Saturday, 31 August 2013

Project #365 - Week #35

Week 35 saw me continuing to struggle without my phone, so many of these photos are taken by Mr J... or on Mr J's phone. Needs must!

Sunday: A Mr J photo. Happy boys out for the day.
Monday: Another Mr J photo. And my favourite of the week. Mr J is a very keen fisherman and has been waiting for too long for the children to become his fisherbabies. Squeaks had her first trip out with him this week. And although we concluded there's probably another 4 years to go, she did give it her very best.
Tuesday: My attempt at baking bread was appreciated!
Wednesday: A Mr J photo. Spoiling the boys whilst I went to Maidenhead.
Thursday: Whilst attempt 2 at bread was baking we decided to try lemon and blueberry muffins.
Friday: The boys loved the muffins.
Saturday: More pink cake!

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 30 August 2013

Does what you do matter?

I've been having a really bad time at work lately.
What an opening gambit.
It's not a sympathy vote, it's just life.
I've predominately become a person who would rather be somewhere else.
With my children.
My biggest problem is that I continue to care about my job.

And a fortnight ago seemed to be the time when everything came to a head.
My customers revolted.
Although of course it seems to replicate what happened a few years ago with colleagues.
A Director at the time summed it up best "On their own puppies are friendly, playful and man's best friend. As a group they hunt in packs."
I've spent the last six years or so feeling like I fight battles on behalf of my customers.

As I talked to one of my mentors, one of my customers, after the event my take was that I don't mind fighting every day with those within my organisation and with those above and outside, but the moment a customer says we're not doing a good enough job. I'm not doing a good enough job. Well, that's the day to pack up shop.

But when everything's left to settle, and you realise a few people can carry everyone, with or without their express permission. 
And because if you carry on working on their behalf and sort out the problems which need to be sorted.
Well, then you're just left with the things which need to be addressed.
And they might not be pretty.
It might be about having to lay all the cards on the table.
Or just throwing them in the air and seeing what settles.
This time next week I'll be back from the Lions Den.
I've asked to meet with them all.
To find a way forward.
It's odd.
My manager has other priorities that day.
And I've asked my team to stand down. I don't think it's fair for them to be in the room when I have no idea what's going to play out. And how fair twelve customers can be when setting the agenda.
The reality is it's like any relationship which matters.
Divorce isn't an option.
Nor temporary separation.
We've got to work together, and no-one wants to be in an unhappy relationship.
And is it really a matter for everyone, or just for some.

And all of this.
All of this is set in the context of not wanting to be a working mum.
Of knowing I'm not supporting my team as much as I should, because we're too busy trying to do the day job.
Too busy trying to figure out how moving from one core project to three in the space of a year is actually going to work in practice.
And of course, there's organisational stuff, resource reductions, policy changes, which leaves uncertainty for everyone.

And I'm realising every day.
Every day I see these three amazing children.
Learning so much.
Their new words.
Their new adventures.
Their developing imagination.
How much their lives have changed, in a month, in a year.
So what of their lifetime?
As parents, we have such a role to play.
The love, the support, the experiences.
But also how they address problems.
"We can't go over it. We can't go under it. We'll have to go through it."
Resilience.
Adventure.
Fun.
Laughter.
And if all else fails.
Wrestling.

And so what of work?
Yes, give a damn.
But do it on work time and leave it at work.
Let's call it my September resolution!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Baking Focaccia Bread with the #GreatBloggersBakeOff

So, this week the Great Bloggers Bake Off has been lined up for duty by Jenny and Helen and is on the case of bread.
I discovered last night, having finally sat down to watch the whole of The Great British Bake Off that watching the programme definitely gives you an advantage (because of course they mentioned waiting at least an hour before attempting to get the Angel Food Cake out of the tin!).
And I got that feeling of regret, knowing my dough was proofing overnight (Did I nearly sound like I know what I'm on about?!).
And this evening, not only was my 'bread' testament to this, but having watched this week's episode it reinforced where I had gone wrong.

So, this week I decided to attempt my favourite bread- focaccia. Again I used the BBC's Good Food website, I opted for this recipe over Paul Hollywood's version, I prefer detailed instruction over the chance of me using any intuition... and for my first time attempting to bake bread I thought this was important. Albeit I reserved the right to ignore the instructions.

Ingredients wise it was really simple.
Results wise... I think mine was more a garlic bread... with rosemary and sea salt instead of garlic.
And of course, everyone ate it.
But!
Foccacia motivated by the Great British Bake Off
I left it to prove for a long time... almost a day in the end.
And then as I watched the Great British Bake Off tonight, and found out that the longer you leave bread to prove the heavier it gets... well yes... and me prodding my fingers to make dimples probably didn't make the situation much better.
Foccacia motivated by the Great British Bake Off
So, I give the bread I baked a thumbs up.
But it definitely wasn't foccacia!
So, it's proving overnight with fresh yeast, or sticking with the fast acting yeast in an hour and a half.

And of course when Mr J said "But will you give it another go?" it was like- Challenge Accepted.
I may have attempted this one early on the basis I predicted this week isn't going to go well work wise.
But I suspect I may be trying to incorporate baking bread regardless!
(And waiting till I've seen next week's episode before attempting petit fours!).

So... look out for take 2.
And maybe some breadsticks....?!

mummy mishaps

Monday, 26 August 2013

Walkers Mighty Lights - A review


Mummy went to the top of the favourite parent list when the boys got to open a parcel last week.

Walkers Mighty Lights had arrived had arrived on our doorstep- in roast chicken, cheese and onion and lightly salted flavour. 
Whilst we tend to stick with snacks like wotsits, bread sticks and fruit there is no escaping the children's love of crisps (before we even get onto their parents!). 
Walkers Mighty Lights boast 30% less fat than standard crisps, and made from real potatoes with no artificial colours or preservatives as well as being a source of fibre, well, I was interested to see how the children would get on with them.

First things first, the boys decided who was going to take ownership of which colour.
Walkers Mighty Lights with Johnson Babies
And Tiny was quickly onto what was inside the packet!

Mighty Lights are ridged crisps, I don't know what it is about ridged crisps, but they do taste good!
Generally with crisps which boast less fat you expect thinner crisps, which weirdly taste watery.
Mighty Lights didn't have either of these problems, they are thick crisps, with good flavour. 
And, as if to prove that, I can't even tell you which is my favourite flavour. 
Usually I steer away from chicken and beef flavour crisps, finding them a bit synthetic, I guess this is because generally, and like Mighty Lights, crisps are often suitable for vegetarians. But, in a complete turnaround for our family, the Roast Chicken Mighty Lights were a hit with everyone, and everyone was more than happy to consider more!
Cheese and Onion are Mr J's favourite and all the children were happy for him to share.
And my usual favourite, lightly salted were well received because they were lightly salted. I am not a big fan of salt, we generally don't use it at home, but I do love crisps and dips, and these definitely fit the brief.

The boys, well, as they usually have crisps shared in bowls, they were ever so excited to have a packet each. Tiny quickly established he didn't have enough hands.
Enjoying Walkers Mighty Lights
But his crisp packet seemed to have him down to a tee!
Walkers Mighty Lights
In our house crisps are crisps, we know if you eat nothing else you'd have a poor diet, but we also live by 'everything in moderation'.
Having a healthier option is always the better option.
And not having the children be able to distinguish between the crisp with 30% less fat than another, well that's always going to be a deciding factor.
The children have loved these crisps, maybe it's because they're enjoying the novelty but they don't stop until they've gone and then they're asking for more.

We've given into the latest craze of lunch boxes with different sections, I thought we'd save money on child size portions as well as cling film and foil, what this means is that I can give the children a portion of crisps each which can be a part of a balanced diet. They enjoy crisps as much as they enjoy bread, cheese, fruit and yoghurts, so I'd like to maintain this, by not going overkill on anything.

I would be happy to integrate Mighty Lights into the children's packed lunches, and would definitely include on our shopping list for any time we are going on trips and take a picnic, or just know a snack will keep everyone happy!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored review, we received three multipacks and financial compensation for this post. All views contained are our own.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Making Angel Food Cake with the #GreatBloggersBakeOff

I was really excited to see that Jenny and Helen have jumped into inspiration mode in putting all of our viewing fun to good use by getting us into the kitchen with the latest series of the Great British Bake Off.

This week saw bakers go head to head with a sandwich sponge, angel food cake and a chocolate showstopper.

As Victoria Sandwich is near enough the only thing we bake, and we use exactly the same recipe to create our cupcakes, I thought I'd use this opportunity to try my hand at baking proper- and try something completely new.

My favourite accompaniment to a Starbucks coffee is the lemon and poppy seed muffin, so I was really enthusiastic about giving the Angel Food Cake a go.

I used the motivation that it was my birthday to get Mr J to drive me around various places to buy ingredients that weren't in the house, and to try and find the infamous angel food cake tin. As it was we settled for a bundt tin as there was literally not hide nor hair of the tin (do you think I am a bit late to this craze?!).

And after the boys went down for their nap, I went to work.
Making Angel Food Cake a la The Great British Bake Off
I had a lot of fun creating this cake.
I used the Mary Berry recipe (obviously!), but I did throw in some poppy seeds to attempt to compare to Starbucks!
I love that when you take it down to six photos it looks like the easiest thing in the world to create.
And look... I didn't just make cake... I made Lemon Curd as well!
I am left feeling vaguely proud of myself.
Making Angel Food Cake a la The Great British Bake Off
And with another shopping list.
I realised, after I measured all the ingredients that we don't have an electric whisk (I have a vague memory of Mr J mentioning it was broken).
So my whipped cream wasn't all it should have been.
And using our cheese grater to zest lemons was a bit of a task.
And we don't have a wooden spoon (what?!)
And everyone said not to grease the tin.
The cake broke as I got it out of the tin (at least the rubbish whipped cream covered that up!).
And I now think I was meant to have some form of metal spatula to support me in this bit of the task.
Making Angel Food Cake a la The Great British Bake Off
And on the completely positive.
It is delicious.
And I might be biased.
But Mr J loves it too.
And usually it's the children who love my cupcakes (and he eats them in secret).
But he's happily singing its praises.

It's completely different to my sponge cake.
It's really light and airy, and I love the poppy seeds (even if I don't know what it would've been like without them.
So, I do think this might be adapted to muffins, so I can make my own coffee and cake!

I found the recipe worked for me, so I've copied it below for you (as directly lifted), my only addition was 2 tbsps of poppy seeds. I probably could've done with more whipped cream, but I'm not entirely sure whether I didn't just mess this bit up.

Ingredients
For the cake:
125g/4½oz plain flour
300g/10½oz caster sugar
10 large free-range egg whites
2 large lemons, grated zest only
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp salt
For the lemon curd (this recipe makes more lemon curd than you need):
10 large free-range egg yolks
400g/14oz caster sugar
4 large lemons, juice only (approximately 200ml/7fl oz)
2 large lemons, grated zest only
175g/6oz unsalted butter, cubed
2 passion fruit
For the topping:
300ml/10fl oz whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla extract

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 (fan 160C) and arrange an oven shelf in the bottom third of the oven. Sift the flour and 100g/3½oz of the caster sugar together in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with an electric hand whisk or mixer on a high speed for one minute until frothy. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, cream of tartar and salt and continue whisking for 2-3 minutes, or until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed from the bowl. Increase the speed and add the remaining 200g/7oz of caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time to form firm, but not stiff peaks.
  3. Sprinkle over one-third of the flour mixture and fold gently to combine. Repeat with the remaining two-thirds of the flour mixture folding gently to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.
  4. Transfer the batter to a 25cm/10in angel food cake pan. Gently run a knife through the centre of the batter to remove any pockets of air. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and immediately turn upside down onto the tin’s cooling legs, or place over the neck of a wine bottle. Leave to cool for at least one hour.
  6. Run a knife around the inner and outer edges of cake to remove it from the pan. Invert onto a plate. Carefully use a palette knife to separate the cake from the base of the pan. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
  7. For the lemon curd, mix the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest together in a large pan. Cook over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir the sides and base of the pan. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Pass through a sieve into a large jug. Fill two 350g/12oz glass jars with the lemon curd and seal with lids. Cover the remaining curd with cling film and leave to cool.
  8. For the topping, whisk the cream and vanilla extract in a bowl until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Spoon the topping over the angel food cake and, using a palette knife, coat the top and sides of the cake, smoothing as you go.
  9. Cut the passion fruit in half and scoop out the seeds. Stir the passion fruit into the reserved, cooled lemon curd and drizzle over the angel food cake before serving. You may want to use just one of the jars of lemon curd to serve with the cake and save the other to eat separately.

mummy mishaps

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Project #365 - Week #34

Our week that was.... ooooh... Week 34... we're flying through 2013 now!
Sunday: Cheeky and I had a film date whilst Tiny and Squeaks went swimming. Obviously Toy Story 2, and obviously T-Rex for company.
Monday: We went to the jungle... and bumped into some children, it's odd recognising people by their children!
Tuesday: My birthday outing to Peppa Pig World.
Wednesday: I love my children's blue eyes.
Thursday: I bought Squeaks to handwriting books to keep her occupied.
Friday: My phone went off to be repaired and I'm not coping. This is one of Mr J's photo's when he and Squeaks went off to lunch with Nana Windows.
Saturday: My birthday booty. A new mug and a replacement for my beloved charm bracelet... whilst it won't replace the memories my 'proper' bracelet held, I love the charm which adorns it.


TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 23 August 2013

Filling summer days with play dates

One of the nicest things about this summer has been spending quality time with Squeaks.
I spent today working from home.
By 10 o'clock Squeaks had built a den outside the office door using all the pillows from the lounge.
This afternoon I could hear her courting her daddy with a song she was making up as she banged the xylophone in time, about how much she loved him and the clothes that he was wearing.

I have tried to give Squeaks a balance of activities, days out, and boredom to fill her imagination. And as a result her handwriting is improving and her stories of life in 'flowerland' and 'loveheart land' are things I must record to remind me of this time, of so much positivity and happiness.

One thing which has really helped everyone is play dates. This week, Squeaks appears to have enjoyed time with her Uncle K. He has been home for the last month following the baptism, and yesterday returned to Thailand. The children were fortunate to have time with him before he left, Squeaks on Wednesday and the boys yesterday.
My mum was telling me how Squeaks had asked Uncle K if he would play playdough with her. To which he replied "Only if you say the magic word". After giving this some thought Squeaks responded "Abracadabra".
Knowing my brother makes this so entertaining as I can't imagine him breaking a smile, but surely he had no choice?!

Her all time favourite is play dates with Miss A.
And as a result I have tried to replicate her excitement with things for them to do together.
Play dates and happy days
The reality is I don't need to bother.
Squeaks imagination is so vast, so two 4-year olds together and the world is their oyster.
The routine seems to be playing (and trashing) Squeaks' bedroom.
Trampoline time and general garden fun.
Snack time.
An activity.
Playing (trashing) the lounge.
Sometimes a trip to the park, or more time in the garden.
A meal and home.
Play date fun
It really has been the height of Squeaks' summer to see Miss A.
And, to be honest, I have loved preparing things to do, whether it be cake decorating, baking, or craft.
Our most recent adventure was, in my head, going to be making flowers.
Crafting fun with children
And yet, imaginations kicked in.
And we had flowers, magic wands, caterpillars...
Play dates - flower crafting fun
 ... and such a proud and happy mummy.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Win a Jack the Giant Slayer (Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet Combo Pack)

Warner Bros. is proud to announce the arrival of Jack the Giant Slayer on DVD & Blu-ray!

Unleashed on the Earth for the first time in centuries, the giants strive to reclaim the land they once lost, forcing Jack (Nicholas Hoult), into the battle of this life to stop them. Fighting for a kingdom and its people, and the love of a brave princess, he comes face to face with the unstoppable warriors he thought only existed in legend... and gets the chance to become a legend himself! Directed by Brian Singer (X-Men, Superman Returns)

Starring: Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy), Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones).

Test your bravery and take the How Brave Are You? Quiz to see if you’re as brave as our hero Jack.


And once you've completed the quiz, enter our competition to win a Jack the Giant Slayer Combo Pack:


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This post is brought to you in partnership with Warner Bros.

Peppa Pig World- not so good in the summer holidays

I know, it's not a great title for a post.
But do you know how great Peppa Pig World is in term time?
And do you know how naive a mum is whose little ones have not yet started school is?

So, hopefully you can imagine my disappointment?

I was a little reserved when we started planning our adventure. 
Last time we visited Peppa Pig World was for Squeaks' 3rd birthday.
We spent a Sunday and Monday in March at Paultons Park on a short break and it was fantastic.

I tried to book a short break for this visit and, as seems the norm for parents with three children, the costs came in for a reservation for two hotel rooms. Even for a hotel which features on a fantastic website (the clue is in the title!) as being able to accommodate us in one room, Paultons Park Breaks wanted to charge for two room and increase our price by over £100.

So, the maths were simple, it made no sense to make sense of the Paultons Park offer.

So, we headed to Winchester. And whilst a room for 5 has two double beds, fortunately with a bit of room rearranging (the children slept horizontally across the double), we were over the moon with the hotel, the friendliness of everyone at the hotel, and having a good night's sleep was such a bonus.
Toddler twins sleeping
I took the queues to get into the Park as an inevitable sign of the school holidays.
When we arrived, having purchased tickets in advance, we were straight into the Park.
And I guess this is one consideration, how do Paultons Park know how many people are visiting just for the attraction of Peppa Pig World? (I am guessing a week's worth of monitoring over the summer would answer this).
Because (as per our last adventure) we were visiting for Peppa Pig World. Oh, the simplicity, only 7 rides.
With a Park that's open from 1000-1730. 
How could this possibly be a challenge?
Well, when you factor in hour long queues, it really becomes an aspiration.
Because it becomes about keeping a child (or three) entertained for 60 minutes rather than holding onto a five minute memory.
And (because since we've checked since we returned) if 75 minute queues are an average for under 5's would you be doing more to accommodate?
Because, here's the thing, we have found everyone at Paultons Park so lovely, so accommodating.
And the facilities for young children are fantastic.
So, where is the queue busting?
I'm not a pro- I'm not sure what the answer is, but I could throw face painting, jugglers, and the like into the mix.
And I'd just add, for anyone's reality, imagine 50-odd 2-5 years olds queuing for a ride.

And, yes, Squeaks went on the other rides in Paultons Park.
And the boys made the most of the indoor and outdoor play areas.
... which we could have experienced for a fraction of the price at home.

And I know, I am bitter, it's because I have the best memories of this a few years ago.
But.

I have the best photos.
To show to the children to allow them to remember the great day out that we had when they were two and four.
Paultons Park Peppa Pig World
Do they need to know that we gave up and went home at three o'clock?
Because queuing in such hot weather wasn't anyone's idea of fun.
Because whilst mummy can just about keep 2 year olds entertained, a 4 year old doesn't understand the concept of queuing.
And because, there may be a whole other Park to explore, but we have Oakwood on our doorstep, and we wanted Peppa Pig World.

Whilst we were there, and because it was my idea, I kept saying to Mr J, "Well, we've got at least ten years of this ahead of us".
I'm sure it was reassuring....

... but here's the thing.
Is it about service?
I paid for the same ticket as I did when I took Squeaks here for her 3rd birthday.
And yet I didn't even get a fifth of the service.
Because we couldn't enjoy the range of services (rides) we did when it was term time.
And yet you pay the same price?

I want to say that for Squeaks 5th birthday we'll go back with all three children.
But Squeaks now has her heart set on Legoland.
And the Park isn't open in January for the boys' 3rd birthday.
So, I am more or less resigned to the boys' not getting the same fantastic experience.

In reality, what I am realising, is we have to become a bigger fan of the great outdoors.
That queuing for more than 30mins isn't really for this family.
I have to take Mr J seriously about camping.
And we have to make our own fun rather than relying on tv characters.
It's not exactly maths when you write it down.

Disclosure: We paid for our hotel and tickets to Paultons Park. We have recorded all feedback on our customer evaluation as we have here.

Monday, 19 August 2013

What a difference a week makes - #CountryKids

Last Friday, as I travelled home by train I wondered if my husband and daughter would be there to greet me.
It was a long shot.
I had phoned to tell him what time my train was leaving Cardiff.

And as the train pulled in our car wasn't in the car park.
So I was over the moon to spy them both on the train platform.
With Squeaks on her bike.
And no-one was more over the moon than Squeaks to have pedalled to and from the station.

It reminded me of the little things.
So, since then, we have been committing to the little things.
Which seem to fall into two camps- swimming or the park.
So each day, there is a choice.
Sometimes there isn't a choice, there is swimming in the morning, and the park after the afternoon nap.
And I love having this time.
Finishing work and having my mind brought back to reality with love.
I love the excitement.
I love the happiness.
Which if work could compare, would make work a lot more worthwhile.
And these children, who make me cry with laughter, who astound me with their courage and confidence.
These children hold my heart.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Thomas the Tank Play Tent- A Review

When a Thomas the Tank Play Tent arrived for the Johnson Babies I knew we had lots of fun in store.
I had such amazing memories of my playhouse, I have recollections of being able to concoct any number of scenarios for playtime.
I remember it being used in the house and the garden.
And being a series of poles and corners which needed to be assembled in just the right way.

So I was a little surprised that the box was so compact.
And that the contents were a little mysterious.
The tent simply popped up.
With one pole across the top.

Squeaks was well impressed.
As was Miller and Ginger.
And Squeaks did as I thought she might, spent at least an hour making up her on play scenarios.

When the boys set their eyes on their play tent, well, no jar could contain their excitement.
As they made their way around the outside getting to see their favourite characters.
 And once inside whilst initially trying to sell tickets from the wrong window, I was soon handing over my well earned cash.

Like Squeaks, the boys has lots of fun having playtime.
Unfortunately this was where the downtime of garden play materialised.
It transpires, that in a garden like ours- exposed to the elements- the play tent was easily blown over.
And even without a gust of wind, with two little boys playing excitedly the same was true.
My suggestion- we had a baby sun tent, which came with plastic pegs, given the corners are already featured on our play tent, I would suggest by adding pegs it would be great for any outside play.

At the moment, there's no inside space for the play tent, so my mum and dad have been testing it. They look after the boys two days a week.
They're with me.
They love the tent, the ease of assembly.
And benefiting from a garden far more sheltered than ours.
They agreed pegs would be a bonus.
But also agreed that where it's only one child playing it's perfect.

We loved the imaginative play this play tent has brought to our home.
And it is a massive improvement of what has been before.
We think this is a great for indoor play.
And if your garden is sheltered, makes for great outdoor play.

We would recommend for more extensive play the inclusion of plastic pegs.

Disclosure: We received the Thomas the Tank Play Tent for the purposes of this review. All views and opinions contained are our own.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Project #365 - Week #33

Our week in pictures:

Sunday: Travelling in style. Squeaks and Mr J met me from the train station on Friday, and Squeaks was so proud to be on her bike. So, instead of taking the car on Sunday we took Squeaks' bike and she was so happy.
Monday: We've been trying to go to the park everyday. This one is slightly further away (requiring 5mins in the car. But for this view).
Tuesday: Spurred on by Big Sis, everyone is now insisting on the only way to travel.
Wednesday: A bad day at work, followed by the evening revising for an exam (don't ask!) the next day.
Thursday: Another thoroughly bad day. But to receive this photo of Squeaks'- perspective!
Friday: Arriving home from London to this. I walked into my parents to find this scene. I really don't need to worry about whether these little people miss me!
Saturday: Baking with Squeaks. Her brief: Pink. Sparkles. Butterflies. Mission accomplished!

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Bitter and ranting

So, I've had it with these summer holidays.
I've had it with having my working mum guilt increased ten-fold.
I've had it with feeling hard done to and sorry for myself.

I have rose-tinted spectacles.
I seem to remember this time, pre-parenthood, where it was impossible to work effectively over the summer holidays because of the amount of people you relied on being on leave.
That not a lot went on over the school holidays.
For the last (more than a) few years it seems never ending.
In 2011 a naively thought returning from work in July would allow me time to ease back into the job.
I couldn't have been more wrong.

This summer.
Well, albeit the boys only go to playschool three mornings a week, it really has been a transition having three children home full time.
Squeaks has been in school five afternoons a week, a playschool three mornings. Her routine more than anyone else's has been affected. Her sleep patterns are out-of-kilter, her thirst for knowledge is not being satisfied, and finding activities for two 2-year olds and a 4-year old most often prefer the younger two.

And, whilst I am trying to get my work balance sorted, and trying to work three days a week.
Sometimes it just doesn't seem worth the hassle.
This week. Monday and Tuesday off. Two afternoons spent revising for a work-related exam.
Today, a work day put aside for revising. I spent it catching up on my two-days off. And reacting (I'd say responding, I know I was reacting) to the 'unable to plan for', that customer. Who really is well-meaning. Really. I mean who would question that setting up a two-tier communication system could ever be anything other than well-meaning. And who would have thought that the team were here to do anything other than make life difficult.
And so, tonight was spent revising for an exam.
And the more practice exams I have done, the lower my pass mark has been.
And so, I give up.
I'll revise on the train tomorrow.
I'll give it my all.
And whilst this could be perceived as my list of reasons I've failed.
I know it's all rested with me.
Breathe. Give things 24 hours. Don't rise to the bait.
Does it really matter.

You know those children.
The ones that you've taken to the park every day.
The ones whose confidence increases on a daily basis.
Whose language skills make you shriek with laughter.
Who get giddy with excitement when they see you.
Your children.
They really are all that matter.
My children.
My heart.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Beach themed party

You know that moment, when you decide it's easier to cater for a party yourself then deal with the uncertainty.
Knowing that the baptism of your children is so important, so the celebration which follows needs to be perfect.

When we decided our children were to be baptised in July, we didn't really think much further.
It transpires it's golf season, and there are no function rooms on hire.
And therefore hotels put up their prices accordingly.
And what remains is the venues used for children's parties.

And then you realise, that's ok, we're celebrating a day because of the promises we're making our children.
So, the venue was right.

And then I realised, what better to focus attention, and to make this work... a theme.
Deciding on a theme for a baptism is a balance.
And we decided for so many reasons on a beach theme.
Not only because we live so near to the beach, but also the book I was given as a child at Sunday School was about the loaves and the fish.
It all seemed to make sense.
Although my parents did bring common sense on my hopes to serve potato wedges and fish goujons (my take on fish 'n' chips...) and we were even planning to incorporate mushy peas (because they're Mr J's favourite), needless to say mum and dad ended up preparing lots of sandwiches and home-baked cakes.

Mr J had a list of pizza, chicken nuggets, salad, and fruit skewers (which we tasked his Yorkshire friends with assembling).

And me, well, what can I say, I turned to Pinterest.
I loved the idea of preparing a table which made children go "Can I eat that? Now?", I always figure if adults are like me, they'll be thinking the same as the child.
Whilst the weather had cooled down a bit, we were still constrained a little by the temperature in the room, and this was the culmination of a lot of effort:
This sounds daft but, the things I was most proud of?
The polystyrene 'lifts'. I've become a huge fan of Capture by Lucy's posts for parties, and whilst I took tiny steps, this was a great recommendation for getting everything 'seen'.
Whilst I sourced nearly everything from ebay, Morrisons and Home Bargains, I set Mr J the mission to find buckets and spades. He came home with spades which were a close resemblance to salad servers (perfect) and these amazing buckets which seemed absolutely vintage (albeit they were 'Disney Cars' and sourced at the 99p shop).

So, I tried to have a sand and sea half to the table, which looked great on paper:
But, in practice, so many things didn't play out. The ceilings were too high to have things having from them, even the bunting had to go from wall to wall:
I wanted to make 'pops' of some kind, and found a fantastic recipe which used rice krispies, marshmallows and golden syrup. Even after 48hrs in the fridge they had no strength in the outside world. We served them on paper, and they were delicious... next time in cupcake cakes, with chocolate used for krispie cakes on sticks!

And, so for the table, what did we do?
I finally managed a batch of biscuits that were delicious- using oats and coconut. Admittedly I hadn't figured out how best to make them starfish shaped, and ended up after trial and error opting for post baking. Covering in peanut butter and adding googley eyes made Mr J's day!

We followed up on our pirate boat jellies, with sunbathing jellies. This time seemed a lot more fun, with a lot more to add to the jelly, although in saying that Squeaks still insisted on discarding everything but the jelly.
We went for 'sand' and 'sea' cupcakes. And I was really proud of these! As Betty Crocker's Vanilla Icing had been on offer, I took this as an easy option. For the beach cupcakes, adding digestive crumbs and a Haribo starfish, for the sea, adding some blue colouring and trying to make rice paper look like shark fins.
 We added sweets to the mix. Loving the Cornetto sweet "ice-creams" we have found in Home Bargains:
And theming lots of sweets and savouries to fit our theme.

And adding some fun for the little ones (which created lots of fun for the boys as we selected which ducks to add dots to!).
I know we could have done so much more with more time.
But I was so happy with what we created.
It really was a fab party.
Given the children's birthdays are in January and March it was lovely to have such a summer themed party!
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