled."

Daddy & Mummy penguin
I'm sure if you have little ones they are probably a bit obsessed with penguins at the moment. Our boy is and we made a beeline for penguin feeding at 3.30. Not before we stopped to pose for this elegant photo though. My boy took this one and I think he did a really good job. I mean we're both in the frame and everything !!

Penguin feeding
After all this excitement it was time to head home and we just had time to say goodbye to the Flamingos before we left. 

Bye bye flamingos
I would recommend Birdworld and the Christmas experience is also a nice touch. It's not too expensive and you can buy a ticket that includes entry to the park or not as suits you. I can see this becoming a regular seasonal activity for our family. 

This post is being shared with the epic #countrykids linky hosted by the lovely Fiona of Coombe Mill

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Food waste and food poverty: The Clearaplate Campaign

I feel very strongly about food poverty. The fact that some children are going to school without anything to eat in a country that throws away 11,500 tonnes of food every day is just criminal. One in five families struggle to put food on the table and the use of food banks has increased and within my own community Sikh langar kitchens are providing thousands of meals a day to people who need them.

As you can see I enjoyed my lovely lunch
At Blogfest this year attendees were invited to tweet a photo of our empty lunch plates with the hashtag #clearaplate. We were shown a movie to explain why and it was to launch a campaign where Oxfam are working with Unilever on the clearaplate campaign to provide meals for people who are living in food poverty in the UK.

Their mission is pretty cool:

  • We believe there has never been a better time to create a better future for our children; a world where everyone has enough food to eat and no child goes to bed hungry.
  • Where every child lives to their fifth birthday and has the right to a happy childhood.
  • Where every home has enough water to drink and to wash, cook and clean.
  • And where everybody can enjoy life today while protecting the planet for future generations.

I think all of this is pretty inarguable really. Can you imagine if you had to think about how to feed yourself, your children (if you have them). If you risked your life every day because you didn't have clean water ? Or if you couldn't be sure that your children would get to the age of 5 ? I get so upset when I hear about what is a painful reality for so many people.

It starts small, by thinking about how much you throw away and then taking a step back to look at what you buy. The fact that 75% of us throw away food is a shocking phenomenon when 22% of families don't have enough to eat.

My 'stop wasting food' plan: 
  1. Plan your meals for the week 
  2. Write down what the meals will be (honestly this will reduce so much stress) 
  3. Make a shopping list based on what you need to make these meals 
  4. Buy only what you need - seriously stick to the list ! 
  5. Avoid BOGOFs unless it's something you need or can store for later
  6. Plan ahead for lunch at work or at home
  7. Make lunch from last night's leftovers (if there is anything left that is !)
  8. Be smart with how you use your freezer to store and plan ahead
  9. Have staple ingredients in the cupboard to make simple quick meals
  10. Only buy what you and your family like to eat - then it won't get wasted :) 
I've also found using a slow cooker is a great way to use up all that veg that you buy when you're trying to 'be good' and that lurks in the bottom of the fridge for days until you can't bring yourself to look at it any more.

Make fruit smoothies or lollies from fruit that is sitting looking sorry for itself. Or if you're fed up of bananas going manky bake them into a cake. I've never known my boys to turn down some banana bread or a banana muffin. If I make 12 muffins I freeze half of them for another time and defrost them as needed.

If you have stale bread sitting around whizz it into small breadcrumbs and freeze them or make it into eggy bread. Stale bread works much better for eggy bread anyway and you can make it sweet or savoury.

Finally you can get involved by joining Project Sunlight:

  • Project Sunlight is a movement that has already started.
  • It’s made up of a growing community of people who believe it is possible to build a world where everyone lives well and lives sustainably.
  • Who recognise we can only achieve this if we all work together to do small actions every day that make a real difference.
  • And who inspire others to join us in making this the way everyone chooses to live.

And just so you remember to do it - here's that link again: Clearaplate

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Five easy pieces

The one that made me smile: Neo meets his nemesis the doorstop dog. "what you staring at mutt ?"

The one that made me hold my breath: My boy appears to be doing military training !!

The one that made my eyes water: I think I'll give this naked farmers calendar to Fiona of Coombe Mill for Christmas - it did make her snort when I suggested that Farmer Nick might feature in it :)

The one that made me gasp with delight: I've waited 30 years to see Jesus and Mary Chain live and it was completely worth it. My ears have only just stopped ringing.

The one that made me nod appreciatively: I'm not going to explain this because if you're going to the show it will spoil it for you.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

I (more than) get by with a little help from my friends

I'm blessed with some amazing friends - I'm more than usually aware of this tonight as I've been struggling this week to keep up with myself. The early starts and the rushing back from work so I'm in time to pick up our boy from school has been taking its toll. I started my new job last week and have already clocked miles travelling to Brighton, Liverpool and Oxford for meetings and conferences and this week Hubbie started his new job too. Our boy has been going to breakfast club and after school creche in order to accommodate our new busy timetable and we're all a bit shattered.

Yes. it's the actual Yellow Submarine !!

This evening as I popped out to get some bits and pieces from the shops I called an old friend - he's not old I've just known him a long time - to discuss the latest adventures in our household. When discussing the work situation he reminded me that this is an amazing opportunity for me to get some great experience and that it will take time for it to feel 'normal' for all of us, but it will happen. Rob and I have been friends for over 20 years and he knows me pretty well and there's no hiding from him when things aren't great. He's right of course. I'm feeling a bit crappy about it all because I'm worried about our boy coping with the new routine. I feel guilty because I'm not at home all the time to do the things I was doing before so the house is a mess and I have a constantly increasing to do list. I'm tired because even though I vowed to go to bed by ten it just doesn't happen.

When I got home from the shops I was rushing - as I seem to be all the time lately - and was very snappy with Hubbie. As if he'd realised why he mentioned that we could make some changes to our working patterns so that it wouldn't all feel so panicky for me. We discussed it further and I think we've come up with a pretty good solution that will enable me to work smarter. He is good like that and will always try to fix things to make it easier for me. Bear in mind that he has a pathological hatred of DIY and yet he made a late night trip to B&Q last night to sort out a curtain rail that had an unfortunate run-in with our 4 year old last weekend.

You see I consider Hubbie a friend too. Not the one I've know longest, but certainly one who is just as amazing as the others. I mean he knows how rotten I can be when it's been a while since I've eaten - or just because it's Monday - and he still chose to marry me. We both have to deal with our boy when he's being difficult and it does get trying, but we don't forget that we're friends underneath it all. I don't mean we're only friends - of course there's more to it than that. This is a PG rated blog though so I won't elaborate on that.

When I was a child my Mum used to criticise how close I was to my friends. She would say that I did far too much for them and that when they didn't reciprocate I would get hurt - she was only half right. You see some friends are like dominos - they lean on you and you in turn lean on others. Then there are the ones who know you so well that you don't even have to tell them the whole story. They just say the thing you need to hear or do something that you didn't know you needed. Like Neil doing a 'Smiley's People' style meeting this week over the road from my office. Or Gareth changing plans so he could join me and Hubbie for a gig at very short notice. Or Carole checking in with me to see how I am getting on in my new job. Or SJ putting the bollard down on her drive for us - no I'm not even going to elaborate on that.

What I've realised over the years is that great friends are the family you choose. The really good ones are priceless and if you're lucky enough to have someone who is both a friend and family then be thankful.

Yes, I'm talking about you Hubbie :)

Thursday, 20 November 2014

No, it's not sponsorship, I'm paying you to shave !!

If you know me but at all you will be aware that I have self-diagnosed pogonophobia. I hide it well, especially as living / working in London I often see Hipster men so I have to throw up a bit in my mouth avert my eyes from their misjudged facial hair choices. Well, I don't have to, of course, but it is so much easier than looking at them and wanting to say, "Why would you do that to yourself ? Do you not like your chin ?"

The only acceptable moustache - ever !
So, you can imagine how painful it is for me that every November we now have this phenomenon where (otherwise sane) men take part in Movember and I find myself with an involuntary desire to hand over surgical face masks to cover the offending articles. There is so much to dislike about temporary facial hair, from the flecks of ginger or white that make it look like they've just forgotten to wipe their face after eating, to the actual bits of food that are lodged there. I cannot understand why anyone would do it - honestly. Why not just use this fab app instead ?

Well, ok I'll be honest I do know why and I've written about it before - back in 2011 I wrote this:

Something has happened to my male friends. They have replaced their normal photos on facebook (amusing cartoon depictions or ironic images) with what looks like those photos that are taken in shopping centres where you dress up as a person from the olden days. Not all of them are hirsute so this sudden need to grow facial fuzz is in some cases wildly disturbing. The ones who are naturally young looking now look like extras from Starsky and Hutch and others who are naturally hirsute now look like the station master from the Railway children. 

The reason is - of course - Movember (see link at end of blog) which seems to have captured the interest where other causes have feared to tread. The traditional charity donor is a woman, older and gives to a range of causes. This donor would give a small amount regularly while alive then leave her entire life savings in her will to an animal charity causing a lengthy probate dispute with her family who had no idea that the donkeys would get the proceeds from the sale of her bungalow. As these lovely donors die off charities have desperately tried to diversify their donor base and have had to come up with new ways to appeal for funds. 

In order to get men to donate to charity the challenge fundraising event was born and we have seen the walk along the Great Wall, the trek to the base camp of Everest or the cycle ride in Vietnam. This time, however, someone has hit on an idea so simple it is genius. Ask men not to do something and to get sponsored for it. I've lost count of the number of times a man has complained about having to shave, so the idea of not doing it must be like Christmas, New Year and England being in the World Cup Final all at once. 

I doubt any charity, however forward thinking is going to encourage women to grow hair for sponsorship. If they did we could look forward to the prospect of breast cancer charities publicising "pits for tits." Do you find waxing taxing ? Never fear, grow your hair and instead of being a social pariah you will be adored for being the wonderful fundraiser you are. Nah, I just don't see it. The most a man can expect to suffer is some mild ridicule for growing a moustache, a woman ditching the bleach and wax or going all Frida Kahlo is just going to look like she's neglecting her personal appearance.

For now I'm enjoying seeing the transition from respectable looking man to porn star to Burt Reynolds tribute act. Good luck to all my friends who are taking part in Movember and if you want to know more - go here: Movember 

Why ? Just why ? 

My feelings have changed very little even if 'Pits for Tits' still hasn't taken off, but I am assured that 'Vajanuary' is a thing and that's close enough.

I've decided this year that instead of encouraging this louche behaviour I'm only paying up as an incentive for the culprit to get rid of the facial fuzz.

Seriously I'm going to pay my male friends to shave !!

if you want to read my original blog post about Movember it's here.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hang onto your wellies - we're getting into practice for Christmas at Coombe Mill

As you will already know my boy loves a farm and when one of his friends invited him to a party at a local farm we all jumped at the invitation. The weather wasn't looking too great when we left home for his Kung Fu lesson so we packed welly boots for everyone and hoped for the best.

We have been meaning to go to Godstone Farm for a while as so many of our friends love going there and it is a working farm that hosts children's parties and offers membership including after school visiting and you can book to spend 'a day being a farmer.' Of course we've been farm helpers at Coombe Mill so our boy is comfortable with the environment and was very excited.

Admiring the fish pond
Just before he fell in the mud !

When we arrived at the Farm the weather was clearing up a bit and as the first part of the party was in the soft play barn it gave the children a chance to run off some steam before the party antics and lunch. After they had been fed and sung happy birthday to Harry we all went to explore the farm and meet the animals.
Hey Mr Turkey 
Rosie the pig 

The Billy Goats Gruff waiting to be fed
Armed with small pots of animal food - and clear instructions not to feed the pigs or ponies we sought out signs imploring us to feed the animals. The feeding chutes were great and the children loved popping food pellets into the boxes and watching them fall down - mostly onto the head of a hungry animal !

Meeting the baby pigs 

Feeding through the chute
As well as roaming around meeting a lot of different animals there was also time to pet small animals which my boy really enjoyed. He was very gentle with this dwarf rabbit and kept telling me, "you have to stroke it gently Mummy." As well as taking great care to wash his hands thoroughly after feeding and handling the animals.

Animal handling 
Rabbit food
Godstone Farm is a welcoming place for families with so many opportunities for children to learn about the animals and to play and have fun. Our boy enjoyed it all the more as all his classmates from nursery were there too.

Checking out the chickens
We're going back to Coombe Mill for Christmas and can't wait to spend the festive period with lovely Fiona, Farmer Nick their fab family. Visiting Godstone Farm was a lovely reminder of how much fun it is to visit a working farm that is child friendly.

Getting in some practice
Oh and of course our boy is looking forward to helping drive Farmer Nick's tractor again.

I just love these tyres :) 

This post is being shared as part of the lovely #countrykids linky hosted by the fabulous Fiona of Coombe Mill 

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Sunday Sounds: Jesus and Mary Chain - Just Like Honey

The lovely Michelle of Purple Pumpkin Blog has started a linky called Sunday Sounds and with my love of music and legendary hated of Sundays this speaks to me :) 

For the inaugural linky I've chosen Jesus and Mary Chain Just Like Honey because me and Hubbie are going to see them this week when they perform the album Psychocandy for the first time in donkey's years. 

This album was a defining one for me. I heard it the Summer before starting sixth form and when I went back to school it was all about the indie music I'd just discovered that spoke to me and made my heart sing. It's such a shame I didn't know anyone else who liked it too, but thankfully I am now married to a wonderful man who loves it just as much as I do and we will be indie kids together on Wednesday night :) 

Sunday Sounds Linky Party

Thanks to Michelle at the Purple Pumpkin Blog for hosting this fab linky :)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Yes son, Mummy was a rock chick and Daddy was an Indie kid

Tonight me and Hubbie went to watch the Wedding Present perform at the Clapham Grand in London. I'm pretty sure they were the first band we went to watch together (although Hubbie insists it was someone else I'm sticking to my theory). It was at the Concorde 2 in Brighton and we went with his lovely childhood friend Helen and her partner Jolyon. Sadly Helen passed away after a short and very rapidly progressing cancer diagnosis not long after that so we have especially fond memories of this gig.

In an homage to that first time we go to watch Dave Gedge and his band during the August Bank Holiday weekend when they take over the Concorde 2 for a mini festival called Edge of the Sea - yes he's missed a trick here by not calling it 'Gedge of the Sea' hasn't he ?

The reason I mention this now is that we love music and it's been a big part of our lives as a couple. Going to watch music together, playing music on our radio show and making music with our son is what makes us happiest. Before we were parents we could spend long hours wandering round record stores and pondering which tunes to play on long road trips. Now we are ordered to 'turn the music off Mummy, I can't hear my movie.'

So, when that holy grail of free babysitting and co-ordinating calendars happens upon us we grab the opportunity with both hands. Having the chance to go out and relive our misspent student years watching a band together gives us much needed relief from parenting a belligerent four year old. It also means that for one night at least we're not just Mummy and Daddy.

We get to be a couple of music-loving students again.

No we haven't been drinking - we really are this fuzzy :)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Firefighters, fireworks, fluffiness and a silver deer

Last week my boy was very excited by some visitors to his school (if you look really closely you will spot him on the far left of this picture):

The Fire Engine has a welcoming committee 

He is such a big fan of firefighters that he also made a model of the fire station - I think it looks pretty amazing !

Lego fire station - with a fan for some reason

He made some 'fireworks biscuits' at school - I can't tell you what they tasted like as I didn't get one, but Daddy assures me they were delicious :)

No biscuits for Mummy :(
On Hubbie's birthday we went to a fireworks display and after years of him asking I finally let our boy get a glow toy. He was absolutely delighted with his 'Dragon Sword,' but we're not sure whether it's a light sabre or he's channeling the power of Greyskull (one for the teenagers there).

Now that stance means business !  

I've spent my time wisely too though - wrapping Neo in a big fluffy blanket. Shuttup he loves it !!

Obligatory cat pic - you are welcome :)
And on my walk to work this week I stopped for a moment to take in the scenery of Covent Garden's Christmas lights - if you look in the distance you'll spot a silver deer.

Early morning at the market

Normal service will resume when I'm not so exhausted - no idea when that will be though :)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Don't mind me, I'm just losing my mind

So it started when I was swimming and I started to remember the things I've done wrong in all my previous jobs. I relived the bad feeling when I'd make mistakes and the resulting downturn in mood stayed with me long after I got out and dried off.

Then it was the random shouting for no reason at both long-suffering Hubbie and probably going to be scarred for life son. Ok, there is always a reason, but it's very rarely a good one.

Then I left my Oyster card somewhere and nearly lost my mind as I rummaged through my bag trying to find it. I always put it in the same place to make sure I never forget it so this was just baffling to me. Hubbie found it in the pocket of a jacket that I can't recall wearing this year. Nope, no idea.

Then I 'lost' my phone. Cue a day of running around trying to block it and panicking as I didn't have any of the addresses I needed for my day to go as planned. It had fallen out of my pocket onto the seat of a friend's car and as I peered in through the window I was relieved to have found it, but then worried that a passing opportunist thief would spot it too and it would be the cause of a break in. It wasn't and I got it back later - phew !

Then I was putting away shopping - admittedly in a rush - and in my haste I caught the bag that was sitting on the cooker top and everything went slow motion as I watched it fall off. I tried to catch the bag, failed and a large pot of mushroom sauce hit the ground - hard. On impact it shattered and went all over the floor, the cabinets, my legs... Well, to save time in the telling, it went everywhere.
Career woman


I have finally come to the conclusion that I am stressed.

Well, actually that I am panicking about my new job. The one that I start tomorrow. After being a stay at home parent with my son for the majority of his 4 years on this Earth. It's taken me over a year to get this job and I was starting to become convinced that it was ageism that was preventing me from returning to the workplace. I think that may have been part of it - after all I was under 40 the last time I was working full time and I wasn't a parent then either. This time I've been sorting out childcare and after school planning and organising how I'll travel to all the different locations for meetings while also making sure the boy gets to school, then home again and fed. 

My boy has spiralled out of control this week which has added to my woes, but he has clearly fed off my anxiety. I've talked to him about my going back to work and how things will be different, but he will still be the most important consideration for me and Daddy. I've been saying reassuring things, but it's inevitable that there is some fear of change for all of us.

Then at the end of the week I was exhausted from all the effort and had reached the end of my tether. I could not handle his belligerence any more. A bad incident at his school and yet another withering look from his class teacher and I was done in. I got down to his level and explained.
" I have to go to work my darling. I can't be at home with you any more."
"Why not Mummy ?"
"Because it's too much. You're at school all day so you don't need me, but you aren't being very nice right now and I need to be somewhere else and doing something else."
"Why Mummy ?"
"I've had enough honey. This week my brain hurts. It's making me get everything wrong. I've lost my phone, I've lost my Oyster and I feel like I'm going mad."
He looked at me and then put his arms around me.
"Why didn't you tell me Mummy ?"
"What do you mean Sweetie ?"
"You can tell me when things are going wrong Mummy."
I paused to process what my 4 year old boy was saying.
"Ok I will."
He looked me in the eyes earnestly and held my face - now damp with tears - in his little hands,
"Do you promise Mummy ?"
"Yes darling, I promise."

Right, I'm off to pack my bag for my first day.

And what about me eh ? 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Angelic retro puddings and delightful sweet shop treats

Sweetie shop specials 
It seems all things retro are trendy now - is it even ok to say trendy or does that make me really stale and old ? Never mind. As you were. So, it appears that not only are the clothes from my childhood back in fashion - and don't think that isn't painful when it's stuff I threw out long ago ! - but the 'old school' sweets are too. You remember those ones that were in big jars and you bought by the quarter from a kindly shopkeeper who knew your parents and would know if you were supposed to be at school and not scoffing strawberry bonbons like a starving chimp. So with all things vintage in mind I was delighted to hear that not only is Angel Delight still around, but it's now available in a brand new flavour that is pretty retro in itself - Bubble gum !

It really does smell like bubble gum !!

When I was a kid there were only a few desserts that we had on a regular basis. Tinned fruit when my parents had guests - me and my brother would fight for the cherry in the tin - served with ice cream. Only vanilla ice cream though, not the luxury ones you get now with salted caramel and cookie dough in them. There was jelly - which I would eat straight from the block then claim it was mice who had taken it - and of course Angel Delight. I'm the oldest of 4 siblings so I was the one who was trusted to actually make it for the younger ones as it's possibly the easiest dessert in the world to make and is ready quickly for hungry and impatient little people. 

Candy coloured whisk optional

In my desire to make it more interesting than just whipping up the Angel Delight with milk then popping it into the fridge to 'set' I developed a method to make it more 'posh.' I would set the jelly first at an angle then top with the Angel Delight and it looked fancier than it really was. In fact it appears that TV chef Lorraine Pascale has stolen my idea for this fancier version of my classic two-tone dessert. This used to be my favourite 'looks difficult is really easy' dessert to prepare for my younger siblings. I made it again with strawberry jelly and bubblegum Angel Delight (and some random sweeties of course). Now doesn't that look... erm, sweet ? 

The updated 'two-tone' pudding

While everyone else used to go on about butterscotch flavour we rarely had it as it wasn't a flavour that anyone in my family liked much. We went for traditional ones like Strawberry or Banana that even young kids would eat happily. Now that there's a new kiddie friendly flavour I thought I'd branch out and be creative once more. The question was how would I jazz up the flavour of bubblegum ? Well, the whole retro thing gave me an idea. Why not recreate the sweets we loved and make a pick 'n' mix dessert combo ?

Made to make your mouth water :) 

To start with I made mini jellies in Opal Fruit flavours. If you need to Google to find out what these are then do please go ahead - I will wait here for you. Caught up now ? Good. So I made orange, lime, strawberry and blackcurrant jellies and mixed up some lovely new Angel Delight. The 'opal fruit' cubes were popped on top of the fluffy Angel Delight and voila ! I'm not quite Willy Wonka, but I think these are pretty kiddie friendly puddings. What with the fresh milk in the Angel Delight and sugar-free jellies I'm pretty sure I can pass these off as 'healthy.' (the sweeties in the dish not so much).
retro sweet dessert

It's Hubbie's birthday today so this is especially just for him because he loves milkshakes, especially the extra thick ones you get in American diners. The new packets come with instructions to make a dessert or a milkshake, so you can enjoy the fab flavour of bubble gum in a yummy drink too. We were sent a pretty sundae dish and spotty straw so guess what I'm making for Hubbie as a birthday treat. I know, wife of the year right ?

This post is an entry for #AngelDelightMoments Linky Challenge.

Disclosure: We were sent some Angel Delight to try for this review post.