Thursday, 31 January 2013

#r2bc Reasons to be Cheerful

Oh! I'm here! On a Thursday!! That can only mean one thing... communicating my reasons to be cheerful this week - it's been a while!

1. Today is Archie's 8 month 'birthday'... He is growing up so quickly. In fact, I don't feel wholly cheerful about this one, as every parent out there knows it is bitter sweet watching those little bundles get big (and bloody hell, he is big! I met a TWO YEAR OLD he was bigger than today lol) and strong. He has two tiny toothy pegs, and his favourite person in the world is no longer me, it's his big brother. In fact, I'm sure I heard him say 'brother' the other day (as that's what Bob calls him, it's not as unlikely as it sounds).

2. My Breastfeeding Peer Support course is going well, today was our penultimate session, and I have really enjoyed it. I've loved learning about breastfeeding and sharing my thoughts and feelings with the other ladies doing the course. God knows what I am going to do on a Thursday morning now when Harry is at the childminder's - Archie and I won't know what to do with ourselves.

3. And that leads me on to my final reason to be cheerful (well, there are many more, but you know what I mean). I am so pleased to have found a wonderful childminder for Harry, and for Archie when I return to work. Harry loves his time there (today he said 'That was a really good play, mummy' when we got in the car) and I confident she enjoys his company there too. I feel like a lot of the anxiety about leaving Archie when I do go back to work has already been lifted :-D

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

#50books2013 Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Review

Mama Owl has inspired me to try to keep a record of the books I have read over the year. I'm pretty sure I read more than 50 books last year (among others I read the entire Cherub series and the Power of 5 Series!) but not all of them were 'good' books - I enjoy lots of teen/young adult fiction. I would love to keep track of what I read and when though, so this is a nice opportunity.

A book I recently finished reading was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday. The novel is based around the story of a British Fisheries Scientist who is asked to participate in the seemingly impossible (and, he thinks, ridiculous) task of introducing Salmon fishing in the Yemen. Now, I'm not much interested in Salmon Fishing (or any fishing to be honest!) and I have been educated by this book, now knowing a little bit more about it! I'll be honest, I hadn't realised the true 'ridiculous' nature of the title until I started reading. I'm sure if I'd thought about it I would have realised that Salmon are generally found in - um - rather colder climes than the Middle East!

Of course, the point of the novel is not solely to educate us on the finer points of fly fishing though. In fact, Torday is seeking to explore some of the delicate political interplays between Britain and the Far East, as well as opening up his characters (some of whom are, at least, likeable and believable) to the scrutiny of the reader. I quite enjoyed the narrative style - the story is told through a collection of diaries, letters, emails, TV scripts, Newspaper Articles - pretty much any type of text you can think of. This does have the benefit of allowing the reader into the brains of multiple characters - however, it can occasionally feel a little clumsy.

Unfortunately, I a write this review, I am struggling to find anything to enthuse about with this novel. Yes, it's an unusual subject matter, yes, I enjoyed a different style of writing. But did I love the book? No, I'm afraid not. It wasn't for me. I didn't find myself 'caring' about the characters, which is something I want from a novel, and I wasn't hooked. I read through to the end because I felt I should, not because I wanted to. And that is not the sign of a book I loved.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Inventive Playdough

Harry's not great on messy or creative play. We're working on, and currently attending a course at the local Children's Centre to give me some new ideas. However, I can persuade him to spend some time playing with playdough on occasion. The trick, of course, as with anything toddler-related, is to be inventive and relate it to their interests.

I used to simply use the playdough and model it into cars. We also rolled and cut out shapes, but this never really grasped Harry's interest as much as real '3D' cars.

More recently we have started using his construction vehicles (and woe betide you if you call the 'backhoe loader' a 'digger') to build scenes. I coloured the playdough we made last week in appropriate colours (including black for the tarmac) and he loved making the road and filling in the potholes (hmm, wish there was someone like Harry locally to do this for real!) The only problem was that he lamented the lack of a 'grader' in his construction vehicle set to level his road!!

Today we went for something different. Thanks to the 'Harry and his Bucket full of Dinosaurs' books (Harry's new favourites), he has developed a new interest in dinosaurs (I seriously have to gen up on my knowledge of names and also on which are carnivores, omnivores and herbivores!) so we go out the dinosaurs with the playdough. He particularly like feeding Tyrannosaurus and making footprints. We discussed the difference between the herbivore and carnivore footprints and in their teeth. It's nice to find something new to grab his interest as otherwise our days are mostly spent racing and performing elaborate dramas with his car collection!

The recipe I use for playdough is from the Wonderplay book, which has loads of awesome ideas in it. 1 cup flour, 1 tbsp oil, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tsps cream of tartar, food colouring.

Mix dry ingredients in saucepan; add wet and mix together; cook over low/med heat; stir constantly (about 5 minutes); knead until smooth; add colouring as desired.

I recommend gel food colouring, as sometimes the liquid stuff makes it too wet if you put enough in to create a vibrant colour.


This week I was enticed into borrow the 'My Daddy Cooks' recipe book from the library - just as we were leaving, it was there, tempting me from the shelf! So I have been inspired by the book this week, and I will be trying a few new (and hopefully simple) recipes from the book. I haven't checked out the blog yet, but I've heard it's great, so definitely worth a look. I hope that I might be able to persuade Harry to give me a hand in the kitchen, if not Archie will have to do as my sous chef!

Monday - Lamb Koftas in Pitta bread
Tuesday - Mexican Lasagne (Chilli layered with tortillas and with a creme fraiche topping)
Wednesday - Sticky Baked Salmon (I will probably do home made salmon 'fish fingers' for Harry)
Thursday - Club Sandwiches and home made chips
Friday - Pork Stroganoff
Saturday - Toad in the hole
Sunday - Roast Chicken

I am also hoping to make his 'Fruity popovers' - sweet yorkshire puddings with freah fruit - for breakfast at the weekend and I will also be baking banana and white chocolate muffins this week.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Planning Play

As all the mums and dads out there will know, it's tricky to plan things with toddlers. They have their own minds, after all, and don't always what to do what we think they will enjoy or what we think they should do.

However, each week after reading what Harry does with the childminder on a Thursday morning I have found myself feeling a bit wistful that we don't manage to complete that much when we are at home. So I am planning a little experiment. By no means am I going to be removing Harry's 'free play' time, but I am going to try to make an activity open to him each afternoon that we might not otherwise have done. For example, Harry almost never instigates creative/messy play - by which I mean he is very unlikely to ever ask to do colouring, painting, play dough etc. However, as much as he loves his cars, by the end of the afternoon he does sometimes seem to reach saturation and ask for the TV on.

So, this week I am going to just think a little ahead and make sure I am prepared for a good play session straight after nap time. We are going to go for a dinosaur theme as Harry has really been into his 'Harry and the Dinosaurs' books recently:

Monday -  am: Daddy is on holiday - Soft play. pm: Track-making with cars and paint (or Daddy's choice).
Tuesday - am: Cousin Isla coming to play. pm: Playdough and dinosaurs.
Wednesday - am: Toddler group at Children's Centre. pm: Dinosaur sticking/colouring activity.
Thursday - am: Childminder. pm: Dinosaur swamp cakes (with green colouring!)
Friday - am: Messy Play Group. pm: Active play - stomp like a dinosaur! I plan to make a cushion fort/forest/swamp in his bedroom with all the blankets and pillows in the house.

Do you plan your child's play? Does it work? What do you think of my ideas? I hope to feed back to you next week how we got on!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bobchat - Parking

Harry on my parking skills when reversing into the drive.

That's right, mummy, you can do it. Come on, mummy! Well done, mummy! Good Boy!

Well, thanks - I think!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Book Review - One Hundred Names (Cecelia Ahern)

I have to admit it - I have a not-so-secret fondness for Cecelia Ahern's novels. I'm not quite sure why - on the face of it they should be everything I hate - they have romantic, chick-lit leanings and largely feature young, attractive women as the protagonist. However, I do find them more thought-provoking than many novels usually pigeon-holed as 'similar' - I particularly like the novels she has written with a magic-realist leaning. I really enjoyed 'The Time of My Life' that I was given for Christmas last year. And there, I've hit on part of the main appeal - conveniently Ahern brings out a new novel just in time for my Christmas wishlist. In fact, it doesn't even need to make it on to my wishlist any more as my darling husband is bound to notice and buy it for me anyway. There's not much better than snuggling up on the sofa when there are doting family about to look after those young, distracting things known as my children and have an indulgent read. The book seldom lasts longer than a day - a little longer this year as Archie is still rather demanding of me as his main source of nutrition.

The premise of One Hundred Names is simple, a journalist - Kitty -  is left what is bound to be the scoop of her life by her editor, a good friend, who passes away. Only problem is that her editor dies before she is able to divulge exactly what that 'scoop' is and leaves Kitty with an envelope containing only a list of - you guessed it - 100 names. Kitty's challenge is to, first of all, find these individuals and then to discover what the link is between them - finally she has to write the story. All this must be completed in a ridiculously tight deadline imposed by the acting editor who doesn't really have much faith on her (understandable since she is the-most-hated-journalist-ever due to a mistake she made on a previous story).

It's a nice premise for a story, and I do like Ahern's characters. They are a perfect mix of eccentric and endearing. Of course, the novel is a life-affirming journey for Kitty and some of the other characters involved. There isn't much of the magical aspect I have enjoyed in some of her previous novels (aside from a bloke who can hear the prayers of others), but it was a fun read nonetheless. I also like the descriptions of Dublin prevalent in many of Ahern's novels - reminding me of a particularly lovely break we had there some years ago. All these ingredients go together to make what is really an enjoyable read. It's not 'great literature' but it's fun, easy and cheers up my winter. And that's what Christmas gifts are all about!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Apple Muffins with Cinnamon Butter

Today I made the most delicious apple muffins using this recipe and we ate them warm with cinnamon butter. To make the cinnamon butter I used about 100g of butter, mixed with 60g of icing sugar with 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon. It was amazing, although probably a bit too much for the number of muffins I made!

I used my lovely new silicone muffin trays that Ian bought me as a surprise sale present, and I didn't use cases. I think that would have been fine if I had let the cakes cool down before trying to extract them, but as we wanted to eat them hot I think it would probably have been wiser to use cases. As my new muffin trays are extra-deep ones I am going to experiment with making my own cases out of greaseproof paper next time I make these.

I recommend you all try baking these asap - but best done when you have people round, as they are EXTREMELY moreish and otherwise you might end up eating the whole batch on your own!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Bobchat - Be have

D - Come on Harry, are you going to behave so we can have stories?
H - No! I don't want to be a have! I want to be a good boy!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Baking - Chocolate Guinness Cake

View IMG01809-20130112-1625.jpg in slide showSorry about the poor quality picture - and the fact the cake is already cut - we just couldn't wait to eat it!

This recipe is from my all-time favourite Baking book, 'Baking Magic' by Kate Shirazi. If you are after a not-too-sweet, dense, moist and chocolatey loaf, this one's for you - in my opinion it would make a great grown-up and manly birthday cake for any Dads and Grandads out there!

110g butter, 1 1/3 cups soft brown sugar, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup Guinness, 1 1/4 cup plain flour, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1tsp bicarb, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar (mums will have this in their cupboards to make playdough, but I haven't actually used it to bake a cake before!)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line a 1lb Loaf Tin (I use a silicone liner I got from the pound shop).

Cream butter and sugar, then beat in eggs. Add Guinness.

Sift dry ingredients in and mix to combine.

Bake for  about 45 minutes (mine actually took a little longer) until the skewer comes out clean.


Also good warmed up in the microwave and served with ice cream for pudding. Yum.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Book Review - The Power of 5 Series - Anthony Horowitz

A few weeks before Christmas I realised that the final book of Anthony Horowitz's Power of 5 series had finally been published this year, I was so excited, I have been waiting literally years for this book to come out! I had the first book at a talking book back when I was doing a postgraduate course at Southampton University and I needed something to listen to on the walk down to the train station.

Horowitz is most famous for his Alex Rider books - a film was even made of the first book 'Stormbreaker' a few years ago. They are good, but not my favourite examples of his writing. I do find him a great writer, and have often used his short stories in school when teaching - particularly 'The Man With the Yellow Face' which is a brilliantly constructed text. His writing has a gritty, realistic style, and he connects extremely well with teenagers. The Power of 5 series is no exception. However, it has the addition of a magical fantasy aspect to the novels, which I really enjoy. I love a good Young Adult novel, and I don't think there is any shame in reading a 'children's' book at all.

The Power of 5 series is about a group of 5 children who have the power to save the world from the 'Old Ones', a mysterious force that's only desire is to create misery and pain. The series is cleverly constructed - in the first novel 'Raven's Gate', you meet the character of Matt, a troubled teen put into a fostering programme that brings him face to face with supporters of the Old Ones - the rest of the series builds up until in the final novel all 5 teenagers are pitted against the evil force.

The final novel, 'Oblivion' is an apocalyptic novel that I found extremely emotional to read at times. Horowitz has really imagined what it would be like if human beings were pushed right to the limit. The descriptions of famous cities (including London, Dubai and New York) and what they have been reduced to are particularly evocative, and, as always, Horowitz kept me gripped until the very end.

I really enjoyed reading the first 4 books in the run up to Christmas and couldn't wait to get my hands on Oblivion, which I finished as soon as I possibly could - I'd recommend these books to people who have enjoyed books such as the Cherub series (Muchamore) and The Hunger Games.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Thank You!

A great big thank you to Caroline from Sparkly Vodka for helping me create a new look for my blog! Yes, there are robots, Mama Owl...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Bobchat - Something's Wrong!

Mummy - frustrated with computer - Argh!
Harry runs off upstairs - Daddy, daddy, come quick! Something's wrong with Mummy!!


Getting back into the swing of things and hoping that this year I am going to manage to cook a lot more homemade stuff. Last week we had a big shop delivered to the house and bought some of our main foods (meats etc) on some good deals, so this week I have hardly any shopping to do, which makes me very happy!

Monday 14th January - Sweet'n'Smoky Bacon and Tomato Pasta with Garlic Bread.
Tuesday 15th January - Homemade Chicken and Vegetable Pizza with Dough Balls.
Wednesday 16th January - Sticky Chinese Pork and Noodles
Thursday 17th January - Sausages and Mash
Friday 18th January - Meatballs and Pasta
Saturday 19th January - Lemon and Coriander Turkey and Cous Cous
Sunday 20th January - Roast

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Bobchat - Angel

H - I'm not a little angel, I'm a good boy!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Reasons to be Cheerful #r2bc

Oh, I have so many reasons to be cheerful this week I barely know where to start. You might have noticed that I haven't blogged much recently - maybe this post might give a bit of explanation why!!

1. I have two healthy boys! Oh, I can't even express what a relief this week has been!! Ever since the weekend of the 1st December when Harry was hit by the sickness bug - shortly followed by Daddy, then myself - the boys have had one bug after another. To be honest, I'd almost forgotten how lovely and delightful Harry is when he's *normal*, he has been off coloour for so long, and it has made him difficult, grouchy and whiny (yes, even more than your average 2 year old!) They both contracted bronchiolitis and Harry was hit with horrendous temperatures, and little old Archie was struggling to breathe - it was horrible. I can tell you what is worse than your baby being poorly - TWO of your babies being poorly - I barely knew where to turn. Such a relief to be back to routine with two healthy tots, long may it last!

2. I have a healthy home! We were hit by all sorts in December. First, a broken pushchair. Not the end of the world, I hear you say. Nope, not until you are stuck in the middle of London, miles from home with a poorly toddler, a heavy (and I don't say that lightly, ha ha) baby and all your stuff for the weekend - and the wheel falls off your bloody pushchair. Then, the washing machine decided that washing wasn't its thing any more. Whilst it had all of Harry's sick-soaked bedlinen (thanks bronchiolitis for making Harry cough so much he was sick regularly this month). Finally we returned home after Christmas to a rather chilly house - our boiler was condemned the next day resulting in an unscheduled holiday with Gran and Grandad Peugeot (thank you thank you thank you!) However, my reason to be cheerful is that right now pretty much every appliance in the house appears to be working, and we have heating. Reason to be cheerful indeed!!

3. It's January! Season of new starts, getting fit and feeling good about yourself! I ran my first run for a while this morning - I was slower than last time, but I made it round the full 5k so I am proud of myself for that. Also a cold snap is on the way - nothing I like more than cold, crisp weather, so I am looking forward to it (now the boiler is fixed anyway!) And, unlike some people I could mention (Mama Owl), I'm acutally hoping for some snow.

Happy New Year!!

Get fit, Feel epic! #getfitfeelepic

This is my entry for the ‘Get Fit Feel Epic’ competition hosted by Kate on Thin Ice”. It's a nice reason to blog about my fitness goals at this time of year.

2012 was a good year for my fitness, all in all. I was pregnant up until 31st of May of course, but having a 2 year old certainly made for an active pregnancy, so I was ready to start getting fit using the NHS Couch to 5k podcasts when Archie was a couple of months old. Like many others, I was inspired by the Olympics, and in particular Jessica Ennis - the Heptathlon is surely the most inspiring sport there is! That's why my running journey started on the 4th of August - also known as Super Saturday. Although I found it hard and suffered a few setbacks, I am extremely proud to say I can now 'run' (well, jog, and occasionally walk for a minute or so) 5 kilometres. The last time I felt so proud was when I made it through labour for the second time, ha ha!

2013 is the year I commit to as many Park Runs as I can, I don't want to say every week, as we all know that life does have a habit of getting in the way, but maybe 3 runs out of every 4 week period would be good. It's the year I hope to improve my 5k time - maybe down to 30 minutes, and it's the year when I hope to run 5k for charity. I also hope that in the spring/summer time when running in the evenings is a little easier to manage and when Archie is a bit bigger I will be able to step up my running distance. One day I will run 10k, and maybe even a marathon.

I've never been an athlete, and I've never enjoyed running before, but the Couch to 5k programme has really helped me, and I am now hoping to be a fit enough mummy to be running around playing in the park with my boys for many years to come. No longer will I be puffed out on a park bench in the corner watching - I'm going to be right in there. And I am proud of that.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Book Review - The Night Circus

My sister Hannah recently recommended that I read the book 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern as she really enjoyed it, and I finally got around to doing so just before Christmas.

The novel follows the story of two characters, Celia and Marco, whose destinies are set to entwine thanks to a duel between two magicians who use them as pawns as they aim to prove that their method of teaching magic is superior. However, Celia and Marco's story is, in some ways, incidental to what I think is the real power of the novel. The descriptions of the circus itself are, simply, captivating. Peppered throughout the novel are short chapters written in the second person, as if it is genuinely 'you' who stand observing the circus, and these chapters in particular are extremely effective at transporting the reader to the magical world of the Night Circus itself.

The story is set in a vaguely Victorian era, in some ways similar to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (although The Night Cricus is nowhere near as epic), which I found enjoyable to read about and many of the characters - including twins, Poppet and Widget, born the day the circus itself comes into being - are intriguing and likeable. Morgenstern appears to have taken care to create 'real', complex characters even when they are on the periphery of the narrative.

I would definitely recommend this novel as a light but gripping read, it certainly transports its readers to another time and place. And, to be honest, what else do you read novels for?

Monday, 7 January 2013


Happy New Year everyone! I trust you all had a good holiday... Ours was a little, mixed but I will save that for another time! Suffice to say, we had a lovely time but it is also nice to be back home, back in our routine and with two healthy little boys - touch wood!

Although it's not that cold, I am still finding myself wanting tasty winter comfort food at the moment, so I think this week's meal plan reflects that...

Monday - 'Pasty' beef casserole - beef, swede and onion with cheesy dumplings
Tuesday - Turkey and mushroom hot pot
Wednesday - Bacon pasta and garlic bread
Thursday - Chicken and Leek pie
Friday - Sausages and Mash
Saturday - Club sandwiches
Sunday - Roast chicken