Cake and Karate


Karate Exam

Once again I have had a heap of blog post ideas floating around my head, but life keeps getting in the way of me writing them down.

Typing, housework, birthday cakes, after school club forms, karate exams, a new book idea.

So this is just a quick update to keep the blog plodding along!

I passed my first karate exam last Saturday, and my son passed his latest grade easily this time too. Despite feeling for my little girl who I think regretted choosing not to Grade with us, I was very proud of us both, particularly my son. Even without his sister, he walked in with head high and 100% focus and breezed an exam I was sure he would fail. His drawing of his exam shows how much it meant to him.

On the flip side I didn’t do so well on my first Proofreading paper. I got a B- which doesn’t sound too bad until you know that I need a straight B to pass. It turns out I edit too much. Ahem.


Wobbly Cake

I made my son the requested Lego cake. It didn’t rise and was nowhere near the image my son picked out, but he liked it and it tastes great!

But oh my that lettering was far harder than it should be. Despite my many talents, manipulating fondant icing isn’t one of them!

I’m trying to make space for writing something new. Not that there is very much space at the moment between the school run, paid work, and party prep.

But I have an idea and that’s a start. I’ve challenged my husband to write something for the Chicken House competition (deadline December). Not sure if either of us will manage it, but the race is on.

Thankfully I’m at the ‘carrying an idea around in my mind and world building’ which is just as well. I don’t know if it’s the antibiotics (my ear infection came back and it’s definitely made me feel bleh – MTMcGuire I think you’re onto something!) or whether it’s an excited child getting out of bed at 5am yesterday, but I’m definitely a bit fuzzy. Writing a dystopian novel probably requires me to be a bit sharper.

In the meantime I’d better get back to typing and party prep. Who says SAHMs have it easy? 😀

The Joy of Not Caring If They Eat

Happy Mealtimes

Happy Mealtimes

I mentioned in my last post trying a new food regime called The Division of Responsibility.

It’s marvellous.

For the first time in years I’m enjoying cooking for the family, rather than dreading dinnertime.

My energy and brain are still spent on food, but now it’s what interesting recipes can I find, rather than what on earth can I cook for a fussy family.

Today, we had freshly baked scones for breakfast (I had some jam and cream left over from afternoon tea at Burghley House!)

For tea we had baked ham (using my Mum’s special recipe), fresh bread, mini omelettes, and buckets of veg.

I think my daughter ate a piece of ham and some yoghurt, and my son had a few pieces of yellow pepper. I’m only guessing from this photo: I ate everything and didn’t really notice what the kids ate. I provided healthy yummy food – as is my responsibility. Whether they ate or not was theirs.

I suspect they filled up with snacks on the way home from the park, but as the snack box newly installed in the car is full of dried fruit and rice cakes (okay and chocolate cookies this evening – they needed energy for the park!) I’m okay with that too. If they’re hungry they’ll eat a good breakfast in the morning.

It’s early days, but I like it as an approach. It feels positive.

And Then He Was Five

Cake success (eventually)

Cake success (eventually)

So the party came and went and we all survived.

Sunny weather helped, as seven boisterous boys bounced around on the sixteen foot trampoline.

The piñata took some bashing and the cake looked marvellous, if I do say so myself! I even made mini cakes with cake reject number two. Love my mini ninjas!

It’s just sinking in that I no longer have children under five. When reading my favourite blogs about the toddler years, I feel a mixture of nostalgia and relief.

Not that I’m under any illusions that it magically gets easier now my youngest is five, or now they’re both at school. But I sense a shift.

Mini Ninjas

Mini Ninjas

I can feel myself slowly re-emerging from the seven years of sleeplessness and doubt. The constant fear of losing one of them is so familiar now it’s like a cranky neighbour I can mostly ignore. I want to do things for the whole family, not just the children.

I am aware of other things. Increasing their independence: saying “no” more often, and “you can do it” rather than, “of course Mummy will help you.”

The two go usefully hand in hand. I have a sudden urge to reclaim the house, to have child-free/toy-free spaces, to erect some boundaries. I want to shift our attitude to food and eating. So I’m busy and preoccupied and pushing them to entertain themselves more after school.

It’s a work in progress. Particularly the food. After baking numerous cakes (each flatter than the last) and watching other children eat their party pizza while my son refused, things came to a head. I listened to advice from a friend, who specialises in getting kids to eat veggies, and it brought the self-doubt back. But, walking away, I knew her approach was not for me.

Finished piñata!

Finished piñata!

A little internet research revealed a “long game” approach that fits much better.

It’s based on a division of responsibility: As the parent, my responsibility is to provide balanced, nutritional meals. It is the child’s responsibility to eat or not eat. There are no threats or rewards. Pudding is not held back. There is no nagging or angst.

It’s hard, letting them have pudding without eating a scrap of dinner. But I agree that pudding shouldn’t be a reward for eating dinner. It gives sweet stuff too much weight.

That said, my son hasn’t eaten dinner in days. But he’s catching up at breakfast (three Weetabix and three yoghurts this morning!) and meal times are almost enjoyable. No nagging and pleading and ultimatums and tears. Lovely.

I’ll see how long it lasts!

So that’s it. A new era. Let’s hope it brings happy children, happy families, and a lovely book deal!

Yummy Ella Crumble

Apple Crumble

Apple Crumble

It’s been a while since I shared my progress with Deliciously Ella, the cook book I purchased in an attempt to eat less sugar.

Apart from making a range of smoothies every day (mostly my own invention, like cucumber, pear, apple juice and aloe vera) I haven’t actually used the book in a while.

Then, during half term, my friend (who bought the book after I showed her my copy) made us the quinoa and broccoli dish and it was scrummy.

My own attempt was less delicious, but that was probably because I got my tahini and tamara muddled up (it is a bit like learning a new language!) so there was too much sesame and not enough salt.

Today I ended up taking my daughter to the minor injuries unit at 7.30am because her wrist was still hurting after a week (nothing serious, apparently, although it didn’t help that she decided to be brave and not tell the nurse when it hurt! Sigh) so we all missed breakfast.

My son made up for it with four rounds of toast, at playgroup and football, and nothing else, so I decided to make a healthy pudding to top up his nutrients after tea. Crumble is his absolute favourite – pretty much the only way he’ll eat fruit that isn’t dried. But I couldn’t be bothered to make the topping, after all my weekend baking, so I dipped into Deliciously Ella.

As you can see from the picture, the recipe is very low hassle. About the only effort is melting the coconut oil (and I held it over the boiling pasta pot for a minute which did the trick!)

As you can also see from the picture, I tweaked the recipe a bit. Ella’s recipes always make far too much. I used roughly a third of the ingredients, together with four tiny apples and a fruit pot, and it made enough for four people.

I also included pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts to add a little crunch and extra flavour. It was delicious. I did serve with custard, but aside from that there was no butter, refined sugar or wheat flour in it.

Unfortunately, after a bowl of broccoli pasta and two yoghurts my son wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat his! Shame. All the more for Mummy and Daddy. We need nutrients too, right?


Healthy Food Update

Delicious Sweet Potato Brownies (apart from the crunchy rice!)

Delicious Sweet Potato Brownies (apart from the crunchy rice!)

It’s been nearly two weeks since I wrote my review of the Deliciously Ella cookbook and I thought I ought to give an update.

Between surviving half term (with trips swimming, to the gym, the zoo, the garden centre, and HOURS of craft), I have been slowly gathering the ingredients to try some more of Ella’s recipes.

The first one I tried was the Carrot, Orange and Cashew Salad (p139 of the UK edition), supplemented with the ingredients I had in the cupboard, rather than the ones listed (and made with satsumas rather than oranges!)

The first batch I made with avocado and tomato, rather than olives and raisins, and I didn’t add any date or maple syrup. Instead I fried it all in olive oil. Delicious, quick and easy. The second batch (which I was brave enough to try on hubbie after my first go) I swapped avocado for some cranberry cheese that needed using up. Although not dairy free, like the first one, it was just as delicious. Even hubbie said it was nice. So that’s a keeper.

The second recipe I tried was not quite so successful, but only because I had failed to gather all the necessary ingredients and I don’t own a food processor. My search for an affordable food processor that might manage to make nut butter is an ongoing challenge. For now I’m using the mill adapter for my blender (which has sustained a little damage as a result) and my Philips handheld blender, which is doing an amazing job considering.

Anyway, the second recipe was the Sweet Potato Brownies (p166), which are made using sweet potatoes (obviously), Medjool dates, ground almonds, brown rice flower, raw cacao powder and maple syrup. I had everything but the rice flour and ground almonds, so I chucked a scoop of rice in with some whole almonds and ground them in the mill.

That was my mistake.

I should have just used plain flour and accepted that it wasn’t 100% gluten/wheat free. It’s not like I’ve given up wheat or sugar completely, so it wouldn’t have mattered. As it was, the rice didn’t grind up fully and the brownies ended up teeth-breakingly crunchy.

BUT, and it’s a big but, they are delicious. Seriously. No butter, no refined sugar, and actually some vegetables, and they are yummy. So I will buy some rice flour and I expect these will become a stock bake. I dread to think how many calories they contain, with all those nuts and maple syrup, but at least they’re sort of healthy.

I still find the book frustrating to use. I often can’t find the recipes I want, and I wish they were ordered by type (meal, salad, dessert) rather than ingredients. I still halve the recipes and find that makes plenty. But I am glad I bought the book, even if my wallet isn’t! I’m sure my body will thank me in the end.

Grow Up and Get Back to Work

Back to work (crochet away!)

Back to work (crochet away!)

I’ve really struggled to get back into writing this January. After six weeks of Christmas planning and the children being home for the holidays, my brain is foggier than the dull winter skies outside.

I have started several blog posts in my head in the last week or two, but none have made it further than that. They’ve had titles like “Christmas Chaos and Crochet Stole My Voice” and “Farmville Is Evil”. But that’s same ol same ol.

I’ve written before about how my addiction to knitting and Farmville has derailed my writing, how having the children home from school causes me to sleep non-stop (I was asleep at 4pm on Christmas Day) and how hard it is to get the balance between Writer and Mummy. It’s time to stop making excuses and get back to work.

Another post that floated in the unwritten ether of my mind at 3am, as is often the case, was a review of 2014, and how I found inner peace.

Happy children

Happy children

It’s a bit late for end-of-year reviews and, anyway, my new year starts in September, not January. But it is true nonetheless. I might still struggle with depression and the more negative aspects of being HSP. I might have struggled with having hubbie home for four months while he found a new job (he did, hurrah). I might have realised that being self published, self employed, is harder than even my pessimistic view of the world could have predicted. But still, peace was found.

Somewhere between Sertraline, Mindfulness and Good Enough Parenting, somewhere between my children telling me they love me All The Time and being able to be at home with my husband for four months and still look forward to retirement, somewhere between five-star reviews and knitted toys, I found me.

I’m reading a children’s book called Winterling by Sarah Prineas at the moment, and the main protagonist finally finds a place where she fits, where she feels she belongs. This year, especially this Christmas holiday, between making bread from scratch, hosting Christmas play dates for nine and five children, learning to crochet, and being there for my children, I realised I have found where I belong.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to me. My family and I thought I’d be a terrible parent. Turns out we were all wrong. For all my doubt and shoutiness and crying and constant need to hide, I am a great parent. My children are kind and happy, healthy and full of love.

Writing didn’t come naturally to me. My parents and my tutors at university said my writing was dull. But hard work beats genius every time, and six years in to my writing journey some people (not all!) love my stories. I began to doubt my writing after Class Act and Alfie and the Magic Arch but I need to realise I’m still learning, and not give up.

Huggable creativity

Huggable creativity

My writer’s blues, my lost voice, came from doubt and impatience. Knitting and Farmville are far more instant. I can make a toy in a few days, I can make cakes on my farm in minutes.

Writing is invisible and definitely the long climb to creativity. It’s intangible. At the end of each day I can’t measure my progress with a ruler, or gets oohs of delight from my friends. Just like parenting (my children thank me for working on their Farms, they never thank me for clean clothes or floors), you have to accept the results are a long way off and keep slogging anyway.

I reread a post from this time last year, and discovered I felt exactly the same. Lost, melancholy, restless. It’s January, dark, rainy, and exhaustion is rife after Christmas. Time to take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.

So today my laptop is charged, my crochet bagged (except for the photo!), the farms switched off. Today I will return to Lucy and Edan, Andrew and Graham, and I will find their story. I will write until they find their happy ending and, in doing do, I will find mine.

Art in August #13 – Cookies

Iced Biscuits

Iced Biscuits

Today’s plan for school holiday survival has involved craft and cookies. The children were booked in to do craft at our local library, as part of their summer reading challenge.

We were going to head to the park first but it took two hours to hustle the children into the car. I’m not looking forward to being back on a strict timetable in three and a bit weeks, even if I am longing for five minutes by myself.

The library craft involved decorating scales for a giant dragon. These days I let the kids get on with it and listen to the more controlling parents getting frustrated with trying to steer the production of something beautiful.

Son's cookies

Son’s cookies

It’s one of the many things I’ve learned to let go in five and a half long years of parenting wilful children. I still offer guidance and encouragement and occasionally, when they’re not looking, I’ll cheat. But what do I care whether their creations look like scales or not? It’s the doing, not the end product. (I almost didn’t even mind when I saw some of the neat, colourful and inventive designs the other children did! Hehe)

Ditto goes for the cookies. My plan for today involved buying gingerbread men (and picking up a Waitrose coffee) before going to the park. As that didn’t happen, I decided we would make some. I’m pre-menstrual: cookies are essential. Besides, it meant another couple of hours filled and a tick in the Mummy box, to off set the hours of TV they’re watching these days.

Daughter's designs

Daughter’s designs

I no longer supervise, except to put the finished products in the oven. We’ve made them often enough to know what to do. I love that lazy parenting is sometimes the best sort!

I decided icing biscuits might as well be today’s artistic effort. Except I don’t do baking. I look at pictures of fancy birthday cakes made by Mummies I know (they seem to be never ending on Facebook) with envy, as I buy mine from Tesco. So I don’t have any of the kit either. Icing is done with bowls and plastic cutlery.

As a result I’m especially proud of my dribble-design iced biscuits. Artistic (after a fashion) AND tasty (sort of – I ran out of syrup), what more can you want?

A Mothering Sunday

Homemade climbing complex

Homemade climbing complex

This Mothering Sunday I have mothered. The day started with cuddles at 5.30/6.30am (the clocks went forward), followed by gifts, breakfast and a lie-in. Lovely. When I got up, I discovered the children had watched a movie and were starting on their second, breakfast half-eaten and the house a state.

I started my usual morning routine of making beds, carrying laundry downstairs, putting the washing machine on, emptying and re-filling the dishwasher, letting the dog out, clearing the breakfast things away and making a second cup of tea. Then I helped the children plant seeds and baked pain au chocolat for everyone. Eventually the kids went out to play, and I realised that – with the clocks changing – it was too late to go out for lunch.

I had only one request for Mother’s Day – that we could go out for a roast lunch so I could eat a meal I hadn’t had to cook. When it was decided that we weren’t going to go I was pretty cross and stomped round the kitchen preparing a roast lunch, to make up for the one I missed.

I even made a kebab on request for my daughter (that she didn’t eat) and carrots for my son (which he didn’t eat.) By the end of lunch my mood hadn’t really improved. In an effort to buy some time to read my book, I opened and raked over the sandpit, before clearing away the dishes.

Homemade is best

Homemade is best

Somewhere admidst it all, I realised I was enjoying providing for my family, making yummy meals and watching the kids cause carnage in the garden. I gave in to domesticity and made an apple crumble for after dinner (hubbie’s favourite, because he needs cheering up.) I did all the ironing. Finally I snuck upstairs to read my book for an hour, until a screaming child took me back downstairs.

While I was preparing lunch I felt irritated that I was having to cook, rather than being taken out, and I wished for a family who pampered me on Mother’s Day, who bought chocolates and flowers and booked a table for lunch. But then I realised this is our first day at home for weeks, because of all the birthday parties, and it was lovely. Hubbie pottered round the garden, building a makeshift climbing frame for the kids and sorting out the accumulated junk. The kids ran and dug in the sand and played with water. Unwatched and unfettered (mostly) as I want them to be.

And do you know what? I’ve enjoyed my domestic day much more than I would have enjoyed a day alone to read (too guilty! Besides I can do that tomorrow) or a day out (too stressful, noisy, busy, expensive.) Homemade apple crumble was just as nice as chocolates and the last flowers my daughter bought me ‘just because’ are still (dead) in the vase.

Mothers of small children don’t really get a day off. But I got a day to do my thing, up to a point (cooking curry for dinner while watching Homes Under the Hammer without being pestered by children IS a day off!)

So, thank you family. Today I have felt useful and nurturing, like a mother. I feel loved.

Food And Filling Prevention: My Latest Sources of Mummy Guilt

Mummy-guilt trip to Waitrose!

Mummy-guilt trip to Waitrose!

Today I have been obsessing about food and tooth decay. I found out recently that my three-year-old son has cavities. I was horrified. He loves his sweets and juice and though we minimise his intake of both, he is also a fussy eater and so has many other bad-teeth foods like dried fruit and toast with jam.

Probably as a result of latent anxiety, which seems to be the latest phase of medication side effects (or just my natural state), when I saw the hole in my son’s tooth this morning it tipped me over the edge. Even though I later allowed him to eat a muffin (and don’t get me started on the guilt I felt when I saw the 11 lines of ingredients, most of which were unpronounceable) and some crisps.

So while he slept this afternoon I spent an hour on Google. It didn’t improve my anxiety; quite the opposite. Because it turns out that grain-based foods are bad for teeth too. And my fussy child only eats breakfast cereal, sandwiches, toast and pasta. All wheat. (Also all full of salt – and a news report I heard this morning bemoaned how much salt kids eat – is there no end to my parenting fails?).

My sister has started following a Paleo diet (a diet that seeks to recreate the foods our ancestors would have eaten – meat and veg – while eschewing grains, potatoes, dairy, refined sugar and processed foods). She’s the foodie in the family. I hate cooking, I hate thinking about food and I’m rubbish at anything that requires hardship and excessive thinking. A diet without grains falls into all those camps, especially when pancakes and pasta are key elements of happy parenting for me. I have got lazy recently, feeding particularly my son the things I know he’ll eat, like spaghetti bolognaise and cheese sandwiches. I thought as long as he had a few fruit pouches, plenty of milk and some rice cakes, he was getting an okay diet (he gets great food at nursery and eats better for strangers).

But while I figured he would outgrow his fussiness, I hadn’t factored in his teeth issues. And now all my laissez-faire parenting, my not insisting on fresh fruit and vegetables and fish in the hope that – like his sister – he’d come to all the things in his own time, seems to have backfired. Because apparently nutrition can affect teeth. Obviously I knew that calcium was important, but both my kids drink buckets of milk. I didn’t really think about all the other vitamins, like A and D and the Omega fats. My daughter doesn’t like cow’s milk so she has powder milk – fortified with vitamins – as well as happily eating fish and meat. Is it coincidence that her teeth are fine?

Anyway, I won’t try and unravel all the sources of information I ploughed through today. I came away with one relatively-easy solution: cod liver oil, with one concern – vitamin A overdose. I didn’t come to a happy resolution, but I did decide that cod liver oil might be good for all of us (particularly hubbie’s bad back and my dodgy knees). I also decided that if I can’t banish grains from our diet, I might be able to widen them away from just wheat. A bit more maize and rice. Cornflakes (also nicely lower in sugar than most of our current breakfast cereals), rice cakes, some minestrone soup. Baby steps. And eggs, eggs are meant to be good. I used to cook lots of scrambled egg, until my son refused to eat it. He might just have to learn to eat what he’s given or lump it!

Conscientious parenting: so full of pitfalls it should come with a health warning.

How Much Should You Entertain Your Children?

Picnic in the sun

Picnic in the sun

It’s the weekend. The sun is shining and it’s warm outside for the first time this year. The children are in shorts. Hubbie and I are not at fighting strength and the desire to spring clean house and garden are being decimated by an overwhelming need to curl up and read a book (me) or get back to stripping the engine in the garage (hubbie).

Saturday saw a whirlwind of sorting from hubbie, in response to a plea from me that the lounge had disappeared under weeks of accumulated detrius. I do cleaning, he does sorting, that’s our skill set and division of labour. I was still feeling sick and disorientated from the tablets and the kids were slightly flummoxed by having a whole weekend without children’s parties to go to.

Grandpa came round to put the world to rights and help tinker with the engine. The children were told to shush, go play and mostly they did. But promises were made that today would involve more games and attention. Then Grandad called late to say he’d pop in for coffee in the morning. So Sunday started with a frenzy of cleaning (as he comes less often I make more effort to maintain the illusion that his son married a clean and tidy person. My stepdad knows this is a lie – my mum won’t even come round anymore because the clutter in our house drives her bonkers.)

By 10am this morning (his anticipated arrival time) we’d cleaned and hoovered and found the house under the filth and clutter. The children assisted by cleaning dust with wet wipes. But still, they reminded us continuously about the request for attention and games. Grandad spent half his time looking at the stripped engine and the rest imparting typos to me that he found in Two-Hundred Steps Home. When he left at 12 o’clock the children had been left to bounce on the trampoline and play in the playhouse. They were quite happy, but still asking for games.

Playing with the hose

Playing with the hose

Hubbie finally managed a game of chess with our daughter while I baked cookies with our son. I then played dominos with them both for twenty minutes. But that was the extent of our attention, as I went off to iron school clothes (and ended up writing this post!) and hubbie mowed the lawn.

They’ve been happily (mostly) playing with the hose and trampoline for the last hour (hurrah for early spring sunshine!), but I still feel a bit concerned.

After all my reading on The Five Love Languages, I suspect that Quality Time is important to both of them. But they do also need to learn to play by themselves. Weekends can’t always be children’s parties and trips to the farm. I at least get time during the week to myself but hubbie needs downtime at the weekend. I used to take them to lots of places when I had them both at home, because they’re easier to manage at the zoo or the park than in the house, but I worry that they had so much fun and mummy time it is why they both cry when being left at school and nursery.

They’re not neglected children, but parental attention can be pretty thin at times. They have each other and are expected to find solace in that. And mostly they used to do that. But more and more, since my daughter started school, they’ve been demanding adult attention at home. Assuming I had the patience to offer it, is it still wise? I don’t remember our parents doing much in the way of entertaining us as kids. We were taught to ride bikes and taken to gym classes, but we also played with our dolls and books and colouring. We sat in the car eating crisps while they went to the pub to play darts, or while they did the supermarket shop.

Parenting these days is all about quality time and enjoying every moment, but what if we’re raising kids that don’t know how to be and play by themselves? What if school becomes harder and harder because being with mummy and daddy is such fun? But what if they need my attention to thrive? It’s a pickle. I’m beginning to understand why people take their kids to ballet and football at the weekend. Wear them out and pay someone else to entertain them. We’re not quite there yet, we enjoy our relaxed weekends too much, but it might happen soon.

In the mean time hubbie is explaining rugby to them both while I cook tea. Somehow it’s only 4pm. Is it bed time yet?