Monday, 29 August 2016

What's for lunch Mum ?

Hartley's your lunchbox 

Packed lunches can be the bane of my life during the holidays. You see Brown Bear has a hot meal at school every day so I don't have to provide a lunch for him. Blue Bear has a packed lunch twice a week when he does a longer day, so during term time it's not a regular thing for me to make a lunch. During the school holidays, however, they go to holiday camps and I make a lunch for them both every day, so we go shopping together for all the components. Their special teddy companions get to sit in the trolley and my boys can wander round randomly dropping items into my shopping that I won't usually buy. If they're lucky - or sufficiently persuasive - I might actually buy what they've chosen.

Woof Woof and Jiggles get a ride 

I used to have to find ways to get round that fact that the boys wouldn't eat sandwiches, but now they seem to be ok with them so this year I've come into my own both creatively and nutritionally. I always include a juice carton or a water bottle - recently I saw this coconut with a ring pull in it. Why a ring pull ? Who knows. I'm not sure who the target market is for this really - for one it won't fit in a normal packed lunch box and for another it's hardly a handy convenient post yoga snack is it ? I'll stick with water or juice cartons thanks. 

Coconut water - no really 

My boys have become veterans of packed lunches now so I like to include them in decision making. I like to theme the lunches and this summer we've had colour themes with two strong favourites coming out.

This is the yellow and green theme with apple juice, a pineapple jelly from Hartleys and a box of raisins and apple pieces. The sandwich thins have been a revelation as the boys will eat these with cheese spread on them. which is an improvement on dry bread which is what they used to insist on or they'd just throw away the filling and eat the bread. I've also discovered mini cucumbers that fit into the box and are waste free if I top and tail them so there's no stalk to dispose of. 

The yellow and green theme 

Personally I prefer the purple lunch - with blackcurrant drink, blueberry fruit snack, blackcurrant jelly pot and some dark cherries. I've always like the goth look and this would leave a nice dark mouth if they ate everything ;) the mini biscuit pack is a treat and a chunk of baguette instead of a sandwich goes down well.

The purple packed lunch

I like to ensure the boys eat their five a day and they love fruit so they are pretty good about it. An idea I can't claim as my own, but that I love, is fruit kebabs on a straw. Why a straw you ask, well, it's less spiky than a skewer and holds the fruit on securely. I choose fruits like melon, grapes and strawberries that I know my boys love to eat, but you can also include apple chunks or banana slices. Mine like a whole apple or small banana in their lunch so that works too.

Fruit straw kebabs 

The idea of the 'reverse sausage roll,' came about entirely by accident. I made up a lunch plate for Blue Bear with breadsticks, cucumber slices and some sliced ham in the shape of a teddy bear face - don't judge, he chose it in the shop. After watching him peer at the food for a while I decided to try something different. I rolled the ham onto the breadstick and behold he suddenly took interest and could hold it in his fist and munch away easily. I'm not sure I'd be quite so relaxed about my lunch watching me though !

Reverse sausage rolls 

I usually like to include a 'pudding' in the packed lunch - more than anything so the boys have an incentive to eat all of their lunch. They both love jelly and I often make individual portions of jelly for them to eat at home with custard or ice cream (if they're being proper spoiled). I was delighted to find Hartleys make individual jellies that are low in sugar and don't have to be kept in the fridge. Hartleys are running a collector scheme and once you've collected pot lids they will send you a fab lunch box with stickers to customise it.

Hartley's Collector Scheme 

I almost wish both my boys did take lunch to school so I could continue to challenge myself to find more creative ways to keep them interested in trying new food . I might just have to collect to get a lunchbox for myself :) 

This post is an entry for BritMums #HartleysYourLunchbox Linky Challenge, sponsored by Hartley’s Jelly

Thursday, 25 August 2016

And the winner of Mum of the Year is...

Spoiler alert, it's not me. You know those buzzfeed quizzes - the modern equivalent of the Cosmo quiz that offered only A, B or C and only a partial fit for each answer ? Well, I've been considering my own version of one of those called, 'which celebrity mum are you ?" After all if we don't have a celebrity to emulate what are we even doing this for ? All those glossy images of postnatal perfection and aspirational motherhood are there to pin on the fridge aren't they ?

The Angel of them all.

Angelina has it all, adopted children and birth children in her family, perfect lips on her face and Brad Pitt is her Mr. On any given day I can't imagine that Ange yells at her kids to put on their socks or has to negotiate a peace accord between Zahara and Pax because one of them looked at the other one's sandwich. Is it likely that Knox and Vivienne wait until she's about to go into the shower to have an almighty argument resulting in toothpaste on the bathroom floor and a running battle on the landing ? I think not.

Victoria's (parenting) Secrets.

There is no privacy for the Beckham kids, I mean we even know where they were conceived (you know that's why he's called Brooklyn right ?) Vic has always been devoted to her family and now that she's a fashion designer David is a SAHD so I bet she doesn't throw on the first thing that's on the bed to take the kids to school. I am willing to bet real money that she's never gone pant-less and unwashed to the school gate. Of course if David did that wouldn't even be an issue, but that's for another day.

An Apple a day... 

So we know that Gwyneth is all yogic and healthy and stuff, but I bet even she occasionally just has enough of "No, I'm not eating that !" when she's slaved over a macrobiotic feast for Apple and Moses.  When she declares, "well, that's what there is." and is greeted with "nope, still not eating it." Does she resort to (organic, faritrade) beans on (gluten free unbleached) toast though I wonder ?

Cast iron parenting.

For all her madness Cersei Lannister is devoted to her kids. To a fault. Ok, she is also power crazed and morally repugnant, but who can honestly say they don't make some questionable judgements at times ? Especially when it comes to our children. Cersei is ambitious for her kids - and herself - because she knows that as the mother she has influence. She's the mother at my son's school who terrifies me, but whose kids will achieve because if they don't she will put them outside on a ledge until they step up.

Have you had your tea ?

In reality I'm closest to Denise Royle /Best. When I was on maternity leave I would lounge around on the sofa whining that, 'the baby wants a wagon wheel.' Ok, I've never served dairylea on toast for dinner, but the boys do like spaghetti hoops and this evening used frites to scoop them up. Yeah, we do fusion in this house !

I know that the Mum of the Year probably doesn't wipe under boob sweat off with a sports sock she's just taken off (ahem, I've heard that apparently people do this). My only qualification really is that at some point I got lucky enough to be Mum to these boys. I'm not an international jetsetter like Ange or glam like Vic and when I do cook it isn't frou-frou like Gwyneth's. Yes, I'll admit to more than a hint of Game of Thrones influence in my parenting, but I'm more the mother of dragons. When I talk to my Mum she does ask if we've eaten, so maybe she is Barbara to my Denise. In fact I'd nominate my Mum for the award any day of the week.    

Monday, 22 August 2016

Six going on sixteen...

Brown Bear has been staying with my parents since Friday. He goes for a mini break occasionally and he has a great time. My parents and sister spoil him with presents, visits and meals out. He gets to play with his baby cousin and generally has a bit of a 'holiday' from us. I miss him a lot when he is away. I call him every evening to wish him good night and in the morning to ask how he slept. He is older now so finds it all a bit silly having to talk to boring Mummy and gets distracted and wanders off mid conversation.

I take him over to my parents' house travelling on two trains. It's a little adventure we have and I take a train picnic for him and he asks to play on my ipad on the train. It's our thing. As I don't commute any more trains are often a bit of a treat for me now and going to Clapham Junction with him is great fun as every time we get to the concourse he says, "Mummy it smells like..." it's been various foods including pizza, chicken, potatoes, but never pasties - which is what it is. My journey home is always a bit sad as I'm hoping he has a lovely time and missing him already, while also planning to tidy his room and change his bedsheets while he's away.

The plan was to pick him up tomorrow. I have been preparing the train picnic for days now, collecting things to take with me. The Dangermouse comic with free spy glasses on the front, an apple that is so tiny it will make him smile, a flapjack from Waitrose that he liked last time I got it for him and a drink that he's only allowed to have sometimes as a treat. I also went out to get some flowers to say thank you to my sister for taking care of him so nicely.

Tonight we had a facetime chat and he seemed chirpy. He wanted to stay a bit longer so I said I'd pick him up in the afternoon tomorrow and would ask Daddy to come home to watch Blue Bear so I could come and get him on my own. It wasn't what we had planned and Hubbie huffed and puffed a bit then went off piste, sighed and said, "why don't I just go and get him instead ?" Before I could say, "let's have a chat about it." Brown Bear cheered, "Yay, yes I want Daddy to come and get me." Ouch.

So, Brown Bear will get the comic, the flapjack and the teeny tiny apple and my sister will get the flowers,  but I won't be there. I won't get to hear what he thinks it smells like on the concourse. I will see him when he gets home and he will already have told all his stories on the way home. He won't want to tell me when he gets home. Blue Bear will act up as soon his brother gets home in a combination of joy and annoyance that he is back. I will ask if he liked the comic and the snacks and he'll have wandered off already.

They grow up so fast don't they ?

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Summertime when the living is easy... erm, what ?

It feels like they kids have been off school for ages. I've been through pretty much every emotion going and at times I've felt overwhelmed by the prospect of even more days with them at home. However, there are some things I've learned which have helped me with this second year of entertaining two boys.

Early morning TV for the boys: Brown Bear wakes up early whatever the time of year - he always has. I have to stop him from going into Blue Bear's room and waking him up because my youngest is not a morning person. In fact if it was possible I can imagine Blue Bear would be mainlining black coffee first thing to truly wake up. So in the absence of an acceptable alternative to caffeine for children I have to do whatever it takes. Some days that means Henry Danger from morning to night and others it's Paw Patrol back to back. I swear if I hear that theme tune one more time I'm going to turn into a pup myself.

boys sitting on the sofa with cat sitting between them
The boys chillaxing on the sofa

Naps during the day: My kids just don't sleep during the day any more, but holidays mean I run them ragged all morning then pop some soothing music on and get them to lie down so mama can watch Breaking Bad and forget about the washing up. It makes all the difference to what greets Hubbie when he gets home, is it the serene earth mother with her beloved boys cradled in her arms on the sofa or the screeching harpie who heads straight out of the door as soon as his foot steps over the threshold to prevent some domestic disaster from occuring ? That little bit of down time is my saving grace - honest !

Shopping for food: like every day. How is it possible for kids to eat so damn much ? I know that a lot of parents struggle to fund the holidays and swear that a lot of that is the extra meals when the kids aren't eating at school every day. How do they cope at school having to go for over an hour without having a snack or a meal of some kind ? It seems to be impossible at home to go for any length of time without a demand for a drink, a snack, apple fingers, a treat or 'those biscuits I saw in the shopping bag.' Hubbie asks me why I have been shopping again and I raise an eyebrow and consider letting all the food run out and leaving home for a few days to see if he can deal with the armageddon that will ensue.

Shopping cart helper 

Impulse purchases. Like going in to buy a bunch of bananas and coming home with folding camping chairs for the kids. I feel you judging me and no I just don't care. We don't take the boys away on holidays abroad so my way of making it up to them is to treat them to fun things to do at home. The tally so far this summer includes; bikes for both boys (second hand) a play circus tent for indoors, the aforementioned chairs, a new paddling pool and a ridiculous amount of clothes. I did also manage to sneak in these beauties.  I know, I know, hardly de rigeur on the school run, but what is life without a little luxury ? Besides a happy mummy makes for a less stressful house and looking at these shoes makes me happy. Imagine how joyful I'd be if I got to actually wear them !

My gorgeous gold sandals

Crumbs everywhere: Seriously. I must vacuum more than anyone I know. I have an aversion to wearing shoes indoors and walking on debris from their constant munching makes me cringe. It's not exactly obsessive compulsive, more a pernickity habit which isn't helped by having a cat that sheds all over the house. At least his fur is a similar colour to the carpets. Talking of which he seems to trot in half the garden too so as well as the carpets resembling the coating of a fishfinger I have to contend with random leaves and soil paw prints.

Play dates: this is the first year we've really embraced play dates. In previous years I've sent email to the school mums to suggest days out ideas. Some of them have met up with me and the boys and it's been a nice way to break up the long holiday and stop Brown Bear from missing his school mates. This year the others have also taken the initiative to suggest things and invite us to join them. It's been a real lifesaver for me (and the boys if I'm honest !) We've been to the lavender fields, had a fun afternoon with other friends and only today the boys had a great double play date and I even managed to talk to the other mum a little bit ! 

A traffic jam during our play date 

Movies: There are always lots of movies. Brown Bear loves watching them and we jump at the chance to go to the cinema. Last week we went to watch Blinky Bill the movie. It's about a well loved character who has been a celebrity in Australia for a century, but isn't so well known here. We watched it at the new screening room inside Soho House - now there's posh ! - and loved it. I admit it's not a movie that I knew much about before we went, but I'd recommend it if you're looking for a fun and family friendly movie. Blinky is a young koala who leaves his home in Greenpatch to search for his father who left a year ago on an adventure and didn't return. On his travels he meets Nutsy - a zoo koala - and various animals who help him and using his ingenuity he proves how brave he is. The adults in the cinema were rolling around laughing at the Aussie jokes - I suspect one of them was Antipodean himself. It was fun trying to spot the voices of well know Aussies including Barry Humphries - well, you really can't miss him - and Toni Colette. The movie opens nationwide this weekend.

Blinky and Nutsy in Blinky Bill the movie

I think I'm just getting into the swing of the holidays this year. Maybe by next time I'll even enjoy myself ? Let's not be silly though eh ?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Ctrl, Alt, Delete to reboot this week

I'm been a bit worse for wear this weekend. My cough has just got so much worse and I'm tired and achey. On Saturday I thought I was just hungover, which is such a rarity these days, as I just don't drink much at all. On Friday afternoon I took the boys for an afternoon play date at the home of one of Brown Bear's school friends. Her mum fired up the barbeque and had the paddling pool out and all of us mums sat in the garden chatting and enjoying lovely food and drink while our kids played and had fun. I had the best afternoon I've had for a long while. Hence more to drink that I am used to.

These mums knew me before Blue Bear came along and are kind enough to say they can see how far we've come. Their children are the same age as Brown Bear so if he's being annoying they help give me a sense of perspective as they also deal with similar behaviours from their own. Instead of worrying and being on edge I decided to enjoy some wine and to kick back. I called Hubbie to come and pick us up so I didn't have to drive and I'm so glad I did. I needed to give myself a break. I needed to just be nice to myself for a change.

I've heard it so many times and I've never really believed it. It is clearly true though - I am too hard on myself. I set myself unrealistic standards and if I fall short I punish myself forever. I spend far too much time telling myself that I fall short as a parent and as a result of this self-flagellation I'm not as good as I could be. The self-fulfilling prophecy nature of parenting is brought into even sharper focus during the school holidays when we're all trying to keep the kids busy and ourselves from going spare at the same time. I find myself shopping almost every day to keep on top of packed lunches for playscheme and food to stop the boys from yelling at me when they are tired and hungry. I can't leave the house without a kit bag of snacks, drinks and - as I discovered on Friday when I forgot it - my band card in case of unexpected spends.

The reality I have to face is that I only need to aim for average. This isn't an instagram family with perfect shots of us all laughing and smiling and playing in fun and exciting places. So long as my boys are fed, watered and safe I have fulfilled the basics. Anything above and beyond is a bonus, but not necessary. I'm not about to win any awards for this. I'm too short-tempered and my kids are too sarcastic for that to happen.

If I find myself getting all het up I'm going to remember that I'm with them every day and no one can sustain joy and happiness all the time. Instead of setting myself unrealistic goals I'm going to be kind to myself and them.

My aims for this week are simple - to smile at my kids, to hug my kids, to tell them I love them. If I manage to do that I'll consider that a win.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Great Garden Project (part one) with Johnstone's Paints

I think of our garden as the biggest room in our house and there is so much of it that I've decided to set it out as different areas depending on who uses it. Hubbie has plans for a shed at the end of the garden - he's been talking about it since we moved here 5 years ago. Each year we've bought something big for the garden so the main part of the garden is dedicated to a play area for the boys with a swing, slide, various ride-on toys and the den. Hubbie built the den from a pile of wood that was delivered to us on the back of a flatbed truck and while it was treated with wood stain years ago it is in need of a refresh. The area I spend most time in is what would pass for a patio. I have battled with the gravel and finally given in so now we have tables, seats and lots of plants in pots. What we don't have is any semblance of order or a theme with a mish mash of plastic furniture and folding chairs. I decided to change that.

Ooh lots of lovely paints
My plan was to refurb and upcycle the furniture that's been weather beaten and make it more appealing to sit outside. I want to have a nice area to enjoy the outdoors in and even to sit with a glass of wine if I'm feeling really indulgent. Just as I was pondering what paints to buy and whether to pay a visit to the DIY mecca of Purley Way the nice folks at Johnstone's paints asked if I'd like to try their range of Garden Colours outdoor paints and I jumped at the chance. I asked the boys what colours they would like and we chose wild bluebell and calming stone as well as some gold metal paint for finishing touches and dark oak wood stain for the den.

BEFORE: Side table 
AFTER: Side table 
The first hurdle was the weather. As soon as the paints arrived I was raring to go, but it rained for days. I looked forlornly out of the windows waiting for a dry day and finally it came. I decided to start with the tables that we use for drinks and as the metal legs are black decided that stone would make a striking contrast. I think they look simple and elegant now.

BEFORE: Picnic  bench 
AFTER: Picnic bench 
We chose a two tone look for the kids' picnic table with stone for the table and blue for the seats. I was going for a beach hut feel and it looks much better and the finish is great. It's weather proof, but doesn't disguise the wood so the natural grain still shows through. Unlike before I can wipe clean the surfaces when the boys have eaten so it's practical too.

BEFORE: Swing seat and tables 
AFTER: Swing seat and tables 
The seating area is much more appealing now. The swing seat and side tables work really well together and with the picnic bench is playful and fun. I'm not done with the garden project just yet, but wanted to share progress. The pirate boat has also had a lick of paint, I'm going to replace the sail and hopefully she will be good to go on a seafaring adventure again.

Upcycled pirate ship
I've really enjoyed upcycling our garden and it was so simple. I used two coats of paint to ensure even coverage and the colours and finish are impressive. Next is the den which will take longer, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. I might even use the wood stain on these cut logs to make a feature of them.

I'll keep you posted.

Disclosure: We were sent a range of outdoor paints by the lovely folks at Johnstones for our garden project. 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

That was the week that was...

Oh man it's been a mad old week. I've been poorly, almost lost my voice (much to the kids' delight) and have had to rejig my to-do list. A week like this can only really be explained with a music playlist: 

I can't stand up for falling down: 

So I had the boys booked into sports camp all week and had a list as long as one of my arms of jobs I intended to get done while the boys were out of the house all day. Then I woke up on Monday morning feeling like a large bear had stood on my neck all night. As well as a sore throat I've been shattered and my nose is like a running tap. It's not a good look, believe me ! 

Welcome to the jungle: 

To make things even more complicated Hubbie was away over night this week which meant I had the boys to myself. The perceived level of enjoyment in this is vastly over-estimated. Getting from morning toothbrushing to bedtime shower / bath has taken all my reserves of strength - and they 
weren't all that high anyway ! 

Just like honey: 

I found out this week that Jesus and Mary Chain are performing in London in a month, so I got myself organised and bought tickets for me and Hubbie. Their music takes me back to my late teens where I discovered music that no one else at my school had the slightest interest in. Then when I went to Uni I met my people - and later I met Hubbie. 

Om Shanti: 

Today I was at a yoga training all day. The venue was lovely, the teachers was amazing and the weather was beautifully sunny. I've learned lots of new skills and saw some fellow teacher friends. Still not 100% better, but I'm feeling so much more relaxed now.

Hanging on the telephone: 

Having succeeded in getting tickets to see a band we both love, I failed to get the hottest tickets in town. I am quite annoyed with myself actually. Many months ago I was online looking up tickets for Harry Potter: The Cursed Child and when I asked a friend if she wanted to go she said not really. I decided that I wouldn't bother to get any and now I really wish I had as it's impossible to get any tickets. Every Friday I'm online queuing to get in with fingers crossed. I was unsuccessful again this week. Oh well, I'll keep trying. 

So that's been my week - I quelled the urge to add in Love like Blood by Killing Joke. I can't possibly be the only one who has the manic laugh of a woman whose idea of hell is to be around her own children all day ?

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Conversations with my nearly 6 year old

"I grew in your tummy didn't I Mummy ?"

"Yes you did baby. "

"And I came out and I was born ?"


"Blue Bear was in someone else's tummy wasn't he ? "

"He was."

"He came to us because he couldn't stay with his family didn't he ?"

"That's right. It was to keep him safe. Just like me and Daddy have always kept you safe."

"Was it difficult having me ?"

I pause.

What I want to say is:

"It was harder than you know. I didn't meet Daddy until I was already older than most women are when they have their first baby. I spent too many years on crappy dates and meeting men who weren't Daddy - including a failed marriage to a man who told me he didn't want children. He now has two of them, so I guess he changed his mind. Then when I did meet Daddy it wasn't plain sailing, but we knew we wanted to be together. We both wished we'd met years earlier and wasted no time in trying to have a baby. Then it didn't happen. It was very difficult to hear that we couldn't have a baby. We cried and cried. More than I ever knew I could.

So much happened in between that I want to tell you about when you are older, but for now I want you to know this. I went to the Royal Court Theatre with friends one evening in January 2010. The play was terrible and the meal afterwards involved some creative accounting from the restaurant. Having sorted out the bill (I didn't drink wine so I was able to do the basic maths) I came home to Daddy and we agreed to do a pregnancy test. Just in case. It was positive. I cried. A lot.

I loved being pregnant and you were a joy. Even when I had morning sickness it meant you were growing and developing inside me. As you grew and my body changed I said goodbye to the slim body I had worked so hard to achieve with exercise and diet - and I didn't mind at all.

When you were ready to be born it was a long drawn out labour. It went from relaxed and beautiful with you and me in harmony to an emergency which they told Daddy could have cost us both our lives. Your Nani-Mummy - my Mummy - was in India and I couldn't even see her or talk to her. Daddy was brave and amazing, taking calls from my family asking how we were doing while keeping from me the news that as you were being born my Grandmother had passed away.

Then there you were. A blessing. My miracle baby. A beautiful unexpected 40th birthday present."

But I don't say any of that. I say,

"Well, it wasn't easy."

You smile.

"But it was worth it"

I say.

"For every moment you wriggled when I tried to sleep. When you had hiccups inside my tummy. When you hid from the sonographer and she had to coax you into turning round so she could tell us you were a boy. I used to sing to you all the time. - songs with the word baby in them."

"That's funny Mummy." 

"Well you were a cheeky monkey even inside my tummy."

"Blue Bear is a cheeky monkey too isn't he ?"

"He has the best teacher."

"I love you Mummy."

"I love you Baby."