Thursday, 30 April 2015

Fussy Eaters

Sitting down with a pad and pen I stare at the blank page.  I barely know where to begin.

Every week it's the same.

I'm not writing a book, a blog post or even a letter.

All I am trying to do is to plan our meals for the week and write a sodding shopping list.

It shouldn't be this hard.  I've seen other people manage it.  Why can't I?

Mind you it's hardly surprising given the number of food related rules my family impose upon me.

I used to think they weren't particularly fussy about food but they are.  Here are the basics:

Child one:  won't eat chicken nuggets - too babyish
Child two:  doesn't like anything with a creamy sauce on it, or custard 
Child three:  won't eat potatoes but likes chips and mashed potatoes (don't ask)
Child four:  doesn't like tomato sauces or jam but does like gravy (gravy and sauce - the same surely?)
Child five:  won't eat pasta (what child doesn't eat pasta FFS?), or pizza 

All of them have some kind of aversion to various types of vegetable. 

So you see, I have my work cut out before I even start thinking about writing a shopping list.  Let alone setting foot in a supermarket.

All I want to be able to do is to feed everyone the same meal.  A meal that is easy to cook would be a bonus.  It's just that nothing in my culinary repertoire fits.

I am beginning to see why Kerry Katona, Coleen Nolan, Stacy Soloman and Peter Andre all buggered off to Iceland to be honest.  The thought of opening my freezer and emptying the contents of a packet into a pan is quite appealing right now.  (Although I do occasionally do this already, I'll admit - that's the real reason why mums go to Iceland, for an easy life.)

Planning meals for my family has become less about the enjoyment of food and more about damage limitation and probability.  That's the probability of which meals will yield the largest quantity of eaters and the least damage to my eardrums when the rest chorus that they don't like it.

As I start to write, I start to plan - if three will eat this then the other two can have something else.  If DH and I eat later then the teen can join us on these two nights and maybe the preteen too (provided no cream in the sauce).  Looking at it written down I think I am nearly there.

Except instead of a meal plan it looks rather like a series of food orders, complete with numbers of portions written in the margin.  I feel a bit like the hired help.

I bet Mrs Patmore never had to put up with any of this nonsense at Downton.

What do you mean, you don't like pasta?


And, I don't really want to limit us all to more than one or two meals a week courtesy of Captain Birdseye if I can help it.  Tempting as it is.

They will all eat homemade soup and so I write that down too - although it's hard to say how many will eat it rather than pretending to eat it.  They will probably just fill up on the accompanying bread.

What to have at the weekend?  Sunday lunch, the biggest meal.  They like roast chicken but DH isn't keen.  We all love beef casserole, courtesy of a Saint Jamie of Oliver recipe book *crosses self*.  Something to please everyone in there.  The weeks when I could have cheerfully kissed that man on his big rubbery lips are countless - he has saved me on many an occasion.  But, we've had that meal two weeks on the bounce now.  Three may be pushing it.

Another roast of some sort then.  Honestly I have no idea any more.  Maybe I'll just wing it (it's a speciality of mine).

Taking the list, I write the most important thing in big letters.

GIN

Off to the shops I head, armed with my bags for life.  

Wish me luck.  I'll need it.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Ten things I love and ten things I hate about running

Back in January I started going running.  And guess what?  I am still going running.  Three whole times a week!

Which is crazy because I never did like sports much and I've always hated exercise/the gym.



Anyway, inspired (kind of) by the London Marathon last Sunday I thought I'd write a bit about the best and the worst things I find about going for a run.

Maybe it will encourage you if you are thinking of taking it up too, or maybe you'll just have a really good laugh at me.  Whatever.

Things I love about running:
  1. It's free!  There is no joining fee, just step outside your front door and go!
  2. I can go at my own pace.  I can go quickly or slowly or even stop altogether if I want to.  So much better than any exercise class as I am the one in charge.
  3. It helps me to think.  Running helps me clear my head and switch off.   
  4. Fresh air and sunshine.  What's not to love about the sun on your face and the wind in your hair?
  5. I'm shrinking!  Really, I am.  Around the middle mainly.  
  6. Runners' camaraderie.  Other runners are very friendly and always nod and smile.  I was given a thumbs up by a woman in a car the other week - I like to think that she was a fellow runner too.
  7. Runners' high.  The feeling of completing a run never really wears off - on the days that I run I'm always happier.
  8. New found internet shopping experiences.  A whole world of stuff that I didn't realise I needed until now.  Mostly I covet fancy trainers and sporty headphones.  I love a bargain too.
  9. Seeing the numbers increase.  A bit like blogging stats, running stats are really quite a fascination of mine.  The further and quicker I go the better. (I have recently been using two GPS apps at the same time to see which one has the best results...)
  10. Listening to music.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy this.  I have even dipped my toe in the waters of running music (yes, there really is such a thing).  This is strangely hypnotic and even improves my running but I always feel like I've inadvertently walked into a nightclub in Ibiza - particularly when the voice over coach tells me he's giving me a party tune to increase my pace (WTF?).

Things I hate about running:
  1. Pavements with dog poo on them.  Just pick it up!
  2. People who leave their wheelie bin in the middle of the pavement.  Move the damn bin it is in the way!
  3. Judgy pants neighbours/drivers/anyone.  A woman in a car a few weeks ago smirked at me as I ran past her.  Granted, I may have looked a bit of a sight, but I still felt a bit sad about this.
  4. Blisters.  So.  Many.  Blisters.  Including a blood blister the size of Bournemouth on my toe.  Just heal will you?
  5. Pulled muscles.  Ouch.  Pass me the ibuprofen please. 
  6. Drivers who don't indicate.  I always check to make sure nothing is coming when I cross roads and in particular junctions.  The thing is IF YOU DON'T INDICATE THEN I DON'T KNOW YOU ARE TURNING.  Idiots. 
  7. People who try to talk to me.  I don't mind stopping to chat, but if my headphones are in then I'm listening to a podcast and trying to understand the instructions.  Its really hard to do both.
  8. Lycra.  Sadly a necessary evil.  Just the most unflattering fabric ever.
  9. The 4k point in every run.  Always the point where I ache and am considering stopping.  I have no idea how marathon runners manage 26 miles and have so much respect for them.
  10. Technology.  Primarily my phone, which has a mind of its own and messes up my stats sometimes.  This probably says more about my ability to operate it than the technology itself.
Granted some of these things are rather tongue in cheek, but even now the first flourish of excitement from starting Couch to 5K 15 weeks ago has well and truly worn off, I am still enjoying my new hobby.  

Mostly.  Unless you leave your bin in my way or try to run me over...

Friday, 24 April 2015

Style Critic

As I typed the title of this post it nearly autocorrected itself to Style Crisis and ironically that's exactly what I'm having just now.

The good thing about this time of the year is that the weather is suddenly a lot sunnier, a lot warmer and this in turn makes the daily trial that is the school run a whole lot more bearable.  Isn't it just so much easier stepping out of your front door without having to wrestle everyone into coats, hats and gloves first? 

The bad bit?  Well, it isn't bad as such, just more annoying.  Every morning I get out of bed, scrutinise the BBC Weather app on my phone and then I think to myself - What do I wear?

This has definitely got worse the older I've become.

Gone now are the safety net of winter boots and opaque tights with my trusty selection of skirts and my "rain terminator" - a coat that zips from my chin to my knees and is warm and waterproof and just generally the best thing that I own.  A good coat is all you really need in the Winter, especially when it hides whatever style disasters you might be having underneath from everyone else on the school run. 

The "rain terminator", hiding fashion disasters since 2014


When its 16 degrees outside this is overkill, but what will suit me instead?

I think back to when I was in my twenties and cannot remember ever having a wardrobe dilemma.  Somehow outfits just seemed to pull themselves together and I never really felt self conscious.

Now, I find myself in a new no man's land of dressing.  The jeans and tshirts that I have worn since becoming a full time housewife annoy me.  They are practical, yes, but they make me feel uncomfortable.  It appears that all jeans are made for women who are thin of leg (so, not me then), and even if I find a pair which are OK on the leg then I spend most of my day hoiking them up around my waist (even with a belt), because my bottom is too ample and my waist too small at the back.

Throughout winter I have shunned jeans in favour of skirts and tights because they don't fall down, I can kneel on the floor without getting "knees" in them and I don't get the whole wet hem puddle soaky uppy thing that you get with jeans when it rains.  This coupled with the rain terminator has made me a very happy woman on the many wet school runs we've had all winter.  In fact when I wear them I feel almost unstoppable and ready for anything (even the Aldi checkout experience).

With warm weather forecasts and an aversion to showing off my legs, I'm faced with the prospect of wearing jeans again and feeling grumpy instead of comfy.  I could wear something else though, couldn't I?  Or not?

And in addition to this newly increasing self doubt I also have another problem.

If you are a woman in her forties, with very limited fashion sense and an even more limited wardrobe then what you totally need is some fashion advice*, right?  What I didn't expect is that it would come from my twelve year old daughter.

Foolishly I decided one morning to wear what can only be described as a pair of black mum leggings, which had been languishing in a drawer for a good twelve months, together with a tunic top.  Maybe it was time - everybody else wears them, how bad could they look on me?

They were certainly comfortable and the denim shirt tunic, that I'd decided to wear with them, looked and felt good (another purchase that I haven't really worn much).  Maybe this was the answer.  Yes, this ticked boxes.  Comfy, doesn't fall down, my legs felt a bit cold but not to worry it's getting warmer now.  Good.

And then I walked downstairs into the kitchen where my daughter was having her breakfast.  Looking me up and down with a degree of mild disdain, she said "nice top Mum".  And then, "are those tights or leggings?  They look a bit... shiny on you".

Not the style triumph I had envisaged.  My husband confirmed as much when he arrived home later that day.  I am not built for leggings then.

The temperature outside continued to climb in the following days and I decided that as I missed my skirts I may as well wear them.  It was still coolish.  I could wear tights.

No. I could not.  It was just too warm.  So I didn't.  I would just have to bare my legs after all.  I would have done in my twenties, it would be OK.

No sooner than I had decided this then Gok Wan's protégé appeared in front of me with that look on her face again.

"What's wrong now?"  I demanded.  "Oh nothing..." She said with an eye roll while looking at my blue/white legs.

In a world where everything is either "epic" or "swag" to her (nope, I have no idea what this means) this was not good.

And so, here I am typing this in jeans and a Breton top.  Again.  With this post in one half of my browser and a selection of jeggings, the apparently comfy jean/legging hybrid, in the other.  

Maybe, just maybe, they will be the answer...

As long as the preteen approves, of course.


* If by advice you mean cold harsh criticism, because sadly that's just what it is.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Advice for new school starters (that's YOU, the parents!)

Hardly anyone could have escaped the fact that yesterday was the day when parents of four year olds everywhere were awaiting the decision over which school their child had a place in for September.

This year was the first in the last four where I haven't been applying for a place for one of our children myself, and yet my Facebook and Twitter feeds were still chockablock full of anxious parents waiting for news.

The slightly irritable part of me wanted to shout "man up, you ninnies.  It's only a school place!" but then I remembered back to last year when I was one of those anxious waiting parents too. (I of course was all serene and cool about it and never once sent a grumpy tweet to our local council Twitter account because they were slow - ahem).

What can I say?  The madness takes over for a few days and then?  Everything returns to normal for a  while until you start looking at buying uniform and all the other inevitable stuff that happens before the start of the school year.

And, speaking of the inevitable, I feel that as I will never get to experience the joy of new primary school starters ever again, that it is my duty to impart my wisdom* onto those of you waiting in the wings.

So, here is a little guide to the first year in the style of a Friends flashback episode (i.e. With the use of some older blog posts because I'm not writing it down again).

Holiday homework for new starters

You might think that when your kids start school all that you need to do is turn up on the first day with a child in a uniform carrying a shiny new book bag.  Right?

Wrong.

These days it seems that teachers like to start sending homework before you have even set foot in the classroom.  Let me introduce you all to the Talking Box, my personal Nemesis.  If the thought of it wasn't bad enough then trying to fill it with only six days until the end of the school holidays wasn't my finest move.  Stress, much?

You have been warned.

School Admin

Once you have been at your chosen school for a few weeks days minutes you can be sure to discover the joys of school related admin.  It is bonkers annoying but unfortunately is totally necessary too.  I'm afraid that you have no choice but to suck it up unless you can delegate it swiftly onto an unsuspecting husband or partner.

First Nativity 

One of the most exciting parts of primary school is the school nativity - unless you have to provide a costume of course, which is totally annoying and sucks when you can barely sew a nametape onto a school jumper.  Here for your amusement I wrote about some of the nativities I've seen as a parent  - The seven ages of the School Nativity *wipes away tears*.

First School Trip

Another new experience - sending your child off on their first school trip.  Sometimes school trips can be costly which in itself is a bugbear of mine.  Sometimes though, even when a trip is a free one, you can question why the school is running it.  Here is a post about being wrong about a school trip and jumping to conclusions.  

The Class Bear

Regular readers will be aware of my love/hate relationship with our current class bear, Elvis.  The truth is I've hosted more class bear visits than I care to remember and so when DS3 got the honour of bringing him home a few months ago I decided to create an alternative entry for his diary - The class bear's first visit.

Needless to say, because I have twins it was inevitable that he visited for a second time (much to my complete horror).  His second visit was a little more wholesome, but not much ;)

The School Run

There comes a point in every school run mum's career when they realise that there are only so many hours in the day and it is impossible to remember everything.  Well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.  My School Run Mum Hacks might give you an idea of how I roll and how you can too, if like me, you are a totally disorganised mess in the mornings.

The Summer Holidays

Congratulations!  You've made it to the end of your first year with a school going child! You've done what feels like millions of school runs, answered piles of school related emails and sobbed your way through the first nativity, but will you feel like I always do?  10 things I won't miss about term time sums up how I feel every year, well every year until the holidays actually start and the realisation of expectation versus reality kicks in...

This guide may be lighthearted and flippant but it has made me realise a few things.  While the start of the twin's school career has been stressful at times, it has also been fun, and I have seen them grow and develop in so many new ways.  They have made me proud.

Now to look forward to next term - the start of Year 1, when I will send them back to school looking like this:




Only to have them coming home looking like this:



Anyone got any idea how to get whiteboard pen marks out of expensive school jumpers?


*  No wisdom, just my own particular brand of lunacy.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The back up plan(t)

Normally the start of the school holidays would be something of a relief for me. No more school runs and school gate small talk for a few weeks.  No more worrying about who's turn it is to get the class bear, or read to the class (which I am still dodging volunteering for).  Life is just somehow easier.

However, when the twins broke up for the Easter holidays they bought something home with them that ignited a bit of the school gate competitive mum in me.

No, Elvis the class bear isn't here. Thank the Lord (I may have just done a little victory dance then as I typed that). 

Instead they bought home something that delighted me and struck fear into my heart at the same time.

Little pots full of compost - the mystery held within, a planted sunflower seed.

Delightful because I think gardening is a lovely and educational activity for children to get involved in.

Fear because, despite quite liking my garden at this time of the year, I ain't no Percy Thrower (that's a gardening ref. for people old enough to remember, not some kind of euphemism).  I even kill mint plants which, as my mother points out every time, are impossible to kill.

But, there was worse to come.

The twins, full of the wrong kind of information as ever (why do kids only ever give you half the story, eh?), said "we need to water them so they grow".  So, sloshing some water from the kitchen tap into the pots, I plonked them on the kitchen windowsill.  "Too much!" they chastised, in a weird kind of unified chant (they've started to do this recently.  It's really quite freaky actually).

I digress.

How hard could this be?  The sunflowers will probably shoot in a few days and then after growing a couple of inches, the kids will forget about them, they will dry up and I can throw them in the bin. A bit like the mustard and cress kit DS2 got once with a happy meal from the golden arches, which as I remember lasted less than a week before it started to stink his bedroom out (an even more horrific smell than the teen) *Vom*. 

No.  That wasn't to be in the plan at all.

Later that evening there came an email:

"Over the coming weeks as our seedlings start to develop we need to email photographs to the teacher showing how they are growing.
We need to submit regular updates and measurements to develop our Sunflower display in the classroom and allowing us to swap notes on ‘whose is the tallest’ to ‘where are you growing yours’.
The competition will run until a date in July (watch this space for the specific date to be revealed). The tallest sunflowers submitted by that date will then win prizes (first, second and third place)."

In the words of the preteen:  Kill. Me. Now.

I have never yet successfully managed to grow a sunflower with any one of my children in nearly fifteen years of parenting.  I am doomed.

But, a little part of me thought:  Bring. It. On.

Oh yes.  We can totally do this.

The teacher had helpfully provided bait pictures from last year's competition. Rows of photographs of children proudly showing their sunflowers, some of them standing on chairs to show how tall their plants were. Outside in their massive gardens and inside in chic, tidy kitchens.  I would be lying if I said that many minutes followed where I wasn't simply checking out other people's tastes in interior decor rather than the flowers themselves.

So now, not only did I have sunflower envy I also had garden and kitchen envy too.  In property terms, we are clearly punching above our weight living around here.

I went back into the kitchen, drained some of the water from the pots and peered at them.

"Are you sure you've planted a seed in these?" I said.

"Yesssss!" came the response (in chilling unison).

And then we waited...

And waited...

(It wasn't silent waiting.  DS3 asked "have they grown yet?" at least 27 times a day for about a week.)

Oh f*cksticks.



By this time the seeds had been planted for two whole weeks.

Where then were the effing green shoots? The expectation was worse than waiting for the school holidays to be over.  More frustrating than potty training a toddler.

If this were a competition on who had the most moist lump of compost, we would win.  If it were a competition for how many times a day I could check a pot of soil for signs of life I'd now be in the lead.

I told you all I was crap at this, didn't I?

We needed the bloody things to grow to at least be in with a chance of winning this.  What the hell was I supposed to do?

And so, I did what any reasonable (and mildly competitive) parent would do.  I planted some of my own.

Which promptly got knocked over on the patio a couple of hours later by a football wielding child.

Bum.

This was never going to end (or even begin) well.

Time to face facts.  There are some things that I'm just not good at as a parent and competitive sunflower growing is most definitely one of them.

The only way we'll win this is if we have a head start.  I'm off to the garden centre tomorrow to see if I can find a couple of back up plants.

You may call this cheating, but I call it raising my game. 

And, as I said before:  Bring. It. On.

Monday, 6 April 2015

A blogger's child

We were sorting through some old letters and bits of paperwork a few weeks ago (also known in this house as the cupboard of shame - filing is so dull!) and my husband came across a picture that DD2 had made at school.

The Reception team at our school use a system called Orbit to update the parents on all the relevant developmental progress that their child makes throughout the year in a sort of news feed (kind of like Facebook for learning) and there was a picture of DD2 on there taken when she was painting this particular picture which I have ripped off from the Orbit site because their security is quite lax.

I had to smile at the comment below it where she had asked the teacher lots of questions as she was painting and being photographed, ending with "are you going to put that on your blog?"

The Reception class does have a blog and pictures of the children are regularly posted on there, but it tickled me to think that DD2's first thought on knowing she was being photographed was that it would naturally end up on a blog.

A blogger's child through and through.



Little Hearts, Big Love

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Teenage upgrade - a guide

Congratulations!   You have now been the proud owner of a teenager for 18 months.

We are writing to inform you that your teenager (boy - early years model) has recently undergone a series of upgrades.

This handy QuickStart guide aims to help you adjust to these upgrades so that you can continue to enjoy your teenager fully.

The upgrade as at April 2015 may vary from model to model but will generally compromise all or some of the following:

Hair by Sony

This is a new feature whereby the teen shuns the usual methods of hair styling (hair gel, straighteners etc) for a more avant-garde method involving placing a set of Sony headphones upon his head.  This in turn styles his hair with an attractive flat band of hair in the middle of the head.  Owners will find that this particular upgrade is most effective when hair remains unwashed and is slightly longer that it should be.

Styling tool (required)

Limbs

Owners may note that both arms and legs are now longer than they were six weeks ago.  This is due to the previous upgrade at the start of the teen years where we introduced the bottomless stomach and hollow legs to your model.  The constant need for this model to be fed morning, noon and night can unfortunately result in a growth spurt that will require suitable clothing at six weekly intervals.  This should resolve itself as the adult years approach.

Body 

Your teenager now pervades general odour reminiscent of last nights curry.  This is a temporary glitch in the teenage system that occurs when your teenager still hasn't started noticing girls.  Once the noticing of girls occurs then you should also find that your teen spends inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom also.  The teen may then replace their unpleasant odour with a haze of Lynx Africa (or possibly Apollo dependant on taste).  Their hairstyle may improve also.

Vocal upgrade

You will have observed that your teenager is generally shouty when annoyed.  They might also use swear words to emphasise anger against smaller siblings.  This is not an upgrade, just reality.  We're sorry about that.

Logic

In this latest upgrade the teenager's logic is still biased towards their own self.  Unfortunately this brings with it some annoying tendencies.  They are always right (even when they aren't).  They will never back down in an argument.  They will always have the last word.  One of the parents who has been BETA testing this upgrade in the past few weeks has reported the following issue where it was actually impossible for them to override this feature.  This occurred when the teen was challenged with reduced Wifi connectivity.  The teen unit (boy - early years model) then stated the following:

"Mum, Sir Tim Berners-Lee said the internet is for everyone, not the internet is for everyone between the hours of 7 am and 10 pm.  You are just being unfair".

There was nothing that the BETA tester could do other than try to keep a straight face and pour another Gin and Tonic out of despair.

Until we work out an override for the smart-alec feature we enclose a £5 Aldi voucher (to be used for gin) and our apologies again.

We hope you enjoy these new features.  Thank you for choosing this model.

Teenagers Inc. (est. 2013)

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Couch to 5k - the end!

Hello?  Is anybody still reading this?

(Chances are not, as I've been absent for the past week or so for reasons I'll try to explain in a minute)

I know I said I was going to keep up to date with blogging my final few weeks of C25K but that fell by the wayside and really?  It was all just lots of running.  Running and pain.

28 minutes of running in Week 8 which seemed fine, until I started aching and then my phone decided on one morning to turn off and so I ran round in complete silence with only the sound of my own wheezing for company - which was horrific.  I completed Week 8 on a bit of a low as I couldn't see how I was ever going to manage the final week without keeling over.

At the start of Week 9 I wanted to feel excited to finally be near the finish, really I did, but all I could think about was more aching and the attractive blister which had appeared on the side of my foot.  Bleurgh.

But, I wanted to finish this.  I needed to.  I had come this far (and I'm stubborn and so was never really going to give up without a fight).

If you read this blog regularly then you will notice that I didn't post anything at all last week.  The truth is my brain went to mush (and is still a bit soggy at the moment - I can't quite believe that I've typed this post) and all I could think about was completing that final run.  Everything went on the back burner last week.  The most annoying thing is that over the past few months I have really enjoyed getting out for a run.  It has given me more energy for other things too.  More time to think.  I'm usually so full of ideas for blog posts when I return from a run and yet last week all I could think about was the running itself.  It was my only priority and I was tired out by it.

30 minutes of running.  Once. Twice.  Then the final time.

Yay...sort of


I had done it.

This is good.  Don't get me wrong.  I am pleased with how far I've come, and I've even noticed that I have started to shrink a bit around the middle so there have been some positives in this whole thing.

My main issue is that last week taught me that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I am still quite unfit.

My plan is to continue with the 5K runs for the next few weeks.  Try a few different routes even.  I had thought that I would join in with the 5K Park Run event every Saturday which is held just down the road from where I live, but the thought of running with other people and being timed while doing it doesn't fill me with huge excitement at the moment.  As I say, I enjoy having the time to think by myself rather than the competitive element of running.

So, my plan going forward is to complete the NHS Choices podcasts available for graduates of Couch to 5k.  I may write a blog post on this if my writer's block ever lifts.

If you've completed the Couch to 5k too I'd love to know how you got on - do leave a comment.
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