Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A recipe?

Start with an idea, and take a leap of faith. Free range is best; they leap further. Mix thoroughly with some aspirations, but trim to realistic sizes first.

Rinse a handful of risks. Discard any bad ones, leaving the good ones you’re prepared to take. Add them gradually whilst stirring. Use your judgement, and stop when you think you’ve added enough.

Add a dash of hope; for without hope, you will have nothing. Leave to rise until doubled in size. Bake until risen and firm, then cool. Top liberally with wisdom, then slice and enjoy.

Life tastes good, doesn’t it?

This is for 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups at Julia's Place. This week, the prompt was "Take a Leap of Faith" in honour of  Leap Year Day. Also, if you're interested, why not join in with today - it's a global blogging project to record this special day. 

Monday, 27 February 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the nearly March edition

You may remember last week, I tried out the BBC Good Food weekly meal plan for £22. Quite frankly, I was rubbish at remembering to take photos of everything. In fact, I remembered a sum total of once. And that was the recipe on the first day when I managed to do everything wrong, including opening a tin of cannellini beans instead of chickpeas so ended up with both in it, burned flaked almonds whilst toasting them once and coming close a second time, then dolloping yogurt on the top which turned out to be mouldy. Luckily, it made industrial quantities, so I could start again with fresh yogurt and the children loved their new meals. Husband was not so keen on that one but he loved the onion and tomato bake, which I must admit was easy and tasty. We also loved the potato, pepper and chorizo stew with fried eggs. The soup was OK but turned out a bit salty for me, and the jerk beefburgers were good but the relish was too much really. It was quite nice but honestly? I could have done without it and just put cheese on top instead. But overall, for a week's worth of meals, they were pretty good. Five inexpensive meals from fresh ingredients is pretty good going. 

A special week this week as we have a whole extra day to enjoy! And of course, the start of March, which in this house, will mean one thing. Monkey's birthday. But more of that next week. 

The meals this week again come from Good Food - as I was looking through, I spotted several recipes I wanted to try and as I was doing an Ocado order last week which had to be a larger minimum spend, I added in extra items so most of it was bought and frozen then. I did a quickish shop yesterday to pick up the fresh stuff I needed so I'm completely organised and and ready to start my week. Today's was going to be herby lamb burgers but Monkey has been asking to have the lamb pilau again, so I'm going to do it using lamb mince. 

Here are the meals, with links

Monday - Lamb, coconut and mango pilau (possibly done slow cooker style)
Thursday - sandwiches again
Sunday - keeping free

That's our menu this week, what is yours? And don't forget, Mrs M hosts the linky on her blog, so do take a look at all the other meal planning entries. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

LifeCircle 2012: Saying no

Life Circle

I was going to set a task that led on from last week's but I think I need to see more of your posts before I do that. (*cough* hint *cough*). However, in the meantime, I'm going to set you another task that will teach you a useful skill that you need to have in your toolbox because it will help you to achieve your goals more quickly.

That skill is saying no.

We are all so polite. We don't like to say no, even when we want to. Saying yes when you mean no can cause stress - taking on too much takes us away from the things we really want or need to do, and just adds to our to-do list. Once we learn to say no, our yes truly does mean yes and our no means no.

People don't like to be impolite, and feel they are letting others down by saying no, or saying no means they are rejecting the person asking. But unless you are Supermand or Superwoman, at some point in your life, you have to say no. If you want to stay sane, that is.

In most cases, people would actually prefer you to be straight with them. Saying no when asked is infinitely preferable to saying yes when you mean no, followed by procrastination, or deliberate avoidance, leading to issues between you and the person making the request. They will have more respect for you if you say no when you mean no rather than let them down. And saying yes without ever intending to do anything is just plain rude.

All it really takes is to stay calm and polite. There is no need to apologise, you've not done anything wrong. In many situations, a simple "No" or "No thank you" may suffice. Alternatively, you could acknowledge why someone is asking you to do something, or give a reason for saying no. For example, "I really can't take this on because work is very busy at the moment. I know why you are asking but I don't want to let you down.".

Another way is to say no for now. In the example above, you could add on the end, "Ask me again in a couple of weeks if you can't find anyone else and I might be able to do it for you if work is less busy." That puts the person off but also doesn't oblige you to take on the task. If they do ask again later, you could still say no.  If it was a lunch date you wanted to go on but really can't right now, you could just arrange another day.

What also can be successful is to find out more about what you're being asked to do and perhaps negotiate it to something more interesting or less onerous. "I can't do all of that, but if you help me, we'll get it done quicker anyway. How about that?" or "Can I just ring the top half of that list? I could manage to ring that many." are things you could say to say no without actually saying no!

If all else fails, and the person making the request is persistent and keeps asking or trying to persuading you to agree, then adopt what they call "the broken record approach". Just keep saying the same thing over and over again - no need for explanation. This actually works really well with children, although it's often much harder to stay calm and polite with a demanding child who won't take no for an answer!

Now you know all that about saying no, it's time for you to practice. Stay aware over the next few days and if someone asks you to do something you don't want to do or you feel you shouldn't be doing, have a go at turning them down using one of the techniques mentioned above. Don't ever feel you have to say yes to everything and think hard about whether you overcommit as a matter of course. Ask yourself what good it does you not to say no just to keep everyone else happy because usually, it comes at a cost - your happiness (and your free time!).

Try it out as many times as you like, then blog about how it went, how you felt, and whether you got better at it the more times you do it. In some ways, this is like the previous task, because for a lot of people, saying no pushes them right out of their comfort zone. Stick with it though. I know you can do it.

As we're back to normal now, the linky will be published on Thursday, but will remain open for two weeks in case you need more time to practice turning people down and listening to yourself say no.

Just say no. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, 24 February 2012

I fear for our children

I guess we all do; I mean all of them, not just mine. The pressures on children these days have almost reached the point that they don't have a childhood anymore - the minute they enter a nursery, let alone a school, they are under pressure to achieve, to meet targets, to tick all the boxes on someone's sheet. I try to let my children be children and I'm glad they do get to play and have fun, but even so, they have homework and both are being tested before the school year is over. And it's only going to get worse as they get older. Part of me is dreading it, I want them to enjoy being carefree as long as possible but that's looking unlikely. Obviously, I have no experience of being teenagers but I know that at some point, the anger will start. I'm hoping with Monkey it doesn't get worse than it already is because he has anger issues at present, but they always say girls are worse in the teenage years, which is worrying as Missy Woo is mostly a dream to have around.

The reason I'm talking about this is that I was sent some shocking information by Relate, who are now one of the leading providers of counselling services to young people in the UK. In conjunction with the launch of their Talk To Us campaign, a survey of their counsellors found that young people in the 13 to 18 age range are becoming more and more affected by mental health issues and depression. They found that the most common reason for coming to counselling was anger, folllowed by self-esteem issues, closely followed by not getting on with their parents but a staggering 64% of them discussed being depressed or having mental health issues during counselling. 23% brought up the issue of their parents having mental health issues. Another big issue was feelings of worthlessness -  82% of counsellors cited being criticised by parents as a main cause of this, although on the other hand, 41% of children said they were inspired by a parent.

The campaign encourages everyone, particularly parents to listen to their children without judging them, (easy to say, difficult to do at times, I know) and let them express their feelings safely. Often, the anger comes from not knowing how to express their emotions or not feeling that anyone is really listening.   There is also advice to parents who may be worried about their children. There's also a section for teenagers who might need help.

Relate offer counselling for all young people, no matter who they are. To close, here's a very short film from them, showing how they can help. Feel free to share it with other parents or teenagers.

Would you have benefitted from counselling as a teenager? Do you think we listen enough to our children? 

(I have not been paid to write this post, I have chosen to do so.)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

LifeCircle 2012: The discomfort zone

Life Circle I have to be honest, I'd actually completed this task by the time I set it, but it was the act of doing it that gave me the idea for the post.

On 10th February, I was on the radio.

A long, long time ago, I was involved slightly in student radio. I presented a music show on University Radio Nottingham in what can only be described as the graveyard hour - the two hours straight after the chart show had been broadcast on Sunday night, a time when people turned the radio off and turned the telly on. I'm pretty sure my main radio rival was Annie Nightingale and really, I couldn't stand up to her. Still, I had fun but it was a short-lived affair. I was talking to my peers effectively and I was probably too young to be scared. Now, it's a different thing - I am very conscious of how I sound and I don't want to end up coming over as an idiot.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


I haven't taken part in The Gallery for a while, but when I saw the theme this week was Landscapes, I thought I'd have a go. After all, I have plenty. Then, I realised that most of my photos are stuck on the laptop that I keep meaning to fix.

But, still, I often put my photos on my Dropbox account and found several on there that I could use. Even better, I had one that I hadn't used on this blog before. I think. (Someone will now find this on my blog somewhere). It is of my favourite city in the world.


This was taken from the top floor of El Corte Inglés in Placa Catalunya, the main square which is regarded as the true city centre and where the old part meets the new. It's also where the Ramblas, which marches up from the sea, finally peters out. 

El Corte Inglés is a chain of department stores - which is kind of a cross between Marks and Spencer, because it has a supermarket in the basement, and John Lewis, because it's filled with designer labels.  This particular branch has about 9 floors. The top floor contains a smart restaurant where we once had the most amazing lunch - half a lobster and half a chicken with rice for about half the price it would be over there. There is also has a cheaper waiter service part and finally a self-service cafeteria where we often pop for coffee. Every time we go, we have to visitt here and I just marvel at the skyline with the Palau Nacional breaking ranks with the Montjuic hillside. 

Just looking at this photo makes me feel like I'm actually there but as it's night time in the UK and not mid-afternoon in sunny Spain, I soon snap back to reality. And then I'm wistful because I want to go there again and we currently have no plans to do so. This makes me sad. Maybe one day. 

You can find some more great landscapes over by clicking the badge below.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Volte face

“You've changed your tune.” 

“Say what?”

“Last week, you were so positive. You were all over it, planning how we’d get there, what to wear, where to eat, that sort of thing. Now you’re not. What’s up? It’s all arranged.”

"Too much hassle. Having to choose an outfit, getting dolled up but looking a fright, begging someone to have the kids, having to go on public transport. And the cost!”

“I could drive us there and back?”

“And not drink?”

“Hmm, you have a point. So is that then?”

“Yes, go without me.”

“We can’t! It’s your hen night.”

Find more entries for this week's 100WCGU over at Julia's Place. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

Cake of the Week - Victoria Sandwich with jam and cream

Every now and then, I like to get involved with Cake of the Week at Casa Costello. Helen is a very talented cake maker who makes beautiful cakes for a living. She has some brilliant cakes on her Cake of the Week feature and she encourages people to join in and link up their own cakes.This week, she has a fantastic Very Hungry Caterpillar cake that she made for her own daughter's 1st birthday which is gorgeous.

This is mine. I promised Monkey I would bake with him as I only ever seem to bake with Missy Woo these days. Not only that, I had a new mixer to try out - I won a Kenwood K-Mix hand mixer for our Christmas Cake - you can see all the winners here. It arrived on Friday so I was itching to get making with it but I had no plans for the weekend and cakes on the horizon. And Monkey was being notoriously elusive - forever out playing with his friends.

Then, all of a sudden, a window of opportunity presented itself. The only problem was, I didn't have much in. So, what do we make? A Victoria Sandwich, as that needs no special ingredients. However, we decided we wanted cream AND jam in the middle, so my husband and Missy Woo popped to the shop, whilst I stayed at home to make the cake. I used Mary Berry's all-in-one recipe so very very simple and all I did different was whip some cream for the filling and spread it on top of the jam. The handmixer was great although different to what I'm used to and will take a bit of adjustment, especially as the pulse function is next to off, so I kept turning it off and switching it back on by mistake!

So here is my cake. We made it late in the afternoon, so we had it for pudding - well, half is still in the fridge and it's calling to me. And I say we - Monkey had two pieces and asked for a third so had more than his fair share but Missy Woo is still claiming she doesn't like cream so only had a tiny piece then claimed she was "full" and didn't finish it. This is the child that loves yogurt. It is very nice and I hope a worthy addition to Cake of the Week this week.

Do you have a Cake of the Week? Why not join in with Helen's linky?

Meal Planning Monday - the Good Food edition

Something a little different from me this week. I noticed in my latest edition of Good Food that they had a week (that's Monday to Friday) of family meals for £22. So, I thought I'd give them a go and see how they measured up to the other weekly meal plans I've done. I'm doing this of my own choice - no-one has asked me to do it, I am just trying it out for myself. I've already done the shopping  - well, I have ordered it online to arrive today - but as I used Ocado, the ingredients came to a little over £22 - partly because some of the things I was buying were on those multi-buy offers so I bought extra to go in the freezer. I've jiggled the order around a little, as they had soup on Monday, which is usually my standard choice for Thursday so swapped them around.

Here's the plan for this week.

Monday - Spiced carrot, chickpea and almond pilaf
Tuesday - Tomato and onion bake with goat's cheese
Wednesday - Potato pepper and chorizo stew with fried eggs
Thursday - Creamy lentil and spinach soup with bacon
Friday - Jerk beefburger with pineapple relish and chips
Saturday - keeping free (possibly risotto, the kids are eating at a party)
Sunday - Gammon cooked in the slow cooker

Quite a nice mix of meals, although the week is light on meat content. Two meals are fully vegetarian, the soup could be made without the meat, and the chorizo dish doesn't have a huge amount in it, leaving only the beefburger as a big meaty meal. We are fine with that but I suspect some people wouldn't be.

And given that it is Shrove Tuesday this week, we will be having pancakes for pudding after the tomato and onion bake, with either lemon and sugar, or nutella.

I'll try and photograph all the finished dishes and tweet them so you can see what they're like made by a real person.

And remember, Mrs M hosts the Meal Planning Monday linky, where you can find more lovely meal plans. But before you do, why not tell me what you've got planned for this week?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Say what you see...

Where is this? 

Leave a comment and tell me! 

No prizes, just curious to know what you see. 

This is a one-off as I wanted to find a way to use this picture!

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Pointless obsession

Photo credit - LegendsWeb
Monkey is a bit of an obsessive. He throws himself wholeheartedly into new interests and wants to know everything about it. He loves his facts, so he'll be asking questions constantly  - like, with football, he'll want to know where a player for a particular team signed from, what country they play for, and probably what they had for breakfast. I would suggest it is quite a male thing but I remember learning the capital cities of all countries, something Monkey has been doing since we bought him a world atlas, and bolstered by our recent purchase of the brilliant app, Stack the Countries, which teaches children (and grown ups!) all sorts about the countries of the world.

But over the last few months, he has developed a growing obsession that has shaped our family routines in the late afternoon and early evening and has sucked in the rest of the family. Well, apart from Missy Woo, who normally wanders off somewhere else in the house to do something else.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Want job security? Don't become a football manager

We all know that the job situation here in the UK is not particularly secure for anybody right now. But however insecure your job is, be grateful of one thing.

You are not a football manager in England.

Yesterday's news that Lee Clark of Huddersfield Town had been sacked when his team were 4th in League One was greeted by many football fans with incredulity. The team had only recently ended a record breaking unbeaten run and they had lost 3 games out of 55. And he lost his job. I'm hearing there may have been other issues in the offing, but if that's not a sign that winning games is not enough to keep your job as a football manager, I don't know what is.

On hearing the news, I referred to the list of English football league managers on Wikipedia. It makes for sobering reading. He's not there anymore, but Lee Clarke with a tenure of 3 years and 2 months was the 12th longest serving of the 92 managers listed.

Look further at the list and it becomes even more disturbing. Over 40 managers, a figure which includes that least secure of all management types, the caretaker manager, have been in the "job" for less than one year. A further 25 have been in post for less than 2 years. If you make it to 2 years in the job, you are doing really well as you've survived longer than 70% of other managers. And so it goes on. If you make it to 5 years, you're practically a saint. Well, maybe they'll put a brick with your name on when they next rebuild one of the stands. One that can be painted over when your inevitable fall from grace occurs.

There are only 4 managers who have lasted significantly longer than that. One is a manager who has brought his club into the Football League from the Conference. The other three are all Premier League Managers - David Moyes, who should make it to the tenth anniversary of his appointment at Everton next month, Arsene Wenger and of course, at the top of this particular tree is Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, who has now been in post for over 25 years.

Is the fact that he has been there so long connected to the club's success? Ask most people and they will say yes. At the start of his Manchester United career, things didn't go well for him at all. In fact, he'd been in charge for nearly 4 seasons by the time he won his first trophy. It was another 3 years before he won a league title, a total of nearly 7 seasons before he won the prize that most club boards want to win.

Can you imagine that happening today? I can't. Owners and chairmen are much, much less patient - they want return on investment quickly and are quick to dismiss a manager they perceive to be under-performing. This creates the management merry-go-round in that they then tempt managers already in jobs to move to their club - oh yes, this is not just about managers being sacked but managers jumping ship too, but then, they wouldn't jump if the vacancy wasn't there in the first place. If clubs were more patient, there'd be a lot of managers who'd been in their job a lot longer than just a few months.

It's hard to put this into a real life context, because it's not real life. In other industries, people would just not be that well-known enough to come to the attention of others like that. And in other industries, your performance is not measured in the same way. I get that clubs don't want to be relegated but generally, that doesn't mean they need to sack the manager and that only affects a small proportion of clubs. Some teams that were relegated last season still have the same managers.

Largely, it is a case of expectation versus reality. Many clubs want more than the money they have available to them will provide. And yes, football is very much about money these days. What isn't?

I guess it could be worse. They could be managers in Spain's La Liga. Vicente del Bosque was once  removed from his post at Real Madrid (his contract wasn't renewed rather than actually sacked) the day after he'd won the club a league title and a week after they had signed one D. Beckham. His misdemeanour? Not winning the Champions League.

In what other profession could your performance be viewed so critically by so many, most of whom have less knowledge and expertise than yourself? Be written about, given abuse both publically and privately? The only upside is that the compensatory payouts are good. And there is always guaranteed work in the media as a pundit or analyst when you are free of weekly commitments shouting at your team.

Most of us couldn't live under the kind of scrutiny that football managers live under, nor could we live with the insecurity. That's why, from me at least, I believe they are due every respect for what they do. It's one of those jobs that is a calling, not just a job. Good job it is so well paid.

Getting through family car journeys

Today's post is a guest post by the Sainsbury's Finance Blog team. They have recently invited me to join the Sainsbury’s Bank Family Blogger Network and have offered me this post. Please see the disclosure at the end of this post for further information.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of going on holiday. Maybe you’ll soon be camping in France with your family ... but first you have to get through an eight hour road trip in a confined space, without World War Three breaking out!
With that in mind, here are our tips for staying sane on car journeys with your loved ones.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Can ready meals be healthy, and tasty?

Stock photo supplied by Sainsbury's
I will admit, I don't do ready meals. It's an expensive way of eating for families when you are on a budget too, especially when you have a child that eats like a horse and always wants more. (Step forward, Monkey.) And you know me, I enjoy cooking things now. Yes, I used to eat them when I lived alone - I know well the feeling that cooking for one doesn't seem worth it.

Of course, the time that ready meals can come into their own is when you're on a diet because they are a standard unit and you know how many calories are in that little tray. Healthy ready meals have got better over the years - I swear the first ones were scientifically designed to remove the flavour along with the fat, sugar and salt.

Sainsbury's contacted me and asked me if I'd like to try some of their Be Good To Yourself ready meals. They have put a lot of winter dishes into the range that they discovered people turn to in the winter months for comfort food, like shepherd's pie (preferred by older people), lasagne (top choice for 18-35 year olds) and curry, that are often perceived to be calorific.

I say "we" but this task was delegated to my husband. He volunteered to try them out as they were convenient for him to take to work and have for his lunch, now that he is working days and is subsequently always out at lunchtimes. We bought two of the larger dishes which cost £3 or are 2 for £5 and 3 of the smaller dishes, which cost £2 and are currently 3 for £5. All have a calorie count of between 300 and 400 calories.

The dishes we tried were:

- Chicken Jambalaya
- Chicken Chow Mein (these were the larger dishes )
- Shepherds Pie
- Beef Lasagne
- Chicken and Mushroom Pie

Of the dishes, the chow mein was his favourite. The bigger dishes were a hit anyway, and they were more filling for him. The jambalaya was just on the right side of being too spicy, which I suspect means I would have enjoyed as I can take more heat than him, but was

He was a little more disappointed in the smaller dishes. What he didn't tell me was that he is not really a huge fan of ready made shepherd's pie and although he thought it was a perfectly fine example, he didn't really like it and found it "processed". The chicken and mushroom pie threw him slightly as he didn't realise that the pie didn't have pastry (it's potato topped, much like a shepherd's pie) but all the same, he preferred it. And the lasagne? That was deemed "OK"; tasted nice but a bit watery, although he microwaved and felt it might be less watery if he had cooked it in an oven.

Our overall verdict, then, were that they were a mixed bag but that the bigger dish ones were better to eat. The cost of those when bought as a multibuy means that one ready meal would cost £2.50 which is comparable to buying sandwiches and so forth. This makes them a viable person for an office worker who have access to a microwave oven and is trying to watch their weight. The range is substantially wider than I have mentioned - you can see all the dishes here. There are several veggie options there, in case you're wondering. Something for everyone in other words, although we have not tried the other meals.

Back to the question in the title of this post- can ready meals be healthy and tasty? My answer is a qualified yes. There are some nice ones, but there will possibly always be some dishes that will always be nicer made from scratch.

(Sainsbury's kindly supplied gift cards to allow me to buy the dishes named above to try and review them. I have not received any other compensation, I have not been told what to write and all opinions are words are mine - or my husband's!)

Monday, 13 February 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the half term and uber organised part 2 edition

As I mentioned last week, I'd kind of got two weeks' worth of meals planned in one fell swoop last week but I shrunk away from sharing that plan with you, partly so I could refine it once I'd got the first week out of the way. With that now done, it's time to move on and share this week's meals with you, which of course falls on both half term and Valentine's day. And no, we're not really doing much for Valentine's, thank you for asking. Today is the 10th anniversary of my husband and I meeting and so we're planning a trip out for lunch with the children, largely because our usual babysitters have deserted us and gone on holiday. So, my first day or two may go awry but it will all get eaten as half term is like having a plague of locusts in the house.

Monday - Chicken and mushroom pie
Tuesday - Chorizo,  bean, pepper, and butternut squash chilli
Wednesday - Lazy cheesy veg hotpot (and yes, I will actually cook it this time!)
Thursday - Home made pizza
Friday - Sausages in onion gravy
Saturday - Fishcakes (I have some in the freezer!)
Sunday - leaving free

What are you eating this week? Have you resolved to meal plan this year and if so, how is it going? Don't forget to visit Mrs M to find out what others are eating this week!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Wizardly good half term fun

We've been to the National Railway Museum a couple of times recently, and the last time we were there, the children noticed a poster for Wizard Week, which is running from 11 - 19 February. Monkey, being a big Harry Potter fan, expressed an interest in going along to see it. So, when they invited us back to this particular event, I knew I would have no choice but to say yes. I thought the weather might get the better of us as York had loads of snow on Thursday, whereas we have had none of late, but the roads seemed clear enough so we set off on Saturday morning to check out the first day of the 9 day event.

Flying broomsticks
Missy Woo was concerned before we went that we'd have to dress up as wizards but I told her it wasn't necessary. There were, however, children there in wizardly fancy dress - I even saw one little boy with huge round specs, a black gown and wand, thoroughly putting us to shame. Missy wanted to buy a wizard's hat and a wand to compensate for this, but I disallowed it on the basis she has plenty of similar items at home that barely get touched. I am a cruel, cruel mother. There is actually a Best Dressed Wizard competition, where you upload a photo of yourself in wizardly costume at the museum to their Facebook page and the winner will win a wizard-themed experience, including magic lessons and an owl experience. Oops. They're too young for the owl experience anyway!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

LifeCircle 2012: Plus ultra

Life CircleI think I intrigued you all in Thursday's post about what the task was about today. This is quite a biggie but I don't want you to be scared. In fact, what is under the microscope in this task is not the task itself, it's the process and how you deal with it.

You're probably wondering about the title. Plus ultra is a motto, which means "further beyond". You could call it "pushing the envelope" but that sounds a bit management speak to me. 

I'm talking about going beyond your comfort zone. We all have a comfort zone - things we are happy doing because they don't make us anxious. This is because they don't have an element of risk or if they do, we are happy with the risk the task or activity poses because we don't feel it's risky. It's different for different people - we all know daredevils who take massive risks quite regularly. 

The problem is, our comfort zone can very often hold us back. After all, if you don't take risks, how can you actually change your life? Testing our comfort zone is a good thing to do regularly, to understand how we respond to taking risks and how we can manage it. Taking risks shouldn't put us into a massive state of anxiety; certainly not for very long anyway. 

I've scared you now, haven't I? Read on. 

Your task is this: 

- I want you to set yourself a task that you know takes you out of your comfort zone. If you don't know what that is, look at the things you need to be doing now and pick out something you keep putting off, or makes you anxious or nervous just thinking about it. Make it one that is useful and relevant to the things you need to do on your plan so that you will feel like you've really achieved something by completing it.

- Commit to tackling and completing this in the time allowed for this task. Remember you have a long time for this one - the linky doesn't open until 23rd February and remains open until 8th March, meaning you have nearly a month to complete this although it would be useful to see as many posts as possible around the time that the linky opens.

- You might want to record how you feel after you've committed to doing this task and during the process.

- Complete the task as best you can and notice how you felt during the process.

- When you blog, explain what feelings you had, whether you showed any physical or other signs of anxiety at any point, whether you were able to control those feelings or signs.

- Note also how you felt after completing the task.

- I want you to try your best to complete the task but if you really can't, then mention that too, how that came about, and how your feelings changed from the point you committed to the task to the point where you realised you couldn't do it. 

Let me also make it clear - you don't HAVE to share with everyone what the task is or was. Obviously, we'd all love to share in the successes of these completed tasks but we don't necessarily need all the details. 

Go easy on yourselves - I want to make clear now that anyone that doesn't get their task completed is most definitely NOT a failure. What is important is for you to understand why that happened and how you reacted to the thought of doing the task, and how you felt after you realised you wouldn't complete your task. That is going to be just as important to me to this process as people pushing themselves and succeeding. By the way, if you do complete your task, ask yourself if your task was challenging enough. If not, why not? Is it because you don't trust yourself to complete it, or you don't believe that you are capable of more? Did you surprise yourself how you dealt with it? What have you learned from this task? This is as much about self-awareness as it is about finishing the task. 

Good luck, people. I'll see you on the other side. Twelve days and counting until that linky opens. You can do it. 

Friday, 10 February 2012

Peanut butter cake? Oh yes!

A short post to show you the cake I made for my second meeting of the local Clandestine Cake Club group that I'd attended. The theme was "Full of beans" in honour of the coffee shop we were meeting in. And yes, I chose peanut butter cake. As a get out, it had chocolate on the top but peanuts are actually legumes, or beans so I thought it would pass.

The recipe was not mine - I got it from BBC Good Food and you can find it here. I didn't want to reproduce the recipe as I followed it pretty religiously and I didn't put my own spin on it. The cake itself was pretty simple (mix all wet ingredients until creamy, fold in flour, bake) and the filling was simple too -once I'd found a caramel sauce in place of dulce de leche that I couldn't find anywhere. The topping required melting chocolate which was fine and the only thing I'd do different is make the sugary covering on the peanuts a bit wetter as the shiny caramel bit never really materialised but still. Oh, and I'd watch the timings - I took it out two minutes early and the very outside of some of it was a tad dry and just about to burn.

The cake went down really well. I got lots of nice compliments from other people and only got about a quarter to take home (people take bits of cakes they like home to have another time because you get very yfull very quickly). Missy Woo tried it and declared she didn't like it but what was left was gone quickly. I'd definitely make it again for a cake that is slightly different, but I guess it's rubbish if you've got to be careful about allergies.

And for good measure, here are all the cakes in all their glory laid out ready to be eaten! You really have to pace yourself to try everything and you don't want to miss anything because sometimes, the simplest looking cakes are the best ones!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

LifeCircle 2012: Managing your time - the aftermath

Life Circle How did you get on? I've been busy beavering away this week and got lots done. I'm currently using Toodledo to manage my to-do list and been working through everything. It's not totally gone to plan but taking the time to plan out what I'm doing when makes me more effective.

Do let me know how it went for you. If it didn't work for you, and something else didn't, feel free to say so. I won't be offended. Nothing is right for everybody - this is all about what works for you. Maybe just the discipline of writing a list was enough. What worked and what were the results? How much more did you get done this week and how does that make you feel about your ability to change the aspects of your life that you want to change?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Would you be controversial just to get your blog read?

Photo credit: asifthebes
This has been bugging me for a few days. I may rant occasionally on Twitter but I do not like conflict and confrontation. Classically a middle-born child, I was always the peacemaker for family arguments when I was small. I'd do anything to stop arguments and restore calm. Yes, I do fall out with people, mostly the children (actually, make that mostly Monkey. Sigh) but it doesn't last and I will always try to make peace. I hate unresolved rows - especially going to bed on an argument.

As a blogger, that attitude has stayed with me. I don't like judging other parents or their choices and I wouldn't criticise any particular person directly (or indirectly by hinting) via this blog. I worry about mentioning people in my family in case they find and read this back. I've even delayed mentioning my husband in blog posts, and featured him in photographs, in case he is offended or I upset him, however unintentionally and asked his permission before hitting publish.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


It wasn’t my fault.

It was nobody’s fault. Put it down to the time of year, the post-Christmas blues kicking in when resolutions fail, realising that there is no New Year, New You and the disappointment in oneself that it creates. The disappointment that turns into self-loathing then into rage and loathing of others, when hearts turn from red to black. How ironic that Valentine’s Day is around the corner.

Oh no, it wasn’t my fault, wasn’t anybody’s fault. That’s how I choose to think of it. I have to.

Because that’s how I can head towards redemption.

This is a post for Week 30 of the 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups. Find more entries at Julia's Place where you will also find the link to the children's challenge, which this week is the same prompt for both. 

Going on a Journey 2...

No, I haven't descended into textspeak (hate it!), but Warner Brothers sent us to the cinema to see Journey 2: The Mysterious Island in 3D, which went on general release last weekend. Now, I had never been to see a proper 3D film before, although the rest of the family had been once or twice before. Monkey was surprisingly reticent about going, because he'd seen trailers and knew it was a bit scary.

I've always shied away from 3D films, partly because I am heavily influenced by all the Mayo and Kermode film reviews and Mark Kermode clearly doesn't like 3D. His argument is that it adds nothing to the story and therefore doesn't add to the overall experience. So, I thought, we'll see.

Not being the one that generally takes the children to the cinema, I had never heard of the Journey films before. I assume the number 2 meant it was a sequel but husband told me that he thought it wasn't. I guess he thought it was some form of terrible textspeak but on looking it up, it certainly is a sequel to Journey to the Centre of the Earth but that the only character appearing in both films was Josh Hutcherson, playing Sean. This time, Sean receives a radio signal from his explorer grandad played by Michael Caine that he has found the Mysterious Island written about by Jules Verne and helped by his stepfather (played by The Rock aka Dwayne Johnson), he locates it to being near the Pacific island of Palau. They go to Palau and find a helicopter, flown by Luis Guzmán with his daughter, played by Vanessa Hudgens, to take them onto the island. The story follows what happens when they get to the island and find Sean's grandfather.

The Mysterious Island
It's fair to say we all enjoyed the film.There is a lot of CGI so it looks beautiful and obviously the 3D made it an interesting experience. The film is rated a PG, which means that they say it should be fine for over 8s. Mine were fine with it, although they did find a few things a little scary but not to the point of being scared to death or reduced to tears. Monkey hid behind his coat a few times but actually, I think he was enjoying being scared! There were as many giggles as there were frightened reactions. Certainly, I would not take very young children nor any that are sensitive or not used to the cinema and because of the nature of 3D, you really do think that things are heading for you, which a young child might not understand.

Michael Caine was Michael Caine. (Does he play anyone else?) I do actually like him - two of my  favourite films of all time are Get Carter! and The Italian Job, although he does seem to be roughly the same character in every film, just in different situations. As for The Rock, well, he did a good job, but I spent a lot of time wondering if this film had been built around him - like a window display for his many talents as some of the scenes seemed to be set up entirely to show how great he was at various things and it made me suspicious that this was a "vehicle" film.

As for the 3D, I did enjoy it/ Kermode is right in that it doesn't add anything to the story. However, it does add to the overall experience and makes it more memorable. Yes, I would have enjoyed the film without it, but certainly I remembered various things all the more for them seeming to come out at me at various points. Monkey almost ducked twice too! I feel churlish not having seen a 3D film before but then, I remember that it should have cost £30; which personally, I feel is very expensive for something that is over in a couple of hours. Had we bought drinks and popcorn, we would have easily spent £50 for all of us. People just don't have that sort of money to spend regularly on going to the cinema; perhaps cinema is becoming the sole preserve of the affluent? Saddens me that this might be the case because it is a great experience. There are cheap deals - we use them a lot - but they rarely, if ever, show 3D and it is not something you can easily replicate at home either.

Rant over... I think families with children a similar age to Monkey and Missy Woo or slightly older would enjoy this. It is a nice piece of escapism and if you need something to fill a rainy afternoon. especially over half term, it'll do the job perfectly, if a little hard on the pocket.

(Warner Brothers sent us a gift card so that we could go to see Journey 2: The Mysterious Island at our local cinema. I have not received any further compensation for this post, I have not been told what to write and all words and opinions are my own.)

Monday, 6 February 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the uber organised (and 5 for £20 review) edition

So last week, we were trying out the latest Sainsbury's evening meal plan which provides a whole working week's worth of meals for £20. Here's how we got on.

First, I went shopping. (I know, amazing, huh?!) I left off some of the things on the shopping list that I already had in but I did substitute along the way too and the bill for those items was around £17. With usual things I buy (like milk etc) my week's bill came to £32 and I only went back once for some more mushrooms as I didn't have as much in as I thought. Still, pretty amazing, although it was possibly helped by the meat being on special offer -  the meat took up half of the budget!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

LifeCircle 2012 - Managing your time

Life Circle

I have had very little time to digest the posts so far from Thursday but there seems to be a bit of support building for help with time management, so that's what I'm going to attempt. Actually, that might be impossible really as there are as many ways to manage your time effectively as there are people on this earth. What I will do is suggest a method for you to try that might work for you.

The first part is to have a to do list. It can be on paper, on your phone, online, however best you want to manage it. It really doesn't have to be fancy. You just need somewhere or something on which to record the things you have to do. Having some central place that you can refer to will help you focus on what needs to be done. Include as much as possible. If it's not on the list, it's not getting done! OK, maybe not your ablutions, but you know what I mean.

The only problem with that is it can be a bit daunting and in what order do you tackle your to do list? I'm going to suggest a way to manage this. Some people call it the "Urgent-Important Matrix" but it's just a grid really. Here it is.

You could just draw a grid and plot things according to whether they are urgent and whether they are important. Then you know you need to start with all the important, urgent things. If you have lots of those to tackle, then revert to starting with the ones with the shortest deadlines. How do you decide what's important? Well, that really is up to you, but things you just do every day that don't contribute towards you reaching your goals probably isn't. Things like that, falling into the bottom right box, are probably best dealt with by allocating some time to dealing with them every day - like an admin or housework half hour or a time at work each week when you deal with them. If you can, get someone else to do them! If you can't, and you find they are stopping you achieving urgent things, then consider if they really are of low importance.

The top left box is probably full of longer term things you want to do. Try to ensure you do work on them when you can - what you should find by being more focussed is that you will deal with the urgent and important things quicker and this should allow more time for this. Of course, anything in the bottom right corner should be ignored. It may be that they are tasks or things that other people want you to do. If this is the case, feel vindicated in saying a polite but firm "No" to them. And stand your ground. I suspect that might be a whole other post!

If I have a really long list of things to do, I sort them into a list by what I consider to be most urgent and I allocate times to work on them. So, if I'm starting work at 9.30 and I estimate it's going to take me an hour to complete the first task I'm planning to work on, I'll allocate 9.30-10.30 to and work down my list adding in the times. I find that this gives me something to aim for so there is less chance of becoming distracted, but also, it gives me the chance to recognise what I can realistically achieve in my day so that I don't overcommit or give myself too little to do. And if I get more things done than I plan to, I feel really good.

So, what's the task today then? I want you to put this into practice over the next few days. See how it works for you. Then blog about how it's gone. Did you find it time-consuming? Was that time worth it? Did you get more done? How did it make you feel about progressing towards your goals?

Then remember to come back here on Thursday to link up, although as ever, the linky will stay open for two weeks, which takes you all the way through to 23rd February and may give you time to try out the techniques for longer. And don't forget, I'll set a task next Saturday that you will have nearly two weeks to complete as I won't be publishing the linky until 23rd February so we can all take a step back from full-on self-improvement!

Good luck and I can't wait to see how you get on with this.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A little gentleman?

Monkey can be a little devil at home and will try anything to get his own way. (Doesn't work!) At school, and everywhere else apart from with us, he is a little angel. School love him because he is a good friend and has good friends, always behaves himself and has only ever had some of his golden time taken off him twice - and he claims once was because another child in his group was shouting and didn't quieten down when asked.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

LifeCircle 2012: How did you do?

Life Circle We all had actions, which we set ourselves two weeks ago. The deadline was, handily, two weeks. (There's method in my madness, see?) This week is all about how we got on with those actions, and how we feel about it.

I know I didn't tell you what my actions were, but I'm pleased to report that I completed the ones I set myself and I feel quite proud of that as I have had to push myself slightly to do so. Setting the actions were a big push, in the right direction of course. And do you know what? I feel really good. It has made me feel more in control of a lot of things, beyond the areas I took action. I've had a little blip these last few days - think it was the January blues finally kicking in a bit late - but I have been able to snap out of it to some extent.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Wednesday. This time, she would go.

She had promised herself many times that this would be THE time. The time she’d break free.

Each time, it hadn’t happened. Mollified by promises to reform, impassioned pleas to stay because he would change. He didn’t. It would happen again. She’d feel terrified and worthless. Lack of self-belief tied her to him like invisible thread. At first, it was beautiful, magical; now, it imprisoned her to a hollow life of desperation and failure.

Not this time. She had to go. She loved him but it was destroying her.

Wednesday. She’d leave then. Definitely.


Please do visit Julia's Place for more entries in this week's challenge, and whilst you're at it, why not visit the children doing similar challenges at
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