Sunday, 29 December 2013

A post-Christmas clear-out

After the long exciting build up to Christmas, it takes a mere couple of hours before the living room is a sea of opened presents and with young children, there are often lots of new toys needing a home. I'm honestly not neurotic about tidiness or anything but I do like some sense of order and like to try to avoid as much clutter as possible.

This year, on Boxing Day, I set to and launched into a significant reorganisation of the children's toys. I packed away some toys they haven't been playing with recently / have grown out of, I emptied the deep toy box which had become an unknown abyss of small toys and instead packed it with games and bags of blocks. I sorted through the toy box in their bedroom and when nobody was looking threw away all the plastic rubbish they've kept from party bags or magazine freebies that are half-broken anyway.

At the end of it, I had plenty of space for the new toys, everything was better ordered and easier to find and I felt much better for it! I showed both children what I'd done and where I had moved things so they could find what they needed and we had two boxes of toys to put up in the loft.  In the past, I was always good about rotating the toys so we didn't have everything out all the time. Of late, I have got lazy about it though and it was something I was meaning to address.

Following on from the clear-out and reorganisation of the children's toys, came the clear-out for my husband and I. We sorted through our amassing paperwork and recycled, filed or otherwise dealt with all those papers we had been ignoring over recent weeks. Another good job done!

I'm not done yet but doing a bit at a time is my method. One small project a day is a big achievement! I've got children's clothes that they have grown out of to pack away to make more space in their wardrobes and my husband and I probably have some clothing we could take to the charity shop that we won't or don't wear any more.

It feels good to finish the year off with a sort-out ready to embark on the new year with a sense of tidiness and space, without feeling overcrowded by clutter or daunted by impending organisational tasks to tackle.

Do you also tend to have a post-Christmas clear-out? Is it a natural response to dealing with all the new 'stuff' you have, to want to sort through the old and see if there is anything you can get rid of, pack away or pass on? If you haven't done it yet, do you have some clearing out projects in mind that you are planning on doing in the new year?
Related reading:
Get Kids' Clutter Under Control
Breathe some new life into old toys
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Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas from Mummy Zen!

Wishing my readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Enjoy the magic of Christmas along with your children. Laugh, play and share time together as a family. Take some time to relax, if and when the opportunity arises, and make the most of the holidays and time off from the daily routine. Take pleasure in the little things, reflect on the year that has almost passed and look forward to the opportunities that may lie ahead in the year to come!
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Saturday, 21 December 2013

A vegetarian Christmas dinner

As a vegetarian I often get asked what I eat for Christmas dinner, in place of the turkey that is traditional here in the UK. Most people assume I'll be eating nut roast, isn't that what every vegetarian eats?! Maybe for that very reason, I never have nut roast for Christmas dinner. My mother always made an effort creating something a bit different yet seasonal for our vegetarian Christmas main and it was always an attractive centrepiece on the table too. I don't remember ever having just a plain old nut roast for Christmas growing up.

The years we do spend Christmas at home, as we are this year, I like to take the opportunity to try something new. I enjoy looking through recipes finding something that sounds tasty and a bit more special than what we might eat any other day of the year. With all the great foodie websites, recipe blogs and such like that are available online, it's even easier to find culinary inspiration. The difficulty is choosing just one dish to go for!

In the past few days I have been looking around for ideas for Christmas dinner this year and narrowed it down to these three recipes, which my husband and I thought all sounded rather yummy:

A nut-free roast!
Lentil and cashew nut roast - a nice alternative to the traditional nut roast
Christmas veggie wellington - like the sound of the unusual choice of filling ingredients

What do you have for your Christmas main, if it's not turkey? Do you cater for any special diets that means you have to get creative in the kitchen? Do you like the same dish each Christmas or like me, do you like to vary the main dish from year to year?
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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas is coming!

December has been a busy month for me so far, with my eldest's birthday party, preparations for his school nativity (sorting out his costume, practising his lines) and trying to get Christmas cards and presents organised for our extended family abroad.

I had all these intentions of making a Christmas wreath for our front door, sharing a recipe with you for some Italian Christmas cookies I like to make and gift and there have been other posts that I started but I never found time to finish. Finally I had to give in and write this one instead, focusing on the excitement of the festive season and the preparations I have managed so far!

We got our Christmas tree at the weekend and it's the biggest one we have ever had, about seven feet tall! As we are often away staying with family at Christmas we tend to get a smallish one as we are not here to enjoy it for long. This year however, we are staying at home and are excited to be doing so. It's our first Christmas in a house (we previously lived in flats/apartments) and there's something fun about coming down the stairs on Christmas morning and having nice fireplaces over which to hang our stockings and imagine Father Christmas making his entrance!

Whilst I did not get around to making a wreath, I did make some simple garlands to tie to our stair bainsters. I got some small Christmas tree branches, cut some Holly with berries from our garden and added in some dried orange slices and cinnamon sticks. I used bright red ribbon to tie them to the banisters and they make a nice decoration in our hallway.

Our eldest child has been able to write in some Christmas cards this year and write a letter to Santa for the first time so that has been sweet to see him do. Our youngest was very helpful distributing the tree ornaments for us all to hang. Once school is finished at the end of the week, we'll do some simple Christmas crafts and baking together. I think we are about done with our Christmas shopping so can enjoy the lead up by making the most of the festive spirit and having some nice family time together too.

How are your Christmas preparations going? Are there any new traditions or fun activities you have started this year that you haven't done previously? What are you most looking forward to about Christmas time?
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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Considering core values

My son's school distributed a list of core values to parents recently, asking us to circle the five that mean the most to us. The whole school will be focusing on core values for living in the coming months and they wanted our input in choosing which might be the most important. It sounded like an easy task but as we read through the list, my husband and I found choosing just five was harder than we expected.

We all have an idea of values that are important to us, and as parents, in raising a family in the best way possible but I thought I would share the list we were given as something you may wish to briefly contemplate. It can be a useful exercise to select your top five values and a good starting point for further discussion with your partner.

Which five from the list do you think you would choose? Are there any other values you think are missing that are important to you?

Hard work
Sustainable living

Monday, 25 November 2013

This week: being thankful

As my American readers will know only too well, Thursday of this week is Thanksgiving. It has become an adopted annual celebration for me, with my other half being American. Last year I wrote about it too, with a focus on the food side of things. I also mentioned how touching it was getting to listen to our son tell us for the first time what he was thankful for.

This year in writing about it, I am focusing more on the 'thanks' in Thanksgiving. It is a time when we 'officially' stop and think about what we are thankful for and that is something I have been thinking a lot about during recent weeks. Feelings of gratitude are well-linked to feelings of happiness and indeed, some people recommend writing or sharing aloud one or two things they are grateful for at the end of each day. It is undoubtedly a good exercise.

Since joining Twitter, I discovered a nightly, 'Be positive before bed' time, when people tweet something positive from their day. I was trying to join in fairly frequently but have not done so recently. Some days it is hard to pick out something good from everything that has happened and when you're feeling like it's been a tough day. However, those days are probably exactly the days when we should force ourselves to identify at least one thing that we are thankful for!

An old post on one of the blogs I enjoy reading, The Happiness Project, provides four questions to ask yourself, to help boost your feelings of gratitude. It is a good starting point if you feel unsure of where to start in thinking of what you are thankful for. Often the little things and often the things we take for granted are ultimately the linchpin to our happiness and so it really is important to stop and think about those things and recognise how crucial they are to us.

I shared a couple of things I am thankful for in my post from last week. I would love to hear some of yours (please don't be shy!). Do you regularly take a moment to contemplate your sources of gratitude or is it something you rarely think to do?
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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Quietly keeping busy

There has been a bit of unsettling news in the Mummy Zen household of late, which is why I have not written (again!) in a couple of weeks. We're in that frustrating state of limbo, awaiting more information, with tough decisions looming on the horizon. I could think about the 'what ifs' all day and drive myself into depression, cry myself to sleep each night on speculative thoughts but I am trying to avoid both those paths.

The trick of course, is to keep busy and keep my mind occupied. Children are the perfect distraction for a lot of the time. Life must go on so there's the school run, play dates to host, weekly activities/classes to attend with my youngest, reading and writing practice with my eldest and general play and fun to be had with both. When they are at school or napping, I occupy myself with preparing meals and I have been keeping on top of the cleaning more than usual!

I also find seeking company among friends is a good way to keep my spirits up. Sometimes you don't feel like being sociable at times like these but I recognise it does me good to be around friends. A friendly chat can be recharging for the soul, as well as a welcome diversion to one's own situation and wandering thoughts.

Challenging circumstances tend to give us a renewed perspective and appreciation of what we have in our life and those around us. I'm filled with love and gratitude for my little family; my two wonderful children who are always making me smile and feel proud, and my husband, who is such an amazing loving, caring support to me and still manages to make me laugh in the midst of sadness. My mother might not live in the same country but she manages to make me feel like she is close by nevertheless, checking in on me regularly and being there any time if I need a chat. Then there are the good friends who will look after my children at the drop of a hat if need be. I would be lost without them.

In my aim to keep busy, I did eventually get around to writing this post and have ideas for a couple of others that may manifest before too long! We'll see....

How do you keep yourself busy when you need to? What or who do you turn to as a distraction during a difficult time?
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Monday, 4 November 2013

Raise Happier Kids

I never thought I would write a post recommending an app, as I am not the kind of parent who gives my children a tablet or phone to play on. However, last week I stumbled across Knoala, a free app that aims to keep children happy and occupied away from screens by providing activities parents can play with their infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Knoala's slogan is the title of this post, 'Raise happier Kids' and the app was created by first-time parents, who wanted to explore the potential of play for their child's development. After some extensive research they created the app that now offers thousands of ideas for fun activities for you and your child.  
'Based on your child's age and local weather conditions, Knoala finds activities that are most suitable for you and your family. Bond with your child over games and crafts that foster artistic, cognitive, emotional, motor, sensory and language skills.'
To give you a couple of example activities, there are things like getting your child to peel a boiled egg or slice a banana, various art/craft ideas and outdoor activities too. One suggestion I know my son would love is to get some of those little plastic eggs and fill them with healthy snacks. Hide them around the house and let your child go on a hunt for the eggs. Obviously they get to eat the snacks when they find them :-).

Another good thing Knoala provides are loads of story starters to help you have fun making up and telling stories with your child. One I read today was, 'Tell a heroic story about a determined star who is on a secret mission'. I like how these starters can get you and your child thinking and storytelling about something that might be completely unlike what you usually think of, keeping the imagination alive!

 As the cold weather sets in here in London, there will invariably be those days or moments when I am looking for something enjoyable and a bit different to do with the children and at those times, I am sure Knoala will definitely come in handy for giving some inspiration. The fact that all content in the app is free is a bonus too!

Have you used Knoala or have you heard of it? Are there any other apps you like that help encourage fun playtime with your children?

Disclosure: I was not contacted by Knoala or requested to review the app, I simply wanted to share something fun I found that other parents might benefit from!

Monday, 28 October 2013

6 natural ways to soothe a sore throat

Last week I was suffering with a sore throat that I had caught from my daughter. A tickly cough kept me awake at night and it felt like it would never go. As it is that time of year when coughs and colds are rife, and now that I am better, I thought I would post 6 natural ways to soothe a sore throat, things to try if you get struck down by one!
  1. Fluids. In general, it is good to drink plenty for a sore throat. The liquid keeps your throat moist and hot drinks can help soothe inflamation. Frequent sips of water are always recommended.
  2. Sage tea. This is actually a really nice tea, as well as being effective. You can add a little honey if you like. Simply put a pinch of dry sage in your teapot, add boiling water and leave to steep for 5 mins. It should be noted that pregnant women are advised to avoid sage tea.
  3. Salt water. If you can bear it, gargling with salt water several times during the day can ease  discomfort.
  4. Honey and lemon. Always a nice soothing drink and if you believe in the benefits of Manuka honey, use that with the lemon. The lemon helps with eliminating mucus.
  5. Garlic and honey. We keep a jar of this in our fridge. Add a whole head of garlic, finely crushed to a jar of honey and combine well. Spread some on a slice of toast and it is not too unappetising! Garlic contains something called allicin, which helps kill bacteria to fight infections.
  6. Ginger. You could make ginger tea or add some to your honey and lemon drink to benefit from the medicinal qualities of ginger. As with sage, not always advised if you are pregnant.
Do you use any of the above when you get a sore throat? Any other natural remedies you swear by?
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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Do your children get enough daily exercise?

I received a letter from school yesterday explaining that children will be measured and weighed at school in the next month or so and if we have any objections, to let them know. There was a leaflet enclosed on healthy eating and exercise and I was reminded that my son, as a soon-to-be 5 year old, should be getting 60 minutes of exercise a day. It made me stop and think about whether he indeed gets that amount of exercise in a typical day....

According to NHS guidelines, the sixty minutes should comprise of both moderate-intensity activities and vigorous-intensity activities, so things that make your child break a sweat and also that raise their heart rate. (For children under-5, the guidelines are outlined here). There's a useful page listing examples of activities that fall into the two groups. Having a read through, I confess my son probably does not do enough vigorous-intensity activities, definitely not in the winter when our time outside is restricted by bad weather.

The sixty minutes are completely manageable. The moderate-intensity exercise is taken care of with our walks or scooter rides to and from school and my son's time playing outside in the playground, doing PE etc. The vigorous-intensity exercise takes a bit more thought and planning however. If your child does a sport or dance class, that would take care of it. However, on the days they don't, it means trying to incorporate something out and about or at home.

I realise, as a parent, I am much more focused on the healthy eating side to bringing up children with a healthy lifestyle. We walk everywhere (we don't own a car), we like to spend time playing outside in the garden or at parks / in the woods but I admit I probably don't make enough effort to encourage daily vigorous-intensity activities. Something for me to work on!

Do you think your child gets the recommended amount and types of exercise each day? Do you rely on after-school sports and such like for vigorous-intensity exercise?
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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

What do you cook for other people's children?

Now my son is at school, we have entered a new kind of play date. We only have after school as a time to go to friends' houses or have friends over and as late afternoon rolls into early children's dinnertime, dinner is usually part of the play date. Today we are off to a new schoolmate's home and his mother is cooking spaghetti bolognese for the children (always a winner). I am loving the fact that I don't have to plan and prepare dinner as I do usually when my son is at school. Even though I will cook for my husband and I, it will be quicker and easier throwing something together for two non-fussy adult eaters.

Next week we have been invited to another friend's home and children's dinner again offered, this time homemade pizza was the suggestion. We have a friend of my son's coming to our house at the end of this week and I'm planning on doing some kind of pasta dish.

All this makes me reflect on the options when cooking dinner for other people's children. I can't help but think that pizza, pasta and fish fingers are the main options because they cater to most fussy palates and don't have to include any / too many veggies. As a vegetarian who doesn't cook meat for the non-vegetarians in the family, I feel that leaves me with just two options - pizza and pasta. I am seriously contemplating keeping in some fish fingers in the freezer as back-up children's dinner fodder!

It also makes me realise what good eaters I have in my own two children. They are not great with green vegetables but they are always open to trying new foods and will eat most things. Like every other child, they love pasta and pizza but they also really enjoy most of the vegetable dominated meals I prepare for the family and generally eat a good varied diet.

I would loved to proved wrong and for you to tell me there are more dinner options that are popular with most children. What do you cook when you have other people's children over for dinner? What do you suggest I add to my repertoire?
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Monday, 23 September 2013

This week: planning packed lunches

For the first two weeks of school my son has been there just for the mornings. This week, they stay a bit longer, having lunch there and the following week he will begin full days. We have the option of packed lunches or school dinners. I asked my son which he would prefer and he said he would like to have packed lunches. I was secretly pleased, as I feel that way I will at least know what he is eating and can ensure he has healthy, tasty lunches. The school dinners in fairness look pretty good and varied. My main issue is the puddings...I would never give him such rich, sweet desserts on a daily basis!

Back to the packed lunches! I've been giving them some thought. There are some great blogs and websites out there devoted to the packed lunch and ideas aplenty. My son loves his sandwiches but I want to try to give some variety and I am sure some things will go down better than others. The school specifies we are not to give any sweets, crisps, cake and there is a no-nut policy. My plan for now is to mix and match from the following basic ideas:

Main item
Savoury muffins, flapjacks
Thick tortilla-like omelette/frittata
Savoury pancakes / fritters (sweetcorn/potato/courgette)
Pasta/rice/quinoa salad
Mini pie (need to think of options that taste good cold, such as cheese and potato)

Savoury extras
Carrot/cucumber sticks/pepper/sugar snap peas/cherry tomatoes etc
Cheese scone

Dessert / pudding
Homemade cereal/granola bar
Fruit scone
Dropped scones / mini pancakes (plain/blueberry/banana etc)

The above is by no means an exhaustive list but some ideas I have to get started. I have bought some small cool/ice packs and will pop one in my son's lunchbox. This was a suggestion from some other mums who said that the classrooms are kept so warm (during the winter especially) that it's a good idea to have one for keeping cheese/yoghurt etc fresher. I intend on preparing the lunches the night before as much as possible to cut down on added stress in the mornings and to give me plenty of time for getting it ready.

Do you make packed lunches for your children or have you in the past? Any tips you can share or additional ideas of lunchbox favourites?
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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Autumn round-up

It's that time of year again, the temperatures have started to drop, the days are starting to get shorter and I'm starting to think about Halloween and my daughter's birthday coming up in October - I think it's officially autumn! I have read a couple of nice autumn-themed posts I thought I would share with you and here are some previous autumn posts of my own you might want to re-read:

3 easy autumn crafts for toddlers
10 indoor activities for toddlers
Embracing the seasons

Karen on her blog, Twinlifeonine has come up with 20 ideas for autumn activities. I like the sound of doing some fireworks pictures and crafts with pinecones. There's a very pretty autumn bucket list over at Catch a single thought that would be nice to do with younger children. If you want to start on some Halloween crafts with your children, have a look at 20 Halloween Crafts from Red Ted Art - there are some great paper lanterns and very cute cork spiders I think we might try this year. Over on The imagination tree, a post from a couple of years ago I've kept bookmarked provides 40 autumn activities for kids, including some great ideas of things to do with apples.

These posts have given me lots of inspiration and excitement for the pleasure of the autumn season! Have you come across any other good ones recently? Do you have any particular plans or activities in mind for autumn this year?
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Monday, 16 September 2013

Green tomatoes!

It's amazing to look back at our tiny little green shoots that sprouted from our tomato seeds and to see how much they've grown since. The photo of my four-year old son in front of them gives you an idea of how big they grew. We've watched flowers grow then tomatoes slowly appearing and growing in size. It's been quite exciting for my son and I to track their progress and we've definitely enjoyed the experience of growing tomatoes and will try again next year. 
The tomatoes are of the San Marzano variety and a plum shape and some of them quite large. I've counted at least 30 tomatoes growing, not tons but a good yield for our very first time at growing tomatoes from seed. There's just one small problem. They are remaining a green colour and we've yet to have any turn red and ripe to enjoy. Now the weather has begun deteriotating and the hours of sunlight have decreased significantly, I'm not too confident of their chances now.
I know you can make green tomato chutney so I am starting to look around for recipes that I might try. I'll give them a bit longer and we'll see if there's any change. 

If you've grown tomatoes this year, have you had any issues with them not turning red? Do you have any tips for avoiding this happening again another year? Have you ever made anything with green tomatoes? Any recipes you can recommend?

Disclosure: We were sent a crate detailed in this previous post. If we blog our progress Heinz will send us a hamper full of Heinz goodies as a reward.  Head over to the Heinz Tomato Ketchup UK Facebook page for more information about Heinz Tomato Ketchup

Thursday, 12 September 2013

This week: Barszcz recipe

Barszcz is the Polish version of the beetroot soup, you may know better by the name of Borscht. We went for dinner at friends a couple of weeks ago and we had this for our starter. My friend had told me she was thinking about making it and said that even though she doesn't like beetroot, she likes this soup. I too, don't like beetroot and usually end up making it into some form of cake but I was definitely up for trying the soup and really liked it. The children both ate it all up too.

I asked my friend for the recipe and as we got some beetroot in our veg box this week, I plan on making some. Soups are suddenly very appealing again now we're getting cooler temperatures. Whether you are a beetroot lover, or not, I'd recommend you trying the soup. The sweetness from the carrot and tomatoes compliment and almost mask the beetroot flavour, making it a tasty bowl of soup! The recipe is vegetarian and can easily be vegan by substituting the small bit of butter for oil of your choice.

Serves 4
Total time required Total time: 1 hr 45 mins
Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 1 hr 30 mins

  • 2 beetroot, large
  • 1 onion1 carrot
  • 1 celery stick
  • 45g butter
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1.7 litres vegetable stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper, freshly ground
  • Roughly grate the beetroot, onion, carrot, and celery stick.
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until just softened.
  • Add the tomatoes and crushed garlic, and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring frequently, then stir in the stock.
  • Add the bay leaves and cloves to the pan. Bring the soup to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour 20 minutes.
  • Discard the bay leaves and cloves. Stir in the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Have you tasted this soup before, or another version of it? How do you tend to cook beetroot or do you eat it raw in a salad?
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Link up your recipe of the week

Monday, 9 September 2013

Siblings and happy playtime

One of the bigger challenges of having two children I've found, is keeping them both happily engaged in an activity together. The younger one always wants to do what the older sibling is doing, which can result in frustration all round. We are currently at a nice stage where the two children can play together more or alongside each other, without one terrorising the other! There's nearly a three year age gap between them and my youngest is nearly two. I've been noticing lately how many things they can both enjoy now.

I thought I would share a list of activities my two both like getting stuck into. If you have a closer age gap, it might not be so helpful but it may give some ideas of things to try with your own children:

Physical activities
  • Chasing games
  • Ball games - simple throwing, rolling or kicking a ball back and forth
  • Hide and seek - the youngest can't really play of course but has great fun running around looking for her brother. She and I team up and hide together too.
  • Jumping on the trampoline (we're lucky to have been passed down one that we have in our garden. Even though my youngest can't jump yet, she loves being bounced around and falling down)
Messy play
If you can bear a bit of mess and confine it to an area, this is probably the biggest hit for them both. Some ideas include:
  • Water
  • Sand
  • Jelly
  • Lentils/dry beans
  • Shaving foam
  • Painting (finger painting or with brushes/rollers/potato printing)  
  • Sticking stuff onto to paper/cardboard with glue
Creative activities (with less mess)
  • Drawing/scribbling with crayons/pencils or on an etch-a-sketch
  • Stickers 
  • Stamps
  • Play dough 
  • Lego (my daughter used to destruct my son's Lego creations but is now happy sorting through the box of Lego pieces or playing with figures/doors/windows while he builds)
  • Building towers - with boxes, blocks, stacking cups. Both ages love to build a tower and then knock it down!
  • Gardening. Allocate them a patch of garden to dig around in or a pot of soil that's just for them. Let them help with watering the plants and if you have any rocks/gravel, they'll have fun scooping it up. The older sibling can help plant seeds, pick homegrown produce and such like.
  • Books. The older sibling will likely enjoy hearing stories you read to the younger one, or will want to take turns lifting the flaps etc so it can be a nice relaxing activity to enjoy with both children. Maybe the older child can even read a book to the younger sibling.
  • Walks/parks/playgrounds. Letting them both run around, climb, explore, splash in puddles, pick up sticks is always fun!
  • Music. We have quite a few intruments at home for the children (maracas, tambourine, harmonicas, an accordian, flutes and more!) and they both love playing them and generally making lots of noise! If you don't have instruments. putting on a children's CD and/or having a sing-song is another option.
What do your children play well at together or alongside one another? Any other ideas to add to my list above? Have you struggled at different stages in finding activities to suit both ages of your children?
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Thursday, 5 September 2013

The end of summer

This week concludes the summer holidays for us and my son's first day of school is on Monday. We had a good last couple of weeks, especially this final week when I tried to do some of the activities I had been saving up to do with the children and hadn't got around to doing.

We made loo roll watches one day, from Red Ted Art, we played with shaving foam, we did summer sticker pictures and water play outside.
We also did a couple of big outings into central London, saw the London Eye, went to see a show, Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs (a favourite book of my son's) with some friends from nursery. We went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the Guard and met daddy for lunch a couple of times.
The summer holidays flew by, which must mean we were having fun! Now we're moving onto a new chapter, school for my son and a new routine for us all. No doubt I will be sharing experiences of what is to come in due course!

How was the end of your summer? What were some of the highlights of time spent with your children?

Linking this post with the Play Agenda.  

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Getting ready to start school!

Wow, it's getting to be that time already! Next week is the last week of my son's summer holiday and then he'll be starting school. We have the school uniform, washed and ready to be worn, same with the school shoes and plimsoles. I have the name labels for everything and affixing those is on my to-do list this week.

I'm feeling pretty relaxed about my son and his first day. As the school is the same location as where he was attending nursery, he's very familiar with the surroundings and has spent a bit of time in his new classroom and met his new teacher on a few occasions. He is very excited about starting, which is great.

So far so good but there's other things to think about too. From what I hear and have read, the start of the year is always tiring and I'm to expect some grumpiness as a result while my son adjusts to the new day. My daughter and I will have a lot more time together as just the two of us, which will be lovely but I think she is really going to miss having her big brother around. She shadows him constantly and they are always interacting in some way or other most of the time these days. It will seem quiet for both of us without him around.

For me, there'll be new mothers to meet and get to know. I know a couple of people whose children will be in the same class as my son but there will be lots of new faces for sure. Just as my son will be busy making new friends, I'll hopefully be doing a bit of that myself.

Perhaps my biggest concern, silly as it might sound, is getting us all ready and out of the house in time in the mornings. As my son was doing nursery school in the afternoons we never had to rush out of the door in the mornings. I've always been organised with putting out clothes for the next day in the evenings for both children. My son wearing a school uniform will only make that simpler. I recognise I will have to prepare his packed lunch the night before, as much as possible, It's all about reducing what has to be done in the morning!

I think there will have to be a bit of adjustment to our morning routine and regrettably it may just involve me getting up a bit earlier! I plan on us doing a practice morning one day next week but instead of going to school, we'll go for a bit of extra breakfast as an end of the holiday treat. My son hates being rushed so I want to try to make it as relaxed as possible for him in the mornings. I am sure once we get into the new routine, we will both get to grips with the new challenges it presents.

How are you feeling about your child going to school, either for the first time or returning for the next year? What do you find the biggest challenge in preparing yourself or your child for the start of school?
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Friday, 23 August 2013

This week: summer holidays week 4

This week has flown by with not too much to show for it. I barely took any photos. After our holiday last week, we've stayed at home more and had friends over on a couple of days. I got out a play tent that we haven't had out in ages, possibly not since my daughter was born. My son thought it was new and didn't even remember it! They have both had lots of fun with it.
One day when we had a play date at our house, I hid a few animals around the garden and my son and his friend went on a hunt to find them. They enjoyed it and asked me to hide them another time. After finding them again, they then hid them and myself and the other mother had to go and find them. It was a surprisingly big hit.

My son has continued his swimming lessons and made some really great progress this week, with a different swimming teacher. He has loved it and I think we have all benefited from the bit of structure that those classes bring to our day. Having somewhere to get to by a specific time each day (in the morning convieniently) gets us up and out and we feel like we have accomplised something.

We had a rainy outing to the woods and a playground with friends one day. We sat huddled in a children's play hut eating our picnic lunch, sheltering from the rain! We had not forseen how wet it was going to be, otherwise we would not have planned the outing but as it was, it kept us busy for a few hours and a bit of wet never does anyone any harm!

How have you spent the week? We are over half way through the holidays now. Has it gone quickly for you so far?

Linking this post with the Play Agenda.  

Monday, 19 August 2013

Getting away from it all

We had a family holiday last week in rural Wales. We stayed in a cottage with barely any phone reception and no WiFi. We were surrounded by the natural beauty of fields, trees, woodland and apple orchards, no shops to walk to, no neighbours, no other houses in sight. It was lovely! The tranquility made a refreshing change.

We were busy during the day, out and about visiting castles, coastal towns and such like but otherwise we enjoyed lots of walks from our cottage and there was lots of open space for the children to run around in. We had lots of quality time together as a family, which is always nice.

I read a whole book during the week, a very rare occurence these days. My last book took me about eight months to get through because I find it difficult summoning up the energy or fitting in time to read when at home. We would go to bed at a decent time each night, again something we struggle to achieve at home.

I didn't miss the online connections I am so used to at home and realised as much as I love my blog, Twitter, sharing photos online, emailing friends and family, that stuff eats up a lot of my time and energy. It was really good to take a break and get away from it all. If I am honest, I probably slipped straight back into my usual habits as soon as we got home but I like to think I will be a bit more aware of how I spend my time and swap the odd evening on the computer for one getting immersed into a book instead.

Part of the getting away from it all, whether it's technology, busy city life, work or whatever else, is what makes a holiday a holiday and helps us relax and enjoy some of the simpler things a bit more.

What do you most enjoy getting away from when you go on holiday? Do you typically take a break or cut down on internet use when away somewhere with the family?

Friday, 9 August 2013

This week: summer holidays week 2

Just managed this one post this week, as we are off on holiday at the weekend. As well as keeping busy with the children, I've also been packing and getting ready for our trip. I'll be taking a week off the blog while we are away.
 Our week was a bit more low key than last but enjoyable nonetheless. The better weather made it easier to do some simple activities outside in our garden. We had lentils and dry spaghetti out a couple of times, which both children had fun with. I had also saved a big, tall box that I opened out and had them both paint on one afternoon.
 We got feet measured and new shoes for both children one morning, got the last bits of my son's school uniform ready for September. We met friends in the park one day but it was cut short by a heavy rain shower. My son has continued his swimming lessons each afternoon and is making some good progress.
Our one big outing for the week was to a farm to do some fruit picking. We went with some friends and had a great time picking raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. I have fond memories of fruit picking from my own childhood so it was nice to do it again after all those years with my own children. I bought some cream and meringue nests to make Eton mess using our freshly picked berries, one of my favourite British summertime desserts!
 How was your week and what did you and your children get up to?

Linking this post with the Play Agenda

Friday, 2 August 2013

This week: summer holidays week 1

I am calling this 'week 1' because it is the first full week of the summer holidays (last week was just three days). Overall, we have had a great week although with a couple of very rainy days, I realised I was not so prepared for rainy day activities as I should be! We went to the library on one wet day, splashing in puddles on our way and signed my son up to the summer reading challenge. He chose Cinderella and a book of stories about knights for his first two books to read and rate. Cinderella was awarded three stars (out of three)!

Another wet day activity we did was some baking. Riverford are running a kids' summer bake-off and providing a new recipe to make with your children each week. The first one was nutty banana muesli flapjacks so we decided to make those. Unfortunately we over-baked ours slightly so they were not photo worthy but they were edible! This was my first baking attempt with both children. My one-year old kept wanting to eat off the spoon instead of mix with it but we managed and they both took turns nicely. I can't find the link to the recipe but here's the next recipe they have provided, mini cherry tomato & pesto tarts, which we may try next week.
Mid-week, we had a big outing into central London to see 'We're going on a bear hunt', with some old friends we don't get to see very often. The show was great, the children all loved it. We met up with friends in the woods one day, another day we went to a fun outdoor play place with bouncy castle, lots of ride-on toys, slides, sand and stuff to explore.

My son started swimming classes this week too. He is doing an intensive holiday course, as he is a complete beginner. He does a 30 minute lesson every afternoon and is really enjoying it.
Looking back at my original plans for the summer and aims for each week, we have not done any messy play yet. We have done some drawing, cutting and sticking but not a planned art and craft activity. We are yet to post a postcard, although we have been talking about it...We have been to a local music class that is still running in the holidays and we have been outside when the weather allowed it. This week has gone quickly, which can only be a good sign though!

How was your week and what sort of things did you do with your children?

Linking this post with the Play Agenda.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Is it all girls or just mine?

Everyone always says no two children (siblings) are alike. It's true. Early on when my daughter was under one, it was hard to see big differences. Like my son, she was a good sleeper, eater and quite smiley to random people from about seven months. We could however, see a bit of a fesity element in her that had not been present with our son. Now she is approaching the age of two, the differences are a lot more apparent.

My husband and I have gained a whole new appreciation for our son and what a complete angel he was (and still mostly is). Not that our daughter is not an angel but she is certainly not as compliant and easy going as our son was at her age. Overall she is a pretty good, happy, fun child. There is just a small aspect of her personality that when it rears its head, is a little difficult to deal with! It's partly because we never had to deal with that sort of thing with our son so it is new parenting territory.

She ignores me (or her father) completely when we ask to stop doing something naughty, she ignores us when we ask her to come here after she has run off, she ignores us when we ask her to stay with us when we are participating in a class of some sort and children are supposed to sit or stand with their parents. If we try to make her do one of these things, she gives an ear-piercing scream.

Right now she is still small enough that I can go and retrieve her and pick up if she has run off and won't return but it will be met with screaming and kicking and as she gets bigger, that gets a lot harder to contain. I now understand why some parents seem to ignore their children in public places or in classes. It is easier to ignore them than try to coerce them into doing something they have no intention of even considering! Yet, I am not convinced that is the right parenting path to take.

There are some who would say, my daughter gets this little bit of her personality from her mother and yes, maybe she does. Part of me likes that she has this side to her. It shows her strong will and her determination, good attributes to have. The other part of me, the parenting part of me, struggles with it though. It makes me feel a bit out of control when she refuses to respond to me in certain situations.

It makes me fear for the future as she gets older and even more independent! I worry that she won't listen when I tell her to be careful of the road or something similar that could result in a real risk of something awful happening. My son rides his scooter a lot and stops at every road without fail. Even though he will zoom off ahead, I have no fear that he will cross the road. He knows to stop and wait for us and he does it every time. I don't see my daughter doing the same when she is older and that scares me a little. Some mothers of girls tell me it's a girl thing, their girls display similar attributes. I wonder... 

I do want to conclude by saying that I love my daughter to pieces and wouldn't want to change any part of her. She is a very loving little girl and always making us laugh. She adores her big brother. I know we should not compare children and everyone is a unique individual, we would not want it any other way. I simply wish I could do a better job of managing her little bursts of impatience and her spirited side.

Do any of your children show a bit of an unruly side to themselves? How do you cope with those times when they choose to ignore your every word? Has it got easier or harder to deal with as they have got older?
photo credit

Friday, 26 July 2013

The summer holidays commence!

We have officially begun our summer holidays! It's only been three days this week but we have got off to a good start. Each week I will aim to report on what we have been doing, in the hope you might like to try some of it. I wrote about our summer holiday plans and the play agenda recently, so this will be my sharing of our summer holiday activities.
We have spent a lot of time outside, making the most of the weather while it lasts. We gave our soft toys a bath in the paddling pool and after drying them off with a towel, lay them out to dry fully in the warm sun. Both my one year old and four year old got stuck in and enjoyed the task.
We had an outing with friends one day, went to a park and playground we had not been to before, had a picnic lunch and played hide and seek and chasing games. We stumbled across a discounted book shop so picked up a couple of new activity books to do over the holidays and finished with ice-cream!

One idea I had was to create a calendar for the summer holidays with my son. We printed out an A3 calendar and have started to write, draw and add stickers to it to indicate what we are doing over the coming weeks. I thought it would be a fun way for him to see what's coming up and to be able to count the days until events like our family holiday or even right up to the start of school. I realised we could also use it as a diary / record for what we have done (very simplistically). So for example, as he had an ice-cream yesterday when we were out with friends we stuck an ice-cream sticker on yesterday :-). It's a work in progress but you can see what we've started with so far.
Finally, sweeping up at the bottom of our our garden is currently a favourite activity. We constantly have leaves falling and so there is always plenty to be swept up. My four year old does a great job of sweeping up then using the dustpan and brush to gather it all up and get it into our garden rubbish bag. My one-year old does an equally good job of looking busy! We have been doing a bit of this every day.
What are some of the things you and your children been doing for the start of the summer holidays?

Monday, 22 July 2013

End of an era

My son has his final day of nursery tomorrow. Then it's on to big school after the summer break. No more nursery. No more mornings with me and his sister (he had been going to nursery in the afternoons). I imagine I won't look back on this time with much significance a few years from now and perhaps the title of this post is a little melodramatic but in the present time, it does feel significant. My eldest child is suddenly old enough to be starting school and that feels like a big deal!

I look back on his time at nursery (the past two school years at two different nurseries) with pride, like any parent would and have a lot to be thankful for. From day one he was completely comfortable being there, no tears when I left, as with some of his peers. I was shocked but relieved and pleased. He has loved going each day, being very disappointed when he couldn't go due to chicken pox or whatever. He adored all his teachers, struck up friendships with his classmates, developed his own personality, toughened up a bit too. Teachers and even other parents tell me he is a friendly, confident, kind boy. What more could a mother ask for?!

Last week, the whole family went to his school one evening, first to his nursery classroom to pick up his report and see some of his work and then to meet his new teacher he will have in September. We walked there together and our son was so excited about the whole family going to his school and getting to see both his current teacher and the new one, he was running ahead, singing a song about it! My husband and I looked on at him fondly and told ourselves we should remember this moment, as he may not always be so enthusiastic about school!

This end of an era is as much for my son as it is for me. Come September, there will be a whole new routine to get settled into (our mornings will become a lot more rushed!), he will have new classmates to get to know, he'll be eating lunch at school for the first time, learning how to read and write, to name but a few of the changes to come. He will take it all his stride and I suspect will savour every minute. It seems only fair that I do the same.

In the meantime, we have a long summer holiday stretching ahead of us and I am looking forward to making the most of our time together.

If your children have reached or passed this stage, do you remember how you felt when they finished nursery and started big school? If your child is at nursery now, what changes have you seen in them and how have they liked it?
photo credit

Thursday, 18 July 2013

This week: Feeling the heat

My son and a few of his classmates seem to have been suffering from the heat a bit this week. I got a call from nursery today (first time ever) to come and pick him up because he was complaining of a headache and was generally a bit out of sorts and upset. Yesterday they had their sports day in the heat of the full sun, no shade on the sports field and whilst the event was cut down due to the heat, it was nevertheless hot, hard work. One of my son's friends was not present for sports day as he was a bit unwell and got taken to the cool woods instead, as a distraction.

Silly as it sounds, we are just not used to consistent heat in England. We always get the odd hot week or two during the year but this stretch is longer than the usual and shows no sign of abating. I personally am taking care not to complain about the weather. We've spent months moaning about our long winter and now we have the summer we wanted, we should definitely be making the most of it and I am trying to do just that!

However, for children who are not used to dealing with the heat on a regular basis, it can be difficult, tiring and frustrating for them. So, how to keep the little ones cool and comfortable in the hot weather? Here are some ideas:
  • Dress them in loose clothing of natural fibres like cotton
  • Keep them in the shade as much as possible when outside
  • If they are at home, the paddling pool is a great way to keep them cool and entertained
  • Freeze bottles of water to take out with you
  • Offer plenty of drinks throughout the day; diluted fruit juice or smoothies, drinks with ice and/or straws in them make drinking a bit more fun and therefore help get more fluids into your child 
  • An ice-cream or ice-lolly can work wonders to lift the spirits of a hot and bothered child!
  • Make meals light and easy to eat
  • Cool baths before bed or cool damp flannels over their foreheads/necks during the day
  • Keep bedroom blinds or curtains drawn during the day to help their room stay cool
How have your children been coping with the heat? Do you have any other suggestions to add to the list above for helping to keep them cool?
photo credit

Monday, 15 July 2013

Summer holiday planning

I will soon be embarking on my first proper 'summer holiday' with my eldest son. He finishes nursery in just over a week and will start school (Reception / Kindergarten) after the long summer break. Six weeks will stretch ahead of us and for little ones, even one week can feel like a very long time!

My aim, like most other mothers I'm sure, is to make the time fun, keep busy but not too busy, have a nice balance of big excursions and simple, low-key activities at home or close by.

As my son is starting school after the break and has recently been writing his name, and recognising and writing letters, I want to keep up his enthusiasm and encourage a bit of practice with letters and numbers. If he doesn't write his name once in six weeks, I know he will struggle to write it when he goes to school (he has a long name). I want to make it fun learning and for it not to feel like a chore, that is the tricky part!

Then there's my 21-month old daughter of course, let's not forget her! I hope I can find some activities that can be adapted and enjoyed by her, as well. She likes to copy everything her big brother does so where possible, I will help make that happen.

I decided to join in with the play agenda, a way for parents to share their experiences of the summer holidays with their children, activities and ideas that have worked well and also those that perhaps were not such a success. Leoarna, who came up with the idea, has published an admirable vision for her summer holidays, complete with weekly themes and tons of inspiration for keeping her little ones busy whatever the weather. I was very impressed!

My own summer holiday plan is a lot looser and more a list of aims that I am hoping to achieve on a weekly basis. I don't want to pin myself down to too much of a schedule, nor do I want to be over-ambitious in what we might do.  I want to keep things pretty simple, allow for spontaneity, unexpected visitors / play dates / outings, that kind of thing. That said, I would like to attempt the following each week of the holiday:

A big outing: museum / farm / outdoor fountains / big park / boat trip / children's theatre etc.
An art and craft activity: I've been putting away our empty egg boxes, toilet rolls etc saving them for art projects for the holiday.
Messy play: I don't have a tuff spot (large mixing tray) but I've seen some cat litter trays in our local supermarket that are nice and deep that I think I might get for doing stuff like dry pulses, shaving foam, jelly and such like.
Cooking: I'd like to involve my son in helping more with making a meal, rather than just the usual cakes and biscuits (baking). I'm also thinking summery things like fruit (and veg) kebabs might be fun for him to make.
A play date: we enjoy seeing our friends and I imagine we will have someone over to play once a week.
A local activity: there's a music class I take both children to that will be running during some of the summer and there are some events at our local library so I will take advantage of those.
Send a postcard: I have this idea it might be fun to choose or make our own postcards and send one to a different family member or friend each week (incorporating some writing practice for my son).

These are some things I expect us to do several times a week during the holidays:

Be outside: this would be a daily event. It could be playing in our garden, going for a walk or bike/scooter ride, getting some fresh air whatever the weather.
Go to the woods: we are lucky to have a few different woodland spots within walking distance of our home. We love exploring, collecting sticks, looking out for animals, birds etc, playing hide and seek
Gardening: we're growing tomatoes and beans for the very first time so there's always watering to be done and talking to the plants ;-). We prune bits and pieces and load up the wheelbarrow, dig in the dirt and sweep the pathways.
Drawing/colouring/sticking/painting: I've topped up our art supplies recently and will try to provide a variety of materials etc to keep it interesting
Read books: we read every day of course, but mostly at bedtime. We'll no doubt visit the library as we do regularly and I think we'll try to fit in some reading during the day too, maybe getting some books about holidays/summer/school etc

I could be forgetting some things but the above is my basis for our summer holiday plans. I'm big on having time to do nothing too. Both my children are used to playing by themselves or the two of them playing quietly alongside one another and keeping themselves occupied. For one week during the summer holidays we are going away as a family so that will be one less week to 'plan'! I will let you know how it goes.....

What are your plans for the summer? Do you like to plan in advance or just go with the flow? If you've had lots of summer holidays with your children in the past, what can you suggest as good ways to spend the time?

Thursday, 11 July 2013

This week: simple summer fun!

This week has been all about enjoying the summer, as finally we've had a stretch of consistently warm days. Lots of time outside, playing in the garden with sand, water and a few simple toys. Picnic lunches, homemade smoothies and ice lollies have been enjoyed, along with the company of friends. One day we went to the woods nearby to escape the heat a little, played some hide and seek, threw sticks in the stream, explored and ran around.

I love the simple pleasures of being outside so much more during the summer, as I am sure many of you do too. There is a sense of spontaneity that comes with it and I think as parents we are more relaxed and willing to make the most of the opportunities for enjoying the fresh air and sunlight. We have taken the odd stroll after dinner, which we rarely do at other times of the year, mostly because it would be getting dark or would be too cold. We have more enthusiasm for going on outings, trying out new parks or going somewhere a bit different.

We still have another week and a bit before my son finishes school for the summer and then we will have a lot more time on our hands. I am hoping the good weather continues!

How have you been spending your summer so far?
photo credit

Monday, 8 July 2013

Reprioritising for a better end to each day

A week or so ago, I finally recognised I needed to reprioritise a couple of things in my daily routine. This may explain why I never got around to writing a second blog post last week but the overall result has definitely been positive. It made me think about how it can sometimes be tricky to get the right balance with spending time with our children, having time to ourselves, time to get stuff done around the house, meals cooked etc. Maybe there's even an element of not always wanting to prioritise what deep down, we know should be prioritised....

 My son goes to nursery in the afternoons. It works out great for me because while he is at school, my daughter is having her nap and usually sleeps the whole time my son is at nursery and we are home. So I have a couple of hours completely to myself. I have to confess, I spend most of this time doing not very much. I sit and have a quiet cup of tea, I catch up on some blogs, I write my own new posts on some days, I relax and recharge ready for the afternoon. I do often have a quick tidy up or do a little bit of cleaning but that's definitely not the majority of those two hours.

This was all very pleasant of course. However, I slowly realised I was making the late afternoons worse for myself by not using those uninterrupted hours more constructively. After picking my son up and getting home, I'd spend a short bit of time with my children but would then need to go in to the kitchen and start cooking dinner. Sometimes, this would be fine. My children would be happily playing and amusing themselves while I cooked. Other days and more often than not, it wasn't going so smoothly. They might be fighting over toys, someone might get hurt, there would be some tiredness and whining going on. They'd want to come in the kitchen where I was but would get in my way or would bring the squabbles or whining too close for comfort. I would feel a bit stressed out and start counting down until their bedtimes.

The truth is, I prefer cooking by myself. I like to be in my zone, doing my thing, enjoying the focus of chopping, stirring, or whatever whilst thinking about things too. Unless I am doing some cooking with the children, I prefer to be alone getting on with it. Just like my own mother, I am not really a planner when it comes to meals either. I like to leave it to the last minute, look in the fridge, see what vegetables we have and then decide what I am going to cook. In reality, the last-minute approach is not the best when you are a mother to two young children.

I'm sure you can see where this is going! I decided to use some of my precious two hours after lunch to prepare our evening meal. It really only takes about thirty minutes and yet, it means later in the afternoon, I have more time to spend with the children and any pre-dinner stress has gone! Definitely worthwhile re-prioritising. My son often asks on the way home from nursery what we are having for dinner and now I can tell him, which I think he appreciates too. It also means I get to cook in peace and quiet. A win win situation all round!

Suddenly I wonder why I didn't do this sooner. It doesn't feel like a sacrifice to the time I have to myself. The more relaxed evenings far outweigh the loss of those thirty minutes spent on meal prep. I enjoy the feeling of having achieved something during my couple of hours alone, especially as the benefit lasts through to the end of the day with my children. If I'm honest, I probably knew I should have done this sooner but I suppose part of me thought I was going to miss out on the time to myself that I value so much.

Do you ever struggle with prioritising things on a day-to-day basis? Or realise you spent the last hour doing something that was not urgent and used up time you could have better spent on something more pressing or worthwhile? Out of interest, when do you prepare your family's evening meal?
photo credit

Monday, 1 July 2013

Liebster Award

Something a bit different today, as I was nominated for the Liebster Blog Award from a lovely blogger I've got to know via Twitter, Viva La Mommy. The Liebster Blog Award is an award given to bloggers with less than 200 (Google/Blogger) followers in order to show your appreciation for them and to help them gain more readers. Thanks to Viva La Mommy for nominating me!

As a result, I have to complete the following:
  •   Link back to the blog that nominated me
  •   Nominate 5-11 blogs that have less than 200 followers
  •   Answer all questions posted by the nominator
  •   Share 11 random facts about myself
  •   Create 11 questions for my nominees
  •   Contact my nominees and let them know I nominated them
If nothing else, it's a good opportunity for my regular readers to find out a little more about me so here goes....

Why did you start blogging?
I wanted to try to combine my enjoyment for mummy blogs and self-improvement blogs by merging the two. By sharing my own experiences, I thought I could offer suggestions that have worked for me, for parenting issues and other things relevant to other mums and dads.
What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time and why?
Nowadays I just love to sit quietly by myself, to take in the peace and quiet and listen to what is going on in my head without any distractions.
What has been something challenging you have had to overcome in your life?
Two consecutive miscarriages. Thankfully we got third time lucky with our daughter.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
I can't stand it when a person talks over everybody else and thinks they are the only person worth listening to: arrogance.
If you could be a famous person, who would you be and why?
Maybe Gertrude Stein, because I'd get to hang out with lots of talented writers and artists and have a fantastic art collection! I love the perhaps romanticised vision of 1920s Paris. She was a respected female who had her own career and was taken seriously, not a bad place to be.
What food do you never get tired of?
A tough one....I'm going to go for cheese.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
Getting my Masters in art history whilst working full-time and planning my wedding.
Who is the most important person in your life?
My husband, ever the voice of calm and reason, always there for me and without him I wouldn't have my adorable two children.
If you could live in another country for one year, where would it be?
What is a product that you can't live without?
Lip balm. I like the Hurraw brand.
If you could go back to school for something, what would it be?
I've become more and more interested in nutrition, so something along those lines.
And now for my 11 random facts about myself:
  1. I've always loved art, going to museums, exhibitions and reading artist biographys and books about art theft.
  2. I speak fluent French and Italian and can get by in German.
  3. I've lived in four different countries.
  4. I met my American husband in Nice, France.
  5. I have been a vegetarian since the age of 3.
  6. My hair used to be naturally curly, until I had my first child and it lost its curl. I miss my curls!
  7. I am quiet and softly spoken, people often interpret this as me being shy or lacking in confidence but I'm just quietly confident ;-).
  8. I love cooking, everything from trying out new recipes for dinner to baking cakes.
  9. I'm always thinking about our next holiday.
  10. I'm scared of spiders and most creepy-crawlies in general.
  11. I'm running my first 5k on Saturday!
Finally, here are the blogs I am choosing to nominate with the Liebster award, followed by my 11 questions for them. 

Mummy Shambles
White feathers and so much more
  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. What are one or two of your favourite blogs to read?
  3. Who or what inspires you, in life generally?
  4. What's your life philosophy?
  5. What's your favourite book/movie/song?
  6. How do you like to spend any time you might get to yourself?
  7. What's your favourite way to spend quality time together as a family?
  8. What's your favourite cuisine?
  9. What were you doing pre-children?
  10. What do you find most challenging about being a parent?
  11. If money and time were no issue, where would you go on your next holiday?
I look forward to reading the answers from those I have nominated!

    Thursday, 27 June 2013

    This week: pesto!

    I remember clearly the first time I ever made pesto from scratch. I was visiting my friend Evelyn on her year abroad in Sardinia and one night we decided we'd make our own pesto for dinner. It took ages, we kept adding a bit more of this, a bit more of that to get the consistency and taste right. In the end we got something pretty good, although I don't remember being blown away and it felt like a faff to make.

    Fast forward a decade or so and I have been meaning to make my own pesto a lot recently. I have a basil plant with leaves aplenty, I have a food processor which I previously didn't have and I've been seeing lots of recipes lately with variations on the classic base of pine nuts and basil that have inspired me. Last night I went for it! I made a pesto using roasted hazelnuts, just because I happened to have a packet at home. I used a mix of parsley and basil, as a I had a big bag of parsley that needed using up. It was so quick and easy to make. It was very tasty and I'll definitely be doing it again and trying other nuts and other green stuff in place of basil too, like this rocket pesto.

    Pesto is a pretty family-friendly sauce. Both my children love it. You can tailor it to your own preferences of taste, using whichever nuts or herbs you think your family will enjoy most. As well as serving on pasta, you can stir some into a risotto, put a few splodges onto pizza, serve over warm new potatoes or green beans or even use in a sandwich with something like tomato and avocado.

    Here's a basic recipe you can follow in terms of quantity:
    • 100g nuts (pine nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil, almonds...) toasted in a dry frying pan
    • 200g basil or try parsley, rocket, some fresh chives or oregano
    • 100g grated parmesan
    • 250-300ml olive oil (or just follow your instinct with the oil to create the consistency you desire)
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste
    Whizz up the nuts, basil and garlic with a generous tablespoon of oil in a food processor. Add more oil gradually to achieve a good consistency to your liking. Stir in the cheese. Add more oil if needed, followed by some lemon juice and season to taste.

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