Saturday, 31 May 2014

Me and Mine - May

We were lucky this month.
The children had saved up their pennies and points to buy Skyline Gang outfits.
And had to wait for the morning delivery for the sizes we wanted.
And as the little people couldn't wait to try them on, there and then.
As a wonderful member of the Butlin's team offered to dispose of our packaging, so they offered to take our photograph.
I am so grateful.
It may not be perfect.
But it is a rare photo of us five.

And so,

Mr J is loving:
  • getting the Junior Squash sessions up and running, with great attendance.
  • Morrisons stocking chilli's.
  • How much the little people enjoyed their holiday.
Mummy is loving:
  • A week away together.
  • A night in with the best of friends.
  • Going red.
Seren is loving:
  • Candi from the Skyline Gang.
  • New pets- Goldie and Minnie, residents at Nana Windows.
  • Her holiday.
Seb is loving:
  • Room On A Broom.
  • The Skyline Gang.
  • Planning his next party.
 Tom is loving:

  • We're Going On A Bear Hunt.
  • Being Sprout.
  • Talking at ten to the dozen.

dear beautiful

Betsy Goes to School by Helen Stephens #Review

Preparing the boys for school was not easy.
Probably because the need to be toilet trained was our priority, we missed all the other preparation.
Which Seren had definitely benefited from, starting six months later.

And so, when "Betsy Goes to School" arrived, it quickly became the favourite bedtime story.
Which wonderfully started with mummy convincing Betsy she was old enough to start school (sort of like it started here, but Miss Hayman was Tom & Seb's real motivation!).
 And, on most day's Daddy does wave 'goodbye'.
 And then the important things were covered- what would happen, how friendly would everyone be?
And, of course, friends were made.

I loved this book.
I loved it for imagining how first days really happen.

I loved it for seeing 5 year old Seren in action,
And knowing this is how friendships develop.

And I loved it for knowing I'll be reading this late August for preparing everyone for returning to school.

Disclosure: We recieved a copy of "Betsy Goes to School" for the purposes of this review. All views and opinions contained are our own.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Word of the Week

And it's a good one!

I love having time off with the little people.
And after not booking any time off over Easter,
Sharing half term with them has been perfect.

For the first time in forever, I left the work phone at home.
We escaped.
To a children's paradise.
To laughter, to enjoyment, to imagination play, to a few tantrums,
But there was one overriding emotion.

As we arrived home this evening.
And they decided to don their new outfits.
And stand on the patio table to perform.

I have had a week full of one emotion.
Grateful, is something I am each week, for my family.

And in addition, this week, this week is one for us all:

The Reading Residence

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Exercise on tap: The TFL Centre, Barry

In February this year I started exercising. Regularly. At the TFL Centre in Barry.
It was shortly after attempting to go for a run.
And it taking far longer to get ready and recover than my body was prepared to run for.
My first proper exercise since attempting 'buggy bunch' after Seren was born.
Five years ago.

I made every excuse under the sun.
Most exercise classes are weekly, as I can not guarantee being home I can't commit.
Running was my attempt- I only need rely on me.
But the first attempt would turn out to be the last.

And then my Facebook timeline showed me the way.
A friend appeared to be booking Zumba classes at lots of different times.

So, I asked.
And I started trying to go three times a week.
Because classes are ever night, and there's a class during the day as well.

And no sooner than I started, than the TFL Centre agreed to get involved with Team Honk.
And got everyone involved in a Zumba Flash Mob.
From collapsing after a 5 minute run, to exercising in public!
And then, they added to Zumba with Barry Bounce.
30 minutes on either Sundays or Wednesdays.
And last week they added Fight Fit.
30 minutes on either Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays.

And yep, Zumba on top.

And so, for £3.50 a session, or £20 for 10 sessions (Zumba), or £30 per month (unlimited).
I get this.

I get to escape.
The evening Zumba sessions are 7pm, so I can make sure the little ones have their evening meal and pyjamas on before leaving.
30 minute sessions can fit into my lunch break.

Exercise is not unobtainable if you find a place which suits you.
I know I have been fortunate.

And I have learned so much in the process.
Going to exercise classes will not help you lose weight.
Eating healthily and going to exercise classes will help you lose weight.
Eating healthily and going to exercise classes will give you a far better body.
Eating healthily and going to exercise classes will give you more muscle definition.

Eating healthily and going to exercise classes will help support a long term change.
The term 'diet' suggests short term gain for short term effort.
For change to become a part of you, it has to be something you can sustain.

I have also learned the impact of stress, lack of sleep and alcohol on creating a better body image.
As these have crept into my life, so my fitness has been impacted.
And I will continue to overcome those elements.

But the final thing I've learned,
The final thing I've learned is probably the most valuable.
One purchase will make the world of difference.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Stress Less Challenge- Week 2

This week, well, anyone would be understood for walking away from me.
I felt as though I have called on so many confidantes and yet I know, my friendship circle is small.

I committed to this challenge thinking I had a good grip on stress in my life.
I was just struggling with tying things together.
This week has proven that whilst you can live in a stressful life, and be accepting of it, how can you possibly cope when the unknown tips the balance?

I enjoyed the first week of recommendations.
I have used the breathing technique to help me, which was recommended by Dr Doug Wright, who has worked at Aviva for 15 years from full time practice as a GP.

“This is a good relaxation technique and easy to do anywhere. Try deep breathing for one minute. Breathe in deeply through your nose and work your diaphragm muscles. Fill your lungs completely with oxygen, then exhale slowly through your mouth. This particularly helps to reduce anxiety and nerves”.

This was a winner, it reminded me of techniques forgotten- namely relaxing on a beach with the waves relaxing the body. The beach helps me sleep.
The technique recommended helps me deal with the stresses of the day, preempting events yet to happen.

And so, I have welcomed my email containing more help from Ariva on how to support my life.

The aim of this week is to find to adopt a recommendation which will last a lifetime.
After reading my email, which provided advice from the aforementioned, Dr Doug Wright it also provide help from Paddy Anson, Head of Strength and Conditioning at Gloucester Rugby who’s tasked with setting out the training and diet plans for the players and fitness tips from England rugby players Billy Twelvetrees and Jonny May and former Captain Mike Tindall.

And so obviously for me, with this much good advice was understanding which to would become my long term habit.

There was one I definitely want to adopt, if working away and packing for a break had been no obstacle- and that is, getting out for a run (slow jog/ walk). I think this would make the world of difference. There are so many days I make the excuse that I can't get out for a class, but there is nothing to stop me putting on trainers and going for a jog (apart from my own fitness levels).

And then there is the recommendation for 'our' time, that of husband and wife, Partners. The sad truth that I was so full of stress and worry on our 4th wedding anniversary that I could not cope with the idea of celebrating. Truth of it is a night out talking would probably have done me the world of good. How could I not want and need to adopt the recommendation of 'our time'?

And then there is the recommendation of portion control. I know this to be a, literally, massive issue. From picking at the children's meals, to figuring it's easier to throw it all in, than to waste.
I need to get a hold of snacking and portions, and no amount of exercise will offset these.

And so, for my next week, I know I will take the recommendations for breathing and spending time with my husband- we are taking a week off.
More importantly, I have to think about how, how much and what I eat.
And try and build proportion.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Mumsnet Blogging Network which offered 10 bloggers the opportunity to participate in this challenge. All views and opinions written are my own.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Word of the Week

I'm glad to be back here again.
Following last week's post about resilience, this week has been one very much of reflection.

I had the news I had hoped for, but as always it wasn't clean cut.
As with so much in life so many can be affected, directly, or the ripple effect.

This week I've thought a lot about one word.
And I've thought about the impact of unintended consequences.

And so I've come to think about forgiveness.
And how important it is in all of our lives.

That you have to always remember a person's strengths.
As you shout at them for not appearing to understand how stressed you are.
That you may need forgiveness.
Because as a rule you try to do the right think.
From time to time everyone fails.

And then, what about, when you do offer forgiveness,
For something which questions every ounce of your moral being.
But you understand forgiveness to be the right thing.
The only thing to ensure that someone does not fall deeper.
Only years later to watch as forgiveness is not offered in return.
Not to you.
But in a 'pay it forward' kind of way.
And unintended consequences may result.

And so many become affected, directly, through the ripple.
Health- mental and physical affected.
Wellbeing- the ability to see the truth, the ability to remember who you are.

This week has been tough.
Midweek I imagined my word would have been 'bittersweet'.
But now, now possible consequences and outcomes are understood.

And on the basis I cannot imagine why anyone would seek these consequences, or the outcome.

I have to at least have faith in my belief.

The Reading Residence

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Gallery: One Word

I guess this photo would sum it up in one word.
Where we were four years ago today.

And whilst I racked my mind for a photo for this week's theme. I gave up.
And thought what I would like to blog about today.

Four years of marriage.
These are the highlights of our day.

But they probably don't represent marriage.
They don't represent the shouting and bawling.
The love and the friendship.
The unruly hair, the wrinkles, the housework.

They don't show that we met six years earlier, that fateful day 2nd June 2004, which I can only recall because I dug out my diaries last week.
That we had a friendship, relationship and 14months of parenthood under our belt.
That for nearly two years of our four year marriage I had misplaced my wedding band, but that has altered nothing but the superficial.

That on the 1st July 2010, some six weeks after our wedding, we would see our ultrasound.
Of twins.
That since that day, in 2004, our lives have changed immeasurably.
That 2010 has an amazing hold.
That we have celebrated our relationship, along the road with some awesome, which is not an understatement, events.

But for today, the 21st May, we will celebrate the commitment, our marriage, our future.

Happy Anniversary Mr J.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Challenge Accepted: Stress Less

When an email popped into my inbox about reducing stress levels, I was absolutely intrigued.

Since becoming parents to three, Mr J and I have changed our lives beyond what we could have ever imagined.

From a home in West Yorkshire, to living in South Wales.
To both working away substantially, to a stay at home dad.
From no children, to one, to three.

With all of this, there are associated stresses for me.
Trying to be the best parent possible, whilst working full time.
Trying to ensure Mr J has a sane existence, as a stay at home dad to three.
Trying to have quality time with the children.
Trying to be good at my job, and remain good at what I do.
Trying to remain confident through a restructure at work, knowing that I am responsible for our income.

So, the opportunity to gain support via an online questionnaire, with the aspiration of reducing my stress levels could not be overlooked.

Aviva has teamed up with Mumsnet to look at reducing stress levels, Aviva say "Armed with our experts ranging from a doctor, nutritionist and rugby coach we want to help you achieve a healthier and less stressed you. We want to give you some truly personalised health tips to try for 2 weeks aiming to commit to at least one for a lifetime. A small change for a big health benefit".

After completing a quite lengthy questionnaire, which actually transpired to be quite therapeutic, Aviva waved their magic wand, to allow personalised health tips for reducing stress and keeping healthy to be developed, by fairy godparents- Dr Doug Wright, Varun Shivdasani (an experienced culinary nutritionist who works with sport stars) and Gloucester Rugby coaching staff.

I was intrigued to see what they'd make of me, those who read my blog will know I've managed to reduce my working pattern to a four day week, and I've been trying my best to keep fit through Zumba and Bounce, but in many ways I know there is so much more I can do, to loose all the weight I've put on, and to stop with the need to write to-do lists as a method to managing the spinning plates.
There were of course other things, things which haven't necessarily been 'fair game' on my blog, which have affected relationships and family well-being, that I could include in my response.

My tips were spot on, and as my luck would have it, one of which I decided to put to use straight away.

It was about relaxation techniques, namely breathing.
Oddly, there are similar ones I learned when I studied drama, I remember using them in the years that followed, but have filtered out.

As I traveled this week, I used the recommended technique, and was pleased by the difference it made.

I am feeling positive about integrating the recommended changes.
I know some will be more difficult, but all make absolute sense.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Mumsnet Blogging Network which offered 10 bloggers the opportunity to participate in this challenge. All views and opinions written are my own.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Word of the Week

I loved The Reading Residence's idea of defining a week in a word, I managed to join in for a week and then life got the better of me.

And yet, as I sat on the train home from London tonight, I couldn't help but think of a word to sum up the week:
I wanted to find a word that applies to all of us, although I'm not sure it entirely does.

It has been the boys first week of doing five afternoons at school.
The school staggers starts, so they started the Tuesday after Easter, and last week was a Bank Holiday.
They do so much outside of school, and then there's how much school would exhaust them.
And they are exhausted (and then Grandma took them to a softplay centre this morning!).
Mr J was sure they couldn't wait up until I got home this evening.
And yet, they still insisted, beyond their bedtime on mummy reading them a bedtime story, a new one- hooray!, 'Marshmallows for Martians'.

Seren has had to put up with mummy making her brechdanau rather than cinio. She's taken on another after-school activity, in that alongside Mr J starting up Junior Squash on a Saturday morning, he's decided to add 'Squash for Tots' to his repertoire. This morning's text informed me she had gone to bed at 8 and slept through to 8- completely unknown, she is usually a night owl.

And of course, Mr J has had to put up with me working away.

And for me, for so many reasons,
I expected closure on something today. Something that I was expecting to have closure on a couple of weeks ago. Something that has occupied my sub-conscious, I'd love to say for two months, the reality is it has occupied too much time for too many months.
I didn't get the closure promised. I don't imagine for a moment I have been interpreted as being reasonable in my response to the deadline offered passing in silence. I have reiterated that I haven't been told of (another) extension, so I'd like a response.

I have found myself in new situations recently, stepping out of my comfort zone.
On a personal level, I stepped out of my comfort zone recently, and afterwards someone shook my hand, and commented on how cold it was.
I have realised that is what happens.
And as I travelled to a meeting this week, as the weather turned to perfect, so I found my own temperature dropping. I realised how nervous I was.
The day went better than I could have predicted. I have once again realised how much I take things on face value. How whilst in my own work I like to think I think laterally, that some things outside of my control I just assume to be non-negotiable.
And as I realised that whilst I was surprised by the outcome, I realised my preparation had set me in good stead. Allowing me to be confident in the sphere of my influence.

I don't know how things will turn out for me 'professionally' (AKA at work).
I do know that regardless I have the most resilient little people, that I want to spend every moment possible with them.

And so, it is what we have been this week, and this is the trait we continue to perfect:

The Reading Residence

Making lunch times work

When Seren started school, I put effort into her lunchboxes:

As my effort depreciated, so Seren rebelled, and favoured 'cinio' over 'brechdanau', and some weeks, when work was busy, or I was working away the rule of Seren having 'cinio' only on a Friday was relaxed, and it got to the point Seren was having 'cinio' five days a week on occasion.

At the moment, there's nothing wrong with that, but I have a rule in my own mind that Seren cannot have things which Tom & Seb cannot, and £6.15 per day for school dinners is definitely not something I want to spend my money on in 18 months time.

At home, I treat the children on the weekends to portioned meals, they love them.
And at Easter, when I was desperately trying to dissuade the little people from getting in Mr J's way as he put down our wooden flooring, I was reminded by how much they are enthused by a special meal.
As I began hassling Mr J that we could not afford for Seren to be having cinio regularly, I kicked myself for not doing the things which made Seren's brechdanau more appreciated.

And so, this week, I am back to making an effort.
And, in doing so, she has chosen to have four of five meals as brechdanau.
Even Mr J was surprised, thinking she'd negotiate for two.
Choosing each theme, and reviewing the lunchbox produced.
And getting oh so excited about her food again.
Fridays, like The Cure, there is tradition. Friday's she's in love- PE and cinio- there is no compromise- them's the rules.
I will celebrate my achievements.
Four out of five ain't bad, it's flippin' amazing!
A heart shaped Bento lunchbox

Bringing Spring into a Bento inspired lunchbox

A bear inspired Bento lunchbox

Eats Amazing Fun Food Friday

Monday, 12 May 2014

Favourite food- Falafels, hummus and bulgar wheat salad #BettaRecipe

If you follow me on Instagram, you might know my absolute favourite treat is anything with falafels.
After a friend introduced me to the fantastic veggie delight in Amsterdam, too many years ago, I have been after the perfect recipe.
Having tried shop bought and packet mix I haven't been convinced.
And then, I was told I could bake them! My attempts at plunging into oil were over.

I decided to replicate my favorite-ist ever M&S ready-salad and not only make baked falafels but also make everything to taste- which in my case, avoids in hints of 'tangy' and 'spicy'.
And it was, quite honestly, lush.
Starting with the falafels

1 onion
1 garlic clove
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
300g chickpeas
2tsp cumin seeds
1 pinch of black pepper
2 tsp mixed herbs
1 pinch of salt
1 lemon (zest)
1 egg

What we did
Preheat the over to 200C.
We finely chopped the onion and garlic and softened in a pan with oil for 3 minutes.
We then drained the chickpeas and put into a food processor (I would think a pestle and mortar or masher would do the same). We added the onion and garlic and blitzed then into a coarse mix.
We added the cumin, herbs, lemon zest, and added a blitz.
For good measure (because Gordon Ramsay always insists on seasoning) I add a pinch of salt and pepper, and give one more blitz.
If your food processor does not allow (ours is deep and narrow), put contents into a bowl.
Beat the egg gently and add to the mix, incorporate the egg to create a sticky mix.
Divide the mixture into balls on a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Bake for 20-25mins or until golden brown.
Onto the Hummus
300g chickpeas
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon (juice, if making with falafels, if not include the zest as well)
2 tbsp fat free greek yoghurt
1 pinch of cumin
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of ground pepper.

What we did:
Throw everything in a food processor and mix.

And then, we included Bulgar Wheat (with a bit of chopped mint to fend off the garlic) and a salad.

Absolutely delicious!
(And I think, also quite nutritious.)
Disclosure: This post is my entry into the Betta Living Vegetarian Competition, in partnership with Tots100

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Siblings- May

The world has changed so much since our last Siblings post.
And their lives have changed immeasurably.

They have appreciated Easter.
They have experienced 'Frozen'.
And two of three have been introduced to pre-school.
Seren was overjoyed to welcome Ben Bear again this weekend.
And proudly, for her and her mum, part of the recognition was for helping others.
Sharing is a value understood in our home.
With three so close in age, how could it not be.

And so, for this month, as always,
I am blessed.
With children who teach adults so much.
With children who are so much happier to bring their disputes to resolution.
To children who are so willing to find ways to always be happy.

dear beautiful

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Reinvigorating children's desserts #MorrisonsMums

You think you know a store, and then it waves a magic wand, and there's something very different about it.
Morrisons is our local supermarket, convenient for Mr J as it's around the corner from the leisure centre, we use it for our main shop, and we might use any of the local 'express' stores for top-ups (Sainsbury's, Tesco, Co-operative).

So when BritMums weaved their magic and sent me £80 of vouchers to become a #MorrisonsMum I was intrigued.
And then I found out Morrisons were weaving their magic. Morrisons have cut the prices on over a thousand products. Not temporary reductions or supermarket smoke and mirrors, these are new every day low prices.
I was promised I'd be able to tell the difference.

Truth was someone else spotted the difference before me.
I put my vouchers away, ready to spoil the family on Bank Holiday Monday.
By the time I got back from a weekend in Manchester, and began telling Mr J my news, he told me the difference was already being felt on the top up shop he had done whilst I was away.
I had put together some recipes I wanted to try out. Written a shopping list, and compared online with Asda prices- I was impressed, yes- some were more, some were less, some were the same- overall my shop would be less in Morrisons by at least a fiver, this pleased me.

I added to my list a treat of a barbecue for the Bank Holiday. And other bits and pieces we'd need over the course of the week.

Market Street had been transformed. Fruit and vegetables take pride of place in the store- all reasonable priced, all looking fresh, and somewhat awesome under a mist spray.
The aisles were looking brighter for the yellow markers showing all the items staying cheaper.

We did save on our items, and so I did decide to invest in Signature burgers for our barbecue. Beefburgers still make me wary, so I was happy to pay the extra with what we had saved. And these, these were delicious.
I even had a complete 'mum moment' where as I served them to the children thought they'd have been better if I had sliced them in two they were that thick.
I did spend over my £80 budget though.
With very good reason.
Not only did I include alcohol in my shop- which always pushes up the price of any shop, but I couldn't help but be drawn to 'Nutmeg'- Morrison's clothing range. This is why Mr J does our grocery shop. Items just magic themselves into my trolley.
For those who read my blog, you'll appreciate this magic Morrisons had conjured was amazing. My fairy godmother obviously knew how much I've been stressing about the boys at school, and trying to distinguish them in these early days for their teachers. So much so, they had in stock these fab summer jackets- in two different prints. £8 each. It was a sign. Look how different the boys look in them!
And so to how Morrisons solved our next dilemma- desserts.
My children love to eat. And love to be rewarded for eating all of their dinner with a great dessert.
Yoghurt, cake, fruit, ice-cream. It gets a bit boring.
A good insight into 'us' is that our wedding day included Pimms and Fruit Kebabs, Tea and scones.
We continue to love great desserts.
And so, here are three which we tried, thanks to Morrisons.

Fruit Pizza
All Seren's idea. She doesn't like Pizza so much, and when I asked how I could make it better, I was told with fruit.
This was our approach:
1 packet of Betty Crockers cookie mix (which in turn requires 1 egg and oil)
2 bananas
A handful of grapes
Approx 20 raspberries
Approx 10 strawberries
2 tbs strawberry jam
Some squirty dairy cream
What we did:
We made the cookies following the instructions on the packet.
Rather than just freeform them I used the biggest of my cookie cutters, and pressed the mix in. The cookie mix made five cookies.
All fruit was chopped to make it easier to eat on the pizza.
The children then did their own thing.
Seb decided he didn't like the cookie, so made his pizza without the cookie or jam on his plate (ie he ate lots of fruit!).
Seren and Tom had lots of fun, and rather than have the cream over the top, they dipped the cookie crusts in it (clever children).
Whilst the amount of fresh fruit, and the use of a cookie mix does push the price up of this (probably close to a £1 per pizza), the amount of fun and time consumed in making their treat definitely makes it worthwhile.

Scones for children
I wanted to make something the children would know was just for them.
Making scones on a smaller scale was a hit, so much so Seren has been delighted to find them in her packed lunch and becuase of their 'bitesize' everyone is content to eat without the cream and jam.
I can't even begin to cost these, definitely less than 10p per scone!
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
40g softened butter
25g caster sugar
25g glace cherries, chopped
2 medium eggs
100mls milk
Strawberry jam
Double cream (clotted preferably)
What we did
The oven was preheated to 220C
Mixed the flour, baking powder and butter in a bowl and rubbed it into breadcrumb consistency.
Mixed in the sugar. Chopped the cherries and add them in.
Gently beat the eggs together, and put aside a quarter of the mix.
Add the milk to the eggs and gradually pour into the flour mix.
Once all the liquid has been added to the flour mix, you should have a soft dough.
Flour your work surface and rolling pin and press out the dough.
We used a 5cm cutter to make our scones.
Add the scones to a non-stick baking tray, use the egg mix to glaze the scones.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until risen and golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack.

Serve with cream and jam

Eton Mess- child style
Neapolitan ice-cream
Meringue nests
200ml double cream
Squirty cream
What we did:
These were made perfect by the sundae glasses and spoons we discovered in the barbecue section.
In a bowl we whisked the double cream until stiff peaks formed.
We added crushed meringue and chopped strawberries and raspberries.
We then layered the glasses with ice cream and the fruit mix.
The sundae was topped with squirty cream, sprinkles and a strawberry.

I would estimate a sundae would be about 50p in cost, if you can make use of the excess from purchasing.

I'm pleased to say that all of these were a hit with the children.
All easy to achieve on a weekly basis.
I think the fruit pizza will definitely be for treats- the children loved it and will appreciate it as such.

Disclosure: We received £80 in vouchers thanks to Britmums and Morrisons. All views and opinions contained are our own.
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