Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Spicing up my cooking

I love Indian food. It is one of the first things I learned to cook from scratch properly beyond the standard things that my parents cooked. They are pretty easy as they are reasonably forgiving. They can take a bit of time though and when I plan meals now, I have to be mindful of cooking time and not making anything too hot so that the children will eat them. Occasionally, I dip into the world of curry paste but I never use cooking sauces. It goes against my nature. Call me a food snob if you like. 

I always marvel at how quickly they can make the dishes in restaurants and take aways so when Living Social invited some bloggers including myself to Dilli restaurant in Altrincham to join one of their cookery classes, I made sure I could get there and see how they do it. 

You notice I've not mentioned "curry" so far. As we were told by one of the two chefs that taught us, curry basically means "gravy". And masala? "Sauce"!

At the start of our day, we were shown how to make onion bhajis. Apparently, the key is to leave your onions mixed for a while to draw out some of the water as this makes the onions crisper. We got to sample them with a tamarind dip and a mint dip, both totally unlike the stuff you usually get with it. They also made potato and onion bhaji which was not made into balls, so it was a bit like eating spicy fries! 

Monday, 30 January 2012

Meal Planning Monday - another 5 for £20 edition!

You may remember that I have in the past reviewed the Sainsbury's meal plans. Last May, we tried the £50 weekly one and then in October, we tried out one of their evening meal plans, which offer 5 evening meals for a family of 4 for £20. Sainsbury's have just launched a new meal plan so have given me the chance to try  the latest one. The meals have generally been brilliant, although I do find some of them rather carb heavy so I tend to cut back on quantities now if it's a pasta or rice dish in particular. And they add mozzarella to risottos - what is THAT all about?

The meal plans are great if you don't have time to meal plan and they often suggest veggie options. You can print a shopping list for you and transfer most of the ingredients into their internet shopping site - you have to add some of the items for reasons I will never understand.

So here is what we're having this week, courtesy of Sainsbury's.

Monday - Tomato and broccoli risotto
Tuesday - Simple sausage supper
Wednesday - Creamy pork and mash
Thursday - Sandwiches or soup and sandwiches
Friday - Turkey chilli with rice
Saturday - left free for family party
Sunday - Cheesy jacket potato with bacon and pepper ratatouille

Come back next week and I'll tell you how we did. Don't forget to visit Mrs M's blog to check out the other entries in this week's Meal Planning Monday and feel free to check out Sainsbury's Live Well for Less site and all their meal plans.

What's on your menu this week?

Saturday, 28 January 2012

LifeCircle 2012 - Progress report

Life CircleHaving done our life plans, it's time to return to the actions you committed to two weeks ago. Well, it might not be two weeks right now but it should be by the time the linky is published next Thursday.

What I want you to do is report back on:

- whether you completed your actions or not, whether they are partially completed or whether you have not even started. Come on now, be honest! It will be useful for future reference.
- how it went when working on your actions.
- how you felt about doing them,
- if you didn't complete your actions, explain why you didn't and how you feel about that. Again, be honest. If you procrastinated because you were scared of tackling issues, please do say so.
- whether completing your actions has made you feel different about the issues you were tackling, aspects of your life or your life in general.

I am really interested in barriers so the more honest feedback I get on why you might have not managed to complete your actions, the more I can help you later on. If you feel uncomfortable sharing that with your readers, I'd still like to know so I'm happy for you to email me with this. Don't worry, I'm not going to be telling you off: I just need to know the issues so we can work on them in future tasks.

I bet you thought this week was going to be easy, didn't you? Well, this is what LifeCircle is all about; pushing yourself a little bit.

Get writing those posts, publish and come back on Thursday to link up. I can't wait to read them, I think there are going to be some interesting reads.

Friday, 27 January 2012

No mess messy crafts

I may have said before, many times, that I am not good at crafts. Whether it is a side effect of being left-handed (or cack-handed as it is so delightfully put sometimes) which has meant I've never been quite as able to use crafty things properly, or whether I just have no talent or imagination in that field, I'm not really sure. I'm not particularly interested. Missy Woo, however, does like making things. Which is a problem, when you have a mum like me.

Missy Woo with her kit
Another thing I dislike is mess. Well, yes, I have children, we live permanently in a mess but I can cope with untidiness even though, in an ideal world, the house would stay tidy and the children would clear up after themeselves, which we all know won't happen. But mess that I actually have to clean up? No way, I'm not a fan. I don't have time for housework as it is, why do I want to give myself any more cleaning to do?

This is again problematic when you have small children as you do really need to let them do messy things and anyway, it's fun. We have managed in the past with judicious use of messy mats etc although most activities with high mess factor have been relegated to the kitchen, which is wipe-clean friendly. The only things I allow to be done in other rooms is colouring with crayons and felt pens (thankfully, we have passed the draw-on-the-walls-when-Mummy-is-not-looking phase) and sticky mosaics that I discovered during the Toyologist programme. Even playdough and its inferior alternative, Moon Dough, cannot be trusted.

Then I was offered the chance to try some Sand Art kits from Kids Bee Happy and thought we'd give it a try. We got sent two kits, one a very girly set of pictures and one of a more boyish nature, complete with little tubes of sand. The picture boards are self-adhesive and you peel back the different shapes and pour the sand on, and it sticks to the self adhesive bit.

Making their pictures
I left the children doing the pictures with Daddy on Sunday morning and all he had to do was put them on tray and he was happy to let them make their pictures in the living room. When I came back, the pictures were virtually done and all the waste sand was on the trays apart from a little bit on the coffee table which was easily cleared away. The only thing was both Monkey and Missy Woo decided that you didn't peel off the background bit so they both have yellow backgrounds to their pictures! Oh, and Monkey pulled a bit too far when peeling one of the shapes off and managed to pull some of the picture away but he is clumsy and generally needs to take more care.

Both Monkey and Missy Woo loved doing the sand art. I thought that Monkey might get bored but both of them were completely absorbed in the activity. The pack also comes with laminating pouches so you can preserve your little darling's creation but our laminator has sadly laminated one sheet too many and expired some months ago so that is not an option for us.

And afterwards, it was pretty simple to clear up! Bonus!

These kits cost £8.99 so they make a great present for any child really. It doesn't require any drawing ability so even a 3 year old can produce a nice looking picture. The children loved it so much that they want to do more, which speaks for itself. The children were happy and I was happy too. No mess messy crafts. That's what I like!

(We were sent two sand art kits to review and I have received no other compensation. I was not told what to write and all opinions, words and pictures are my own). 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

LifeCircle 2012: Life Plan

Life Circle I guess you've come here to read my life plan. I've written it before. It therefore might look pretty similar to that as it's only a few months later. Remember, it's ideal lives we're talking about so I'm hoping you're all using lots of positive language in your posts. I shall be checking your work later, she said in her best schoolmistress voice.

We'll start, as before, with five years from now. By then, Monkey will be 11, nearly 12 and Missy Woo 10. Monkey will have just started at high school, one that we believe is right for him. Missy will be in Year 6 and due to follow her brother the following year.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A conversation

"You know, you bought her what she needed."

He frowned. "Bought?"

"I meant brought. I always get those wrong."

"Oh. What was it?"

"When Dad died, she was lost. She needed company, someone to care for, someone to boss around..."

"She was good at that!"

A tear sprang from her eye. "She needed someone to share her life and her home. You gave her that."

"Listen, I...." he began.

"Don't," she interrupted. "I'm here to say thanks. Mum died happy. She knew she was loved. Even if we fell out now and then, I'm proud to call you my stepdad."

This is entry in this week's 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups over at Julia's Place
The prompt this week was "... you bought her what.."

Monday, 23 January 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the OMG it's still January edition

God, yes, is it still only 23rd January? I could have sworn it was February this week. Christmas feels like an age ago, although admittedly, other times it seems like yesterday. Make it finish soon. I'm still on a BBC Good Food tip this week - particularly as I love that it adds nutritional information so I can make sure I'm not overdoing it. I'm still being good, and trying to keep up our veg intake. Here are this week's delights.

Monday - Italian style beef stew (adapted for the slow cooker)
Tuesday - Chicken, leek and parsley pie
Wednesday - White fish with spicy beans and chorizo
Thursday - Sweet potato and coconut soup with bread
Friday - Lazy cheesy veg hotpot
Saturday - leaving free
Sunday - Honey and mustard pork with broccoli and mash

Don't forget that Mrs M host the linky every week. Why not pop over to check the other entries? And don't forget to tell me what meals you have planned for this week?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

LifeCircle 2012: Let's do a lifeplan

Life Circle

I hope you're all busy beavering away with your actions you set after this week's post. We're going to put that to one side because if you remember, I gave you TWO WEEKS to complete your actions. We will return to that later.

No, this week, we are going to return to another exercise that we did before - writing a life plan. If you did this last year, feel free to skip and come back next week. However, you may find it useful to revisit the life plan you wrote then and review how you feel about it and whether, already, you need to change it. Life plans are living documents and they are only plans - things may change, life circumstances may change, you may change. There is therefore no shame in changing it.

If you didn't do it before, I'm not going to write all the instructions again - they are here. And they haven't changed. So there! You'll be using the results from your Wheel of Life exercise but if you're joining late, you may want to whizz back and do the exercise before you do this as it will help you, although you can write a life plan without it.

As I wrote before, you don't have to share the full details of your life plan with anyone. Give as much detail about it as you wish to give when you write about this exercise. But do ask yourself these questions:

Did this exercise throw up an issue you need to be tackling now that you've never realised is quite so urgent? How does your ideal life look?
Did it surprise you?
Has it spurred you into taking action already?
How does having a clear vision of your ideal life in 5 years time make you feel - about your life now, and your future?

Write your post, then come back here next Thursday and link up, as ever.

Good luck, everyone. Have fun life planning. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Why is it so much easier with only one?

Partners in crime
People thought I was mad when I had two children only 16 months apart. I never saw it that way because they had such similar needs. One was hard work anyway and it didn't take much more to meet the needs of the other. As an added bonus, they slept at the same time at least once a day mostly so I got a break.

It seems to have got worse as they have got older. Now they are both at school, it should be a doddle but the period between school pick up and their bedtime, even if we have nothing on, is really stressful, especially when I'm on my own with them. It's not that they argue or fight but they seem to tag team me, pestering me in turns. Even if I offer them things, you can guarantee they will ask me for something the second I sit down. The hours pass in a whirl of readings, spellings, making and eating tea, a little time for playing or watching telly, bath time and then catching up with Daddy when he gets home.

Somehow, it seems that it's now much much easier when there is only one child at home. It's not even as if they fight. Take this week - Missy Woo was off to her friend's for tea, so it was just me and Monkey after I school. In the past, he's been known for walking out of school and in the few paces (and seconds) between the classroom and me, he would turn from the angel Gabriel to the devil incarnate. In that time, he would come up with the most unreasonable demands - he'd want to go to the playcentre we went to only yesterday, he'd want chocolate even though he'd had loads, he'd want his Daddy even though he knew he was at work. I swear he did it just to be able to have a massive tantrum. The child who has never been told off at school ever would turn on a sixpence. Admittedly, he's got better since he stopped being so tired after a day at school but boy, was it fun. Not. I would be the parent resorting to dragging my child, red-faced and screaming, across the playground, under the gaze of parents who were mostly offering up a silent prayer of thanks that it was not their child creating this scene.

I picked him up this particular afternoon and as we walked back to the car, he asked if he could play computer games when we got home. This is often another flashpoint as my stock answer is to say he can, once he's done his reading and spellings (which takes 15 minutes tops). In fact, he usually spends so long arguing with me over this, he could have done it all in the time and be playing. I remind him he needs to do this, especially as for some reason, his teacher had taken his homework folder away and not given it back for two days and brace myself for the usual outburst. "Oh yeah", he calmly says and gets in the car. Whoa!

I made him toast, which he ate and then we set to work on the spellings, which he did in seconds and we sat down to do his reading, which turned out to be a book he's been gazing at for months but now he is on the appropriate reading level, he is allowed to read. He happily read several today, whereas the day before, he'd been sent to bed early for arguing with me over reading and wouldn't read his book properly. We talked about it, until he suddenly said "Can I play now?" and I saw no reason to refuse. Every time I asked a question, he politely answered or if I asked him to do something, he replied "Yes, Mummy" where I would usually get a curt "No" or a whiney "Do I have to?". He did get himself in a tizz over eating his tea and continuing his game until I pointed out it would wait until he'd finished, and possibly missing Pointless.

Oh yes, Pointless. Monkey loves it with a passion. It appeals to his geeky side. He doesn't know most of the answers but he knows I can have a go and he often asks me if the answer the contestants have given are right. I must admit, I like it too, but not quite as obsessively as he does. I mean, we were even at a friend's house last week when 5.15 rolled around and he walked up to my friend and asked if he could watch it when he had friends his own age to play with. She put it on for him and was amazed that he followed it intently from start to finish.

We watched Pointless together, with him sat right next to me. It seems like these days, the only way I get true affection out of him is when he's going to bed or we are on our own together. He's already at the point where he won't be seen kissing, hugging or even holding my hand (the latter only if I insist for safety reasons) in public.

It was lovely. It was so lovely in fact, I was even moved to ask him why he isn't like this more, when Missy Woo is around. His answer? "Well, Missy Woo annoys me." Now, I don't believe that for a minute. She is definitely the calmer of the two, if a little giddy at times, and most of his arguments are with me and nothing to do with her. She might egg him on to be silly a bit and the same is true of him, but I can't figure it out. It is not that I don't give him attention when she is there, nor do I ignore her when he is around. They aren't competing for my attention as they either play together or they do their own things.

I had such a nice time that I almost didn't want to go and collect Missy Woo, but as it was so close to bedtime, I didn't have to deal with grumpy children. And no doubt, tomorrow, normal service will be resumed and he'll be arguing with me from the second I pick him up unless he totally gets his own way.

Maybe it's the rule of divide and conquer. I've focussed on Monkey because he is often the harder work when they are together - Missy is mostly angelic, but more likely to be sulky. She's working on her diva training for I had the first "I hate you!" shouted at me by her the other week (although she told me she loved me within half an hour.). But one thing is for sure; I don't know what it is, but one child instead of two in the house is less than half the work - and stress - for me. I really appreciate the one-to-one time I get with either child.Whatever it is that makes them so wonderful in that situation, it brings out the best in them.

And it reminds me why I love my children.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Life Circle 2012: Action

Life Circle This is not the post I was going to publish. I worked through the task as I set it and I wrote a post. I admit that I found it difficult to write. To be honest with myself. To work it through. But I managed it, and I committed it to cyberspace.


I looked back and I realised that I couldn't publish it as it was. I couldn't share it with my readers. It was too personal and a bit painful. I felt uncomfortable at the thought of baring that much to the world, there for any passing person to read.

So I started again, and this is it. I considered for a while if I could do a cut down version but every time I started, I wanted to include more and more. Needless to say, my head is a lot clearer for writing it; I am just not up for sharing it. Maybe I'll blog about it one day. Maybe I won't. I hope my readers will understand my reasons for doing this. This, after all, is one of the principles of Life Circle - we are only sharing what we are happy to share.

That's me. Move along now, not much to see. Sorry. 

How did you get on? Do join in with by blogging what you want to share about the exercise and linking up below. The linky will stay open for 2 weeks so don't worry if you don't get it done straight away. Please come back on Saturday when I will set the next task.

Before I go, and give you the linky, I thought I would let you know that we'll carry on weekly until the February half term. When I set that task (on 11th February), the linky won't appear until the Thursday after, which is 23rd February. Then, we'll revert to what should feel like the usual routine.

Right, get linking. Please remember that I've set the linky up to open at 6am after the post publishes and then is open until 2nd February.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


Sometimes, the words roll around in my head but they just won't come out. The frustration freezes my brain, immobilises my fingers and I stare blankly at a screen, pixels dancing in front of my eyes and wish I had more inspiration. Thoughts remain abstract as I can't articulate them; well, not the way I want them to look or sound on the page. I want my words to sing in perfect harmony, dance in perfect time, to delight and entertain readers but they end up singing and dancing like a drunk at the wrong end of a heavy session.

I'd like to tell you stories that will make you laugh and cry, whilst moving and inspiring you. You wouldn't be able to wait to tell your friends and associates. You'd comment, you'd retweet it, and it would be like the post was taking over the world. It would be everywhere. I mean, that's what we all want for our posts when we publish them, don't we?

Sadly, that post is not this. Lack of inspiration is leading me to vent my frustration at what I see as my limitation of my blogging talents instead. Blogger's block is firmly in place at the neck of the bottle that contains the articulate and erudite sentences that I aspire to write. I've tried to remove it but it's not happening.

Anyone got a blogging corkscrew?

Monday, 16 January 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the mid-January doldrums edition

I'm not really sure why I called this the "mid-January doldrums" - because I'm in a relatively good mood but January seems like such a long month, doesn't it? I've chosen, mostly from Good Food again because the February edition seems to have some lovely recipes in this month and I want to try all of them. This menu was cobbled together quickly when we got a 25% off Ocado voucher in an email but it wasn't difficult this week. I may have to change Friday but apart from that, we're good to go and as the food is already here, all I have to do is cook it, and I'm looking forward to trying some of these.

Monday - Full English frittata with smoky beans
Tuesday - Light chicken korma
Wednesday - Fish pie
Thursday - Soup and sandwiches
Friday - Spinach and chickpea curry with naan
Saturday - kept free
Sunday - Pork stir fry with honey and ginger

Another week of meals done! So, what's on your menu this week? Tell me and don't forget to check out At Home With Mrs M for more Meal Planning Monday entries.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

LifeCircle 2012: Taking action

Life Circle

Apologies for being late with this, folks. I was busy having a life yesterday and started this before I went to bed last night, meaning to come back to it this morning. Then I forgot. I come back to the post today and nothing was there so I'm having to start all over again. Many apologies.

So, next task here we come and I want to build on the last exercise. Hopefully, as a result of doing your Wheel of Life, you have identified areas of life that need your attention as a matter of priority. We're going to tackle them this week, or at least make a start.

What I want you to do is take one or two areas of your life that you have identified as more urgent and analyse them. It's up to you if you choose one or two; I really don't mind. Generally, they will be the ones with the lowest scores but they don't have to be. That's because sometimes we give a low score but the reasons for that are beyond our control and we're prepared to accept that, at least temporarily, it is low but it's not a priority to change it because either circumstances will change because of other people and events, or at some point in the future, there will be something that you can do to change it.

I want you to consider the area(s) chosen and analyse them using something we used before last year, the TGROW model. Consider why the score is as you gave it and what you can do to make it better. Don't forget to consider the reality - why haven't you done anything before? What has prevented this score recently? Has it changed (if you did it before) and why? What might stop you taking action now?

As a result of this, I want you to commit to two actions per area (ie maximum 4 actions) that can be completed within a fortnight. Don't worry about taking action before you publish your post. In fact, DON'T. When you set your actions, make sure they are neither too easy nor too hard. Give yourself a bit of a challenge but don't make it too hard. Remember even small actions are goals too, and they should be SMART.

Don't forget to come back and tell us how it went. By the way as a rule, this exercise should take around an hour so don't spend hours over thinking it. And then, come back here on Thursday when the linky will be published and you can read everyone's posts. The linky will be open for two weeks so there is no need to rush if you are a little behind. And as always, you only need to blog what you are happy sharing with your readers.

Good luck with the task, and see you all on Thursday.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Would you buy a five year old girl a Rihanna t-shirt?

You know that difficult age where kids feel they are too old to like "babyish" characters but you feel they are too young for more "grown up" ones? Missy Woo is precisely at that point.

Is it me or is that more likely with the characters aimed at girls? She feels that Peppa Pig is not for her any more and although she still likes her Dora duvet and her Charlie and Lola one, neither form part of her viewing habits these days; it's more CBBC than Cbeebies, more Nickelodeon than Nick Jr. She's a bit of a Disney Princess fan and thankfully, her favourite appears to be Rapunzel who is pretty kick ass . I'm not keen on Barbie and all the model type dolls around because of the whole body image thing that it can stir up. And then, there is Hannah Montana. Missy Woo's never even seen it but she does like some of the merchandise - her school bag is Hannah Montana but she chose it for the sequins more than anything.

I figured it would be a few years before she perhaps started being considered a tween by the marketeers. It seems I was wrong.

It all happened when Argos asked me if we'd like to try out their kids clothing range. When I looked at the range, I was perturbed at some of the items on offer for girls her age. There were a lot of Justin Bieber clothing which is more disturbing from a music point of view than anything, as well as The Wanted, One Direction, The Saturdays. And Rihanna. Yes, there is a Rihanna t-shirt for 5-6 year old girls. I was shocked. I honestly have nothing against her, I think she is a great singer and I like some of her songs. I'm sure kids like her songs; mine sing them in the car. I don't however think she has the right sort of image to be sold to kids in that way; she's just a bit too "adult", isn't she? I actually do struggle to understand why anyone would want their child to wear such a t-shirt. I mean, look at her face. She is a little angel (mostly) - if you ignore the odd look on her face there. Why would I want her to wear a t-shirt with a picture of a woman known for being racy and who got told off by a farmer for being "scantily dressed" in his field in Northern Ireland?

Thankfully, I did manage to find something for Missy Woo to try. A Tangled nightdress with hairbrush, of course. To back up my point, I found it less difficult to find things for Monkey, so much so that I couldn't choose between a Lego Harry Potter hoodie and a Lego Star Wars one but we were delighted to be sent both. They were meant to turn up in early December but an out of stock item meant they didn't arrive until Christmas Eve. They turned up beautifully wrapped with ribbon so we decided on the fly to give them to the children as a little something to open on Christmas Eve before they went to bed. Missy Woo adored her nightdress and it is really beautiful. She could happily wear it as a dress - it feels very soft and it's obviously well made. With her long blonde hair, she really does look like Rapunzel wearing it, it's a very pretty and special nightdress.

Monkey was also overjoyed with his hoodies, especially the Lego Harry Potter one. He lived in it for days over Christmas, I virtually had to peel it off him to get it washed. Again, it feels nice and is well made, plus it washes up nicely too, which is a bonus as Monkey is a pretty messy child. That's boys for you.

I'd happily buy more things from Argos, especially as at the moment, some of the items are half price and full price, I do find it quite expensive for children's clothes although I accept you get what you pay for. I do, however, have huge reservations about some of the items available in the girls range, which is meant to be aimed at under 10s. Very possibly, some of the things could be suitable for girls at the upper end of that age range. But for 5 year old girls? I don't think so. Certainly not Rihanna.

(I was sent the above mentioned items by Argos to review. I have not been told what to write and I have not been received any further compensation.) 

Thursday, 12 January 2012

LifeCircle 2012 - Wheel of Life, revisited

Life Circle

So, if you were around in late September, you'll have done this before so doing this again feels like meeting an old friend. However, I've almost been procrastinating about doing it but I can't put my finger on why. The fact I dislike the period after my birthday until the end of January does not help with this so I am expecting lower scores than before all round.  I've been trying not to look at my previous scores so I'm not influenced by them but I'll compare once I've finished. As before, I have a self-imposed rule not to blog about my relationship so I will skip that but the other scores are there. Here's the squiggly line bit:

Fun and Recreation - 6. We do have fun but what limits us is finances. We're very lucky and I know we are blessed with the blogging opportunities that come our way. I'd like to have a bit more fun and not to have to think about whether we can afford a treat or not. I don't want to shower the children with everything, I just want to go mad a little occasionally.

Career - 7.  You probably know this by now, but I started my own business working as a virtual assistant last ear. That is code for I'm available for someone to use my services - my business is just me, working from home with my computer. I do love what I'm doing although I'm still learning the juggling bit as when I've been busier, it's been hard to fit everything in. I have had more work recently but this looks like it won't continue. That means there is pressure on me to find more work soon as I need to earn more to keep our finances on track. But the fact I enjoy the work is a big plus for me, as is the fact I can work from home, be here for the children and don't have to rely on other childcare arrangements.

Health - 5. I know I have given myself a lower score from this. Generally, I am fine and have no major illnesses. What is bugging me is my weight. I don't weigh myself but I know it's going back up and I don't feel in control of it. Yes, I know we all put weight on over Christmas - although to be honest, I paced myself Christmas Day and didn't do too badly. But it's not just about that and I know it's creeping back. I still go to class 3 times a week but I know I have got to control this and stop getting back to very old, very bad habits.  I've been trying to eat healthily since Christmas but I am seriously hungry in the evenings which is a bit worrying.

Personal Development - 9.  I am pretty happy with this aspect of my life. My job means I'm learning new things all the time. I have a philosophy of lifelong learning so even if I am not actually studying for a paper qualification, I always try to learn. I don't need any major qualifications to do my job, and anyway I don't think I could afford to go off and get any more qualifications at the moment.

Friends and Family - 8. I am reasonably happy with this. As I said before in September, I'd like to have some more friends locally who I could go for a coffee with from time to time, although I have met some great people through blogging which has really enriched my life. My family - well, it is what it is. No family is perfect and we are the same, and much is beyond my control so I'm not going to worry about it.

Environment - 7. I love living where we do. I'd like more money to decorate and do some more things to make the house better so again, I'm constrained by money. I'd like there to be less clutter. *glowers at children who drop toys everywhere* And over the next few years, we'll need to decide if we do stay here or  move as we're just outside the catchment for the school most of the children's classmates would move onto, although both options are good schools. And I'm well aware things can change in the time, which is less than 4 years away, before we have to decide and choose where they go.

Finance - 4. I know this is same as last time as I feel this has not really changed, I've just survived for longer. I need to earn more money and I just want to be more comfortable than I am, I hate worrying about money. It impacts on other aspects of my life - it's impacting my scores for Fun and Recreation, Environment and Career. It's tough - I know that if I had a job, I'd be less happy with it and how it would keep me away from  the children but it would remove the pressure to earn to an extent. It is the eternal dilemma.

My squiggle turned out fairly square - generally, the scores are mid to high and I know that my two key areas are Finance and Health, and some work on Career may help the Finance aspect. Other than that, the scores are pretty similar - nothing else has changed dramatically. That's good because I wasn't as negative as I feared I might be.

How did you do? How did you find this exercise? Did any of the results surprise you? If you did the exercise before, what has changed and why? Can you see any progress since last time or has one area of life had a setback?

Do join in with by blogging what you want to share about the exercise and linking up below. The linky will stay open for 2 weeks so don't worry if you don't get it done straight away.

I'll set the next week's task on Saturday so come back and check it out then. I can't wait to read your posts.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the reality bites edition

So, my birthday has been and gone, the kids are back at school and reality hits home. It's January and I want to eat as healthily as I can. The month feels like it goes on for ever too so let's hope this one passes quickly.  The healthy eating well explain why there are three dishes containing poultry on the menu this week. Again, all the recipes (apart from the risotto, which is just made up) are from BBC Good Food this month but none of them have reached their website. And excuse the chicken pies - they are in my freezer and I've actually checked, they're not too bad in the calorie department. 

Here is next week then. Nothing out of the way, I'm leaving Saturday free because I am not currently sure what we are doing. 

Monday - Chicken risotto
Tuesday - Baked turkey meatballs with crispy potatoes and broccoli
Wednesday - Mushroom stroganoff with rice
Thursday - Chunky pea soup with bread
Friday - Chicken pies, mash and mixed veg
Saturday - left free
Sunday - Salmon and broccoli cakes with salad. 

Are you planning your meals this year? What are you planning to eat this week? Tell me, and then visit Mrs M's  place to visit the other entries in this week's linky. 

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Life Circle 2012: Drawing a line in the sand

This week's task will be familiar to those of you who joined me in Life Circle at the end of last year. I make no apologies for this. I said we would return to it because it really does help to draw lines in the sand occasionally, so we have a starting point if you're new but also to review our progress if you've done it before. If you really feel it's not appropriate for you to repeat the task, then sit it out this week and come back next week for the next one, but I would really recommend you do as it will give you an idea of what to tackle next.

We're going to revisit the Wheel of Life.

It's a simple and effective task. Actually, it looks simple but it is very thought provoking. It allows you to assess your life as a whole and to compare how you feel about the competing aspects of your life and it makes you realise how interdependent all the different areas of your life usually are. Very few of us lead compartmentalised lives where the different areas of them are completely independent of each other. For instance, money problems or worries often impact on the fun in our lives, limiting other opportunities to keep up with friends and family, and sometimes impacting on the relationship with our partners.

So here is what you do. The Wheel of Life is divided into 8 sections, representing the 8 major aspects of your life. Score your life out of 10 for all 8 areas. The score should reflect how satisfied you are with that aspect of your life. Once you have scored all 8 areas, do a quick double check comparing them and adjust any scores you feel you have scored incorrectly in light of the other scores. Mark your score on the lines between the segments - 0 is in the middle and works outwards from here - and join all the scores together (Either take the image above and print it, edit it on a PC, or grab another image of a wheel of life and use that, some are simpler than others)  Look at the shape you have created by joining together all your scores - if it were a real wheel, how smoothly would it turn? How does that reflect on the way your life runs?

Consider each score and ask yourself why you gave it. What factors influenced that decision? What other aspects of your life have affected that score, whether their impact is good or bad? Would you have given yourself the same score 6 months ago and how would they have been different?  If you did do this back in October, how has this score changed and why?

Then, write your post about the results. As I have said before many times, share as much as you feel comfortable sharing. It's up to you whether you give a full breakdown of scores and how you arrived at them all, or you can give an overview of the scores and which areas it has highlighted needs most of your attention. It's really up to you. At the very least, I'd like you to identify one or two areas of your life that you are most dissatisfied with, and why that might be.

Remember, this exercise is about being objective rather than self-critical. What won't matter is how you got to be there - what will matter is what needs some work and what you do to improve those scores. Don't be afraid to celebrate the good in your life. Feeling positive about yourself will help you to make progress.

Don't forget to come back next Thursday when I will publish the linky. If you can, it would be lovely if you could try to visit 2 or 3 other blogs and comment, offering support and helpful comments. It won't be necessary to comment on all of them, it's just to get the sense of community, or creating our Life Circle. If you can visit more, then all well and good. If you can't due to time pressures, don't worry.

I look forward to reading your posts next week.

The case of the missing birthday present

So, yesterday was my birthday. Anyone who has an early January birthday will tell you it's a difficult time to have a birthday because you kind of get merged into Christmas. Folk either forget it, or you get an afterthought. Sometimes, you get joint Christmas and birthday presents. In my family, because I am so far from the rest of them away down south, they tend to send something with the Christmas presents - because husband often works over the Christmas period, making it difficult to go down there - and anyway, its easier to be here for Christmas.

This year was no different. My mum packed up the presents and posted them off to me, much as I had done the same. They arrived, thankfully without seemingly any interference from courier companies - as we had a year where my parcel of presents arrived at my Mum's opened but all presents thankfully intact. We checked the box straight away and because the children were excited about presents, we had to take them all out and sort them to put them under the Christmas tree. I saw some cards and I thought I put at least one saying birthday to one side. I stress the thought bit.

Anyway, Christmas came around and when we were opening presents, we found a couple of birthday cards which I gave to my husband to put to one side for him to give back to me on the day.

The morning of my birthday dawns. The children get up with Daddy and prepare breakfast in bed for me and they arrive in my room with presents and cards. After opening a few, I notice there was no card in my mother's distinctive handwriting. "Where's Mum's card?" I said. Husband looks blank and tells me they were all the cards he had been given. As she normally sends me a voucher in a card, this is a bit worrying.

We decide that perhaps it's fallen down the back of a chair somewhere. After the children had been deposited at school, husband has a look and comes to tell me we can't see it. So, we set about looking. We pull out all the furniture, and find things that have fallen down the back of the sofas. We at least know where half the pens in the house have gone, and discover things like the missing camera case and a receipt I need. We turn everything upside down.

Husband suggests I ask her whether she sent anything to me. I tell him I can't possibly do that as she'll go mad. It is something she gets very touchy about, as she frequently reminds people that once, when we were children, some money got thrown away with the wrapping paper one Christmas. Now, we'd been careful as we could over Christmas to catch all the vouchers and cards we thought but the doubt was placed in my mind that perhaps we'd thrown it out.

We carried on looking but it was fruitless, and anyway, I needed to get ready to go out for lunch. At the back of my mind, I knew that my mother would inevitably ring at some point. I decided I had better say thanks for the present anyway and disguise our apparent incompetence. I would much rather do that than suffer my ear being bent for losing it. (If you were one of my sisters, you'd understand).

And inevitably, whilst I was getting ready and husband disappeared for a shower, the phone rang and I saw it was her number. The conversation went a bit like this.

"Hello, happy birthday."
"Thank you."
"Did you get some nice presents?"
"Yes, thanks. And thanks for yours."
"What did I get you?"
"Er, what? Um... vouchers?"
"Which ones?"
"Erm, love2shop?"
"Oh good, I couldn't remember what I'd given you or even if I'd put it in the parcel. My operation in November threw out my Christmas shopping this year."

Damn. Oh well...

Friday, 6 January 2012

When Five Fs go bad - a guest post

Photo credit - dsigning
I'm having a break from blogging today, because it's my birthday so instead, I'm giving you a guest post from the lovely Jo Middleton who blogs at Slummy Single Mummy as a little present from me. When Jo asked me if she could write a guest post and asked what she could write about, I told her that as long as it fitted roughly within my five Fs, I'd be happy to publish what she wrote. She took me up rather literally on this, and decided to cram them all in at once. In one post. Brace yourselves... 

I was instructed before writing this post that the theme should fit in with one of the ‘five Fs’ - family, football, food, fitness or fun – and so being the awkward person I am, I decided I would challenge myself to make it fit in with all of them.

Family, food and fun are easy of course, but football and fitness are more of a challenge, as I’m really not very keen on either, but then I remembered a rather unflattering story about a family football match...

I have quite a small family, but on my Dad’s 60th birthday last year we managed to get about 15 of us together to celebrate with a wholesome family picnic. (Food, family and fun – check, check and check).

My Dad’s birthday is in November, which isn’t exactly ideal picnic weather, and the light drizzle and biting wind wasn’t exactly adding to the occasion. Someone, (not me), came up with the idea of us all warming up with a game of football. (Football and fitness – check and check).

I felt a bit like how I imagine an alcoholic feels when they accidentally find themselves in a pub – I knew I wanted to play, but I also knew I shouldn’t.

I have a reputation in my family for being a tad over-competitive, and team sports like football don’t exactly bring out the best in me. My partner recently played Monopoly with me and has vowed never again. Something about me making games Not Fun. I could surely control myself in a friendly family game of football though?

Apparently not.

My then eight-year-old daughter Belle was a team captain. “You really should pick me,” I warned her. “You don’t want to be playing against me.” She didn’t listen though, foolish child.

The rain was coming down steadily as we kicked off. I began calmly, trying to remain light-hearted, but then Belle’s team scored a goal and suddenly I was shouting at my team mates and scowling. They scored another, and it was all too much. Belle had the ball, ready to shoot, her face eager and excited. I went in for what I meant to be a gentle tackle, but completely knocked her legs out from under her. She lay crying in a muddy puddle. Everyone looked at me.

“I did tell her not to play against me!” I said, in a pathetic attempt at self defence.

Even I wasn’t convinced.

Unsurprisingly, the football wrapped up fairly quickly after that, and before long the rain drove us back to our cars, a valuable lesson learnt in why you should never try to combine the five Fs...

Remind me never to play Jo at anything, not ever. Huge thanks to her for writing this post. 

Thursday, 5 January 2012

LifeCircle: Introduction

Life Circle So, this week, we're just introducing ourselves. Who we are, what we're about, where we're coming from, and where we're headed. Why we're here. What we want to achieve out of joining LifeCircle. My turn first.

Hopefully, you know me, if not in person, then courtesy of this blog. I am Kate and tomorrow, I turn 47. That sounds bloody terrifying actually - more so than turning 45 or 40 etc. I am married, my husband works in the NHS. I have two lovely children, that you've probably read about before - Monkey will soon be 7 and Missy Woo will be 6 in the summer.

For over 20 years, I worked in a variety of jobs in IT. In 2009, following a TUPE transfer and seeing the writing on the wall, I took redundancy. Since then? Well, I've been at home, doing odds and bits but also being mummy to Monkey and Missy Woo. Since Missy Woo started school, I've been looking around seriously for something I can do that fits around them and it's not easy, partly because of hubby's NHS shifts which mean that if I were to get a job and arrange regular childcare, it wouldn't be necessary half the time. After not being sure what I really wanted to do, I finally decided to try and make a go of being a virtual assistant and I've been lucky enough to get work doing just that, with a slightly more technical bias thanks to my IT background. Technically, I have a business which I call Jellybean Business Support. I'm doing quite well with it - my clients are happy with my work and there is a possibility of more work based on my clients' recommendations to others. I do need to increase the chargeable hours I work so that we can put our finances on a more even keel. I don't necessarily want to be very rich, just not have to think about whether we can really afford certain things.

Why am I here and what do I want to achieve? I need that push to take me onwards in 2012. I've got stuck with losing weight and feel I'm putting weight on again so that has to stop and I need to adopt healthier eating habits, I need to promote my business a bit more and secure more work on a regular basis. I want to do some more work on the house but I need to be able to afford it first! And obviously, LifeCircle was my idea so I think it's a great way to get that group support and push myself a little bit.

Now it's your turn. Tell the world about you and what you're hoping to do this year. Did you get anything out of writing the post? Let me know in the comments if you haven't already mentioned it on your post.

Don't forget to come back on Saturday, when I'll have another task for you to tackle next week. Onwards and upwards, friends. We're off on a journey.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the let's get back to normal edition

Well, it's all done and dusted for another year, 2011 is so last year, and we're all about 2012 so now it's time to get back to normal and thank God for that! Last week, there wasn't a meal plan - shock, horror- largely because the plan was to survive on leftovers as much as possible. One day, we were short of something to eat and I was convinced to buy a jar of sauce and to make a pasta bake with it. Everyone loved it. Except me. The smell of it was rank, so much so I couldn't bring myself to eat it. Now I know why I cook my own things. I will have to make my own tuna pasta bake soon to erase the memory.

So, it's back on the meal planning wagon this week. I've chosen all the meals and I think it really shows that I'm sick of rich food. I've been feeling really full in the afternoons, then eating my tea and not enjoying it (or eating it later) and then getting hungry in the evenings. I need to be back on the straight and narrow so went through the healthy eating issue of BBC Good Food that they always bring out at this time of year and picked most of the recipes - none of them have reached their website yet so I can't link to them.

I tend to do my shopping list as I pick each dish, then looked back and realised how much veg I'm planning to buy! Anyway, it's a healthy start to the year so that's good. Having said that, it's my birthday on Friday so I won't be cooking. I think the plan is to go out for lunch, but that means we're not going out in the evening and I'm not cooking tea for the children or us, though I guess we might going out for tea as well. There are things in the freezer I can just stick in the oven if I need to feed the children. And no, I'm not going mad doing a roast on Sunday - I've got a chicken I bought reduced stuck in the freezer, I'm planning to cook it and then the leftovers can form the basis of next week's meal plan. Also, we enjoyed eating a proper roast and sitting in the conservatory to do it so I'm going to try and do it regulary

Finally (stop talking, Kate), here is this week's plan:

Monday - Lemony prawn and chorizo rice pot
Tuesday - Winter vegetable pie
Wednesday - Chicken tagine with apricots and almonds
Thursday - Sweetcorn and chilli soup
Friday - nothing!
Saturday - Vegetable lasagne
Sunday - Roast chicken

Why not join in with Meal Planning Monday? It's really not hard, you get some great ideas from others and the discipline of having to publish a blog post helps to ensure you actually plan your meals every week. And believe me, it is SO much easier to have a meal plan than try to figure it all out daily. I certainly got stressed last week without one.

You can find more meal plans over at Mrs M's blog. Do take a look!

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