Tuesday, 26 June 2012

My festival baby collection (Next competition entry blog)

I went to spend a Next voucher that I'd been given for my birthday yesterday having decided that I wanted to get a new bag for the summer. I was distracted on the way in not only by my boy straining on his reins to rush over shouting "buggy !!" at any he saw, but also by the range of t shirts they have in for children this season. 

When I was pregnant I spent time looking at the children's clothes in Next and loving the styles for boys so much it made me glad I was having a boy. The clothes aren't twee and they also don't all say "little monster" on them. The girls clothes also look pretty good and I can see why when they have the massive half price sales it's always the childrenswear that sells out first. I've been in my car at 6am waiting for the sale to start only to find it was open at 5am before now so I gave up trying. Instead my sister does the legwork and finds some great things for my boy to wear and I get to lie in :o)
Grey Stone Roses T-Shirt

This season has really surpassed the usual at Next as they've gone for cool young dude look which I love. The ones that caught my eye were the Stone Roses designs, but they also have the Jam, the Beatles and various other 'I'm with the band' themed styles. http://www.next.co.uk/boys/younger-boys-best-of-british/2

Now, I've spent a lot of time looking at rock t-shirts for kids online and they are not cheap. The collection at Next averages at under a tenner so I'd be able to get the whole range to ensure my boy has a new one for every festival this Summer. They're also 100% cotton so I can wash them and they should look just like the originals that Daddy and I have. 

In fact if they also do matching ones for adults I'd take father and son in matching clothes to go for maximum dude appeal. After all the comments a Daddy gets when he's out with his cute son are far more gushing than they ever are for a Mummy aren't they ? 

If I had any money left over I'd get myself some of the pretty cotton summer outfits and probably something nice for the garden from homewares. Even if we don't make it to any festivals this summer I think we can all look the part and listen to music in the garden pretending we're surrounded by thousands of other people. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Secret Life of Cats (part 2)

I was chatting to our neighbour this morning, it was the usual stuff "can you feed our tomatoes when we go away in August ?" and the like. This was the same chap who kindly fed Neo when we were away a couple of weeks ago. He is so honest that he told me he'd given our cat two tins at each meal - I always leave tins and a note out to assist in cat feeding. He had misunderstood and fed Neo double portions and not being one to look a gift meal in the mouth Neo had scoffed the lot ! Of course when we got home and it was back to normal rations he was less than impressed and Hubbie swears he has seen holiday brochures around the house as the cat tries to persuade us to go away again.

Today I found out that his preferred place to sunbathe when he's not at home is Phil and Jill's greenhouse. I suspect that he's looking to double in size either by sitting in the greenhouse or by eating double portions in order to take on Ginger from two doors down. The bush he likes to sit under when it's too hot or too rainy was the cause of a showdown the other day that I only witnessed the latter stages of. Ginger is a vicious animal and Neo tends to sit watching him snarl and spit - I don't know if this in practised nonchalance or the feline equivalent of a white flag.

Equally I can't work out what his relationship is with the fox cub who has started to wander into the garden. I like to think that Neo is defending his patch, but then I also wanted to believe that he didn't kill mice and was a Buddhist cat when we first got him. It was only when I saw a dead on the back doorstep that Hubbie had not managed to dispose of in time that I found out the horrific truth of my cat's homicidal tendencies.

I still don't know what he is peering at in the bushes over the road from the house or where he goes that he comes back from all covered in ash and looking like that Phantom of the Opera. Maybe when the boy goes to nursery I can devote a bit more time to being a cat PI ?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Kitchen Confidential (or thrills, spills and lentils)


You already know about my unhealthy obsession with Come Dine With Me and food in general. I have also said I'd never do the programme because no one comes out of it looking anything other than grasping and desperate or incompetent and clueless. I have no idea what I'd cook and while I enjoy cooking I don't think I'm especially skilled at it. I also fear a disaster in the kitchen which once on tape would haunt me forever.

True I do sit around thinking about what I'm going to eat next or even tomorrow. If I have a random ingredient to use up I spend a ridiculous amount of time trawling the internet and poring over my cookbooks to find a suitable recipe. Usually I find one that requires yet more ingredients so I end up with even more in the cupboard which I'll need to use up at a later date. This is why I make banana cake so often - we buy a lot of bananas and if they go a bit soft or spotty I won't eat them. The plus side is I don't like cooked bananas so Hubbie and our friend Jan are the main beneficiaries of my baking prowess, so I don't end up piling on the pounds and I appear altruistic.

When Hubbie cooks a special meal for me he will find a recipe that requires at least 12 ingredients (only 4 of which I have in) and I end up with bottles of rose essence, mustard seeds, desiccated coconut and curry leaves to use at a later date. The meal is always delicious and far more inventive than anything I would try, but then it is an annual effort so he does go to town a bit.

Of course cooking almost every day means there will be occasional mishaps and some of them are so bad they put you off that foodstuff for life.

Here - in no particular order - are some of the many disasters I have had in my years of cooking:

1. While rushing around in the world's smallest kitchen preparing food I dropped an entire bowl of homemade potato salad on the floor before a picnic with friends. Only one of them witnessed it and she is no longer in the circle so can't tell anyone when they might have tasted floor food.

2. The options were to steam for 30 minutes or to zap in the microwave for 10 minutes so for ease I did that latter and this meant we had an exploding rice filled lotus leaf with our beautifully marinated and steamed fish.

3. During an experimental phase with fruit and curry I made an ill-judged decision to put grapefruit in chicken curry. To quote Ross and Monica's dad Jack Geller, "it was not good."

4. In an attempt to use up a box of mangos left by my Dad for my son (which he didn't like) I decided to make my own sorbet / ice cream. I managed to do the stirring every few hours bit for most of the day then forgot and left it overnight. Lets just say it needs to be taken out of the freezer a few hours before eating in order to break into it - yes it is a bit too frozen.

5. I had a pot of quark that I had used about one spoonful of and needed to finish so I had the genius idea to make mushroom pate with it instead of greek yoghurt. The taste was pretty good, but it was quite sloppy. Of course my guests were far too polite to comment on the runniness of the starter.

And the ones that I got away with:

When working in the staff kitchen in Sainsburys I managed to seriously burn the sponge pudding so I poured some lemon icing over it and was astounded at the compliments I got for my "treacly citrus pudding." 

I found a load of seeds and nuts that I'd bought while pregnant and not finished so I adapted my usual cookie recipe to include them. The results were not to my taste, but by all accounts they were a hit with Hubbie's work colleagues. 

Only today I halved the quantities in a recipe for cookies, but a miscalculation meant I added double coconut into the mix. We have yet to find out what the consequences of this error are as the mix won't be cooked until it's been in the fridge overnight. 

Fingers crossed it won't be so bad it'll go into the first list !

Thursday, 14 June 2012

To stay at home or not to stay at home that is the question...


Mother-in-law was asking me earlier this week about work. We'd just finished eating and I was still tired from two sleepless nights with a teething toddler, so I was only really half listening. Initially she asked if I had given up working and I said yes. Then she asked if I was going to look for another job and I said I wasn't sure, but I'd probably look for something that fitted round my boy's busy schedule. She then went on to tell me how it's so much nicer to stay at home with your children and it was simpler in her day as you could do that.

This morning there was a discussion on the radio about women 'having it all' and whether or not it was possible or preferable to work or be a full time mum. As I was driving back from an aerobics class while Hubbie and toddler were out doing father and son activities I only caught two soundbites. One was a woman saying that women should never give up work. The other was that men can have it all because they have women to do the other stuff for them.

I stayed at home with my boy for the first year of his life and that was a bare minimum for me to feel ready to leave him. Then I went back to work - ostensibly full time, but with flexible hours and a lot of leave to use up. I hated being at work while others looked after my boy. He was with family members as my sister and Hubbie did the childcare so he was always with people who love him very much. I missed him so much and my work just didn't appeal any more. When the offer of voluntary redundancy came up we discussed if it would work for us and Hubbie agreed that we could manage if I stayed at home. I loved being with my son every day and took him to playgroups and activities every day.

Then a few months ago I found myself feeling fed up. My life seemed to be about waiting for my boy to nap then while he was asleep preparing for him to wake up. I cooked most evenings and my son ate home cooked food every day. He got so used to me that he would greet Daddy enthusiastically and look disappointed if it was just me - AGAIN.

A job came up locally which I decided to do a few days a week to see how it went and if it would suit me to work as my boy was older now (although still under 2 and increasingly cheeky - of course). I did the job a few weeks and just knew it wasn't for me. I was in an office alone and the work was pretty soul destroying. What had started out as a way to have some time for myself and to spend time with other adults became a long walk at lunchtime sandwiched between massive boredom either side. Another discussion with Hubbie about the pointlessness of doing a job that was making me so miserable led to my deciding to give my notice.

This brings us right up to date with my conversation with MiL. Women of her generation do have a different perspective on how to raise children. It took me and Hubbie a long time to have our son so it was important to me that I raise him and care for him as I didn't have him to farm him out to childminders. My mother didn't have any choice and had to work despite having four children. Her perspective is broadly the same and she encourages me to stay at home if I can while understanding (a lot better than MiL I suspect) how hard it is to work and raise a family.

The phrase 'having it all' is misleading:

Women work because we want to or because we need to
We have children and raise them because we want to or can do
We try and do both because we have to or because we are led to believe we are supposed to

The messages we get about being a Mum are:

Being a Mum is not enough to be 'a job'
Working and trying to raise your children will mean you are not doing a good job of either
Being dedicated to your work makes you a poor parent

So I find myself once again tackling the thorny issue of whether to work or not. If I work we can have a few nicer things and maybe a holiday. It means the pressure is not on Hubbie to bring home the Quorn bacon so he can still have some family life and not be a wage slave to support us all.

If I stay at home I get to raise our boy with our values, our boundaries and to watch my little boy grow into a confident and engaging little man before my eyes. I can look at him and beam with pride when he says "bless you" for someone who sneezes or does all the actions to Incy Wincy spider, or strokes the cat gently after weeks of being told not to pull his tail. It also means I get all the tantrums, the throwing, the refusing to do as he's told and hearing the word "no" so many times I cannot tell you.

I've said before that I don't want to have it all. I just want to have a son who feels happy and secure. A Hubbie who is happy and feels appreciated and loved. A family who feel they are part of my son's life and valued. Oh and if there is room for one more wish I'd like this body in a size ten please.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

24 Creme Eggs in 30 days… Go !!!

Going through the 'treats cupboard' one evening this week I found a stockpile of chocolate oranges (obviously) and 4 multipacks of Creme eggs - that's 24 actual eggs. To explain, I have a cupboard where I keep chocolate and 'treats.' I've found that if I don't have chocolate in the house it's all I can think about and I feel anxious - I know this is not normal - so I keep a supply to hand.

As I was an overweight child my treats intake was controlled, but I recall always wanting to have more of the sweet stuff. Even now I have rules and regulations around sweets and chocolate. Chocolate for breakfast is only allowed at Easter and at Christmas (after some semblance of normal breakfast food). Only one chocolate a day is allowed under normal circumstances - any more than that constitutes a crisis, a bad break up or a particularly weepy movie. This is where Cadburys' new treat bags have really messed with my rules as on a day when I'm being really greedy I count a whole bag as one treat when in reality it's probably three or four disguised as one bag of mini munchies. 

I suspect it goes back to my Mother having a 'treats box' when we were children which we were only allowed to have with permission and only occasionally. I strictly control the chocolate consumption of the household and no one is allowed the last of any chocolate without checking if it is ok. In a previous life my other half ate an entire pack of wagon wheels (six !! six wagon wheels !!) while I was out and when I asked why he said he was hungry. Why he couldn't make a sandwich is beyond me, but that was his reason. That was when I instituted the "ask before eating the last bar" policy. 

Luckily Hubbie is a very understanding chap so he knows that the rule is help yourself to anything from the fruit bowl, but check before taking anything from the treats section. My son is already keen on fruit and today he enjoyed grapes plucked from the stalks rather than picked by Mummy and put in a bowl first. Of course if offered chocolate he loves it, but I am delighted that when he fancies a snack he asks for an apple (or ap-poo as he calls it). 

So back to the Creme egg saga. I know the season for Easter eggs is now ridiculously long, but for some reason I felt the need to buy a lot of them this year. Hence the stockpile. I do randomly date check the items in the cupboard to ensure we don't end up wasting food that sits there well past it's best before date. On checking the eggs it appears we have to finish them all by the end of this month. It's a job for a professional and I think I'm up to the task - with Hubbie's help of course. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day two in the house and Neo hasn't left the sofa...

Ignoring a royal jubilee is easier than you'd think. I mean the swimming pool was practically deserted this morning which meant I had a lane all to myself and my son really enjoyed paddling around without lots of other children in the pool.

Now I'm no republican (I have an ironic royal wedding thimble and somewhere in my Mum's house we have a Charles and Diana mug), but I'm so not interested in bunting and union jack cupcakes it's just not funny.I do recall the silver jubilee in 1977 when I had a day off school and stood on the pavement outside my parents' shop as the Queen's car drove past and I was convinced she waved at me.

My parents knew a lovely Sri Lankan family who were staunch royalists and the pictures of royalty in their home were only outnumbered by photos of the Pope. This was all pre-Diana so there was a general sense of respect and deference to the royals rather than the fakery that 'they're just like us' that we are cajoled into now. I mean if Kate can wear the same dress as Tulisa (albeit Alexander McQueen) what more proof do we need that they're just normal people ?

I've been far more excited about the Apprentice finale tonight than the flotilla on the Thames. From the snippet of news that I just watched it looked pretty pointless, but my Mum enjoyed watching it and was very excited when she spotted a Sikh standing next to Her Madge. As a longstanding civil servant my Mum was invited to the Queen's garden party a few years ago and she was so proud and delighted. My Dad went with her and apparently mistook the Duke of Edinburgh for a shambling drunk as he ambled past (well you can see why he might can't you ?).

Their generation of immigrants from Commonwealth countries have an admiration of the royal family that seems to have ebbed away in subsequent generations. The tea towel count in homes of parents of friends who come from the Caribbean has always struck me as unnecessarily high. It's when they're framed that I think it's gone too far.

As I say I'm not committed enough to be an actual republican. My friend Nic abhors the royal family, but I treat them like I do the people who bullied me at school - I just ignore them. Of course if I use a stamp or money I come into contact with HRH, but otherwise she doesn't really impact on my life much.

It's nice having Hubbie home for 4 days though, so for that thanks HRH :o)