Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Gallery - One Day in August

This week's Gallery prompt was to go out and take pictures on Sunday 29th August, which is the day that Josie, Sian and Eva left on their trip to Bangladesh to help raise awareness of the work that Save the Children do with mothers and children there and to help put pressure on Nick Clegg and other world leaders to recommit to the Millennium Development Goals. You can follow their progress on any of their blogs or you can check out #Blogladesh on Twitter.

Sunday was an odd day for me. I spent most of it alone. Monkey and Missy Woo went away on Saturday with Granny and Grandad to a caravan out in the Ribble Valley. Missy Woo comes back for a while on Wednesday (as she needs to be here for a home visit from her new teacher) and then Monkey comes home that night, to start back at school on Thursday. Anyway, enough of my family life. They're not here, so no gratuitous proud mummy pics of cute blonde children.

I was on my own also because husband was on a night shift so got to bed at 7.30am. I spent most of the day getting the house clean and tidy so that it would stay that way for more than one day, doing a workout and watching the Belgian Grand Prix. None of which is particularly noteworthy, exciting, or even photogenic. (You seriously don't want pix of me doing a workout!)

Once the house was clean and I was clean too, I had to pop out for groceries and to deliver newsletters to various NCT members in some of the outlying villages, something I do every few months. On my way, I considered stopping and taking a shot of the canal near us, but there was nowhere to stop safely and I was short of time. I went through a couple of villages and nothing struck me. I headed down to another part, and saw my shot. I just had to hope I could still do it when I came back having dropped off the last 3 newsletters and some things at my friend's house.

Well, I took it. I'm not sure it's as good as what was in my head for a picture - the light was probably better 5 minutes earlier. Here goes:

The building is the Preston Mormon Temple. It is one of only two temples in the UK and the largest in Europe. A temple was built here because Preston has the oldest continuous branch of the church, having been established by missionaries in 1837 who headed to Preston after arriving in Liverpool.

We can see the temple from our house; it's even lit up at night. Everyone who's ever travelled north on the M61 will have seen it because it is right next to the motorway and I use it as a point of reference regularly. I know I'm nearly home when I see the spire peaking out from above the trees from a distance. I've never been inside because you have to be a member of the church to enter. Before it was dedicated in 1998, they allowed public tours and I believe it's fantastic inside. The figure on the top that you can just make out is, apparently, Moroni, an ancient prophet who delivered a record that became the book of Mormon. It's traditional to have this figure blowing a trumpet on all temples and although the local rumour is that he is solid gold, he's apparently made of glass fibre covered with gold leaf. Around it is a family history centre, a training facility and accommodation for missionaries. You'd think we'd be bothered with missionaries all the time living this close to them but they've come to the door 3 times in 10 years. They are exceptionally polite and when you say "No thanks", they thank you and leave.

This is a place brought about by missionaries, who came to spread their word. It struck me that this is what Josie, Sian and Eva are doing, albeit in slightly different circumstances. They left on Sunday on an arduous and possibly emotional journey to see what Save the Children do in Bangladesh. They may not be there to convert the locals, but in blogging what they see, they are spreading the word. Except their blogs can reach around the world, raising awareness of the issues, convincing others of the need for change and asking those in power to do something about it.

So, my picture is a record of one day in August, and a parallel.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

What's your earliest memory?

So, it's a Bank Holiday weekend, the last big holiday of the year before Christmas. My children are away on holiday with their grandparents. (Well, actually, as I type this, they've not yet left but chances are, they will have gone by the time you get to read this!)

The children have been excited for weeks about it and no doubt, will come home with some lovely memories of a fun time with Granny and Granddad - more memories in the making possibly. It made me think about early memories of your life. I heard something on the radio a couple of weeks back that many people's early memories are false because it is impossible they would remember such things. Such "memories" develop from their parents and other family members retelling a story to them and the child developing the memory from their imagination, something that is particularly vivid.

I have two memories of early childhood. One of them has to be false. The other, I am fairly sure is real because it is something so insignificant, my parents would not have thought to tell me about it.

As a child, I had migraines. I remember these clearly because I suffered with them regularly into my teens, and then thankfully grew out of them. However, I have grown up to "remember" banging my head on a fence at a very young age (2 perhaps) because my head was hurting so much and I couldn't express the pain I was feeling clearly to my parents. As an adult, I realised I can't have remembered this and it must be because my parents told me that story many times. All I can think now is how worried they must have been.

My real early memory concerns the playgroup I attended. It was held in the church next door to the infant school I was due to attend. My one clear memory of it was playing outside there and looking through the fence at the children playing in the school playground. I remember wishing it was me as I was desperate to go to school and also thinking how grown up the school children were. On reflection as an adult, the oldest children would have been 7 so no age at all, but to me as a 3- or 4-year old, they were very grown up and I wanted to be them.

Of course, my time came soon enough. As I blogged earlier this week, I was not disappointed. I absolutely loved school from the moment I walked in the door. But that memory - of longing to be a child in that playground - has stayed with me throughout my life.

Now, I am going to throw it over to you. Tell me your earliest memory, whatever it might be. If you want, you can blog about it and link back to your post in the comments below. Or, just leave a comment. I'm doing this partly because I'm nosey but also because I'm fascinated by this subject, in the variety of memories and situations that are hopefully going to crop up.

Over to you....

Friday, 27 August 2010

Dear So and So - nursery, dog owners, Daily Mail and Blogladesh

Dear So and So...
Dear nursery staff,

Thank you so much. Missy Woo has had a ball there for the last 3 and a bit years and Monkey had a great time too. We're all going to miss you but we're going to pop back to say hello for Missy Woo to show off her school uniform.

Hope you liked the cake, Monkey and Missy Woo's Mummy.

Dear children,

I am going to miss you when you go away tomorrow. No, really, I am. It's just you sneaking out of bed early and trashing various rooms of the house that I won't miss. And the noise. And the constant demands.

Be good children now for Granny and Grandad.

Lots of love, Mummy

Dear dog owner,

If you notice my child freaking out because of your dog, even if it is on a lead, please attempt to move away from or avoid said child rather making it worse by marching towards the small whirl of arms, legs, screams and red face with dog. Don't make it worse or I'll need your address to send you the therapist's bill.

Yours not-so-faithfully,


Dear Daily Mail,

I really do wonder. Changing copy to put words in my mouth and then not allowing me to comment on the article online. Hmm. And you're the ones that bang on about freedom of speech, and the Big Brother culture. Pot. Kettle. Black!

No love, Me.

Dear blog readers,

You, on the other hand, have been wonderful (again) (see comments). Your support means the world to me. I'm going to stop banging on about it now or your collective heads won't get through the door.

Love and kisses*, Kate.

Dear Josie, Sian and Eva,

The very best of luck on your Blogladesh trip.

Safe journey, Kate.

*Kisses are non-transferable and non-redeemable as real kisses. I'm not kissing the bloody lot of you!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Recipe - Sweet & Sour Chicken

As a child, the most exotic food we ever got to eat was Chinese. There was a Chinese restaurant a short walk away from my parent's house called the International. In fact, it's still there although it's half the size it used to be and now does a lot of "all you can eat" food most of the time, although it's still good.

Going for a Chinese was a real treat as there were six of us to feed in the family. I used to love sweet and sour until one Christmas, when I was about 8, I went there and got sick after eating it. It could have just been a bug but after that, I didn't eat it for a long time.

I never tried making it at home ever as I assumed, for some reason, that it would be difficult to do. A couple of years ago, I got the book Chinese Food Made Easy by Ching-He Huang after seeing the TV series. I tried her Sweet & Sour Pork recipe but I was disappointed. It was a bit long winded and I really didn't like the flavour - it had way too much lime in it for me. I wanted it to be more like restaurant or take away fare.

A while later, I bought this fantastic book by Gill Holcombe. I thoroughly recommend if you are trying to feed a family on a budget. There was a recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken in the book. I tried it and I couldn't believe how easy it was to make - and with pretty basic ingredients that you'll have at home or can get hold of easily. It can be adapted to use with pork which needs a little more cooking, or I'm guessing large prawns, which may need much less. We ate this last night for our tea and the kids loved it. They had it with some couscous which makes for easy preparation as I pour boiling water over it and leave it on the side, we had ours with rice.

I've made a few tweaks to it after making this a few times and here's how I make it.

Sweet & Sour Chicken
Serves 4

4 chicken breast fillets or 5 chicken thigh fillets, skin removed, cut into chunks or strips
Plain flour or cornflour
1 tbsp oil (not olive)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 peppers, any combination of red, orange or yellow, deseeded and chopped into small pieces.
1 tin of pineapple rings or chunks in juice
2 tbsp vinegar (malt, white or white wine, tho I have used red wine)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 rounded tbsp sugar (brown or white)

1. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with a little plain flour or cornflour to coat. Heat the oil in a pan or wok. Fry the chicken until golden all over. Turn the heat down and add the onions and peppers.

2. If using pineapple rings, cut up 3 or 4 rings into small chunks then add them to the pan. Add the vinegar, soy sauce, tomato puree, sugar and the juice from the tin of pineapple and stir well. I find at this point, you need to turn the heat up so that the sauce bubbles a bit as it seems to help to mix the sauce thoroughly - the tomato puree needs to dissolve properly, I think.

3. Turn the heat right down, cover with a lid and simmer for around 10 minutes. If the sauce seems a bit too thin, leave the lid off and allow it to reduce and thicken the sauce. Season.

As ever, do let me know if you try the recipe and what you thought of it by leaving a comment. Happy cooking as ever!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

My brief career as a model, aged 45

Last week, I noticed a press request on Twitter for 45 year old women . It seemed odd - after all, why did you have to be exactly 45? But as I am (45, that is), I replied and was asked to email my details to an address.

Soon, my mobile was ringing. The person calling asked if I could go to London for a photoshoot the following day. I had to say no because I had no childcare. That was that, I thought. Oh well. But then, I got another email explaining they could arrange to send a photographer out to me instead. I said that would be OK and they said they would be in touch.

The phone soon went again when I was out shopping at a local retail park. After a 10 minute chat/interview (me sat in my car) about my attitudes to ageing, my beauty regime, how I kept fit and so on, the lady promised to arrange the photographer. She rang off and a feeling of mild panic set in. It turned out the piece was going to appear in the Daily Mail; not my favourite paper, but there you go.

A photographer was arranged for Friday morning. I panicked about what to wear but I needn't have bothered. When the photographer arrived on Friday, he told me a make up and hair lady was on her way, that the shot was head and bare shoulders and I'd have to wrap myself in a towel to get the shot they needed. The make up lady started doing a natural make up look when she arrived, which pleased me as I don't really wear lots. It did however seem to involve a lot of make up; about twice what I'd put on. Then she set about my hair with straighteners. By the time we'd finished, the photographer had turned my lounge into a studio with lights, background, the lot.

Sat on one of my dining chairs made up to the nines with a towel wrapped around me having my photo taken probably ranks as one of the more surreal moments of my life.  The photographer took 3 sets of shots - one with my hair back from my face, one with my hair forward and one sort of half way. The photographer was lovely and seemed to take some nice shots. The whole thing took about an hour longer than I had expected, having thought the photographer would turn up, sit me on a chair, take a couple of shots and go again. 

I loved my make up and hair and took lots of pictures of my new look with my mobile after they'd gone. This is my favourite, and it's now looking at you from my every tweet. Lucky you. I have chosen this picture as "A photo I'm proud of" for Week 24 of The Gallery. I was struggling to find something else in my archives that you haven't seen already and you already know I'm proud of Monkey and Missy Woo. I feel a bit arrogant (some may say brave, others stupid) putting a photo of me here but I wanted to tell the story at some point. I do like how I look in this picture and as you will know if you read my blog regularly, I've been losing weight and am making good progress so I'm getting used to a new me. 

Anyhow, that was that. I'll let you know when the article is published and link to it here if it's online so keep checking  this post. It should be later this week. My life as a model is over. Not that I ever had one, but it was a fun couple of hours - and I didn't even have to leave home! 

I must away now to get my beauty sleep. I don't get out of bed for less than 10p, you know.

Update: The article has now been published on the Daily Mail website and you can read it here - argh!!

If you've found this post from the Daily Mail website, (I linked to it in a comment but not sure if they'll let it through), hello! Please consider following my blog through Google Friend Connect, subscribing to the RSS feed or subscribing via email, all of which are free. Just click the appropriate button and away you go... 

I never actually said some of those things in the article and the journalist in the by line accepts that - she says the Daily Mail have edited/changed it but mine is least changed. I DO use moisturiser for God's sake, I'm not that much of a slummy mummy; I just don't wear a lot of make up and mascara is not my favourite thing. Nor did I ever refer to them as trivialities! And I didn't say I'd lost two stone - I don't weigh myself, how can I? Finally, I never said I was "phobic" about operations; I'd just rather avoid unnecessary ones, thank you very much. 

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

When you were young...

I got tagged again by Garry from Blog Up North - in its new home, if you haven't already noticed - to talk about what I wanted to be when I was young and why.

The story starts with a bit of background. My older sister taught me to read when I was 2. Yes, you read that right. Two. Two?! I can hardly believe that myself but that's what happened. I might have been nearer 3 but I was definitely still 2. By the time I started school at 4, words were not a mystery to me.

Now, I am old and when I started school, the ITA was all the rage in teaching children to read. You had to learn the special symbols and read all the books before you went on to the proper books, which were for some reason were called TO. (No, I've no idea why either). I guess it was supposed to take a while to get through them; maybe a term or two. I read them all in about two weeks and was off away on the "big" ones. By the time I was 6, I had a reading age of 10.

I loved school, so you can probably guess where this is going. I wanted to be a teacher. I loved showing people how to do things, and I seemed to have a knack for working in a logical progression that was easily understood. As I got older, I remember one of the teachers at school telling me I'd make a good teacher. I coached my younger sister through her CSE Maths when she was struggling with it - a fairly frustrating experience because I lost count of the times we had the conversation about why a minus times a minus was a plus and the conversation ending with me saying "It just is!".

However, by the time I reached that stage, the enthusiasm for teaching had already waned. I don't know what it was - I think it was in part my desire to move away from school and do something completely different in a different environment. I did sciences, languages and maths at school and wanted to be a scientist (a biochemist) although the language teachers thought I'd make a good linguist as well. To appease them all, I did French as well as Biology, Chemistry and Maths at A level and applied to do a science degree. OK, actually, it was an Agricultural Science degree but it was a flexible course where you made certain choices at particular stages so you could change if you wanted to.

In the time I was there, I learned enough about Biochemistry to sate my curiosity for it and my interest in it waned. I didn't want to do research stuck inside a lab all day long although my final year dissertation was actually a comparative feeding trial of ducks and chicks, which largely had me collecting chicken and duck poo, grinding it up and analysing it for various nutrients. Very few options were open to me specific to my degree as the traditional route of working for what was then MAFF was not available as I graduated so I went and got a job in Accountancy - sounds mad I know, but I was good at Maths, remember?

That lasted six months. I liked doing the accounting bit - it was the audit that I found mind-numbingly boring. I moved to a different part of the country and got myself a job in IT, working on a helpdesk. IT was still a pretty new industry then and the company I went to work for wanted people who understood accounts to help their users of their systems. I was apparently perfect and they trained me in the IT side of things.

Working in IT support allowed me an outlet to teach and explain things again. I have also trained people how to use various applications over the years and that is very similar to teaching So, in a way, I ended up teaching but in a different place.

Since I left my IT job in 2009, I have completed a course which qualifies me to teach to adults and I have looked at getting work in that field. However, with things as they are, teaching hours are very hard to come by and so far, I haven't managed to get casual teaching work. I loved the course, although it was a little hard going at times, and I really enjoyed preparing and doing the teaching assessments that I had to complete to pass the course. I've used my teaching skills in my volunteering as I often have to teach new treasurers how to do their role and use accounting software - which takes me back to my first IT job! I keep going full circle, it seems.

Garry also posed another question on his blog: When you look into the mirror, do you see the person you hoped you’d become? Or something better? Or worse? My answer to that is I am now a mother and I thought I would probably never become one. That, to me at the moment, is the most important thing I've achieved. So, yes, it has turned out for the good - even if it is an unpaid job. It is a job I relish in and I teach my children something new every day. I've enjoyed all the jobs I've had, with one notable exception which didn't last long and I got out of for the good of my health. So I guess I've been lucky and that it demonstrates I took the right path.

I'd now like to tag some more people to continue Garry's meme....

They are:

Julia at What Will Julia Do Next? (and do check out her new blog The Head's Office)
Joanna at At Home with Mrs M
Sally at Who's the Mummy?
and Dawnie at Dawnie Brown

but do feel free to join in by commenting below, or even writing a post of your own and linking to it in the comments. Whether we achieved our childhood dreams or not, we are where we are, probably with good reason. And if you're still not where you want to be, we all need to remember there is still time to get there and it's never too late to dream. Cod psychology over, that is my thought for the day.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Football rivalries: not in front of the children!

I'm not from Preston, so I never understood why I must "hate" Blackpool FC . In this house, hating Blackpool is not good for marital / family harmony, as my husband is from Blackpool and Monkey has been to Wembley with him. Nor does my husband "hate" PNE either. It generates a bit of banter, but that's it. We are reunited in a greater dislike of another Lancashire (Burnley) but truly, I don't "hate" them.

Football rivalries are usually logical. They're local - look across the city or down the road, find the nearest team and there you go. Instant hatred. Hence , in Lancashire, there's Burnley and Blackburn "hating" in one corner and Preston and Blackpool in the other, even tho Preston and Blackburn are closest together. There is rivalry but not in an "all-police-leave-cancelled-and-away-supporters-must-arrive-on-coaches" way.

Rivalries also develop through "familiarity breeds contempt"- you don't play your rivals as you're in different divisions so the next local team you play regularly does instead. Hence my dislike of Burnley although Francis Stanley Ternent has a lot to answer for (Look him up if you must; try a recording of his voice .... *winces*).

Some are less easy to fathom. One of my regular readers won't like this, but I could cheerfully never attend a match involving Gillingham ever again. For many years, whenever PNE changed division, Gillingham came with us. Matches involving the teams were turgid affairs and Gillingham were responsible for my two worst football moments. The first was a play-off semi final defeat at Priestfield in 1999 where I shouted myself hoarse in frustration for 90 minutes. The second was the first game of the 2001-2002 season - you know, the one where hope springs eternal. We got thrashed 5-0. I left at 4-0, and I got sunburn for good measure. In the UK, many such rivalries are rooted in the bad days of hooliganism.

In Spain, they have their own word for the passion generated by rivalries. Morbo. It doesn't translate into English well, although Phil Ball in his brilliant book "Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football" tries. The rivalries to beat all rivalries in Spain is between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid; huge rivals as well as two of the biggest teams in the world. The basis of their rivalry goes way beyond football - FC Barcelona is often seen as the flagship of the Catalan people who want independence from Spain, whereas Real is seen to represent the Spanish state and, in Franco's days, the Generalisimo's team. God help anyone that leaves one club for the other. The last one that did, Luis Figo, had half a pig's head (how?) and several mobile phones (why?) thrown at him at the Nou Camp when the teams met for the first time after his transfer.

I guess these rivalries make football interesting for the neutral and important for the passionate fan. But I have a problem with them. It is that these rivalries foster incredible hatred. "Hate" is a word I try not to use these days now that I have small children with pin-sharp selective hearing and an ability to copy more finely honed than Xerox. As an adult, you can use the word to other adults and know it won't get taken the wrong way. As a mother with children learning the ways of the world, hate is too emotive a term. I may not be perfect at it, but I try not to say it. It doesn't stop them using the word from time to time - Monkey, in his mock teenager stroppy moments when tired after school, has been known to shout "I hate you" at me from the back of the car when I have dared to refuse his myriad demands. He gets reminded that you say "I don't like you" - and then I tell him I don't like him much sometimes, but everyone has moments like that.

I'm sure many parents do the same sort of thing. I'm sure parents who are football fans do too. But when it comes to rivalries in football, people often seem to lose their sense of proportion. It seems like children of some fans are raised to "hate" their rivals. They learn to hate someone because of the team they support or the town (or country - let it not be forgotten that many England fans still hate Germany, some of which stems back to a war won 65 years ago) where they were born or reside. It's localised xenophobia, as random as hating someone because of the colour of their skin, the religion they follow or their sexuality, all of which are illegal. Surely, this is no better? But it goes on, all over the world, all the time. We think the days of mindless football violence have gone but only last August, there was mass violence at the first match between West Ham and Millwall for 5 years and a supporter got stabbed. Why is that right? And don't think our kids don't see it. They do. Children can be subjected to bad language and hatred at any game as Julia bemoaned in her post last week. The picture on her post says it all - a small child, making an obscene gesture clearly aimed at rival supporters, dressed in a replica kit.

The FA's Respect campaign aims to address all unacceptable behaviour, on and off the pitch, at all levels of the game and the hatred that these rivalries stir up is part of the football culture that is unpalatable to most (I hope!). It deserves to succeed so our children can enjoy the game that many of us love without encountering unnecessary hatred like this.

Football is, by its very nature, a tribal and passionate game, whether it is played at the local park or at Wembley. Let's keep the passion, lose the hatred and hope our children enjoy healthy rivalries in football that are tolerant and yes, respectful.

(The link to Morbo on Amazon is not an affiliate link; I just think the book is a brilliant read.)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Dear So and So - diversions, children, social networking, yogurt, blog readers - and Asda again!

Dear So and So...

Not done this for a few weeks, but thought I'd do it now that Kat's back at 3 Bedroom Bungalow after her trip home. So, let's get down to some serious catharsis...

Dear urban planners,

Just who had the idea to shut the shortest of stretches of road with little warning, requiring the biggest diversions? First, I have to detour taking Monkey to his football on Monday (and now divert every day) then I go to take him to swimming on Wednesday and found another, requiring a 3 mile diversion. I know you want nice smooth roads - and God knows, so do I - but seriously? Are you out to annoy me or sommat?

Yours frustratedly,


Dear Asda,

Yes, it's me again. I've only been to the store for top up shops recently. You want to know why? Yep, that's right - no cafe! Please, please, please - how much do I have to beg before you put one back in? There must be plenty of mums with babies that don't go there because feeding is not easy. Or hungry kids. Or just hungry. Or thirsty.

Please sort it out. Pretty please?

Yours even more thirstily,


Dear children,

When we say "Stay in bed in the morning", that's what we mean. We don't mean "Get up to go to the toilet and then go wake up your sibling, even at 4am". There is a reason you're tired and it ain't anything to do with me.



Dear Facebook,

Stop messing around with things, and pretending they're "enhancements". And no, I don't want to show all my photos and personal information to the whole frickin' world. Oh, and you're not Twitter, ya hear?

Sort it out,


Dear Twitter,

I love you just the way you are. Please don't try and turn into Facebook. You aren't and you never will be.  You do it so much better than them. New "features" should be added advisedly and only if it REALLY enhances your users' experiences of it. And I can't wait for your new data centre,

Yours hoping I don't see the fail whale again,


Dear Onken,

Coconut Yogurt. OMG! I love it. And you. But I hate you - I want to eat all of it in one go and I'm trying to lose weight. Can you not do smaller tubs?

Yours lasciviously,


And finally......

Dear blog readers,

Thank you. I was really worried about publishing this post with pictures and all on my blog. But I did and you made such lovely comments, both on here and on Twitter, that I'm so glad I did.

I love you all,

Kate x

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Gallery - A memory (in the making possibly).

This week's prompt for the Gallery over at Sticky Fingers was "A memory". Having had a busy few days (when haven't I?), I haven't had time to go back through the photo archives and dig out an old pic which evokes memories.

I decided instead to turn it on its head and show you photos that aren't memories for me, but are likely to be memories for Monkey. A bit of background first. I am a Preston fan, and my husband is from Blackpool. The teams are big rivals. It is not generally the done thing for the two to "associate". When Monkey was born, we decided he would support Barcelona - our Spanish team and something we can agree on.

One of my very first posts on this blog was about taking Monkey to his first ever live football match, at Preston. He's grown increasingly obsessed with football recently and wanted to go to a match. I chose an appropriate day, we went and he had a great time. It was a month off the end of the season when we went. Blackpool made the play-offs, and Monkey got very excited. The second leg of the semi final was in the evening so he had to go to bed reluctantly. His first words to me the following morning were "Did Blackpool win?" and when I said yes, his next words were "Can I go to Wembley to the final?". Before 8am, he'd rung Daddy at work to ask him the same thing and was told "Probably, but we'll see." Well, that was good enough for him. He went to school that morning and told the class and the teachers that he was going to Wembley with his Dad. I think the whole school knew.

Soon, it was organised that half of the family would go to Wembley and that a large proportion would go on the coach, and that side of the family is not small. I think I worked out that 20 of them on one coach were related to or associated with the family! This was good as it meant that there were several people to entertain Monkey on the trip. Anyway, here are the pictures of Monkey's day out - his first trip on a coach, his second ever live football match, and his first trip to Wembley.

On the coach! 
I think this is my favourite picture of Monkey ever. I just love the look of excitement in his eyes. They set off by car very early and were on a coach by around 7ish. It was a long journey and only just made it into the stadium on time. During the game, Monkey was apparently really good and was not afraid of the noise created by over 80,000 people.

We won, Dad!
This picture was taken in the ground after the final whistle blew and Blackpool had won a place in the Premier League. That's Daddy with Monkey by the way. Please excuse the trilby. I actually posted a link to this photo on my facebook profile and you wouldn't believe the furore it created. Someone (a Preston fan) took offence to it and then he got jumped on by lots of my friends after I pointed out he was dissing my family. It's a lovely picture, it's my family and I'll do what I want. He even got shouted down by other Preston fans.
Looking on....
The final picture is of Monkey watching the post-match celebrations intently. It looks to me like he is taking it all in, like he is storing it all away to play over again and again in his head at will.

The day was long. They didn't get back to Blackpool until late and they got home around midnight. Monkey was still very excited but was still well behaved and full of talk about the day. He went to bed one happy boy that night.

He's getting a season ticket for this season and going with his Dad whenever they can. I fear I may have lost him as a Preston fan - although he has Hamburg, England and Barcelona tops to wear and bought Manchester United pyjamas last week, so there is still hope. 

These may not be my memories but I have looked through the eyes of a boy at an age where first memories stick. Your second live football match and a winning trip to Wembley is a pretty memorable event at any age, isn't it?

This is my entry for week 23 of The Gallery at Sticky Fingers. If you can, please visit the page and visit some of the other entries. I just love looking at people's different takes on the same prompt.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Halfway along the road

I was the fat girl at school. Actually, that's not fair as I suspect I was merely overweight, but sadly, I saw myself as fat. The first time I dealt with my weight, I was away at University. I lost weight but I took it way too far. At one stage, I was 8st7 - and I'm 5 ft 8  tall. I did it by eating very little, but also by doing running (which I hate). And when I started eating normally again, I put weight back on.

I think I struggled with my weight after that point until 2002. I had been various different sizes but at that point, I felt bigger than I had done in a long time and even my fat clothes were getting tight. Something clicked in my head, I ate carefully, neither too little nor too much, and exercised regularly. I really got into doing classes and got down to a size 12 from roughly a size 18. Don't ask me how much I lost as I don’t generally weigh myself but I reckon on 3-4 stone. I weighed myself once when I was a size 12 and was 10st 4.

After that, I maintained for 2 years - and then I got pregnant. I exercised regularly during Monkey's pregnancy - I was even at class 5 days overdue! Once he was born, I knew things would change and they did. I did go back after a few months but I got pregnant again quickly. I struggled much more this time so had to stop.

Since Missy Woo landed, I have fallen off so many wagons that I have lost count. I don't think I was actually all that big after she was born, but the weight never came off - if anything, it has piled. I tried several times to get going again and I've either been thwarted by childcare or injury. I kept getting muscle injuries in my back, neck or shoulder - seemingly caused by having two pregnancies close together. Every time something happened, I would be advised to rest for a couple of weeks and that would turn into 4 or 8 or even 12 before I started again.

I hated it, and hated myself. Last year was the worst. We went away early in the year and I avoided having my photo taken where possible. I also have pictures of me at a family wedding last July and I think I look hideous. There is no picture of me without a small child in front of me for protection. I wore a last minute desperation purchase dress that I could get it on but the fit was appalling.

I started my weight loss journey this time in February 2010. Again, something in my head just clicked and I know I can do it. It is still hard - trying to fit it all around children , feeding them etc. It's taking longer - I know I was not quite as big was I was in 2002, I'm 6 months in and I'm still not where I'd like to be - but then my life is very different to how it was back then. I view slip ups very differently now  - I just get straight back on track whereas before one slip up could turn into ten very easily.

The other day, I was getting a bit fed up because I am not yet a size 12, so I took a photo of myself. I've compared it to the "before" pictures – from the holiday and the wedding - and I think there is a difference. I am a size 14 now but an unfortunate side effect of two pregnancies for me seems to be that someone thinks I should have Dolly Parton sized proportions in the chest department. They don't seem to be shrinking as fast as the rest of me so I may never get to wear my lovely size 12 tops again. *sob*

Being the self-critical sort that I am, I have cringingly shown these pictures to a few people for unbiased opinions and the reaction has mostly been "Wow!" which I'm taking to be a good sign. I'm putting them here as a record of my progress, and to remind me to keep going at weaker moments. Looking at the pictures, I think "not bad" but also that I have a way to go. There might have been a bit of stomach sucking going on and dark tops do hide a multitude of sins. I have seen other pictures of me from only a few months back and I think I look huge, but then I am never going to be a stick thin lollipop.

January 2009
July 2009
August 2010

So here I am. Halfway along the road, maybe a little bit more, who knows? I don't want to go back to how I was last year so I am proud of how far I've come. I am not about to start to think that I've done the job, and I have got to keep going. I am determined to be healthy and happy, both on the outside and from within. And yes, I do still eat cake, just not every day. Life is too short not to have the occasional treat. It keeps you sane, and I find that complete denial just does not work for me.

Onwards and upwards, huh? 

Monday, 16 August 2010

Review: Feel Good Kids drinks

We love Feel Good sparkling drinks in this house. I love the different flavours and that they don't add sugar to their drinks. The sweetness all comes from the fruit juices they use - which should mean it's better for you as fructose is way better than sucrose or glucose.

So, when I was asked if we'd like to try out the Feel Good Kids drinks, the answer had to be yes. Monkey and Missy Woo are good drinkers, Monkey exceptionally so. He'll gulp drinks down in 10 seconds if you don't keep an eye on - I swear he'll be ace at Yard of Ale competitions when he grows up, not that I want to think about that right now. These drinks are still and made up of two-thirds fruit juices and a third of water. And that's it. Nothing else. 

The drinks arrived in neat little cardboard boxes. All the cardboard is recyclable so that is a huge bonus over that horrible shrink wrapped packaging that lots of drinks use. Only the straw and the film covering it are not recyclable. The cartons inside are a good size to fit inside a lunchbox, and the straw is unusually easy to insert.

There are two flavours - Blackcurrants, Apples and Grapes and Oranges, Pineapples and Bananas. Within half an hour of the samples arriving, the children had tried both flavours so I grabbed a quick sip of the drinks to report on the taste. Both flavours are nicely fruity but all I could really taste was blackcurrant with a hint of apple in one and pineapple and some banana in the other. They were neither too sickly sweet nor too sharp for young children.

The packaging says they are "Not for Grown Ups" but I'd be happy to have one as a drink. That would be if my kids let me. Monkey and Missy Woo love drinks in cartons so I had to make sure they didn't drink them all in a day. As you can see from the pictures, they enjoyed drinking them very much.

My only reservation about these drinks is the price. They cost £1.99 for a box of 4 drinks. If I was buying them for lunchboxes for my two, a week's worth of drinks would cost me a fiver, which I think is quite a lot for a family on a budget, and there are similar products that cost much less. As an occasional treat, I would definitely buy them or perhaps when they are on special offer, a tactic I use with the Feel Good sparkling drinks. I like what Feel Good stands for, so I am the sort that will probably make the occasional effort to buy them for the children.

And maybe next time, they'll let me have one of my own.

Feel Good Kids drinks are available in Waitrose or Ocado, and also in BHS cafes, Little Chef, London Zoo and David Lloyd leisure centres. From September, they will also be available in Asda.

(I was provided with 4 boxes of Feel Good Kids drinks to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own and have no way been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Saturday, 14 August 2010

How to be made to feel like a bad mother in one easy move.

So the other day, I took the children to the Trafford Centre. I was trying to get them out of the way because we are having to deal with night shifts at the moment and it's better if the house is quietish during the day.

I decided to take them somewhere for lunch. It's a place we have eaten at before, and had coffee at a few more times. Mostly, they were pretty good although they have a fascinations for toilets and kept going to the toilet.

However, after the meal, they reached their boredom threshold very quickly and started to get up. I was trying to finish off my large coffee as quickly as I could and I'd asked for the bill, but they kept getting up and wandering around and I kept telling them to sit down.

Eventually, Monkey - for whatever reason - hid under a table but did so with his feet sticking out. I got up and called him quite sharply to get out and get up. And then the manager appeared. He got Monkey out of there and brought him over to the table and got Missy Woo to sit down. He smiled and half-winked at me and then proceeded to explain that they can't go running around because the waiting staff are carrying hot drinks etc. They said sorry and the guy went away. I paid the bill and couldn't get them out of there fast enough.

Now, I appreciate that the guy was a) explaining to them what is basic health and safety and b) trying to help me, but I walked away from that place feeling like an unfit mother and a bloody awful one at that. True, they weren't on their best day that day as they were a bit full of it and possibly we should have gone to the Food Court but it is a lively place anyway, I had been trying to control them, and it was only for a few minutes.

I almost feel too ashamed to go back now. Should I feel this way about it? I am normally pretty firm with my kids; they know where they stand with me but sometimes, they just have the devil in them and ignore what I say. This was one of those times. I'd be interested in your thoughts because I don't want to be the mother that can't control her kids.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Pretend Gallery - Water

Tara is away this week so set no prompt for the Gallery. Instead, Chelle - over at Chelle's Place - has got a Pretend / Unprompted Gallery this week for those who feel like they're missing out. The theme is Water.

Here's my offerings for the week. Number one is this - taken with my phone, again!

Flamingoes, but where?
Anyone care to guess where this is? No prizes for guessing, just a boost to your ego/self-esteem if you're the first to guess it right!

And randomly, the second one is

This is the fountain in the middle of Plaza de Espana in Seville. It looks like a lovely day, doesn't it - but look carefully and you'll see everyone wearing thick coats. This was taken in January 2009, when we were on holiday on the Algarve and managed to book a day trip to Seville as it is a place we've always wanted to visit. However, it was during the cold spell that all of Europe suffered in early January 2009 and there we were, in the hottest city in mainland Europe, freezing to death - even with lots of layers on. The irony was not lost upon us. When we were given free time to wander around, we whizzed around the cathedral, walked a bit, then sheltered in tapas bars and coffee shops until it was time to get back on the coach. I've never drunk so much hot chocolate!

Anyway, they stopped here at the Plaza early in the morning for a photo opportunity so this view is probably our first close-up view of the city. I'd really love to go back, but maybe when it is a bit (for which read a lot) warmer. If you ever get the chance to visit the city, please do as it's fantastic. Maybe I'll show you

Visit Chelle's page here if you want to see other entries for this unofficial Gallery. I think normal service will be resumed next week.

Kids food - Quick Quesadillas

Wraps. My kids love them, but they haven't worked out the right way to eat them so they make the unholiest of messes, particularly as they like cheesy beans in them. When they want wraps, and I have leftover stuff to use, I offer them quesadillas because it's a cross between wraps and pizza - which they also love - and makes less mess (nothing my kids eat makes no mess).

Pretty much anything that can be chopped up and cooked in a pan can go in the filling. I add chicken, sometimes minced beef, but frequently, it's just veg and cheese. It helps get certain veg down them that they sometimes won't eat in other things. Beans are a a nice vegetarian addition to make it more substantial.

How much this feeds will depend on the size of the wrap you use. This time, I used Asda ones which are small so it fed 2 but the Discovery ones are much bigger; you need a lot more filling and I can feed 4 small children with those. Alternatively, make your own. My children are quite good with spices as long as they are not too hot. Rein back the spices as you see fit.

Here's the recipe for the specimen as featured on this post. It takes 15 minutes to do so great if you're short of time.



2 wraps
1 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed or chopped
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp mild chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Large handful of button mushrooms, sliced
1 small red pepper, deseeded and sliced into strips
1 small courgette, halved then sliced
1 tbsp tomato puree (optional)
1-2oz cheddar cheese, or to taste (I use extra mature)


Start by turning your grill onto medium high.

1. Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok. Add the onion and garlic and fry until softened. Add the spices, and stir for about a minute. Stir in the veg, allowing the oil and spices to coat everything and cook for up to 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for another minute. Taste and season.

2. Place one of the wraps on a baking sheet. Spread the veg mixture evenly across the wrap and grate over two thirds of the cheese. Place the other wrap over the top, and grate over the rest of the cheese.

3. Place under the grill until the cheese is melted and slightly golden; this rarely takes more than a couple of minutes so keep an eye on it. If you have a griddle pan big enough, you can place it in a hot griddle pan for a couple of minutes per side. I don't bother as it involves turning the whole thing over but it does mean you get those pretty griddle lines on it.

4. Remove from the grill and cut into wedges.

I like to do carrot sticks, cucumber sticks and cherry tomatoes for the children to eat with it but as you can see, we only had cherry tomatoes in the day I made this! Don't make the filling too wet and work fast once you put the veg on the bottom wrap otherwise it can go soggy. Using a griddle pan would probably solve this but it's too fiddly for me - I reckon the filling would fall out turning it.

If I do add chicken and using raw meat, I slice it thinly and cook it through before the onions,  remove it and add it back in with the veg, which is the same point at which I would add cooked chicken or other meat.

Feel free to make up your own variations. Have a go and I'd love to see your efforts if you try. Happy cooking!

Monday, 9 August 2010

First the lasts and last the firsts..

Regular readers of this blog will know that Missy Woo, my little girl, is due to start school in September. That's, like, next month, right?!

Over the last few weeks, we've had a few lasts occur. First, I had my final "Frantic Friday" where I dashed from school run to coffee morning to lunch to music group to school and thence to swimming lessons. That's one last I won't be sad to see the back of! On the same day, Missy Woo went to her last music group. She'd been going since she was a baby with Monkey who went from 7 months. I was sad, because I'd been going with one or both of them for nearly 5 years. It felt like the end of an era and we said goodbye to Sue, the lady that runs the groups brilliantly.

Soon after, came two lasts that I will not miss, not one bit. First, the last ever nursery bill. I love the nursery that they have attended but not the cost. We paid to use a year-round nursery when I was still working and by the time I took redundancy last April, it was really too late to change. Monkey was a few months off starting school and Missy Woo loves the place so much that I know she would have had serious words with me if I'd moved her. Anyway, no more. I've paid my last bill and now we are free of that expense.

Next, I had my last nursery/school run. One day a week, I had to take Missy Woo to nursery and Monkey to school. I did it that way round to force me to get out early as Monkey had to be there for 9am but my back up was I would take Monkey to school first. I'm proud to say I never had to and Monkey was never late but oh boy, the stress. Nursery is 3 miles away in one direction and school 1.5 miles in the other, so nearly 5 miles apart. Such mornings could be interesting, if shouting at children to do as they are told to brush teeth/put coats on/get in car seats counts as interesting.

Then, on Friday, another last. Missy Woo's last ever party at nursery. The leavers' party. There was a magician, played party games and ate party food. Missy Woo had a ball and I got a child-free morning for nowt, being as Monkey was on a holiday football course.

During the morning, I suddenly noticed the date. 6th August. Realisation hit me like a slap in the face. In precisely one month, Missy Woo would be having her first day at school. Well, actually, it's a morning. Her first full day will be two weeks later but that is when she starts and we, as a family, will mark the occasion.

Between now and then, we have a couple more lasts, like last day at nursery. However, the lasts aren't what it is all about; after the lasts, come the firsts. Once she's started at school, the firsts will come thick and fast throughout the first term and the rest of the academic year.

Ready for school
I know lots of mums get sad about this point in their child's life, particularly their youngest, and I'm sure I will feel strange as things change. Nursery has been part of our family for over 3 years, the carers have been fab and the children have had a ball there. But, for now, I'm choosing to look at it in the same way that Missy Woo is - with big excitement for the new phase in her life. She wants to go to school with her big brother, be in class with the same teachers as Monkey had last year, make new friends - and play with a few old ones. She loves the uniform, she has school shoes, and a Hannah Montana bag for school that she adores (see right for Madame modelling some A/W 2010 trends). When she went in for a settling in afternoon, she told me to go as soon as I got in the classroom!

So, as the cliche goes, as one door closes, another opens. She doesn't realise it but my funny, clever little Missy Woo has the world at her feet and I know she will meet the challenge of school with relish - she will sail through those lasts and onto the firsts without batting an eyelid. I know what lies ahead for her and I am excited for her.

That just leaves me to sort out what I'm going to do next with my life. Easy!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Chicken Pie!

Pie is not often on the menu in our house due to my husband's wheat avoidance. He was reacting to wheat and has avoided it for around 8 years but recently, has eaten some things with wheat in and not suffered any reaction so he has been widening the range of foods he now eats.

I have really wanted to make a chicken pie for a while so last weekend, I bought some ready rolled pastry. I don't generally do pastry and most recipes just recommend buying it, so that's what I did. I hunted around for a decent recipe and found this on the BBC Good Food website, which is a source I use quite a lot for simple but nice recipes.

I liked this because it included vegetables so it meant everything cooked together. We actually just had mash with this - I was running out of time to do veg, the children were "helping" me, I decided to make it today quite late on and that required a quick trip to the supermarket. This would be great made with leftover roast chicken as you start with cooked chicken.

Crumbly Chicken & Vegetable Pie
Serves 4-6 (you'd have to be pretty hungry for it to serve 4)

1 onion
40g butter
100g button mushrooms
40g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
400ml milk, warmed
1 chicken stock cube or 400ml fresh chicken stock
pinch nutmeg
pinch mustard powder
1 bay leaf
250g cooked chicken
200g mix of vegetables - sweetcorn, peas, carrots, broccoli, peppers chopped or any veg you have
250g shortcrust pastry
1 egg beaten or milk, for glazing

1. Heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 4. Peel the onion and chop as finely as possible. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion and leave to cook for about 5 mins, stirring occasionally. Finely slice the mushrooms and add to the pan.

2. When the mushrooms and onions are nearly cooked, add the flour to the pan and stir to make a roux. Crumble in the stock cube and stir well for 2 minutes to cook out the flour.

3. Slowly add the milk to the pan, stirring all the time. (I didn't warm the milk and it didn't seem to matter). Then add the stock, season and add the nutmeg and mustard powder. (It doesn't mention what to do if you're using the stock cube, so I just used more milk to get the right consistency) Add the bay leaf and bring to the boil, stirring all the time to stop it becoming lumpy.

4. When the sauce has thickened, place on a very low heat. Chop the chicken into even sized pieces and add to the sauce. Stir in the veg and pour into the pie dish. (I used a deep but small lasagne dish).

5. Put the pastry on a clean, floured surface. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pastry until just a bit bigger than the pie dish. Lift the pastry onto the dish. Trim the edges hanging over the edges. Press the outside edge of the pastry with your fingers or a fork.

6. Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg or milk. Make a small hole in the centre to allow steam to escape. Left over pastry can be used can be used to decorate the top. Place the pie in the oven for 25 mins. It will be done when the top is golden brown.

I made a few changes to this. We got a bay leaf from the garden as we have a tree but then it disappeared. So I added some chopped fresh tarragon as it is a favourite of mine. And because I had ready rolled shortcrust, I just unrolled it and put it on the top of the pie dish and it just about fitted. No faffing with rolling pins - result! (Why am I so bad at rolling out pastry and how do I get better at it? Answers on a postcard.) The veg I used were - peas, sweetcorn, carrots, and courgettes.

The children were very excited when I told them I was making pie. Missy Woo butchered the mushrooms and the courgettes for me. Then she had a go at peeling potatoes as did Monkey - and he got very good at it. That's one more job I don't have to do! And then they devoured the pie with enthusiasm. The carrots were quite crunchy so I think they need to be cut up quite small - or you could use leftover cooked ones. I loved the tarragon flavour, and no-one else complained about it and it was lovely and creamy.

It would definitely feed 6 people easily. This is most definitely NOT a small pie and the veg helps to bulk it out. I have to admit, I always thought that making a pie was more difficult than it was for some reason. I guess ones with a pastry base probably are but this was very simple. And everyone just loves pie, don't they?

I did take another pic of the pie cut open but on looking at it, it's not very good quality so you'll have to make do with just the pic of the finished pie as it came out of the oven. Yes, I know - my food blogging is very amateurish but I never said I was a professional, did I?! Trust me when I say this was good, and you should try it too.

Friday, 6 August 2010

I am an Ologist.....

The more observant amongst you - and probably those of you that are regular visitors to this blog (whaddya mean you're not?! Disgraceful!) - will notice this new badge that has recently appeared on my blog. It's my first badge, and it says that I'm an official Toys R Us Toyologist. Gosh, my mother will be so proud. I'm an Ologist at last. This post is to explain how it all came about, and what it means for the blog.

It all started on Monday, when I got notification that I was being followed by said account. Not that unusual occurrence really - buggy companies seem to start following me regularly until they realise my kids are too old for such things and fade gently into the distance. I normally wait to hear back from followers these days - it's my way of avoiding spammers or those who are going to fill my timeline but never actually speak to me, a few slebs excepted. But then, almost instantly, the account tweeted me a message saying could they send me some info about the Toyologist programme. I said yes, curious to know more.

I then got an email inviting me to join, as I was an "influential mummy blogger", which made me laugh. A lot. After all, my blog has only been going since April; I had a large hiatus in posting when I had a seriously busy time with my life and I've not long gone over the 30 posts. Also, I don't know why, but I don't think of myself first and foremost as a mummy blogger - this blog is a mix of things that make me who I am and one of them happens to be motherhood. Apparently, it's also based on my other social media activity so perhaps it's because I tweet a lot (no surprise there). Quite how they found me is anyone's guess, although I think I've got lucky and ended up on the blogroll on some very good and highly regarded blogs, for which I am very grateful.
He's my friend on Facebook now, you know

The premise of the programme is that they give us toys, we review them with our kids, and share our experiences of them with others. How could I say no? I have yet to review anything on this blog so it will be nice to do something different, toys equal fun and that's one of the five Fs this blog is meant to be about.

The best bit of all about becoming a Toyologist is that once you join, Geoffrey Giraffe adds you as a friend on Facebook. My street cred has shot up massively in the past few days. If I ever had any, that is. I've yet to tell the children about this new development, partly because I don't know what we're going to get and I don't want them to expect the world but they have a ton of toys ready to go out to be tested.

So, in the coming weeks, there may well be the odd review of the toys we get on this blog. You may well find similar on other blogs that you probably know quite well. What you can also do, if you want to, to go to the Toys R Us UK Facebook page and Like it and you can find out more as the reviews start to appear.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A jam packed day

We have this blackcurrant bush in our garden that was bought last year, I think. I am fairly sure that it was reduced from either Woolies or B&M which has replaced it in the local town. I noticed a few weeks back that it was heaving with ripe blackcurrants and hatched a plan to make jam with it. I've made jam once or twice before and found a recipe in a book on jams I have that was basically blackcurrants, sugar and water.

I was not expecting the odyssey that it became to make this bloody jam.

Monday - I go to the shop and buy a big bag of caster sugar with the weekly shop. On getting home,  I decide I will go pick the blackcurrants once the shopping is packed away. I am about to start when I notice it has started raining. I decide to wait until it stops as it looks like a lot to pick. It is still raining 9 hours later.

Tuesday - it's raining when we get up, but after clearing up the kitchen after school run, I notice it's not too bad, and head outside. It is now 10am. I figure it's going to take me half an hour. After half an hour, there's still loads to pick on the bush. I tell myself I'll stop, at the latest, at 11am. By the time 11am rolls around, I feel like I've just got a few more to pick so I tell myself I may as well finish clearing the bush as more rain is forecast and the berries might rot. I finally finish at 11.20am with a huge bowl of blackcurrants to show for my labours.

Fresh from the garden
I get inside and it starts to rain again about 10 mins later and doesn't stop for the rest of the day including some complete deluges triggering flash floods. My timing, it would appear, was apt - for a change.

I wash, pick over and weigh the blackcurrants. Nearly 2kg! The recipe I have is for 1kg. Simple, I think - I'll just double the recipe. I have a large stockpot I've used before now. The recipe states a lot of water (and I think I'd add less definitely in future, as from what I know of jam-making, you need to cook the fruit and reduce it to an extent for it to be the right pectin level to set. Too much water is going to slow down how long this takes). So, I think my first mistake is to blithely double the amount of water needed to the pan.

Noon - The blackcurrants need to boil and soften apparently before the sugar is added so the pan goes on the hob. And I wait. My problem is that the stockpot is so big that leaving the lid off means it doesn't boil properly, and putting it on means it boils over too easily. And that amount of blackcurrants and water take a looooooong time to get up to boiling point. It's nearly 12.20pm by the time it starts boiling when I encounter aforementioned problem with keeping it boiling. More than once, the pan boils over and makes a mess of the hob. The recipe says boil for 15 mins but I easily leave it for double that to ensure it has boiled enough. Whilst this is happening, I wash the jars I am going to use and place in the oven to sterilise.

1pm - I finally add the sugar and start to stir, to dissolve it. It takes about 15 mins of stirring to dissolve the sugar completely and I turn up the heat again. Obviously now, there is even more in the pan and boiling over is an even greater likelihood. I resolve to watch the pan but yanno, I have things to do and I'd already made and let two cups of tea go cold. Again, the recipe says boil for 15 mins before starting to test for a set but it keeps boiling up, I have to take the lid off or risking it boiling onto the hob, then take the lid off and it stops boiling. I then double - again - the length of time I need to leave it cook because of this, and also because I have to keep skimming the scum off the top, which means leaving the lid off.

2pm (ish) - it looks like I could start testing for a set but the first couple of goes show it needs to cook for longer. At least the jars will be well sterilised by now - they've been in the oven for nearly an hour and a half, but only need about 15 mins. Finally, the test shows it's starting to set, so I leave it a few minutes to go and make an important call because I'd had someone on the phone hassling me about something.

The call takes a bit longer than planned but no more than about 5 mins and I go back into the kitchen and OMG! Boiling over is probably a euphemism for what has occurred - there is a river of jam on my hob. The lid was on, wasn't it?

2.30pm (less than an hour till school run) - I hastily put all the jam into jars, and start the process of clearing up the hob, the burners, everything and bunging anything that is removable into the dishwasher. After a LOT of scrubbing and scraping, I finally get the hob clean.

Lots and lots and lots of jam.
3.10pm - FINISHED! I look at my watch and think it's time to leave for school. And all I have to show for my day is a few jars of jam. But the jam, the jam is fabulous - and all the more satisfying because the fruit was free and really fresh when I made the jam. Intensely flavoured, still slightly tart, but with enough sweetness to balance it out. I made so much, I gave away 3 jars as presents and still left us with about six months' supply of blackcurrant jam. It is not a stiff set so it is lovely with natural yogurt and I think it would be nice on ice-cream too.

I noticed that the jam recipe says it takes an hour to make. Ha, I started at 10 and finished past 3. I make that 5 hours (although admittedly, the recipe doesn't expect you to pick your own first!) and counting. As my plan was to make jam AND chocolate cake during the day whilst the children were out, my evening was somewhat filled with cake making and icing.

Next time, I will make smaller batches of jam though most of the recipes online seem to use the amount of blackcurrants that I had. Maybe I just need special jam-making equipment. Or maybe I just need to concentrate more.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Gallery - Playtime

Another go at Tara's Gallery on her excellent Sticky Fingers blog. When I saw the prompt of "Playtime"this week , I thought that would be fine as I'm bound to have something in the archive I could pull out.

And then, like last week, fate intervened again. The same morning as I saw the prompt, I went to a friend's house. We have children of similar ages and have been regularly meeting after school on Mondays as her eldest goes to a different school to Monkey, but have not been able to meet of late due to various commitments. We'd arranged to meet a local park but the weather was not good and she needed to wait in for an engineer to arrive. So we went round there, ostensibly for a short time as she was going out for 12.

Eventually, the engineer rang to say he was coming the next day and it was too late for her to get out so we stopped on. As the weather had improved, we decided to walk the children around to the green around the corner from her house to let them have a run around. By this time, we had 6 children under 6 (as my friend was looking after another child whilst her mum went to the gym), an 11 year old girl who was a neighbour and the two of us.

The children loved it. They completely ignored the bats and balls we had brought for them and just ran around for a while, then they decided to play hide-and-seek. Bearing in mind their age, they were suitably rubbish - they weren't good at hiding quietly for a start, and the seekers' counting was somewhat random, but who cares? They had a ball. It dawned on me that this typifies playtime as it should be so again, I grabbed my phone and snapped Missy Woo counting up to whatever it was she was counting up to. Fifty-twelve, probably.

Playtime. Doesn't have to include expensive toys that get broken or parts go missing. The simplest - and oldest - games are often the best of all.

(This is my entry for week 22 of the Gallery at Sticky Fingers. Please visit the post and visit a few of the other blogs participating. It's a great way to discover new blogs)

(Edit - I've also added this to the Play Academy on Cathy's NurtureStore blog. Take a look by clicking the badge below!)

play academy

ShowOff Showcase

Added to ShowOff Showcase on The Boy And Me on 14/05/11.
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